Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog

Book Review & Excerpt
By Linda Case
Reviewed by The Bark Editors, July 2018, Updated June 2021
Under the scrutiny of the Science Dog in Linda Case’s latest myth-busting book

Linda Case, who is both a nutrition and training expert, has a mustread new book, Dog Smart, that will definitely make all of us— newbies to pros—smarter about dogs. She does a fine job in putting together the latest from the world of evidence- and behavioral science- based training in a conversational and approachable manner. She also coaches us in what to say to that “know-it-all” neighbor (we all have at least one) who thinks that dog training skills can be gleaned from TV personalities.

I especially appreciated that at the end of each chapter, she provides a list of bibliographic peer-reviewed references. Although Case ably summarizes and interweaves their findings into everyday examples, this approach makes looking up the research much easier.

Her writing style is a combination of Bill Nye: Science Guy and cheeky humor. I liked the way she clearly explained the difference between wolves and dogs, and why the behavior of this far-distant cousin doesn’t apply to the behavior of dogs any more than bonobo behavior predicts how Homo sapiens behave.

For students of canine behavior or for every dog guardian who wants to understand their dogs better, this book is both entertaining and an invaluable resource. Read our interview with Linda P. Case about separating the dog world’s provable facts from its sometimes-contentious and often contradictory conventional wisdom.


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High value versus low value treats: Many trainers selectively use what we call “high-value treats” for some behaviors and  “low-value treats” for others. These are ranked according to the dog’s response to and enjoyment of different forms and flavors of food reinforcers. For example, with my dogs (who generally will eat everything), I use dry kibble as low-value, various brands of soft-moist treats as moderate-value, and meat roll and homemade dog treats as high-value reinforcers. Most trainers who pay attention to differently valued reinforcers use high-value treats when training a difficult or complex behavior. Typically, we pair high-value treats  with the behavior that is most difficult or the part of a sequence that the dog is least motivated to offer.

Some evidence: However, other than subjectively observing the level of our dog’s pleasure at receiving different types of treats, do we have any evidence that treats vary in their influence upon learning? While limited, there are some data for this. When researchers trained dogs  to offer eye contact using either a high-value treat (dried liver pieces),  or a low-value treat (dry kibble pieces), all of the dogs learned “gazing behavior.” However, the dogs trained using the high-value treat maintained eye contact for longer durations than did dogs trained using low-value treats. Additionally, when the trainers proceeded to reinforce only with dry kibble, dogs who were downshifted from liver to kibble rapidly decreased their gaze duration. Although this was a small study, it suggests that learning efficiency is influenced by the value of the positive reinforce that is used and that dogs are affected by changes in anticipated reinforce value. Dogs trained with highvalue treats showed a strong response (longer duration of gaze), but also demonstrated signs of extinction when suddenly switched to a low-value treat and even rejected the reinforcer!

Excerpted from Dog Smart by Linda Case, copyright © 2018 by Linda Case. Published by AutumnGold Publishing. Used with permission.

Image courtesy of the publisher

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 94: Summer 2018