Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book Review: Teaching the Dog to Think, by Kimberley Davis

I learned about the book Teaching the Dog to Think, by Kimberly Davis, from a post at Chronicles of a Puppy Walker. It was many things that I'm interested in: a book about dog training, a book about "thinking dog" training, and free. For the Kindle, anyway. Not that I have a Kindle, but they have an application for every platform. So, I went to Amazon, downloaded the app, downloaded the book, and blitzed right through it.

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.





12 comments:

  1. Yet still, that one sentence explains to me the author still has no clue of what dogs are about.

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    1. It's kind of funny, though, because there was a Rottweiler in the agility classes, and there were no comments referencing worry about him. He and Willow were the two big dogs, and had to work on their hind end awareness when it came to certain pieces of equipment.

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    2. I agree with Kenzo.

      Too many people claim to offer their training advice and really have not worked with enough dogs to make it valuable. For example, maybe the choke chains did not work for her dog, but it is not to say that it doesn't work for every dog. I haven't read the book, maybe that was made clear?

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    3. @2browndawgs choke chains and clickers tend to be conflicting philosophical methods, so she did not further discuss whether choke chains were viable on dogs other than Willow. It was what she had used in the past, though, and she had competed in local obedience stuff as a child with a Border Collie, Tippy. Not being a choke chain fan myself, I didn't mind the gap there, but I can see your point. Part of what she discussed was that she'd never tried anything else; it was ALWAYS a choke chain. So any differing method at all that didn't involve crank and yank wasn't on her radar.

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  2. You said the book was honest. And the author was able to describe how she made it past other misconceptions.

    Maybe being honest in her prejudice about Dobies and Rotties is the first step in her learning yet another new thing. It must have been a shocking thing for you to read, but hopefully it's not an indication of her long term feelings on the matter.

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    1. That does seem like a likely take on it, Pamela. As I said, it was one sentence, and she didn't badmouth the Rottie in class with them. I do hope that her educational doggie journey included the realization that Dobermans and Rottweilers, while Big Scary Black Dogs, are not inherently vicious killers that could take your head off at any moment.

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  3. @Pamela - and esp. as Willow apparently had her own number of issues. I recently shared a photo of Justus, my Dobie/hound blend, with a very dog savvy person. It is one where he looks particularly Dobie with a hard eye (totally unlike him in real life); she confessed Dobermanns scare her...I was surprised yet pleased she felt able to share. I'm glad the book was worthwhile otherwise and yes, EVERY DOG CAN BITE.

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    1. Yes, the book was definitely worthwhile!

      It surprises me how many people are scared by different dog breeds, especially if they're never had any interactions with them. Or maybe that's why; they haven't had the experience to prove the hype otherwise. It's a shame, really.

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  4. Hi Jen and Elka, and everyone: I enjoyed your review and your comments on my book. I'm really sorry if I sounded like I was beating up on Dobies and Rotties. I was trying to be funny there, and I can see now that line fell flat. Oh dear! If the book goes into another edition, I shall have to try and nuance that line a bit more. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the book. Thank you for reading my work. Cheers, Kimberly Davis

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    1. Hi Kimberly
      Thanks so much for reading! Thank you also for considering a change in further editions! I did in fact enjoy the rest of the book and am happy to have read it. I think that you raised a lot of good points, and as I said, it's a brave thing to discuss some of the things you mentioned (we can get in a mindset that we want our dogs to listen because we said so, etc.) Not a lot of dog people want to mention that they thought things like that, ever. A lot of us didn't know that there was anything else, however.

      So again, I did enjoy reading your book, and thanks for coming and commenting on my blog! Do you have anything else in the works? ;)

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  5. Yes, I do. I have a new dog book I'm working on now that I'm hoping to have out by next spring (2013). I can't talk about it yet, though . . .. ;)

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    1. Oh neat! Looking forward to it ^^

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