Lis Carey's Reviews > Follow My Lead: What Training My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Love, and Happiness

Follow My Lead by Carol  Quinn
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's review
Aug 21, 2011

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bookshelves: dogs, non-fiction
Read from August 21 to 23, 2011

Carol Quinn has two large, energetic, complicated dogs, a difficult boyfriend, and The Dog Trainer From Heck. That last is my opinion, not hers. This book is her memoir of how training her Ridgebacks, Nairobi and, eventually, Sheila, helps her to get to know herself better. She learns to appreciate her own good qualities, value her successes, respect her own way of working, and forgive herself for her imperfections.

Quinn was a divorced mother of two children when she got her first Rhodesian Ridgeback, Blue. Blue became a treasured member of their family, and a special support for the younger and shyer of her two sons. When Blue died at age four, they all agreed that when they were ready for another dog, it would be another Ridgeback.

That dog was Nairobi, who was joined in a couple of years by Sheila.
Quinn herself is pretty much an emotional basket case. Raised in a family the demanded perfection, she’s painfully aware that she’s no perfect, and feels inadequate because of that, despite a successful career as an advertising art director. Happiness doesn’t even occur to her as a goal. Sheila is also a wreck: scared of everything, dog-aggressive, and in serious need of rehabilitation. Nairobi, on the other hand, is a happy, bouncy, friendly, enthusiastic 85-pound dog who desperately needs to learn better manners than Carol finds acceptable in her own home.
Nairobi and Sheila’s breeder wants Carol to show Nairobi, and she signs up for a ring handling class, which doesn’t go well, because Nairobi is determined to play with everyone. She shows him once anyway, and that goes badly, too, for the same reason.

So she changes course, and signs up for a dog agility course instead.
The trainer is Irina, an Eastern European immigrant, a star agility competitor, a woman totally in tune with dogs—and not much interested in human beings. She’s judgmental, authoritarian, the sole possessor of The One True Way, and forbids conversation amongst the dog owners in her classes, even to the extent of chewing someone out for the crime of saying something nice to another class member about their successful run with their dog.

As Irina and Carol become what Carol considers “friends,” Irina doesn’t hesitate to tell her how to live her life. And in fairness, it has to be said that much of her advice is good. Carol is twisting herself into a pretzel trying to maintain a successful relationship with her boyfriend (and eventual fiancé) Henry. He’s intelligent, often charming, but emotionally cold, and not really interested in putting himself out for anyone. All “compromises” have to be Carol’s—and when she does what he wants, he takes it for granted.

Irina is at least being demanding and domineering mostly on behalf of the dogs. And as Carol gets more in tune with her dogs, she gets more in tune with herself, and starts to believe she deserves happiness. She starts to recognize her own strengths, her own personality, and develop a backbone. She starts to ask whether what she’s doing in her personal life (Henry) is healthy for her, and if there’s a better, less stressful way to work together with her professional colleagues.
This is the real heart of the book, as Carol learns to understand her dogs, learns to understand herself, and makes a better life for all of them.

I have mixed feelings about Follow My Lead, but it’s worth reading and there’s something to learn here.

I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.

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Reading Progress

08/21/2011 page 9
08/22/2011 page 23
9.0% "Irina the trainer chews students out for saying kind things to each other, and makes adults feel like scared children. We are to Admire her. Carol's unruly Ridgeback tries to attack a Sheltie, and Carol easily convinces herself that The Little Dog Started It."
08/22/2011 page 42
16.0% "Henry isn't the only person in Carol's life who's pointlessly critical. I wonder when (or if) she notices that Irina is, too?"
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