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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 20 August 2006
I came to this book in a roundabout way, having bought Amy Sutherland's book 'Kicked, bitten and scratched', about the work of exotic animal trainers. This was cited as a source, and I thought that it would be interesting to find out more about the subject of animal training, and perhaps it's application to humans! I must admit that I was put off by some of the more negative or dismissive reviews posted. However this proved to be a wonderful, extraordinary book. First thing to get straight, despite the title, it is NOT just about dogs. This book is about training techniques that apply generally, whether the subject is a dog, cat, mouse, bird, dolphin, elephant, teenager, spouse or colleague. I am not a pet owner, nor an exotic animal trainer, yet I am now applying the techniques described at work (as a family doctor and GP educator), and at home. The book describes techniques of positive (and negative) reinforcement in training new behaviour, or ending unwanted behaviour. It makes the point very clear that punishment is a fruitless way of trying to shape behaviour. 'Don't shoot the dog' is written in a style that is clear, concise and intelligent; and for good measure it is peppered with animal-training anecdoes that made me laugh out loud. As a measure of effectiveness, my teenage son responded (after positive reinforcement of some good behaviour) "Dad, after 14 years, your rating as a father has just gone off the scale!". Enough said.
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on 22 November 2006
A fantastic book not just for dog training but for motivating anyone (husbands, kids, cats and so on) it really explains why positive reinforcement is the only way to train. I have re-read it a number of times and recommend it more than any other book I've ever read. Every bookshelf should have a copy!
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on 28 November 2007
I first read this book a couple of years ago and since then have recommended it to anyone who would listen. I've also bought four copies and given them as gifts.

I decided recently that I should reread it to reinforce the ideas and to see if it was as good as I remembered. It is.

When I first read this book I can remember being literally horrified at the methods I had been using to try to modify other peoples' behaviour (family, girlfriend, colleagues, etc.). Any time you attempt to change the behaviour of any person or animal you are - whether you realise it or not - attempting to train them.

It turns out that the methods most people use (usually unconsciously or because they do not know better) are both ineffective and unpleasant - especially punishment. It is rare in life that you can change to a different method of doing something vitally important that is both much more pleasant for all of those involved and produces better results. This book demonstrates one of these happy occasions.

All of our attempts to change the behaviour of other creatures can be broken down into three categories: punishment, negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement. Punishment is an aversive applied after the event (such as grounding your kids or putting a criminal in jail). Negative reinforcement is an aversive (punisher) applied when an unwanted behaviour is occurring which is then stopped when the unwanted behaviour stops (such as the use of a choke chain on a dog). Positive reinforcement involves rewarding desired behaviour (for example using praise or food).

Karen Pryor's methods originate with the findings of American psychologist B F Skinner and her work as a dolphin trainer. Dolphins are unusual creatures in that it is not really possible to train them using the traditional methods of negative reinforcement or punishment. Dolphin trainers thus had no choice except to explore what was possible using only positive reinforcement, particularly using the powerful tool of a conditioned reinforcer - something that the training subject associates with a reward, such as a clicker or whistle.

(The advantage of a conditioned reinforcer is that it becomes possible to show the subject precisely what it was you liked because you can indicate without any delay. A lot of training problems are simply due to problems in communication. For example, when you yell at your dog for jumping into the lake and it comes over to you and you then tell it off forcefully, how does the dog know that you are telling it off for jumping in the lake rather than coming over to you when you call? And should you be surprised when you find your dog won't come reliably when you call for it?)

Dolphins were (are?) considered different to other animals in their level of intelligence, playfulness, curiosity and friendliness to humans. I found it absolutely fascinating that Pryor has found that when other animals - dogs, horses, bears and even fish - are trained only using positive reinforcement they show the same characteristics as dolphins. Even more interesting is Pryor's finding that if even a small amount of negative training (all of which involve use of a punisher) is mixed in you lose all or virtually all of the benefits. And what good sense this makes: how could a dog that is regularly throttled with a chain by its 'beloved' owner have the same level of trust, curiosity and freedom from fear as one that was only praised when it did something that was desired? This has extremely important ramifications for our conduct in our daily lives.

One of the principal benefits of Pryor's book is that she teaches us that it is often helpful to make an effort to see the situation from the other side. This sounds trite but is actually the opposite: a simple but very powerful tool. Often problems originate from a communication problem and/or because we find we are actually not rewarding or punishing the behaviour we think we are (as my dog example above shows).

I have found Pryor's methods immensely liberating. Previously I always felt that is was somehow my 'duty' to try to correct unwanted behaviour (whether is was something my girlfriend did, service I was unhappy about at a restaurant, or whatever). Thus I either ended up with an unpleasant situation (when is remonstrating with people pleasant?) or felt that I had given up because I was weak. Now I understand that one can and should just wait for behaviour one wants and deliberately reward it. This is the difference between a life filled with negativity and the total opposite. And the results are also better! What a marvellous gift Karen Pryor has given us.
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on 4 November 2013
This is another 'bible' for any dog owner or dog trainer. It will change any dog owners attitude towards the handling of their dog, and possibly their husband, wife or kids. An essential book for any dog owners collection - bar none. Do your dog a favour and acquire this book.
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on 9 August 2013
I think the author is obviously intelligent and knowledgeable and I think what I have read will help reduce one of my JRT's barking (the other one doesn't have a barking problem, so I know that my methods thus far weren't entirely useless just not suited for the barker). Signs after one day of praising him periodically when he is quiet seems to be working, I never thought of doing that, only praising him for stopping barking. One thing shocked me though, the author wrote about a cat she'd had that kept peeing on the cooker hobs every night. The cat had access to the house and garden, presumably via a cat flap, yet the author stated she never caught the cat in the act and after nothing successfully stopped it happening she took the cat to be put to sleep. This put me off and so I didn't read any more of the book than I needed to after that. I found it surprising someone would openly admit they had a healthy animal put to sleep, as though it is an acceptable thing to do, instead of finding some way around the problem and also what struck me very quickly was that since she never caught her cat doing it then surely it was possible another cat was entering the cat flap and doing it. I found this appalling, so while she might know what she's talking about regarding training and discipline (excluding peeing cats) I find the situation with the cat very questionable.
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on 24 October 2006
I've just finished reading through this book and it is utterly brilliant! Though it is a little hard to understand at times (I found myself reading over a paragraph twice or more to get the idea stuck in my head), it is kept interesting throughout. I would definately recomment this to anyone who wants to train their pets, friends, themselves, or to anyone who is seeking a future career as an animal trainer, as many examples are provided of more exotic animals.

To those who complain 'but the book is not about dogs as the title implies', I simply say next time read the description of the book before you buy it next time, as it clearly states above that this book helps with dogs, cats, horses, humans and more.
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on 4 July 2016
Whilst this book does contain some interesting sections on animal behaviour and the history and application of positive reinforcement, it does feel rather dated to me. As the final chapter reveals, it was originally published in the 1980s; even Barbara Woodhouse gets a mention! There are a lot of examples from dolphin training in sea-life centres where much of the research and development took place. This can make for uncomfortable reading, but keeping such animals in captivity was considered more acceptable in those days. There is also, as a one star reviewer also pointed out, a section where a cat is put to sleep after it proved too difficult to house train! I can't imagine any current animal trainers advocating that in their books. Some of the most interesting sections actually discuss how to apply the techniques to human behaviour which certainly gives food for thought! There are some tips about training dogs sprinkled throughout, but this book has a much broader remit. Indeed the so-called 'new' chapter on clicker training just extols how great the technique is without actually going into any detail as to how the technique is used in practical terms. In summary, maybe buy it if you have an interest in animal (and indeed human) behaviour but if you are looking for a clicker dog training manual there are much more modern and practical books available.
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on 20 April 2016
This was recommended reading by a friend. I had to buy a second copy as the first was given to a friend to 'train' her boyfriend!! So it isn't really a book just about dog training, it's more about psychology and attitude. Fantastic book, really made me look at things in a different way and think more about my training and peoples attitudes towards their dogs. A must read for any animal owner and probably anyone with family!
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on 24 September 2014
When it comes to dealing with animals or humans I catch myself saying, I tried everything but nothing works to change this or that. This book opened my eyes. I realised I haven't tried everything, I haven't changed how I react to the things I don't like.
This book is great, empowers you to take action and change some of your relationships for the better. This book has helped me to communicate with animals, my family and my colleagues better. Training is an extremely creative process. After reading this book, an undesired behaviour is an opportunity for me to correct it. I am happier and less frustrated.
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on 3 June 2008
This book was recommended to me by the psychologist who we consult regarding our son with autism. This is indeed the book that best equips us with dealing with our sons behaviours. I read the whole thing not with dogs but with my son in mind and it completely sums up the best way to teach him. I would be happy if all special needs schools read this book with an open mind. It would change a LOT of things.
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