Top critical review
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An enjoyable read
on August 31, 2017
This is not such a horrible book, as many would like you to believe. Sure, it isn't a jaw-dropping epic or an amazingly sappy story, but it is a good read that you can enjoy.
I think I feel bad for the people who criticize John and his wife for how they treated Marley. First, it wasn't that horrible. In fact, Marley had it pretty good. A lot of people are failing to place the story in its proper time frame. Marley was born in the early 1990s--a time when positive training, counter conditioning, and clicker training were just beginning to take root and was not easily available to the public. Most people never even heard of such things---even very good vets. Dominance and Alpha theory were the rule of the day, and the choker chain was a common accessory for most dogs. I recall my own dog wearing one of those things, though I was a timid person who hated them and never actually used them.
True, that didn't excuse several things that Mr. Grogan thought or did. He wasn't the best person in the world...but then again, he didn't hide it either. I give him brownie points for that. Most people try to make themselves seem better than they were, but the author laid himself out pretty honestly. How many people would write down that they actually found a sadistic pleasure in choking their dog during training class? He even put it in a negative light, showing that he was well aware that this was not a good thing. But anyone who has had a problem dog understands this feeling. It happens--frustration, anger, uncertainty can build up like that.
A lot of people condemn the title of the book: Life and Love with the world's Worst dog. Hyperbole is often frowned upon, true, however---he addresses this at the end. Again, he brings to light something anyone with a problem of any kind knows: that feeling of being the only one. He even foreshadowed this when he described his first dog training class. All the other dogs were well mannered and lined up exactly as they should, while Marley ran rampant and drooled over everything. For years, he never met or knew of any dogs that behaved like Marley: until he wrote Marley's life down. Then he realized that he wasn't alone, that he didn't have the *worst* dog.
While he jokingly refers to the Bad Dog Club and all its members, he also writes a very telling line: "My new friends in the Secret Brotherhood of Dysfunctional Dog Owners." It is a subtle admittance that he now realizes that, yes, he was not the best of owners and he failed on many accounts--some of which he had no way of really dealing with at the time.
John Grogan did everything he could with the tools he had. I dislike his seeking the cheapest, shadiest dog training school (parking lot?) but I honestly don't recall dog training classes being anything more than in someone's house or rented community center at the time (I was a teen then, and didn't look so I can't say for sure).
I'm divided on his ill-timed vacation, too. I mean, there was no way he could have predicted what would happen. Even the vet didn't know when or where, only that it was a possibility. He made sure to put Marley in the best care with the people that loved him and wanted the best for him, and when he came back: the dog was mostly fine! Most likely, it was the excitement of seeing his family again that did it, but who knows? Having lost a few pets of my own over my lifetime, and knowing that our own lifes go on, I can't really condemn him for it or blast him for such a horrible choice because...he really couldn't have known. It was very possible that Marley would have gone on for another couple of years, or would have passed at any moment.
What stands out in this book is that John Grogan truly loved Marley. His family really cared for him, and they did the best they could. I think the reason why this book is so popular is because it resonates with the average person: the ones who don't or didn't know that they could have helped their dog overcome their phobia, could have taught him to properly direct his energy--that it was possible to have the "good dog" he wanted with a lot of hard work. At the time, there was no "hard work" only sighs of "too bad." I think he knows better now, at least I hope he does. By the time he wrote this book and published it, all the information he could have used began to be more widely available. Perhaps he regrets what he didn't know, or maybe he uses these things with his new dog.
This isn't really a book about what not to do. It is more a book about what used to be. In that respect, it is actually pretty accurate.