The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

This is a book I read out of semi-necessity.  We are soon bringing a puppy home, and, while I have trained a dog before, my fiancé has not.  We thus made a trip to Barnes & Noble, where he used his gift card from Christmas to buy The Power of Positive Dog Training.  True to how our relationship works, I ended up reading it first, and he’ll start it a little later.  I found Pat Miller’s book to be full of perspective-changing ideas, and I think there will be a lot of information she included that I will incorporate into our training process, but we won’t be using her entire repertoire of techniques.

The most valuable aspect of The Power of Positive Dog Training is its emphasis on using rewards (and the occasional removal of pleasant rewards) in order to shape a dog’s behavior.  I have been through training sessions in which I’ve been instructed to, for example, suddenly turn about-face on a walk if a dog pulls forward, so that he gets a sharp jerk on his leash.  I’ve never felt comfortable with that, even though I tried it for a while.  I found it much more comforting to me, and just as effective in regards to changing the dog’s behavior, to simply stop and wait until the dog started watching me again for cues as to when to walk.

Miller suggests many techniques similar to this — ignoring and turning away when a dog jumps up, for example.  This is also something I have done, and it works better than pushing down on the dog or a knee to the chest.  The dog really wants attention, and, for a lot of them, they don’t care whether it’s a little rough or not.  Deny the attention, and the behavior is extinguished.

Probably the best surprise I got in reading Miller’s book was something very small and simple — avoiding the word “no”.  “No” is a big problem, if for no other reason that it’s frequently said with a negative tone.  She recommends saying something like “oops” instead, which I love.  It’s virtually impossible to be angry when saying “oops”.  Go ahead, try it.  It’s so much softer, and I’m going to make a game try to keep that word in the forefront of my training, instead of “no”.

The one big drawback for me with this book is that the actual training is based on clickers.  I don’t have experience with clicker training myself, but my parents trained their second dog partially with a clicker.  I don’t think they were overly thrilled with the results; unlike Cody, their older dog I helped train, Ollie, the younger, clicker-trained one, is less likely to listen.  That might still be rambunctious puppy behavior to a certain extent, but I still think that the clicker was less effective.

I also don’t like the fact that she has the person doing the training purposely not teach the dog the verbal cue for the behavior until they’ve somehow shaped or lured the dog into performing the behavior several times.  It hurts my brain to think of me not having some sort of verbal interaction with my dog while training him, and I really want him to learn to listen to my voice, pay attention to my face, and learn the term along with the behavior.

So we’ll have to see.  Miller has definitely changed my mindset on how to train a dog, to a certain extent.  The effectiveness of some of her techniques, though, will need to be proven to me before I feel comfortable with them.

Rating: 3.5/5.

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