Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy training for happy tails: "Don't Shoot the Dog" discusses the merits of positive reinforcement and clicker-training

If you’re a person who is interested in training, whether it be training your dog or training in general, I recently finished a book that I recommend you read.

It’s called Don’t Shoot the Dog and is written by former dolphin trainer and clicker-training enthusiast Karen Pryor. You might have heard of the book—it’s been out since 1984 with a revised edition in 1999. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth checking out.

What’s the book about?
Don’t Shoot the Dog discuses training methods in general, but emphasizes on and argues for positive reinforcement as a more successful training method in most situations. The book also discusses what’s been come to be known as “clicker training” and the methodology behind it.

This book is fun as well as informative due to the many interesting examples described. Did you know that you can train just about any animal using positive reinforcement? Dogs, fish, chickens, horses, cats, and even we, ourselves, respond well to this method.

Some other interesting things I learned from Don’t Shoot the Dog are that people have been known to improve their own squash game just by positively reinforcing themselves whenever they made a good play, and brushing off instances when they made bad plays.  I also learned that you can teach creativity to animals. Positive reinforcement tends to encourage animals to figure out what we want of them, which gets them to think and try new things.

I love the idea of fast and effective training methods, but what really got me excited was when I read that animals trained using positive reinforcement tend to be happier. The author gives an example of a police dog that was clicker-trained and now wags his tail the whole time it’s on patrol and out catching “bad guys”.
When Leopold was in puppy school his teacher talked of clicker training.  Up until I read this book, I dismissed the use of a clicker because I didn’t like the idea of having to always carry around a clicker—it just wouldn’t be possible! This book cleared up that qualm, though, stating that the clicker is only important during the initial training of a behavior. The clicker is basically a tool to help communicate with a dog (or other animal). After the clicker has been “loaded” (you have first teach the dog that the “click” sound means they did something good), it is a very fast and precise way to reinforce your dog’s behavior. And since timing is important to the success of positive reinforcement, the clicker is an ingenious way to maximize both you and your dog’s effort.

What exactly is a clicker?
It’s a small plastic box w/ a piece of metal inside that makes a loud “click” when you push it. It’s a very simple device and you can pick one up at most pet stores for cheap.  You can see one in the photo at the top of this post.

Want to know more?  
Grab a copy of Don’t Shoot the Dog if you want to know more on the ins and outs of how positive reinforcement and clicker training works, or if you just want to read something interesting. Check out your local library to see if they have a copy, or you can always buy your own copy on here: Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training.  Or if you live near me, you can just borrow mine ;-)
You can also check out Karen Pryor’s website at

And if you want to give clicker training a try, you can pick up a clicker at most pet stores, or you can just get one from Petco Dog Training Clicker.  (At the time I made my links, the Petco brand was the cheapest option, but prices seem to fluctuate over time, so look over your options!)

Convenient Product Links:



  1. Thank you for this post. It is important to participate in some form of training with your dog in order to make sure that he is well behaved and obedient. One of the keys to doing so is finding a training method that works and that you can both enjoy. See more

  2. Thanks for your comment and for the link to a website that gives more information on this training method! :-D

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