Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm Sick: Here's Another Book Review

   Hi everyone!  I've come down with a little cold and so haven't been feeling myself the past day or so...therefore, instead of chasing Cass around with the camera today, I'm going to talk about another book I've found valuable to our training!

   Pat Miller's Power of Positive Dog Training:

     Pat's lives in my local area, my hometown actually, and runs a really wonderful (from what I've heard, I've never actually been there) training center called Peaceable Paws.  I was directed to her work by the owner of the training facility I frequent when we were having the "herding mommy" problem, which I'm happy to report seems to be reaching an end.

     Pat has written several books, but this one's about building the foundation of a good relationship with your dog through positive training.  It's great for the owner of a new puppy, a new rescue or someone who (like me) needs to go back to the beginning on some things.  I read it in a day and by the end had decided I needed to start training walking on a leash from's made all the difference in the world!

    By and large, PPDT seems like your average positive training techniques book, but within the broader lessons Pat provides hints and brings out finer details that make positive reinforcement training not only reliable, but I would wager more productive than 'traditional' training methods.

   The real revelation for me was Pat's leash training technique.  I've taken instruction on leash training using positive techniques in puppy classes and several obedience classes and though I had heard "reward the good behavior, ignore the bad," over and over, for some reason I wasn't taking it far enough.  One problem we had was that Cassie isn't a natural puller, at least not in a straight line.  Our walks were always more of a meander than a training exercise and though the leash was quite often taut, it never really felt like pulling to me.  I liked that to an extent, the fact that we could both just go out and as long as she wasn't pulling me headlong down the road, mindlessly explore and sort of run wild.  However, with the "I'm out having my own walk and mom is just following along" scenario came the "when mom tells me it's time to move along or pay attention I don't really have any reason to listen" scenario.
   This became a problem when I allowed her to sit and watch the world for too long, let her sniff all the plants in the field (as she darted from one side of the road to the other), or when we came across other dogs or people (particularly children).  When I said it was time to get back on the road a temper tantrum would ensue (with rolling over, lying on her side, digging her feet in, lunging and dragging and helicopter jumping toward said dog/person, and finally biting me).  I had tried the drag her off in the other direction technique, the stand behind her with a taut leash and wait for her to sit technique, the keep her moving and encourage her down the road technique and the have her sit and then when necessary stand in front of her to block her view technique, all were more or less failures.

   The main issue was that once her focus was lost, I couldn't get it back.   The other was that she didn't seem to feel any motivation to listen to me in the first place and was actually affronted that I thought I could push her around...Herding dogs, I don't know.  Chapter 4 of PPDT entitled: 'A New Leash On Life', totally changed the way I think about positive training and explained why I had never been as successful as I should have been.  The main lessons for me were:

 1) Click-and-treat the dog when it's doing the right thing (including when it's on the brink of doing the wrong thing):  This was a big deal for me.  I would click-and-treat when Cassie was at heel during a walk, but not when she was still with in the confines of a loose leash.  As soon as she would step out of heel I would stop the clicking and unconsciously wait for her to make a mistake (so that I could then correct it).  What I was doing was teaching her to fail at heeling, while ignoring our real goal: loose leash walking.  The Solution:  Click-and-treat no matter where she was within the loose leash if she is just about to hit the taut leash click-and-treat!  She'll hear the click and guess what happily turn and come back to you for the treat....which led to lesson 2...

  2) Don't be stingy with treats.  They are markers that tell your dog she's done something right!:  Though I had always liked positive techniques, somewhere in the back of my mind I was still always thinking...I can't keep treating her like this forever, it's time to wean her off the treats.  So what happened...each walk I would bring fewer and fewer treats and each day I would get less and less focus (and more tantrums)... Pat points out the treat is like the dog's paycheck...eventually you can make it an occasional reward, but when behaviors are not yet reliable you need to keep a high rate of reinforcement.  I now take a big pocket full of treats (of various kinds) and the result is a much better behaved dog who still gets treated more than before...but really not that much more.  To quote Pat: "There is not a shred of doubt in my mind--I would rather have cookies in my jacket pockets than a chain around my dog's neck."

   After a few weeks of high reinforcement on our walks I have a dog that both walks and runs to heel without biting (well most of the time) and one that even focuses when moving past other dogs (even the scary lunching German Shepherd on an electric fence) and children without so much as blinking.  PPDT covers the gamut of basic dog training from the beginning with explanations of types of behavior and response, to using the clicker, through to addressing behavior challenges such as separation anxiety and biting.  Each chapter is a full lesson that is presented to your dog as tricks or games, so that it doesn't feel like training and there is no need for correction or punishment.  It's a great book that opened my eyes to a new level of positive reinforcement training in ways that other books had not.


  1. Hope you're feeling better soon, I've come down with the flu... and sadly, haven't been able to work Al (the dog I've got for the puppy swap) that much.
    Happy Valentine's Day to you, and great review!

    Rudy's Raiser

    P.S. We are doing a Valentine's Giveaway; over at our blog... we'd love for you to enter!

  2. Sounds like another good book! I actually picked up two of those Kyra Sundance books because of your review and I went and read up on them and was so impressed. We haven't started training any of the tricks yet as I've been too busy with school right now (it's over in 2 weeks...yay!) but I am eager to get started to help Riley learn some cool tricks to do at the nursing home.

    Elyse and Riley

  3. Glad you liked it... I was worried it was a bit long. I'm sorry you are sick too Rudy's Raiser...mine's just a little cold I hope...I'm trying to stay out of bed. I'm sure Al doesn't mind. He probably thinks your house is a wonderful restful vacation!

    Elyse, I'm so glad you liked Kyra's books. I like them so much! You can become friends with Kyra on facebook and she will answer questions from time to time if you send them to her wall! She's really sweet and a great trainer!