Cesar's Rules


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'Cesar's Rules' is a very interesting book. It's far from being a simple 'how to train your dog' guide. To start off with, Cesar Millan is ambiguous about the importance of training, a term he uses to refer to formal obedience training, or training in skills, like sniffer dog work.

Millan quite rightly points out that dogs may be well-trained, ie able to obey a wide range of commands, but still cause their owners serious grief. So in his view, training is secondary to fulfilling dogs' needs, especially for exercise and leadership. Millan claims to train humans and rehabilitate rather than train dogs, and in the introduction, he explains that he called in the help of professionals since he did not see his own expertise as broad enough for writing a training book.


The Culture Clash


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Jean Donaldson's aim in 'Culture Clash' was to market the ideas of B.F. Skinner, a key behaviorist pioneer who developed the notion of operant conditioning. Skinner was interested in how animals reacted to rewards and punishments, rather than what was inside their heads, what they felt, or what their motives were. Donaldson tells us on p10 that the behaviourist model is 'inescapably verifiable'. Her book became a best-seller, and is still on the list of recommended reading in some modern training books. This is quite a feat, given that only the last chapter is an explicit 'how to' guide to training, and it's difficult to find training points in other chapters, amid the diatribes!


Mr and Mrs Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures and Epiphanies


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Donald McCaig excels at telling stories. Mr and Mrs Dog is a story about two sheepdogs, Luke and June, who travel to Wales and compete in the World Sheepdog Trials with Donald.

The book has you turning the page to see what will happen next. First, Luke and June prepare for the trials in the US, learning to  become more flexible by working different kinds of sheep in varied terrains.

There are nerve-wracking moments - will they be ready to compete? Will their health certificates be accepted by the airport bureaucracy? Will they survive Welsh roads? McCaig tells the story with details that make you feel you're there, whether in arid Texas, or soggy Wales. He gives you glimpses of different sheepdog cultures, and the people who keep those cultures going.


Think Dog

Why Does My Dog?



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These books contain a lot of duplicate material, and 'Why Does My Dog?' is perhaps the better choice if you only want to buy one of these books, though there are some useful points in 'Think Dog' which aren't repeated in the later book. 

Both 'Think Dog' and 'Why Does My Dog' came out in the early 1990s. They are a little dated, but they are still wonderful books that reflect Fisher's practical approach to dog behaviour, and the breadth of his experience from a long career working with dogs. 

Fisher's work was hugely influential among trainers and behaviourists in the UK. 'Think Dog' represented a move away from an approach to behaviour and training which was based more on corrections, and towards a more reward-based approach. Fisher also explains how much of what owners perceive as 'a problem' is just normal canine behaviour. While Fisher argued that owners should behave like an alpha, his message isn't simply 'be dominant'. He also examines stress, both good stress and bad stress, health, diet, and other factors that can affect behaviour. It might surprise some people that section two of the book is entitled 'The Positive Approach to Problem Behaviour'. Despite Fisher's emphasis on 'dominance', he stressed rewards rather than punishment. It's well worth reading these books both for what Fisher says about dogs, and to trace the path of the development of modern dog training.


Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training


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 ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ has become a classic text in dog training, and was the first popularisation of operant conditioning for dog trainers and owners, though others had previously used this technique to train a range of animals, notably BF Skinner. The idea of operant conditioning had been around for decades before ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ appeared in 1984, but this book was a key landmark in history of dog training. Karen Pryor is also usually associated with clicker training, which became popular among many trainers and owners, especially at competition level, during the 1990s. Why is her book so popular, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?