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The Positive Reinforcement Revolution in Books

This month I'm introducing three books about positive reinforcement training. The authors of each book provide in-depth explanations of how learning works, debunk myths about training and dog behavior, and chronicle their journeys from aversive to positive reinforcement training. All three argue that the better we understand how learning works and what our dogs' natural behavior looks like, the better we can teach and care for them.

In her 1984 book Don't Shoot the Dog, trainer Karen Pryor begins with the assertion that any species can learn through positive reinforcement. She follows this assertion by explaining learning theory and outlining rules for applying it to training. Most famously, Pryor devised clicker training, a method for training dogs that draws on her years of working with marine mammals. With this ground-breaking work, Karen Pryor changed the dog training landscape for the better.

Jean Donaldson reframes our understanding of dog behavior and learning in her 1996 book The Culture Clash. With this new framework, we can better comprehend who our dogs are, why they do what they do, and what we can do to help them live in our human-centric world. Donaldson offers a critique of punishment-based training and its fall-out as well as laying out a training plan for teaching basic behaviors.

In 2008 trainer Pat Miller released The Power of Positive Dog Training. With nods to both Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson, Miller offers an in-depth view of dogs and positive reinforcement training, including plans for basic manners and protocols for behavior modification. She also troubleshoots training challenges like struggles with house training or preparing your dog for a baby's arrival.


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