Review: Don’t Shoot the Dog!

Don’t Shoot the Dog!

This classic book by landmark trainer and behaviorist Karen Pryor has been on my to-read list for almost a year now. Our public library didn’t carry a copy, but then I stumbled upon it at a used book sale for a $1. Perfect!

I actually had no idea that this book wasn’t exclusively a dog training book; Don’t Shoot the Dog! is actually a general primer on the techniques and methods of positive reinforcement training, applied to all kinds of animals–humans included. The book is not a step-by-step training manual, but rather a primer on why these positive techniques work in the first place.

Pryor is best known for being a leading proponent of clicker training, a method of reward and reinforcement that she began using while training dolphins. Clicker training has widespread application to many different types of animals and dogs, of course, respond very well to the use of clickers.

The book discusses the application of clickers in positive reinforcement training, but it spends more time explaining why clicker training works. Why do animals respond so well and so quickly to this schedule of training? Pryor has the answers, and she presents them cleanly and clearly in this book.

I almost wish I had read it earlier, as it would have been a nice foundation for my introduction to positive training. As it stands, however, I’m still glad I read it and glad to have that extra assurance that this is the type of training that is respectful and effective. I am looking forward to continuing to learn these techniques and put them into practice with my own dog in the coming months!

Review and discussion of clicker training

Clicker Training for Dogs.

Among crazy dog people like myself, Karen Pryor is a household name. For the unfamiliar, Pryor is largely credited with spurring on the clicker training wave for household pets, especially dogs. Pryor, a respected scientist and researcher, began with a career in marine mammal biology and behavior. As she trained dolphins with clickers, she observed that the positive reinforcement principles behind this method of training would work brilliantly with dogs, cats, and other household animals. Her pioneering work in the positive training field has revolutionized much of dog training philosophy today.

This tiny little book is basically a pamphlet–I think it’s only 50 pages–but it’s a helpful pamphlet nonetheless. It’s the most basic form of a primer to the principles, methods, and steps to clicker training your dog. So, if you know absolutely nothing about clicker training and think you might want to try it yourself, this little booklet would be a good place to start.

I’ve read a more thorough guide to positive training with a clicker in Pat Miller’s The Power of Positive Dog Training, which I highly recommend, but I did want to read at least something by the founder herself. (I hoped I could get my hands on something more substantial, particularly her oft-cited Don’t Shoot the Dog!, but my public library doesn’t carry a copy and I’ve been buying too many books lately… Someday, I’ll get around to reading it!)

Clicker Training for Dogs reinforced my interest in clicker training, but I admit that I have hesitations. I know that it works wonders and that it’s the most efficient method to reinforce a dog’s behavior. But here’s why I hesitate: I’m not sure how reliable I would be with a clicker. I know that precise timing is everything. I also know that I’d need to have a clicker in hand almost constantly.

So, I’d like to open the floor. I’m curious: Are any of you clicker trainers? Do you have any advice for a novice trainer like myself? Is it something that I would need to do with my dog from the beginning? How did you figure out your timing? Do you have to carry a clicker with you everywhere?

Whew. I really want to do it, but I am anxious about my consistency. And, as you can tell, I have loads of questions. If you have any answers, even some generic advice, I’d love to hear it!