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Is Your Pet Leading a Dog's Life?

January 22, 1998|BARBARA J. CHUCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Asked whether I would take a look at Michael Dowling's "Boosting Your Pet's Self-Esteem" (Howell Book House), I jumped at the chance. I'm the mother of three dogs, two of whom are relatively happy, well-adjusted and confident. The third one needs, um, help. Desi is the titular Man of the House, but that hasn't helped his self-esteem. Granted, he is a 15-pound Shih Tzu who likes wearing bows in his hair.

I pawed eagerly through the book (illustrated by the author's wife, Sarah Buell Dowling) for advice.

On why self-esteem is important:

It "crucially affects every aspect of [a pet's] behavior. Pets with good self-concepts form more genuinely meaningful relationships. They make better choices when faced with life's important decisions, such as where to bury a bone, or whether to use the kitty litter or the backyard."

Some symptoms of low self-esteem:

"Does your dog have a compulsive need to be liked, which manifests itself in a life-controlling addiction to being petted? Does your cat have an addiction to apathy; so laid-back she can't be upfront? Is your boa a pain in the neck? Does your fish just float there, staring out into water?" If so, Dowling says, they're dysfunctional.

On image issues:

"Has it been a long time since you saw your bird smile? A class in image and self-projection techniques can give a tense canary a winning personality."

Are humans partly to blame for pets' low self-esteem?

"Do you have a big house while your dog has a little house?"

On the enlightened pet owners' vocabulary:

"The phrase 'A dog is man's best friend' is an excellent example of speciesist speech. This hurts the self-esteem of dogs because it puts the human in the power position. A more pro-dog wording would be 'A man is dog's best friend.' However, this phrase may hurt the self-esteem of humans. The more egalitarian expression 'Dog and man are best friends' tends to exclude other species, damaging their self-esteem. Therefore, I recommend replacing the phrase . . . with 'All species are best friends, and no species are better friends than any others.' "

On societal transformation:

"We must eliminate the discrimination that excludes domestic companions from our health care system. So-called 'universal coverage' is a sham when most hospitals won't even give a cat a cat scan."

And just so you don't think the Dowlings didn't do their homework, check out their bibliography:

Arthur, I. Emma. "Fetch It Yourself, an Assertiveness Manual for Dogs" (Random Chance Press, 1996).

Litter, Kitty. "Going for the Gusto All Nine Times Around" (Beagle Books, 1994).

May, Rollov R. "I'm Bow-Wow, You're Bow-Wow" (Bench Press, 1997).

I finished the book, and Desi is the better for it. I know he's thinking: "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."

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