I love to read. I love dogs. So it should come as no surprise that I love reading books about dogs… and especially about dog training. So today, I want to tell you about five of my favorite dog training books.
The Thinking Dog, by Gail Fisher
I did not read this book for quite awhile because the subtitle references crossover trainers (those who move from more traditional, punishment based techniques to positive methods), which I am not. When I finally did get around to reading it, I was very impressed. It is a great introduction to positive methods in general, and clicker training in specific.
It covers a wide variety of topics, starting with the benefits of positive training. It discusses how to acquire behaviors- both in general, and for specific behaviors- as well as how and when to add the cue. In fact, I think this book has some of the best information on cuing and stimulus control I’ve ever seen. I also appreciated the frank discussion on the use of punishment, because let’s face it, punishment is impossible to avoid in real life. This book helps talk the reader through the options without advocating physical corrections.
Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor
This book deftly mixes personal stories, anecdotes, and science to make for a highly enjoyable look at animal training. It isn’t a how-to manual, but rather discusses how and why we train animals- all animals. I especially enjoyed the information about how an animal's brain processes training, but there's also great information about animal creativity and TAGTeach- clicker training for humans.
This book also has a special place in my heart as the book that turned my husband from mostly bored to fascinated by all that training stuff I kept babbling about. I think that speaks to the inspiring nature of this book. My husband had the same response I did: the only thing that could tear us away from reading it was the desire to go TRY THIS with our dog.
The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell
Another not-a-training-manual book, and yet so valuable for those of us who train. It’s a fascinating look at our canine friends that is heavy on science, but it is interwoven with case studies and a gentle humor in a way that makes it easy to read.
What I love about this book is that it looks at the behavior and social order of dogs, wolves, and humans, and then compares and contrasts them in a way that helps us understand how our behavior affects that of our dogs. Everything from the way we move to the pitch of our voice makes a difference, and this book helped me learn how to take advantage of that.
The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson
I hesitate to include this book, because while it is an excellent look at how dogs and people differ, the tone can be blunt. I worry that people who come from more traditional training approaches will feel insulted by some of the phrasing.
That said, this book is absolutely astounding. It covers everything from learning theory to punishment to anthropomorphism to dominance… and really gave me an appreciation of just how amazing dogs are to overcome the incredible difference between their culture and ours. It is primarily an informational tome, but does have some how-tos in the back.
Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt
This is the reactive dog bible, and if you have a dog who has trouble focusing, seems anxious, or is otherwise difficult, you need to read it. The book was written primarily for people competing in agility, but the techniques are useful for any dog in any situation.
The book is based on the classes Leslie was teaching, and as such, is laid out as a curriculum, going week by week. Leslie has also stated that she never uses every exercise in the book in every class or with every dog, so it’s definitely something you need to read critically with your own dog in mind. However, since it is written sequentially, many of the later activities build on the earlier ones, so you can't ignore the boring foundation stuff. As a result, this book can be tricky for a novice to get through. My advice is to read the whole thing all the way through before trying any of the activities.
These are just some of my favorite training-focused books. There are tons of great books out there (and that I had to regretfully leave out)… so you should comment and share what your favorite books are!