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Train Your Dog Positively
Published by Ten Speed Press
 train your dog positively

Positive-reinforcement dog training has become so prevalent that it’s hard to recall a time when collar jerks and ear pinches were popular. In Victoria Stilwell’s new book, she gives an easy-to-read overview of why and how PR training works, then shows how it can be applied to canine issues, from addressing common behavior problems to tackling separation anxiety, stress and aggression.

News: Guest Posts
Herding Sheep with a Border Collie and Your Stetson Hat
A fine memoir of a road trip with dogs to the World Sheepdog Trials

Not far into Mr. and Mrs. Dog, Donald McCaig says of himself and his talented “Blockhead” of a Border Collie, Luke, the male of the title: “I’ve never done as well with Luke as a better handler might have, but Luke adores me. When I go out at 2 a.m. to check lambing ewes, Luke comes too. When I wake with the night sweats, Luke wakes. He thinks I am a better man than I am.  If I sold him, his earnest doggy heart would break.”

It is a tribute to McCaig’s capacity for self-reflection and humor that he is willing to admit his own failures as an occasionally over anxious sheepdog handler. He knows that dogs are not machines and we are not infallible. Ultimately all you can do is the best you can do under sometimes disastrous circumstances.

Upon reaching 68 years of age half a decade ago and finding himself with two quality border collies in their prime, McCaig decided the time had come to launch a campaign to fulfill his dream of the worlds. 

Traveling 34,000 miles in his twenty-year-old car, McCaig, Luke, and June (Mrs. Dog) compete in sheepdog trials around the country hoping to compile enough points to secure invitations to join the American team in Wales.  At the last minute, June garners the invitation, and Luke gets to compete as McCaig’s second dog.

If his best-selling Nop’s Trials is McCaig’s contribution to “lost dog” literature—think of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang—Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies is his homage to an equally venerable tradition, the “the dog road trip,” of which John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is perhaps most famous. McCaig is on the road not only to qualify for the worlds but also to broaden his dogs’ experience of different sheep and environments—in a fundamental sense to educate them so they will be better able to cope with situations and varieties of sheep they have not seen before.

Although June pulled them through on cumulative points for the year, her most memorable performance came at a trial in West Texas when she decided to forego herding sheep and goats in favor of far bigger game--a huge, ground-thumping oil exploration seismograph truck. “June wanted, nay NEEDED to fetch that big thumping, flickering weirdness,” McCaig writes, “and nothing I said—neither my shouts nor redirects—swayed June from her goal.”

Once abreast of the thumper, June realized she had not a clue what to do with it and returned to McCaig, but there were no longer any goats to fetch.  Her assault on the seismograph thumper had disqualified her.

Hoping to further his own education, McCaig periodically detours from the sheepdog circuit to visit trainers known for their skill in training methods they have developed or adapted. Along the way, he correctly points out that the battle between practitioners of what we might call punishment-based training and those who prefer awards-and rewards-directed training is now more than 100 years old.

For much of that time it appears that punishment has ruled—aversive training, as it were. McCaig himself is something of a follower of William Koehler, the Disney animal trainer from the mid-twentieth century, who developed a method of obedience training relying on long lines and various chain collars and leashes.  Even today, most people attending obedience classes probably follow some version of Koehler’s method. 

McCaig is looking for training epiphanies; bright moments of understanding or enlightenment that will help him better train and manage his dogs. He meets animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, and attends sessions given by trainers using the dog’s ‘innate’ drives, rewards, the Koehler method, and shock collars, which so engage him that he adopts the industry’s terminology and calls them e-collars.

Over the years, McCaig and I have agreed to disagree about shock collars, and in future postings, I hope to examine different approaches to training. For now, I’ll just say that people searching for a blanket endorsement of shock collars or other training devices or methods will not find them here—with the possible exception of the thirty-foot long line, which need not deployed in punitive fashion.

McCaig’s book arrived shortly after I had visited my favorite trainer, Lourdes Edlin.  She is one of those gifted people who will have a dog literally eating out of her hand within minutes of meeting it. She understands that to train a dog, she must learn what motivates it—food treats in many cases, but in others a ball or Kong® or simply praise. 

Edlin said that she was growing tired of teaching people basic obedience—sit, stay, heel, come—and becoming more focused on “teaching people how to do things with their dogs.” The basics would follow from that.

I was reminded of Edlin’s comments when I read McCaig’s reflections on his forays into the world of training. “Though each trainer believes his or her method is best, I don’t think it matters which method the pet owner adopts so long as that owner finds a capable mentor and sticks with the training,” he writes. ”Eventually you will learn to see your dog and when that happens the richness of your and your dog’s lives will tell you what to do next.

“Neither Luke nor June was ever trained to ‘heel’ nor ‘sit’ nor ‘stand for examination.’ They have never retrieved a ball or dumbbell. They rarely play with each other and never play with other dogs. Yet they would be mannerly in any human environment. Not because they were ‘trained’ for good manners, but because they were properly socialized, exercised daily, and have a job—stock work. Mannerliness is a by product of that training.”

A few paragraphs later, he concludes, “Have the highest expectations, do the work, and your dog can walk at your side anywhere on earth. He’ll become the dog you’ve empowered to change your life. As Luke and June have changed mine.”

McCaig’s account of the trio’s trip to Wales is informative, amusing, and somewhat sad.  The two males manage to win a local Welsh competition, the South Wales Sheepdog Trials Hafod Bridge, where McCaig penned his sheep brandishing his Stetson® hat instead if the traditional shepherd’s crook.  A revolution was doubtless averted when McCaig confessed that he simply had deemed his crook too difficult to manage on the flight across the pond and he had neglected to obtain one.  Clearly a telescoping shepherd’s crook is in order.

Luke, June, and McCaig washed out in the first round of the big show.  McCaig blames himself for failing to meet his expectations, but he should not.

He’s written a fine book and made a most excellent life with Mr. and Mrs. Dog. Moreover, they have had many an excellent adventure. What  more  could a dog or human want?

This blog originally appeared on Psychology Today. Reposted with permission.

 

 

Culture: Reviews
Reaching the Animal Mind
Published by Sunshine Books

Curious about clicker training? Get your information from the woman whose name has become synonymous with this positivereinforcement method. Pryor has spent more than three decades refining clicker-training techniques with animals large and small, including, of course, dogs. In this important and enjoyable book, she shares her observations and interactions, giving the reader new appreciation for the ways animals think and how best to work with them. As a bonus, video clips, scientific articles and links that expand the content of each of chapter can be accessed online.

Culture: Reviews
Review: Hounded
Published by Center Street
Hounded Matt Ziselman

This memoir, which expands the “what my dog has taught me” genre to a whole trio of idiosyncratic Dachshunds, recalls each dog’s special way of challenging the author and adding spice to his and his family’s life. A delightful and fun romp.

It never fails to amuse all of us when all 12 pounds of Molly intimidates all 25 pounds of Baxter. And it is often. If Baxter even looks at Molly’s rawhide bone while she’s chewing on it, out comes a deep, serious growl from Molly. It’s a sound you would think impossible to come out of such a tiny muzzle. It’s almost like there’s a pit bull hiding behind the couch, and it’s throwing its growl. Every time I see it happen it reminds me that it’s not always the largest dog that’s the “big” dog. There have been instances where Baxter has gotten a little too close for Molly’s comfort, and she’s taken enough of a nip to leave a mark. What’s Maya doing when this is happening? Nothing. She just goes on blissfully chewing her bone. I guess when Molly joined the household she and Maya came to some kind of understanding —namely, that Molly would be Maya’s muscle. Which is sort of strange, since Baxter and Molly spend a lot of their time shadowing each other. But, make no mistake: Baxter is always Molly’s bitch, and not the other way around.

Read the full excerpt of Hounded: The Lowdown on Life with Three Dachshunds

Culture: Reviews
Review: A Dog Named Boo
Published by Harlequin
A Dog Named Boo

Boo had poor eyesight and a clumsy gait, but he also had something that trumped any physical deficiency: a sweet and unflappable nature. Abandoned along with his littermates, five-weekold Boo caught the eye and heart of Lisa Edwards. The rest, as they say, is history. This is a tale of a dog who has not only made good, he does good; with Edwards’ help, Boo found his true calling as a therapy dog. Edwards skillfully twines Boo’s story with her own, and the result is a memoir that will stay with you long after you read the last page.

Culture: Reviews
Review: The Secret Life of Dog Catchers
Published by CreateSpace
The Secret Life of Dog Catchers

Dogs, cats, ducks, horses, goats, roosters, deer, snakes—animal control officer Shirley Zindler has seen (and helped) them all. As she makes clear in this collection detailing her experiences, working with the public and making a positive difference for animals can be a challenge, but it’s one that she’s embraced wholeheartedly. After reading this book, you’re likely to look at your beleaguered local “dog catcher” with a new respect.

Culture: Reviews
A Million Years with You: A Memoir of Life Observed
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There is no doubt about it: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has led a fascinating, full life. Now in her eighth decade, she tells her story, which includes teen years in the Kalahari Desert while her parents searched for Bushmen. Not even marriage and motherhood and putting her husband through graduate school hampered her sense of adventure and zest for observation. On assignment for The New Yorker, she lived in Nigeria (taking her dogs with her) during the uprisings that plagued that African country, then went to Uganda as Idi Amin was taking over. She spent time on Canada’s remote Baffin Island studying wolves. And in 1993, she wrote The Hidden Life of Dogs, the first dog book to sell 1,000,000 copies. All that, and much more, is on this remarkable woman’s resume.

Culture: Reviews
Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies
Published by Univ. of Virginia Press

The World Sheepdog Trials in Wales are the Olympics of the herding-dog world. Rather like an open-air ballet, highly trained, highly intelligent dogs move flocks of willful sheep with minimal long-distance direction from their humans. This was the rarefied environment into which Donald McCaig took his Border Collies Luke and June (the Mr. and Mrs. Dog of the title) to compete. His account of how the three of them arrived at this event spans McCaig’s 25 years of raising and training sheepdogs; he not only shares his stories, he provides a valuable commentary on living with and loving dogs.

Culture: Reviews
Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts
Published by Scientific American/FSG

When the first fully adult animal—Dolly, a sheep— was successfully cloned in 1996, it made headline news around the world. Since then, the practice of meddling in animal biology has speeded up exponentially. Humans have been tinkering with animals for centuries, of course— witness the incredible spectrum of dog breeds—but the new tools scientists have been adding to their toolboxes over the last two decades have taken that activity to a whole new level. Anthes not only reports on this phenomenon, she raises important questions about our responsibilities to animals, and about the impact of this experimentation on the living world.

Culture: Reviews
A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher
Published by Riverhead

What do you do when your bright and gregarious dog is bored senseless? Sue Halpern hit upon the perfect solution: put her to work. Pransky, Halpern’s Labradoodle, was six years old and a proven quick study when the two began training as a therapydog team. Once they began making their visits to the local “county home,” Halpern’s belief in Pransky’s skills was confirmed; her partner was very good at her job. Though the bulk of the book focuses on Pransky’s interactions with the home’s residents, Halpern also comments on our attachment to dogs, and theirs to us.

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