Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor

It took me a long time to read a Karen Pryor book (though not as long as it did to read a Temple Grandin book, geeze). I'm glad that I finally did, and that I read her most recent book, Reaching the Animal Mind. It's a longer book than her perennial classic, Don't Shoot the Dog, but includes, I feel, more information, and more valuable information.

Though I read When Pigs Fly! first, Reaching the Animal Mind is the first honest to goodness book that I've read that devotes itself entirely to clicker training (and marker training, before the "clicker" itself was implemented). It also discusses the later-implemented TagTeach, which I think is very cool.

Pryor discusses, at length, her work at a marine water park in Hawaii, and how wild-caught dolphins were trained to perform in shows. I can't speak for every marine park, but it seemed that at Pryor's in particular, a large function of the training and performances was to keep the animals mentally active and engaged, thus enriching their environments. Sometimes, the performance would sort of be a "dolphin's choice", where the animals offered new behaviors in front of the audience for their fishy rewards. That sounded really cool!

Strangely, in both Reaching the Animal Mind and also in Don't Shoot the Dog!, Pryor seems to talk more about the dolphins than about dogs. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the intelligence and personality of dolphins, but I don't have one in my house. I want more dog talk! There was considerable time spent on the ponies on her farm, however, and how Pryor enlisted the neighborhood kids to help train these ponies, using "good pony!" as the marker. One story she told was when the kids showed up on her doorstep, bareback on the ponies, and wanted to show her how they had devised a game to go surfing at the beach!

TagTeach, if you wondered, is clicker training for humans. You may be shocked to find this out, humans and animals learn in the same basic way. Humans, though, do have the benefit of being able to speak a common language with one another. I've watched a few videos out YouTube; memorably, one was a mother teaching her son with Autism how to tie his shoes, using TagTeach. Part of the video was comprised of his attempts without this technique; the rest was with. The behavior is still broken up into a series of steps that would form the chain.  So, the "coach", tells the "student", "The Tag is crossing the laces" (As an example, I don't remember the exact dialogue). When the Student crosses the laces, the student gets the click. After the student is able to do this consistently, the next step is added, and the next. It's done in gymnastics, it's done in horseback riding. 

So, with a good balance of science and the anecdotes that I so crave when reading material of this nature, Reading the Animal Mind is a good volume to have in your toolbox.


  1. we will add this to our "must read" list


  2. Sounds interesting! Thanks Elka!

  3. It sounds like a good book. Thanks for the review.

  4. Tag-teach, eh? I've never heard of that before but I bet it has been quite revolutionary in helping children with learning disorders, or anyone else who doesn't not learn the "traditional" way.

    I haven't read either Pryor book, sadly. It's my secret shame. I will make sure to add this one to my list.

  5. @Kari I was definitely happy that I read it!

    @rumpydog and @Amy you're very welcome! I think this might've been the book that finally made me pick up a clicker, though I'd been thinking about it.

    @Kristine I never heard of Tag-teach 'til I read this book, but I did look it up on Youtube (and I think I've seen other blogs mention it, perhaps one written by a mom whose child had autism?) It's okay, though. My secret shame used to be that I hadn't read Temple Grandin.