Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training

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Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training

By Karen Pryor

If anything deserves to be called a classic, this is it. In spite of the title, this not just a dog training book; it is the first practical account of how to use operant conditioning, especially positive reinforcement, to influence behavior. As Pryor herself says in the Foreword, “This book is about how to train anyone—human or animal, young or old, oneself or others—to do anything that can and should be done.” You’ll learn:

  • Why positive reinforcement is so effective in changing behavior.
  • Methods for putting an end to undesirable behavior, in ALL species!
  • The 10 laws of shaping.
  • How to deal with barking dogs, moody teens or rude sales clerks.
  • The best ways to break your own bad habits.

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Karen tells us that she didn’t like the title Don’t Shoot the Dog. It was chosen by the publisher, over her objections. I can sympathize with the author’s objections, but you have to admit that the title gets your attention right off the bat. The phrase “Don’t Shoot the Dog” derives from her list of eight ways to “unlearn” a behavior. Does your dog jump up onto visitors? Method one is shooting the dog. You’ve got to love her dry wit here. She says: “This definitely works. You will never have to deal with that particular behavior again.” The last person on earth who would truly advise such a draconian response is Karen Pryor, as is clear from her compassionate consideration of any individual animal who is expected to behave in a certain way. Method two, she reminds us, is punishment. It’s “Everybody’s favorite, in spite of the fact that it almost never really works.”  These lines are part of what I love about Karen’s work—she never loses her sense of humor and perspective. I love funny, and I love it best when it’s combined with invaluable knowledge that has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals all around the world.

Of course, she goes on to list the methods that DO work, using examples from a variety of contexts (Ex: Kids too noisy in the car? Teach kids to yell “on cue,” (putting the behavior under stimulus control). Early in the book she convincingly argues why we should be rely on positive reinforcement to influence behavior. “Positive reinforcement is anything which, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again. Memorize that statement. It is the secret of good training.”

Pryor has gone on to become one of the world’s most prolific spokespersons for what is now called “clicker training,” but this is the book that started it all. Don’t Shoot the Dog still a best seller after thirty-one years for good reason, and if it isn’t on the bookstand by your bed, it ought to be. I recommend reading it once a year, if not more.

Well, this is easy.  Anyone should buy this book if they have an interest in the behavior of themselves or others. That pretty much includes everyone, excluding rocks, trees and earthworms (only because they can’t read). Some books and resources on operant conditioning can get a bit technical, but this book flows like a novel and is hard to put down. In spite of the fact that the information within it is vital to dog owners, trainers and behaviorists, virtually everyone on earth will profit from reading this book. If I was queen, I’d make this required reading in every school in the world. (Stay tuned, I’ll let you know if that happens.)

“Karen Pryor has been a pioneer… anyone who wants to be more effective in reading children, teaching, or managing his or her own behavior will find her book very useful.”
B. F. Skinner

“This new book looks like the very best on the subject [of positive reinforcement]—a full-scale mind-changer.”
Steward Brand, TheCo-Evolution Quarterly

Publisher: Bantam Books
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0553380397
ISBN-13: 978-0553380392
Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
Author: Karen Pryor
Publish Date: 1999
Number of Pages: 202

 

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