Book Review: Your Dog is Your Mirror by Kevin Behan

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I’ll be blunt: this is a ridiculous book.

I had a real vested interest in learning from this author. My autistic son, last year, got a German Shepherd puppy to train as an autism assistance dog. GSDs are not the best choice of dog for this kind of profession. They make good guard dogs and police dogs because they generally have a suspicious nature whose first instinct is to lunge at whatever is making them fearful. Not what you need, however, when you’re trying to train a dog to be able to go into shops, pubs and restaurants and cope with unwanted pats on the head and fussing from people, let alone interest from other dogs.

But we got what we got (our son insisted – part of his autism you see) and, to be fair, she is a beautiful, kind and loving dog. We wouldn’t be without her. The downside though is she is also, even for a GSD, highly anxious and terrified of everything and everyone. While she’s never ever bitten anyone, her bark is huge and scary and her lunge looks aggressive. Strangers don’t get to see she’s a dufus without a mean bone in her body. With family, she’s adorable. We really want everyone to see that.

The result is: every single trainer in the area and dog training course known to man. I’ve done them all (it’s largely me because I’m nerdy like that and research, plus I’m the one in the house all the time). What I’ve learned is two things: Firstly, just like growing children – be consistent. Your dog will eventually get it and will learn. Be patient and be kind and you’ll get a good dog. Secondly, all dog trainers are very weird and most don’t realise they are probably on the neurodiverse spectrum somewhere along the line. I say this as someone with ADHD and two kids with autism and having taught many, many students with either or both. You get to recognise undiagnosed neurodiversity eventually. These people are all on that side of things.

This is important here because often autistic people have very little awareness of others and tend to hyperfixate on theories. Hence, you get these dog trainers telling you that ‘games are the answer’ or ‘being the Alpha is the answer’ or 101 other methods for making your dog perfect. There is always some reductionist theory which promises the earth. Kevin Behan’s answer though, takes the biscuit.

In essence, he tries to claim that all dogs simply know ’emotion’ and nothing else. They ‘read the room’ as it were and reflect back what you’re giving to them. There’s elements of this which are true and perceptive. Dogs do note the emotion of the room and react to it. They can tell when you’re sad or upset or angry. They can be funny with someone in the family because they know there’s some tension having arisen from them with others. This is all well-known stuff.

But Behan tries to psychoanalyse everything and make all dog behaviour issues about the dog owners. Fix yourself, he seems to say, and you fix your dog.

It gets embarrassing, as time goes on, because it becomes obvious that it is Behan himself who needs fixing. He spends the lion’s share of the book telling us his life story and never quite admitting to himself that he has huge daddy issues. Instead, he attempts to reject all standard understanding of biology and psychology – and fails there too, falling into pseudo-science instead – and tries to play the psychiatrist on his clients. If you look carefully, you find little to no evidence that his theory has worked with any of them. He keeps talking about clients who just ‘stopped coming’. I’m not surprised! They clearly saw he was off his rocker…

Indeed, even if you do subscribe to his theory, it offers no real, tangible help to dealing with a dog that has problem behaviours. He gives no practical advice. Instead, the whole book seems to be an exercise in ‘victim blaming’ – that is, when he’s not semi-blaming his father for his own failures. You are the reason your dog is dreadful, he says. Get therapy and your dog will be fine.

Anyone who has had even just a couple of dogs can tell this is absolute nonsense. It is instantly demonstrable if, like me, you have two dogs simultaneously. If Behan’s theory is right, both should behave, or respond, in similar ways because YOUR emotion or issues are the same. They don’t. Our GSD has barked and lunged at strangers and dogs since the day she came to our house no matter which of the five adults in the house has her (and we can’t ALL have the same trauma or hang-ups, right?). Yet our eight-year-old Cocker Spaniel tolerates dogs, mostly quietly, and adores ALL humans whether or not she knows them. If your fear of rape (a genuine interpretation the author threw at one of his clients) is causing your dog to attack strangers, it should cause all your dogs to behave similarly. Clear, a dog’s individual personality has to a have a play here as well as the general character make-up of their breed. It’s not all about you.

And that last point is where I’ll leave it. To accuse your clients of issues that are none of your concern is offensive bordering on abusive. ‘Your dog is a problem because of your past traumas’ is just such an horrific piece of victim blaming. Not only is this book not worth buying but Kevin Behan shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near people or dogs. Seriously, avoid this guy.

As for our GSD puppy? Consistent love, acceptance of who she is and continuous small steps mean that she’s now a lot more confident, happier with people (still working on dogs) and is getting there. We may not end up with a perfectly trained dog (although all the signs are that she’s still getting there and we’re hopeful) but she is loved and accepted whatever she proves to be, just as all members of our family are. No blame, no accusations, no therapy needed. Just love and respect. That’s the way you get the best out of your dog.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. His third book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, was published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways and Lancashire Life magazine. Currently reviews for Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 5.5 million times.


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