Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining how dogs learn and how best to teach them

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Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining how dogs learn and how best to teach them

By Pamela Reid

Excel-erated Learning: Explaining in plain English how dogs learn and how best to teach them.

Want to REALLY understand operant conditioning? Then you need this book. No book does a better job than Dr. Pamela Reid’s Excel-erated Learning at summarizing decades of research on how animals learn, and how that relates to training your dog. Early in my career I went back to this book on a weekly basis (“what’s a good example of negative reinforcement again?”). This little book is a breath of fresh air and clarity in a field often plagued by confusion. Here’s a small sample of what’s included in the book:

  • Defining and applying the four quadrants of operant conditioning.
  • The primary factors that affect learning.
  • Understanding how to use primary and secondary reinforcers.
  • Schedules of reinforcement and when to use (or avoid) each type.

Click here to purchase "Trisha's Classics" package; including this book and five others that every dog lover should have on their shelf.

Price: $16.95


In spite of its visually jarring cover and slightly squirrely internal design, the book contains a wealth of information. I consider it essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the basics of learning theory.

Even though it’s a “classic,” I’m not sure that this book has gotten the attention it deserves—Reid is one of the country’s top animal psychologists, an agility enthusiast, and an expert in saving dogs from horrific situations through her work at the ASPCA. The country’s top applied animal behaviorists go to Dr. Reid when we have a question about learning and the research behind learning theory. She’s a terrific writer to boot. I think I’ve just convinced myself to read this book again. Good idea.

A cautionary note: The four quadrants of operant conditioning include “positive punishment,” which means adding something (positive) to decrease the frequency of a behavior (punishment). Although many of us avoid using positive punishment (P+), you can’t understand operant conditioning without knowing how to define it.  Dr. Reid has been criticized for her discussion of P+, but the fact is you simply can’t understand learning without knowing about the quadrant most often used (and abused) by dog owners.


I wouldn’t dream of taking the CPDT or CDBC exam without reading and studying this book, because almost everyone initially confuses the definitions of the four quadrants of operant conditioning. This is understandable--the labels “positive” and “negative” (attached to “reinforcement” and “punishment”) are used as in math—to add or subtract—rather than the more common definitions of “good” and “bad.”

However, you don’t need to be preparing for an exam to profit from this book. I wouldn’t call it beach reading, but it is crammed full of interesting information based on decades of research on how animals learn. The section on how best to use reinforcement schedules can alone save you time and your dog frustration. (Start with “continuous reinforcement” until your dog has caught on, Dr. Reid advises, but then “Take risks…!” [by moving to intermittent reinforcement] If this book isn’t in your library, and you’re serious about understanding learning and training, then your bookshelf is calling out to you to order Excel-erated Learning right now.

“How on earth did Dr. Reid get an entire psychology text in to such a small book?”
 Crystal Sailing, in Dogwise Review

“Simply excellent. It explained in clear terms how and why many techniques work and where they might go wrong. As someone who competes in obedience regularly I would highly recommend giving this book a read."
Amazon Reviewer

"This is not an easy book to read, but if you are interested in the theories behind operant conditioning and learning theory in general, this is THE book. The best book on how learning works and things that affect it that I’ve ever read."
Stevie Mathre, in Dogwise Review

Publisher: James and Kenneth
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1888047070
ISBN-13: 978-1888047073
Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
Author: Pamela Reid
Publish Date: February 1996
Number of Pages: 172


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