Review: The Other End of the Leash

The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell.

If you keep up with any dog training blogs or if you read dog training books, you’re bound to hear positive buzz around the name Patricia McConnell. Having read The Other End of the Leash, I can attest that this buzz is well deserved.

This book is a beautiful journey through the mind of your canine and it’s a much-needed reminder that our behavior around our dogs may be sending the entirely wrong signals. McConnell has a degree in animal behavioral science and her solid academic background often breaks through in the text. Yet she presents her findings with grace and ease, making her research and the behavioral principles displayed applicable to those of us who don’t have a Ph.D. in science.

McConnell also shares lots of insightful anecdotes about her experience with troubled dogs and their troublesome owners. These stories illuminate many of the positive training principles that she recommends. I also deeply enjoyed her heart-warming stories about her own dogs, a pack of border collies and a Great Pyrenees, who help her run her sheep farm in rural Wisconsin.

I was especially impressed with McConnell’s skill as a writer. There are not many books about dogs can boast such excellent, clear, and enjoyable prose. As an English major and a self-described literary snob, I found a lot of joy in this aspect of the book, too. It’s rare to find a great dog trainer who is also a skillful writer. McConnell, gratefully, is both.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants an inspiring and informational introduction into the world of canine behavior. After just a few chapters, McConnell will have you quickly evaluating your own postures and tones with your dog. It’s a beautiful book; I would certainly read it again.

If you can’t tell, I now count myself a loyal McConnell fan. I am eager to read the rest of her books, but in the meantime, I am gratified to that McConnell keeps a fairly regular blog by the same title as her book: The Other End of the Leash. The blog, like this book, come highly recommended by me.

Review: The Power of Positive Dog Training

The Power of Positive Dog Training, by Pat Miller

This was the first dog book I picked up in my year-long quest to learn about dogs and I am so glad it was.

After doing some preliminary online research on dog training, Pat Miller’s now classic treatise of positive reinforcement training kept getting a lot of buzz. Thankfully, my local library had a copy and I picked it up soon after reading yet another rave review of the book.

Miller’s basic mantra is that all animals repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid behaviors that are not. Punishment rarely achieves desired objectives when it comes to training an animal. Dogs seek to repeat behaviors that are positively reinforced. Quite simply, this is the entire belief system behind Miller’s training paradigm. Capture the behavior you want and then reward it. Attach a verbal cue after a few repetitions and Sparky is throwing sits at you right and left.

Even though I don’t yet have a dog of my own, I’ve spent a lot of time with dogs and trained my childhood Australian Shepherd from scratch back when I was a kid. I wish I’d had this book with me then! And I wish I had been more confident to confront my parents about their punishment/dominance-oriented methods of behavior control. Dogs don’t learn like humans. They don’t readily associate punishment with past behavior. This is why Miller stresses, again and again, the need to turn every desired behavior into an opportunity for positive reinforcement.

I took tons of notes while I was reading this book. I’m planning on putting Miller’s weekly training regimens into practice once we get our dog. She provides step-by-step instructions for teaching your dog each behavior and consistently provides advice for the dogs who aren’t perfectly mirroring these behaviors. I want to give a copy of this book to everyone in my life who has a dog or who is thinking about a dog.

One of the primary reasons I loved this book is that Miller has practical and scientific justification for her methods. Her techniques work and she explains why they do. Even though I like watching “The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan isn’t very helpful to your average dog owner. He’s able to calm that psychotic Rottweiler with his “calm, assertive energy,” but what does that really mean for you on a daily basis? Miller is anything but esoteric. She gives you concrete, definite explanations for her methods, which in turn gives her readers a hearty dose of confidence.

My parents are talking about getting a dog once all of my siblings are out of the house. When the time comes, I’ll be mailing them a copy of this book!

For more information about Pat Miller and her programs, visit her excellent website, Peaceable Paws.