I recently had the supreme honor of editing the new Denise Fenzi/Deb Jones book. Dog Sport Skills: Developing Relationship and Engagement is the first in a series, and it’s a damn cool book. You should totally run out and buy several copies.
But I beg of you, don’t tell me if there are any grammatical errors. Please. Look, editing is not easy. Not only did I “copy edit” for grammar, but I also helped take two very distinct writing voices and help them blend together so that it will (hopefully!) provide you with a more cohesive reading experience. This is, all in all, way more work than I could have ever imagined.
Not that I’m complaining! Not at all; after all, I got to read the book way before most people. It’s just that I poured a ton of work into this book (not as much as Denise and Deb of course), and I still found errors when I did the last read-through. Dear G-d, I hope I found them all. I probably didn’t. I’m sorry. But please don’t tell me.
So! About the book.
I think the thing I like best about this book is that there is something for everyone. I know that Denise and Deb wanted it to be accessible for people new to training in general or crossing over from traditional training techniques while still providing value to experienced positive trainers. I think they did a nice job achieving this goal. As someone with a fair bit of training experience, parts of the book were review for me. Even so, I really enjoyed it.
I appreciated their honesty throughout the book. Sometimes positive trainers don’t like to admit that traditional training works, but… it does. Denise and Deb acknowledge this, but they also clearly explain why they choose not to use it. They believe that it is the trainer’s responsibility to “clearly communicate expectations to the dog, rather than the dog’s responsibility to figure out what the trainer wants.”
They also take on some of the myths around positive training. I love this excerpt in particular:
One criticism of positively trained dogs is that they are not as precise or reliable as those trained with pain compliance. This is simply not a valid argument. Strong performances have more to do with the effectiveness and experience of the trainer than the training method used. Because motivational techniques are relatively new, particularly in competitive dog sports, trainers using pain compliance techniques are generally far more experienced. There are very few experienced trainers that exclusively use motivational techniques. One of our goals in writing this book is to change that!
They display similar candor when they acknowledge that all dogs and all trainers are different; they point out that it’s impossible that a “training recipe” will work for everyone. There are two chapters to help someone newer to positive training get started; one on the theoretical knowledge, and one on practical applications. The theory chapter points out that there are numerous dog-friendly ways to train the same behavior, a fact that I think is often overlooked by critics.
Regular blog readers know that I’m big on the human-animal bond, so it’s probably not a surprise that I really enjoyed the chapter on relationships. But I’d never considered that there is a difference between what Denise and Deb call the “personal relationship” and the “working relationship.” They describe how these are different, make a good case for why each one is important, and then discuss how to develop them both.
Another thing I really appreciated was a frank conversation about the fact that a wise trainer will consider the dog’s “genetic package” when creating a training plan. They urge readers to accept the dog they have, but also note that, “dogs with all sorts of baggage can become successful performance dogs with the right environment and training.”
There is an entire chapter on stress, and I wish I could have read it several years ago. Denise and Deb discuss how to recognize stress as well as how to “inoculate” your dog against it. I also love that in their discussion on drive, they talk about the difference between enthusiasm and frantic behavior, something that many people mix up.
Another fabulous section is on the difference between attention and focus. They rightly point out that when dogs have to work away from their handler (agility, upper levels of obedience), unwavering handler attention is not helpful. The dog needs to learn how to focus on the right task at the right time.
But maybe the best part of all is that this book is the first in a series. I’m not sure how long the series will be, but I do know the second book will offer instructions on developing motivators- including personal play. I’m definitely looking forward to that!
Dog Sport Skills Book 1: Developing Relationship and Engagement doesn’t have a release date yet (this whole book publishing thing takes longer than one would think), but I know it's been sent to the printer, so... soon! Go like The Dog Athletepage on Facebook to get the official updates.