Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: Soldier Dogs, by Maria Goodavage

I anticipated the publication of Soldier Dogs for a long time. Not only am I a working dog nerd (which yes, extends to military working dogs) but I also read Dogster.com daily, and Maria Goodavage is the news editor there. When I didn't win Dogster's giveaway for the book, I ordered it through the library to check out and looked forward to its arrival. I'm leaning towards buying it; I really did quite like it.

Goodavage covers the stories of several military working dogs and their handlers. She also goes to Lackland Air Force Base and talks to instructors there, which was really very interesting. There's a great picture in the book of her wearing a bite sleeve, "catching" a dog!

Throughout the book, Goodavage looks at the criteria for selecting a military working dog, and the types of personalities these dogs tend to have. She relates these things to her own dog, Jake, a rescued yellow lab, trying to figure if Jake himself would have been a good MWD candidate. I thought this was a nifty way to go about it, and  found myself asking these questions about Elka as well. Granted, the military tends not to use Dobermans any longer; their thinner coats apparently don't do well for them in the sun blasted arenas of America's most recent warfares. In fact, Goodavage doesn't cover the Doberman much at all, which was a bit disappointing, since she does touch on the history of dogs in warfare, but I guess as they aren't really relevant present day, it can be understandable. That's what the book Always Faithful was for anyway.

The book wasn't all the wonderment of discovery, of course. Very real cases of injury and death were also related, the facts stated well and not in an overdrawn or dramatic manner. If I thought about running away to be a Marine dog handler, I certainly thought again. They have civilians that help out with that kind of thing sometimes, though, don't they? Maybe not. I do know that Lackland Air Force Base does foster their Malinois puppies if one lives within three hours of the base, so if I ever move to Texas, that's something to consider.

Soldier Dogs was, overall,  a good book. I only had one point at which I read something and thought "well, I don't think that's right". It was when training was being discussed, and Goodavage said that "most" trainers nowadays are getting away from food rewards, which isn't necessarily true.  Not that I disagree with the use of toys as motivators for working dogs; it works, even if you don't have the specific toy. I imagine some toys are higher value than others, the same way treats are, but I'm  happy to see a more motivational driven training than coercive one. Or one that I interpret as more motivational, anyway. Edited to add: "most trainers" is meant to mean "most military trainers". Civilian trainers are where my frame of reference was and I misunderstood.

Oh yeah. And I ordered Elka a pair of Doggles.

P.S. Remember to support the Canine Members of the Armed Forces act.

Edits: Originally I said "Camp Pendleton" instead of "Lackland Air Force Base" in two instances. Also, when referring to treats in training, I meant civilian wise, not military, as I know nothing about military training. Sorry for errors and confusion!  


  1. Thanks for the recommendation.

    We need a pic of Elka in doggles!, Mum wants to get Sampson a pair for when he sticks his head out of the car window.


    1. Of course there will be pictures of Elka in doggles (once I actually get them, and get them on her...and I'm sure bribe her thoroughly with turkey meatballs). Because of her "Steampunk" collar, I think the Goggles are very fitting, and was telling my fiance that she also needed a little leather jacket and a ray gun. Apparently, I was taking things too far.

  2. This is on my Paperbackswap.com list!

    Stop on by for a visit

    1. I hope you enjoy it when you get it! (do they have hardcovers on Paperbackswap? This one only just came out, I imagine paperback reprint is going to take awhile)

  3. Thank you for your review of my book, Elka's mom. A few points/answers: It's not Camp Pendleton, but Lackland Air Force Base, where I got this great access, got to "catch" a dog, and where Malinois pups are born and fostered to willing homes. (Pendleton is in the San Diego area. Lackland in San Antonio, TX.)

    Sorry you are disappointed that I didn't include dobies more, but I believe they got a mention in a history segment. This book is mostly about today's military working dogs, as you noted. There are some very good books military dog history books (the one you noted, and Mike Lemish's books, eg) if you want to read more about Elka's ilk. :)

    Finally, as to the training, I can assure you that most trainers in the military frown upon food treats. They are occasionally used, but they really try to stay away from this. I'm not sure where you're getting information that this is not necessarily true. Things are different in the civilian world, but that's not what my book is about.

    If you or anyone reading this would like to see bonus pix of some of the dogs and handlers in the book, pls visit my site, www.soldierdogs.com.


    1. Thanks for for setting me straight! I've fixed the Pendleton references, and added a note about trainers. Those are some serious errors! I'm sorry about that; it's what i get from posting from memory and not taking notes

      I in fact read "most trainers" as such, not "most military trainers", which is the significant distinction! Military training, I know nothing about other than what I've read, and you're certainly the most recent for that! I apologize for the confusion.

      Dobies did get a mention in the history segment (and when you talked about breed selection, certainly), and it was by no means a dealbreaker. It wasn't a genuine "flaw" to the book, I really just ALWAYS want to hear about Dobermans ^^ I'll have to check out Lemish's book as well.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. No worries, Jen. It's easy to get military places confused. And "most trainers" was indeed meant in the context of the military. Lemish's book War Dogs is an excellent book with incredible research that he spent years doing around the US and the world. You will find more mentions of Dobermans there.:)

    "Overall, a good book, but..." is not the highest praise the book has received but everyone has different tastes! Best to you and Elka!

    1. Being civilian through and through, I do frequently get military stuff confused! I do try, though, and I do mean to be respectful while doing it, anyway. I'm not the one getting shot at; these fine people volunteer!

      Hmm, maybe I should tweak the review some more, as I did thoroughly enjoy it! Maybe I just haven't harshly reviewed anything on here (if I don't like it, why give it the airtime, right?), so there's no point of reference. I read a lot of books, working at a library, and in recent years it's been a lot of dog books.

      Thanks again! You and Jake have a good day ^^

  5. Odd - I could have sworn I responded, but maybe I just didn't hit the final Publish button! Anyway I think I'd written that if you think it's easy to get military places confused, try the acronyms.

    Glad you thoroughly enjoyed the book.I hope you saw that there was a photograph of a Dobie in the book, in the first page of photos. That'll make Elka feel better. ;)

    1. Oh, Acronyms and I have a history of bile and frustration. I think I was thinking Pendleton because I'd read something else lately that mentioned it, not dog related.

      The Dobie picture in the book is probably my favorite! Though I feel bad saying that, really, because all of the pictures are so great. The cover photo is what got my fiance and I talking about Doggles...Elka's came yesterday!

  6. It's about time Dogs are getting some of the attention they deserve. Dogs have been in combat for centuries. I recommend this book. The author did her homework and talked personally to each of these handlers. You can tell she has passion in her heart.