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5 Dog Training Books That Changed My Life

I’ll be completely honest. When I started my own dog walking business in 2015, I had relevant work experience, but I had completed zero continuing education in the field. I’m not proud of it, but the reality is that dog training (and pet care in general) is a completely unregulated industry. Anyone - literally anyone - can throw up a website and call themself a professional dog walker or trainer (seriously folks, if you hire a dog trainer, please vet their professional credentials). Luckily, soon after starting my business I heard about a program called DWA - the Dog Walking Academy. DWA is run by DogBiz and is a three day intensive course focusing on all aspects of running a dog walking business, from business formation to client communication, to interpreting dog body language and managing dog-dog interactions. I learned so much - but the most mind-blowing part of the course for me was the learning theory. The four learning quadrants, classical vs operant conditioning, the potential fallout of punishment, and the power of positive reinforcement  - I was hooked. Over the next several years I devoured books about dog training and how dogs learn, took courses, found mentors, and slowly gained the skills I needed to do my job well (of course, I’m still learning and making plenty of mistakes along the way). 

Here are five books about dog training that have powerfully affected me and shaped how I think about working and living with dogs. 

Don’t Shoot the Dog - by Karen Pryor

Karen Pryor is a pioneer in the field of behavioral science. She is the founder of the Karen Pryor Academy and popularized “clicker training.” She spent a good part of her career working with marine mammals, specifically dolphins, which she learned how to train using positive reinforcement techniques. Don’t Shoot the Dog explores her work with zoo animals, horses, and dogs, focusing on how and why positive reinforcement works, the side effects of punishment, and how changing the way we see and work with animals can change our own lives. It’s a fascinating read from a giant in the field, with lots of anecdotes that help to break down complex topics. 

The Culture Clash - by Jean Donaldson

Jean Donaldson is the founder of the Academy for Dog Trainers, considered the “Harvard” of dog training institutions. She’s a great writer, funny and geeky in equal measure, and this book is a dense tome of knowledge. She delves into the great divide in modern dog training, makes a rock solid case against the use of punishment, and helps us to understand the world from a dog’s perspective. Just like us, dogs are just trying to get their needs met and avoid scary stuff - the difference being that dogs have to live in “our” world rather than the other way around. From an ethical standpoint, she argues, we owe it to them to do our best to meet their needs and to make that world as free of pain and fear as possible. 

The Other End of the Leash - By Patricia McConnell

Another giant in the field of animal behavior, McConnell is also a gifted writer. In this classic work she focuses on the human side of the dog-human relationship - why we do what we do around dogs and how we can be more intentional in our interactions. She explores how, as primates, we communicate in ways that are very different from dogs. For example, when we get excited we tend to get very loud and wave our arms around - which can be scary for a dog. She also very effectively breaks down the dominance/”pack leader” myth and all of the (many) associated misconceptions that are so pervasive in the dog training world and in popular culture. 

Plenty In Life Is Free - Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace - Kathy Sdao

I picked up this book at Clicker Expo several years ago after hearing a talk by Sdao. Sdao picks up the baton from her predecessors and moves the positive reinforcement conversation forward. She discusses how, even within the world of positive reinforcement training, there is a persistent notion that dogs need to “work” for every privilege (the “Nothing in Life is Free” philosophy). She breaks down the argument that humans need to maintain their status as the household “leader” and rather argues that we should work in cooperation with our dogs to get everyone’s needs met. It's a beautiful read. 

Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out - Training The Crazy Dog From Over The Top To Under Control - Laura VanArendonk Baugh

This book is a fantastic resource for reactive dog owners, or anyone who wants to help their dog feel more relaxed in their environment. Baugh helps to break down what’s actually happening when your dog displays reactivity and other “out of control” behaviors. She also provides a simple protocol for mat training, which can be an incredible tool in helping your dog relax and teaching them alternatives to "freaking out." Baugh is also extremely funny. Reading this book is like hanging out with a hilarious friend, who’s also a super smart geeky dog trainer. This one is a must read for so many dog owners wanting to give their dog skills to cope with our crazy modern world. 

That's it! There are so many great resources out there - but these books have stayed with me over the years. I know there are many more - shoot me an email or leave a comment if you have something to recommend!