Davis starts out the book with her first night going to agility class with her rough collie, Willow. Willow is a young, exuberant dog, and he frequently has problems with being nutso and pulling on the leash, so he wears both a flat buckle collar and also a choke chain.
Teaching the Dog to Think is a frank book, and at times, a brave book. Davis admits that, with her years of coercive teaching and training, there was a part of her that wanted Willow to listen because she said so. There was a part that wanted to choke him, scruff him, make him obey.
Then there was the part of her that saw her dog when he was encouraged to think, saw the focus and attention and the way he proudly carried his tail and ears. There was the part of her that got up at 3 AM to throw away all of the choke chains, and I do mean all; she was horrified that she'd used one on Willow as a puppy.
Davis discovers communication, and clickers, and the value of treats. Agility training is what opened her eyes to all of this, and while not a training book, you get a sense of what beginning agility is like, and what people who win ribbons at agility are like. At one point, Davis and her husband go to an agility trial as spectators, and on the drive home, Davis realizes, sheepishly, that she was thinking of how she needed a Border Collie if she was going to have a blue ribbon winner, because Willow would never be that fast. She felt as though she were betraying him, and felt guilty.
My singular problem with this book is when Davis was discussing how they came upon the decision for a rough collie; the size and demeanor of the dog would be such that a woman could still feel comfortable on walks and hikes alone, but unlike a Doberman or Rottweiler, you "wouldn't need to worry about him taking somebody's head off".
That line gave me great pause; I actually recoiled from the page (screen).
Any. Dog. Can. Bite.
I don't, in fact, worry about my Doberman taking somebody's head off. I would not, I think, at this stage in my life and dog knowledge, live with a dog that I feared would take somebody's head off. Such a thing is ridiculous. While it didn't ruin the entire book for me, of all the 200-odd pages, that's one of the ones that sticks sharply in my mind.
But, that isn't what this book is about. This book is about Davis loving Willow, and the bond and relationship that they had together through this sort of training. Reading about the evolution of Davis' attitude toward dogs, training, and learning was neat, and there is even discussion about purebreds, overbreeding, and dog health.