Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: The Thinking Dog, by Gail Tamases Fisher

I try not to do review posts back to back, but I couldn't wait any longer to talk about this book!

The Thinking Dog, by Gail Tamases Fisher, is a book that I wish somebody had handed me when I first got Elka. Technically, it's a book about switching to clicker training with your dog, after having used traditional methods.  In actuality, it's that book, but also just fine as a starter manual.

The Thinking Dog is in just the kind of format I love for a dog training book.  There are real-life anecdotes, there is step by step instruction (with pictures!) and the science is laid out in easy to understand terms, with charts.  Fisher discusses the behavioral science aspect of clicker training, going right back to the B.F. Skinner source, and related it without making you (or me, anyway) want to flip on past it.  I've seen it in a lot of books by this point, but this is where I've seen it the clearest, and that includes my psychology textbooks back in college.

There is a big of repetition to be found in The Thinking Dog, but in a good way.  That is how we learn, isn't it?  "Go to place" (or "go to your mat" or "go to your bed") is the go-to example that Fishers uses when talking about shaping with a clicker.  A very good thing to repeat, really; Elka doesn't know it fully yet, but as I discussed in Command Clinic: Go to your Bed, she's getting better.   We worked on it last night when company was over.

Fisher also talks about different kinds of rewards; food, play, and situational ones (going back to our Premack Principle).  This is excellent as well, because depending on the situation, different kinds of reward will have a higher value.  And, within the reward category itself, there is a hierarchy of value.  Elka doesn't want a carrot when she can have pepperoni; she doesn't want a rope if she can have Gumby, or the Everlasting Treat Ball.  It's important to know what your dog is doing and communicating, rather than insisting what you think they ought to want.

So again, new to dogs or an old hand, new dog or a more vintage model, I do strongly suggest you read The Thinking Dog.  It's pretty fantastic.


  1. Thanks for the review. We started Clicker Training Koly when he was a pup and I felt awkward and ineffective at it, but I have been really wanting to get back into it. Since we gave up agility training, his obedience has suffered a lot and we definitely have some more work to do!

  2. You're welcome! I really can't praise this book enough. It isn't the one that finally got me to take the plunge with the clicker (I resisted because I thought I would be a total spaz and not do it right at all), but again, I wish I'd read it sooner. I mean, Karen Pryor is very good, but I get tired of reading about the dolphins when I just want to hear about dogs! ;)

  3. Might have to check it out! :D

    Daddy is interested in clicker training, not sure what the whole thing is...


  4. Clicker training is a whole lot of fun for both parties involved, or at least that's what Elka and I think, anyway! Elka knows that she gets some yummy treats, and I get to teach Elka new thinks that I can show off. Win-win ;)