Dog who loved too much (the)


SUMMARY: Informal collection of case studies by American veterinary behaviourist Nicholas Dodman.

AUDIENCE: This book will be most useful to professional animal behaviourists but it is jargon-free so can be understood by all audiences.

02 Professional

The author
Nicholas Dodman is a well-established British-educated/US-based veterinary behaviourist and dog behaviour researcher.

Style and contents
The book is written informally and quite pleasant to read. It follows Dr. Dodman’s consults with his clients and patients from first consult to real-life outcomes.

The book covers major behavioural complaints with each condition getting its own chapter and case studies. Each chapter is wrapped up by a summary of the disorder’s signs and best practice treatments.

At only about 250 pages of generously-sized font, you’ll get through it quite quickly. Definitely not War and Peace – unlike this review.

The gems

These points particularly impressed me:

  • Honest glimpses of his practice: He shares his successes and failures, talking of lack of compliance, sessions going no where, disappointing results and diagnostic difficulties candidly. It was reassuring for practitioners who like me, pressure themselves into a perfect record, to compare his daily realities with mine.
  • Honest prognostic insights: I found his focus on prognoses when communicating to the clients particularly helpful. It framed his interventions in terms of likelihood of partial improvement, taking the ‘fix-my-dog’ expectations of our clients heads on.
  • Rich psychopharmacology coverage: This is a unique feature, particularly for a book aimed at laymen and written twenty years ago. His prescriptions go way beyond the first-choice tandem (benzo/SSRI). Needless to say that it wasn’t written as a veterinary textbook, so should not be used as your sole reference for prescription decisions.
  • Negative bridging stimulus: I discovered an operant technique I’d never used:  a bridging stimulus announcing negative punishment. Kind of a ‘no-reward-marker’ followed by your departure. This can be a wonderful interrupter for attention-seeking behaviour and, unlike the positive interrupter, does not risk encouraging repeat offenses.
  • Over-indulged dogs: Where today’s purely-positive behaviourist would be hand-wringing, he approached it powerfully simply: do not consistently put your dog’s likes and dislikes above your own. Don’t get me wrong: he teaches nothing more than being reasonably assertive. He is not encouraging owners to subdue their dog into an empty shell. This is addressing the boundary vaccuum caused by today’s positive-obsessed dog behaviour world.
  • Radiate confidence: Likewise, he instructs owners of fearful dogs to ‘radiate confidence’. Seemingly obvious, but crucial and often neglected advice.
  • Progressive positions: For a book written in 1996, I was impressed with his purely non-confrontational methods, and his daring to compare dogs and kids (still a taboo in today’s traditional circles)
  • Elegant client communication tips: Disabused owners lead to euthanasia requests so I appreciate all his client communication insights: e.g.
    • p. 58: Using the chutes-and-ladder analogy when preparing owners for the roller-coaster of progress and relapses.
    • p. 81: “undercorrection is ineffective and overcorrection is inhumane” on discussing the temptation to use harsh methods.
    • p. 88: “I’ll work with you to try to prevent this” on the importance of forming a therapeutic team with the owners, rather than taking over all the responsibility for the case, or on the contrary, hiding behind an ivory tower after dispensing the advice.
  • Technical gems: Some chapters touched really interesting technical points on certain disorders:
    • The parallels between idiopathic canine aggression/paroxysmal aggression and its possible human parallel, episodic dyscontrol syndrome.
    • Abnormal repetitive disorders and possibly seizure-based disorders like like tail-chasing, and their various risk factors, with a focus on Bull Terriers.
    • He also forumulated the differential diagnoses for inappropriate elimination very clearly.
  • Useful tips for prenatal appointments (p. 93). Some gems:
    • Condensing the relevant information into a manageable checklist. This is a plus as anyone who has ever researched this overwhelming topic can attest.
    • Distinguishing between different motivations behind baby-directed aggressions and their likely latency post-baby arrival: (1) predation-driven (typically spontaneously disappearing after baby no longer regularly makes strident sounds), (2) fear-driven, (3) competitive aggression (typically emerging as the baby becomes mobile), p. 96
  • The confidence axis: A dog’s temperament in terms of confidence (from extremely fearful to extremely pushy) ran throughout the book, with over- and under-confidence acting as syndromes out of which specific diagnoses emerge. It does not hold water across the board – some dogs can be temperamentally confident yet storm-phobic – but I found it elegant. It will certainly give me food for thought.

Possible points for optimization

Most of the points I make here are likely due to the book’s age – I understand 1996 is the latest edition of this book. If ever Dr. Dodman has a chance to update the book, I am curious about his new positions.


  • No citations: A complete lack of citations despite many factual claims (pp. 9, 11, 18, 23, 24, 31, 31, 75, 76, 106, 124, etc). It was written for the layman but the author is a trained scientist. This was particularly frustrating in passages where he alluded to (uncited) research.
  • Dominance: The book focused on dominance, with the inherent ethological/diagnostic/analytical difficulties this brings with it. Distinct diagnoses like intermale aggression, resource guarding, or self-defense were labelled dominance at one point or another. The dominance focus also inspired rank-reduction techniques (for diagnosed dominant-aggressive dogs) that are considered superstitious by many professionals nowadays:
    • not letting the dog win at tug-of-war (p. 24),
    • only petting the dog as a reward for good behaviour (p. 27),
    • refraining from feeding ad libitum (p. 25),
    • denying the dog access to high places (p. 28)
  • Pseudoscience: The book occasionally delved into my two pet peeves pseudoscience (e.g. pp. 50, 58, 69, 179) and naive anthropomorphism (e.g. pp. 19, 20,26, 30, 53).
  • Abusive devices: Dr. Dodman equivocates on the use of punishment. This can be good and bad.
    • Good: he does not let ideology get in the way. This and the fact that he is advocates for LIMA (least invasive method available). So let me be clear, we are not talking Monks of New Skete here.
    • Bad: Instruments like choke chains should – in my view – be condemned on ethical grounds whereas the book only condemns them on technical grounds (p. 81). As the book aims at educating the layman on dog behaviour, its author has the responsibility, in my view, to oppose the use of abusive instruments in no uncertain terms.
  • Low protein diet: He repeatedly suggested a low protein diet (16-20%) for various behavioural conditions. I am familiar with the underlying reasoning, and only know of research that has resulted marginal results at best. So I was curious about what research or clinical findings led to this recommendation. The lack of citation was problematic here again.
  • No body language: I found it historically interesting that briefing the owners about basic body language was not covered. Today, this is central to owners’ post-consult information package.
  • Adoption at 6-8 weeks: The book recommends taking the dog from the breeder at 6-8 weeks, whereas today’s guidelines err more towards 10-12 weeks, due to concerns with impulse control, bite inhibition, healthy attachment and (canine) social skills. I wondered whether this was just outdated information or whether there was interesting reasoning behind it.
  • Flooding: Whilst repeatedly warning against flooding, the book features it in a couple of protocols: during the Halti anecdote and in the separation anxiety chapter.


  • Not petting a fearful dog? I was surprised to read the old-school adage of not praising or petting a fearful dog (p. 5). Nowadays, this is considered outdated by many practitioners (who prioritize securing hard-to-win classical gains over avoiding easily reversible operant losses)

Sibling rivalry

  • Sibling rivalry is just a question of obedience? I found the suggested treatment for severe sibling rivalry optimistic (p. 75): an assertive attitude and decent obedience training skills will only do the trick for the mildest of cases. For cases where the relationship between the dogs is badly damaged, cases veterinary behaviourists typically see, this is a drop in the ocean. Severe multi-dog household aggression is a notoriously difficult nut to crack.
  • Let them sort it out? He suggested the owners let the muzzled dogs fight it out (p. 75). I have three problems with this: 1. Safety: muzzled dogs can still inflict serious injuries. 2. Punishment potentially too weak: the muzzled bully dog might not be able to settle the rivalry once and for all. 3. (most importantly for me) It tacitly accepts bullying, presenting it as some sort of ethological necessity. Can you imagine your kid’s school giving known bullies their blessings to continue harassing other kids, only with stones and sticks made of soft rubber? I understand his concerns with dependent rank (although I frame it as jealousy, but OK), but that does not make non-intervention humane.

Separation anxiety

  • Operant over classical: A dog sitting on command when you leave the room (p. 113) says nothing about his ability to cope with your absence. Aside from that, I doubt he will generalize this to all your departure scenarios. Also, I wonder how long he is meant to stay sitting during a 5 hour absence? Historically, this operant focus fits with the various shifts we have seen over the years, with methods privileging different aspects of behaviour, respectively:
    • behaviour inhibition through harsh methods and complete control over the dog,
    • operant conditioning performance through positive reinforcement (in the 90’s and early 2000’s) and operant counterconditioning,
    • classical conditioning improvements through classical counterconditioning,
    • autonomy and letting the dog work it out, minimizing human intervention in the learning process (i.e. shaping, capturing),
    • and today’s intrinsic rewards, making wanted behaviours self-rewarding to the dog.
  • No safety sound: I was surprised at the suggestion to desensitize a dog to pre-departure cues without preceding it with a safety sound (p. 113). Unless the owner can stay home for the whole rehabilitation period except for training sessions, the dog won’t distinguish a safe (rehearsed) departure from one leading to distress. This, and the fact that predictability is core in anxiety cases.
  • Uni-dimensional aetiology: Not all separation-related behaviour problems stem from anxiety (frustration, boredom, panic, and even ‘separation partying’) so I was surprised that he did not cover the condition at more depth, like he so beautifully did for, say, compulsive conditions.
  • Temperament tests: Despite sharing his (by now validated) concerns about the predictive value of temperament tests, he did advocate for the use of one (p. 256) – oddly insisting it be conducted on day 49. He also made the surprising claim that separation anxious dogs could be diagnosed with 100% certainty with a simple shelter test: putting the dog in a car and seeing if it whines.
  • Necessary vs. sufficient signs: You could interpret the book to mean that a dog who follows his owners around necessarily has separation anxiety, or that a dog who does not follow his owners around cannot possibly have the diagnosis. Neither is correct. Excessively shadowing owners is neither a necessary nor a sufficient sign for diagnosing separation anxiety. Other signs/symptoms in this chapter were couched in the same confusion.
  • Isolating a separation anxious dog further: I was concerned with the withdrawal of social support from an already vulnerable dog (e.g. no longer allowing him to be draped at owner’s feet, for example, and instructions not completely ignore the dog upon returning home/before leaving). Modern practitioners tend to advise a moderate version of this treatment.


  • I was taken aback by the safety hazards that were allowed to arise with the large dog with a history of uninhibited aggression, who ended up biting his owners and Dr. Dodman at the clinic’s car park (p. 180). I assumed/hoped the breaches from basic safety protocol were an exception, and not the rule.

I am curious about how many of the suggested improvements have already changed in his daily practice, how many of his positions were the product of their time and how many he still holds. I am certainly kicking myself for not reading this great book earlier, and cannot wait to get my hands on more work by Nicholas Dodman.

The verdict:
Despite some age-related flaws in its details, The Dog Who Loved Too Much is classic in the genre and every self-respecting behaviourist should familiarise themselves with this book.

It is useful to the (behaviourist) reader because of (1) Its rich coverage of psychopharmacology; (2) its behind-the-scenes glimpses of the behaviourist’s daily challenges and client management; and (3) its description of the aetiology, evolution, presenting signs, preferred treatment(s) and prognosis of commonly presented conditions.

Dog owners looking for a troubleshooting guide might prefer a more recent, less clinically focused, more evidence-based book like Jolanta Benal’s Quick and Dirty tips though.

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Author: Dodman Nicholas
Genre: case studies, historical interest, pop science, professional manual
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