How to Pick the Right Book
Vivian Leven Shoemaker, CPDT-KA, Dog Training Director
Have you ever found yourself standing in the animal section of a bookstore looking through one dog book after another wondering whose advice to heed? Who gives accurate advice, what credentials should a dog book author have, and what should a good dog book include? It is not easy to make an educated choice, especially since the dog training profession, more so in the past, has been a completely unregulated profession, where basically anyone can announce themselves as an expert in the field. Below are some guidelines to help you find the right book for your needs.
- Evaluate the author's level of education and experience
- Assess exactly what it is you are looking for
- Determine your existing proficiency on the topic and preferred writing style
- Consider the training methods advocated
Evaluate the author's level of education & experience
In order to be an authority on dog training and behavior it is not enough that the back cover biography says that the person has extended experiences with dogs. It may be an additional bonus but what is important to look for is the author's education. For example, does the author have some knowledge in the field of psychology, biology, ethology, or education? Is the author actively involved in the dog training community to be up to date with the latest information available? The answer to this question is easiest to discern if the author has some type of dog trainer certification. The Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) certification is nationally recognized and respected in the field. A university degree as a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Animal Behaviorist is another guarantee of a higher level of knowledge. In addition, if you are looking into a more specialized subject matter, say for example, competition obedience, therapy dog work or agility, then also look for an author who is recognized in that specialized field. Some household name dog and animal trainers and behavioral consultants in the forefront of their field are: Jean Donaldson; Patricia McConnell; Ian Dunbar; Pat Miller; Pam Reid; Karen Pryor; Suzanne Clothier; Terry Ryan; Leslie Nelson; James O'Heare; Steven Lindsey and Nicole Wilde.
Assess exactly what it is you are looking for
Obviously it helps to have an idea about what type of information you are seeking. There are so many dog-related topics on the market it can easily make your head spin if you do not narrow down your search. The market offers some really specialized information. If you know the exact topic you want to learn more about, your search will be much more focused. For example:
- How to raise a puppy
- General/ basic dog training
- Rescue and shelter dogs and their special needs in a new home
- How to train a therapy dog
- Dog sport specialties; Agility, Rally, Obedience, Fly Ball, etc.
- Various dog breeds
- Specific behavioral problems.
- The dog's origin including physiological and mental abilities
Determine your existing proficiency on the topic and preferred writing style
Determine your existing level of knowledge level of the topic on which you are seeking information about. There are basic texts that will give you the foundational knowledge, and are usually written in no-nonsense layperson English, and, then there are texts that are heavy on behavioral science, ethology, or psychology terminology. So, obtaining a sense for the writing style of the top experts in the field also helps. For example, Pat Miller is known for her reader-friendly writing format. Jean Donaldson has an excellent way of describing the reality from the dog's point of view and is rather witty, but she employs a more specialized terminology. Steven Lindsay is known in the dog training field for his three volumes: Applied Dog Behavior and Training. These books are thick and entail a lot of substantial and relevant scientific data, however, they are heavy and may be on the drier side for someone not well-versed in scientific behavioral science jargon and who do not need that level of detail. If you are looking for a book with a lot of warmth and humor but still packed full with the latest information on dogs, then consider the works of Patricia McConnell. Her books: On the Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog are gems for understanding your four-footed friend a bit better and have a great time while doing it.
Consider the training methods advocated
There are still plenty of books on the market that advocate physically harsh methods and encourage various forms of intimidation to achieve complicit behavior in the dog. These are techniques that go back a long time within, mainly, the military and hunting professions. This group of old fashioned trainers never embraced the more recent development of modern training methodology (also known as positive training) that takes into account not only the immediate response but also the long-term effects of proper training. For example, the impact of stress, the associations made at the time of punishment, and the impact on the relationship between dog and handler, to mention just a few important considerations. There are also a few self-renowned experts writing dog books who have no relevant credentials. These people tend to state that they have the "special gift" of training dogs and hope the reader will feel assured by this self-promoting statement.
At Fur-Get Me Not, we advocate the modern positive training methodology where the dog and owner work together as a team. We believe learning should be painless, and therefore fun for both person and dog. Whatever methodology you decide to employ with your dog, make sure that you feel comfortable with everything you read. If you get a bad feeling about anything you read in a book then follow your gut instinct and put it down and pick another book. At Fur-Get Me Not we offer a select number of books, and a journal, that we think may be particularly useful to you:
Other good sources for books and videos are www.dogwise.com and www.tawzerdogvideos.com.
- A series of booklets by Patricia McConnell that address specific behavioral problems in a short and to-the-point instructional format. These go especially well in conjunction with a behavioral consult of a more serious nature where a trainer can help with setting up the exercises and give context to the practical and more technical aspects of the training advice offered in her books. Topics we carry are Fiesty Fido, Way to Go Potty Training, Puppy Primer, Cautious Canine, Home Alone, and Multiple Dog Households.
- The Whole Dog Journal Book offers a collection of training articles; the majority written by Pat Miller, and gives you a broad and user friendly guide for gaining insight and accessing practical advice on the most common training issues we face with our dogs.
- The monthly Whole Dog Journal, offers advice on everything from training, health, nutrition, diet and the latest dog products on the market. It is a very informative journal that will enable you to stay up-to-date with the latest information out there and you will enjoy the rare feature of the journal - it has no advertisements so every page counts.