Dog Training Diaries: Proven Expert Tips & Tricks to Live in Harmony with Your Dog by Tom Shelby, Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, 176 pgs., $16.99 

The pet industry in the United States has blossomed to nearly $70 billion in recent years; over 60 million U.S. households now include at least one dog, and dog owners spend increasingly exorbitant amounts on dog treats, dog treatments, dog clothing, dog therapy, dog acupuncture, and, in certain sunny precincts of Southern California, dog past-life regression.

Veterinary medicine for dogs has never been more complex or comprehensive; travel accommodations for dogs have never been more lenient (and are expanding); the widespread scam of “therapy” pets has allowed thousands of people all across the country to keep their dogs with them at all times.

And yet, for all these extravagances, the core of this sprawling industry is still as basic as basic gets: simple behavioral modification, obedience 101: peeing, pooping, barking and mooching food. There is a perennial consumer hunger for books that will give humans insight into the adorable creatures they’ve welcomed into their lives. Hundreds of such books have appeared in the last half-century alone, books like Barbara Woodhouse’s No Bad Dogs, or How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete, or Cesar’s Way by the “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan.

Joining that long list is Dog Training Diaries by Tom Shelby, who for 40 years has been a dog trainer in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard, working with everything from search-and-rescue dogs to the pampered pets of the “rich and famous” (Shelby refers to them as “RAF” clients). Dog Training Diaries dives in and starts right away addressing all the basic issues that confront first-time and long-time dog-owners alike: pulling on the leash during walks? Overly-enthusiastic greetings (to humans and other dogs)? Unbearable separation anxiety? Crate training? Food anxiety? Uncontrolled barking? Rolling around in the filthiest mystery-goop imaginable? Shelby addresses it all.

He refers to himself, refreshingly, as a “depends” trainer. He enters each situation without preconceptions or a rigid approach, and like so many dog trainers before him, he stresses that a very large portion of his job involves teaching and reinforcing positive behaviors to the two-legged people in the household rather than their four-legged companions.

This, of course, makes clear sense. On many levels, dogs are incredibly complex beings, with hearing and sense of smell many thousands of times more sensitive than that of humans and spacial and temporal awarenesses radically different from that of biped omnivores. But on an equally fundamental level, dogs are human creations — the first species domesticated, the first species allied, and the first species genetically engineered. Dogs are mysteries to humans, yes, but they’re mysteries that were originally written by humans.

Drawing on his vast experience, Shelby provides dozens and dozens of clues to solving that mystery. Regardless of what kind of problem a reader is having with their dog, Shelby has seen it and addressed it at some point for some client in the exact same situation, whether that client is a harried babysitter or an “RAF” like Joan Rivers. The key in all cases is training, as Shelby makes clear.

“When was the last time you saw a seeing-eye dog drag his ward into traffic chasing a pigeon?” he asks. “Yet, I’ve had tons of lessons helping Manhattan dogs that became totally wild upon seeing a squirrel.”

One fascinating concept Shelby uses throughout the book is the “Dog God” — the very conscious campaign to create in your dog’s mind an awareness of some impartial, detached, and all-seeing Being who’s sternly watching their behavior even when you’re not in the room. It sounds mystical, but Shelby walks the reader carefully through step-by-step approaches to make it very real in a not-always-virtuous dog’s mind.

And the heart of the entire book is the bedrock empathy that, one suspects, accounts for Shelby’s success with his clients.

“It didn’t take me long,” he writes, “to realize down to my core that regardless of fame or circumstances, dog owners are alike in many ways: they love their dogs, they do stupid things that cause problems with their dogs, and they need as much training and sometimes more than their dogs.”

Whether Shelby’s writing about the canines in his own life or the dozens of oddballs he’s met over the years (and their dogs), the love comes through loud and clear.

Tom Shelby will take part in a book talk and signing at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Friday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., located at 23 Main street in Vineyard Haven.