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Dog Training Book Reviews

These reviews were published in The Chronicle of the Dog by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

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Building Blocks for Performance

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Raising a Behaviorally Healthy Puppy: A Pet Parenting Guide

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Clicker World Obedience Training: Level 3 Clicker Trainers Specialized Recipes

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My Dog Pulls, What Do I Do?

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Shaping Success: The Education of An Unlikely Champion

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Small Dogs, Big hearts: A Guide to Caring For Your Little Dog

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Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog

 

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Building Blocks for Performance by Bobbie Anderson with Tracy Libby (Alpine, 2002, $19.95)  

There are many books to choose from on basic puppy training and several available on how to teach obedience exercises, but Anderson and Libby’s new book fills a relatively empty niche: how to build the kind of training foundation for puppies that will make them eventual winners in competitive performance events.  However, working dog handlers or anyone who would like a good overview of how to motivate and manage puppies will also find this a useful addition to their libraries. 

 

Anderson’s credentials include more than 70 AKC titles, among them 5 OTCH titles and 85 High in Trials.  Significantly, Sylvia Bishop notes in the book’s Forward that these achievements are rooted in the relationship Anderson shares with her dogs, which inspires their intense desire to work with her. 

This book is largely about how to instill this keen desire to work in obedience, herding, agility, etc., by first building the right relationship and encouraging an intense drive to play.  Anderson’s descriptions of how to play with puppies are sometimes creative and whimsical, strongly goal oriented, and definitely one of the book’s strong points.   

Other strong points are excellent graphics, effective use of photographs, and organization of chapters into the ten progressive “Building Blocks”.  The book begins with Block One: Build a Strong Relationship, and ends with Block Ten: Be Demanding.  The most controversial aspect is contained in Block Five: Compulsion and Correction,  in which Anderson states that “all training is compulsion training…shaping behaviors with food, clickers, toys... is a form of compulsion.  It is how we go about implementing the compulsion that makes the training pleasant or unpleasant.” (p.59) 

One revealing example of how Anderson implements compulsion is the way she handles the behavior of a puppy who stops during a training session to explore a pile of leaves.  While Anderson does not allow the puppy to ignore her—she regains his attention and draws him back to her by doing something silly!  While some readers may feel Anderson doesn’t pass their litmus test for purely positive training, others will probably be pleasantly surprised to see what great inroads positive training has made into the world of competitive performance. 

Like a good coach, this is a book that succeeds in introducing and synthesizing key training concepts that people working on their own might take years to discover.  Reading it was like getting to be the proverbial fly on the wall of a world class trainer to see how she gets her results—just keep in mind that you don’t have to swallow every morsel to make this banquet worth your while!

Beverly Hebert is a freelance writer and pet dog trainer who lives with her husband and two German Shepherd Dogs in Houston, TX.  Through her business, Holly's Den, she offers both group classes and private behavioral counseling with the goal of fostering peaceful pack living for humans and their dogs.  She can be reached at monty@mail.hollysden.com.

Reviewed  May/June 2003.

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Raising a Behaviorally Healthy Puppy: A Pet Parenting Guide, Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. and Daniel Q. Estep, Ph.D. (Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., 2004, $15.95)

How to apply the concept of wellness care and problem prevention to puppy raising is the central theme of this short (105 page) book. 

 

The authors, both Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, are two of the recognized authorities in the field and strong advocates for positive training methods.  Dr. Hetts, who has a doctorate in animal behavior, has been a prolific producer of articles, books and videos and writes a monthly column in “Dog Watch,” published by Cornell Univ. College of Veterinary Medicine.  As a psychologist, Dr. Estep is active in teaching, writing and research.  Drs. Hetts and Estep share ownership of a pet consulting firm and of three pets of their own, including a young Irish Setter they have recently guided through puppyhood, to whom this book is dedicated. 

 

Their “blueprint for a behaviorally healthy dog” is comprised of a five step formula:

  1. Help Your Puppy To Do the Right Thing

  2. Keep Bad Habits From Developing

  3. Meet Your Puppies’ Needs

  4. Use the “Take Away” Method to Discourage Behaviors You Don’t Like

  5. Make Discipline the Last Resort and Use It Correctly

Chapters 4-10 explain how to apply these five steps to develop desirable behaviors and prevent problem behaviors.  Other chapters deal with physical care and how to teach basic obedience skills; the icing on this cake are the resource and referral sections at the end of the book.

 

Although experienced trainers probably won’t discover much new here, novice trainers may find this puppy parenting guide helpful for developing their own puppy class curriculums; pet owners should find it useful as either a stand-alone reference or as a supplemental study manual for group classes or private training sessions.  Reading this material could also help a primary care veterinarian stay up to speed on current positive training approaches.

 

However, in spite of accurate, thorough information and a user friendly layout, there is one area where this book falls a bit short. There’s an old Irving Berlin song that goes:  A pretty girl is like a melody…And so, I believe, are our favorite books, those that get inside our minds and make a lasting impression, making us want to return and visit them again. Although the authors hit all the right positive training notes, plain vanilla prose along with minimal and uninspired gray tone illustrations make for a somewhat dull tone and presentation.  Inserting a few telling anecdotes and touches of humor and color to the text and illustrations might have added some needed warmth and charm to this book, and made it a delightful read, rather than a merely utilitarian one.

 

Reviewed July/Aug 2005 by Beverly Hebert

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Clicker World Obedience Training: Level 3 Clicker Trainers Specialized Recipes, Kay Laurence (Learning About Dogs Ltd, 2004, E18.00)

Clicker World Obedience Training: Level 3 Clicker Trainers Specialized Recipes, Kay Laurence (Learning About Dogs Limited, 2004, $?)

 

Kay Laurence has been a competitive obedience trainer in the United Kingdom for more than twenty five years, but part of her claim to fame is that she trains her dogs with a clicker and has produced a wide variety of books and videos to share her ideas and techniques. 

 

The merit of her methods is proved by her own high level of accomplishment.  However, readers on this side of the Atlantic who are anxious to learn the secrets of her success by reading this book may find that something is definitely lost in translation.  This is not simply because there are some minor differences in the UK and US (American Kennel Club) obedience exercises, or even because of linguistic differences in terminology, but rather because the author’s personal writing style does not allow for quick and easy comprehension.  For example, a reader might have to read the following sentences several times before catching the meaning: “Begin sitting away from the dog in a chair and shape the dog to a comfortable balanced position, the stool should be no higher than half way up the dog’s front leg.” (page 56). Unfortunately, the entire book was filled with similar annoying grammatical constructions and confusing descriptions, which a good editor could easily have fixed and clarified.

 

On the plus side, the book does contain many creative training techniques, waiting like little gems to be discovered by readers with the patience to mine through the prose.  One of these is how to begin to teach a retrieve by shaping a dog to pick up an object from a container on the floor.  General topics covered include foundation training, the control exercises such as sit/down- stay, heeling, the retrieve, the sendaway (go-out), scent work, and preparation for performance.

The audience for this book are those who have already read the earlier books in this series or competition trainers who have progressed beyond basic obedience work.

Reviewed Nov/Dec 2005 by Beverly Hebert

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 My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do?, Turid Rugaas (Dogwise Publishing, 2005, $10.95)

 When author Turid Rugaas asked the students in her classes what they most wanted to teach their dogs, the number one answer she got back over the years was “to walk nicely on leash.”

Then one icy winter in her native Norway when she says it was impossible to hold back dogs that were pulling and people were falling all over themselves “breaking their bones,” she decided to develop a gentle method for teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash.

Written in a style as warm and cozy as if she were sitting down and sharing a coffee with the reader, this sixty page soft cover book describing her way of teaching loose leash walking, is beautifully presented and extremely well organized.  Basically, the book elaborates in detail on how to learn and practice the following techniques, which should be fairly familiar to most positive reinforcement trainers:

  1. Teach the dog to respond to a neutral sound, such as clicking with your tongue, by turning his head toward you.

  2. When the leash tightens or is about to tighten, stop and use this sound to get the dog’s attention.

  3. Turn and walk a few steps in a different direction

  4. Reward the dog for following.

Throughout her writing, Rugaas, renowned in the dog training world for her work on canine body language and “calming signals,”  emphasizes the need to avoid using aversive methods on the simple grounds that they are not necessary or kind.  However, one thing which Rugaas does disagree about with many of her fellow positive trainers is her choice of equipment, since she is opposed to using either head halters or the newer (front snap) no pull harnesses.  Instead she recommends training with either a plain buckle collar, or even better in her opinion, a regular harness.

Otherwise, the Rugaas method is not revolutionary or even very different in any key aspects from the method that trainers such as Ian Dunbar, Pat Miller, and many others have been using and recommending for years. However, its very familiarity should make this visually pleasing booklet, with its attractive color photos, a helpful supplementary handout for trainers to use with their students.  Pet owners and trainers who are hoping to find a magic bullet here for learning or teaching loose leash walking may be disappointed though, because putting the Rugaas’ method into successful practice seems to require the same sort of owner compliance, commitment, time, and consistency that have always made it one of the toughest training tasks for most people to master. 

 

Reviewed March/April 2006 by Beverly Hebert

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Shaping Success: The Education of An Unlikely Champion, Susan Garrett (Clean Run Publications LLC, 2005, $24.95)

 

Precision shaping, setting criteria, rates of reinforcement, etc.--sound boring? Not when Susan Garrett describes how she used them to create both drive for work and self-control in her “over the top” Border collie Buzz.  The story of how Buzz evolves from an attention grabbing red puppy frantically excited by almost everything he encounters in the world, into a world class agility competition dog, and of all his funny and sometimes heart stopping exploits along the way, is endearing enough so that if I had a short list of dogs I would most like to meet in this world, Buzzy would certainly be on it!

 

The author, who has won 14 National Agility Championships and been a member of flyball teams that hold world records, bases her training approach and methods on principles she learned from Bob Bailey and his wife, the late Dr. Marian Breland Bailey.  The Baileys are famous for using B.F. Skinner’s research findings to train thousands of animals, without using force or pain, through their business, “Animal Behavior Enterprises.”

 

Although Garrett offers more technical information about how to train for agility than can possibly be absorbed in one reading, many of her suggestions are equally relevant to other types of training.  In addition,  there are several excellent discussions of subjects of special interest to pet dog trainers ranging from games that can acclimate dogs to head halters, to how to help a resident dog accept a new puppy into the household.   The  wealth of valuable insights Garrett offers into relationship building and into the role that the relationship between dog and handler plays in the dog’s performance success or failure is an added bonus.  What drives all this to be a compelling read is Garrett’s emotional honesty, openness and good humor in sharing her love for her dog and her feelings about the challenges of raising and training her special puppy with her peers in the agility world watching and judging her efforts.

 

The only thing I would have liked to see included that was missing from this book was an index at the end for easy location of all the topics that were covered so well. 

 

Reviewed Sept/Oct 2006 by Beverly Hebert

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Small Dogs, Big hearts: A Guide to Caring For Your Little Dog, Darlene Arden (Howell Book House, 2006, $19.99).

 

 This book is aimed at pet owners, although it contains a wealth of special information about small dogs that breeders, exhibitors and trainers may also find useful. 

 

The two basic premises of “Small Dogs, Big Hearts” is that little dogs are special in ways that place them in a “class by themselves.”   What makes them uniquely appealing is their portability and how easily they can fit into mobile lifestyles, but their small size also creates special challenges for their care.

 

Author Darlene Arden, a certified animal behavior consultant and lover of small dogs, covers everything that owners may need or want to know about how their pint sized pets’ physical and developmental differences relate to their special medical, every day care, and training needs from birth through old age.  The comprehensive index makes it easy to look up information from ranging from shampoo to sweaters and coats. 

 

Although she does not delve into the details of how to train basic obedience, there is sound advice on the importance of socialization, the value of training for even the tiniest of dogs, and the importance of choosing a trainer who uses gentle positive methods.  Readers will also learn how to avoid falling into the seductive trap of spoiling their diminutive dogs or of underestimating their capabilities.

 

The tiny tots of the dog world include not only the AKC Toy group, but also smaller members of the Non sporting and Misc. categories as well as mixed breeds weighing 15 lbs and under.  One of the nice features of this book are the various breed descriptions along with approximately fifty black and white plus 32 glossy color photos that show these little dogs in a variety of settings and poses at their charming best, eyes shining with intelligence and mischief. 

 

Throughout this book, while avoiding extremes of anthropomorphizing, the author offers empathetic insights into the mindset and perspective of smaller dogs.  Not surprisingly, she is also sensitive to the   protective concerns of their owners and addresses how to handle safety issues in ways that will not result in detrimental over-protectiveness.   Being a “big dog” owner myself, these were the aspects of the book that most made it worthwhile reading for me as a professional trainer.

 

Reviewed by Beverly Hebert Nov. 20, 2006

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The following review was published on the Amazon.com web site.

Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog by Pat Miller
Reviewer: Beverly A. Hebert from Sugar Land, TX United States

5 out of 5 stars Essential book for Dog Owners, January 3, 2004

As a dog trainer myself who often turns to Pat Miller's journal articles for more information on how to effectively prevent or solve behavior problems, I was delighted to see her newest book published, since it serves as such a handy professional reference. However, in spite of the fact that Pat's book has enough depth to be an excellent learning resource for professionals, and I think it is one that every trainer should have in his/her library, Pat actually writes with the average pet owner in mind. Her warm, witty, "user-friendly" style makes it easy for even novice pet owners to read and understand what they need to know to communicate clearly with dogs, to build a great relationship with their dogs, and to handle problems along the way in a fair and gentle way. Another plus is that Pat includes a review of the latest dog products and equipment, some updates and advances in veterinary care and a resource/information list for further reading. If you are a dog owner who sometimes wishes that you knew a great trainer you could consult with, buying Pat Miller's book is one of the next best things you can do. As a long time advocate for dog-friendly training methods, Pat is one of the shining lights of the dog training profession and her latest book is an ideal companion to accompany anyone taking that wonderful journey with a dog from puppyhood to old age. 

 

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