With so many options of dog trainers, resources, and books out there, how do you know which ones to trust? They all have good reviews, but not all are humane. There’s good information presented a lot of different ways out there (and some bad information, sadly). If you find a trainer that talks about being a “pack leader” or an “alpha dog,” run away! The alpha dog hoax was disproven decades ago, and that trainer will only make your problems worse (no matter what they tell you).
Below are some area trainers known to provide 100% cruelty-free training:
Smarty Paws Training and Boarding – Trenton, IL
Gail Czarnecki Dog Training – Edwardsville, IL
The Persuaded Pooch – Crestwood, MO
Come-Click Dog Training– St. Louis, MO
Spry Dog – St. Louis, MO
By My Side Dog Training – St. Louis, MO
Many Petsmart trainers emphasize positive reinforcement – various locations, and it varies by trainer.
The only veterinary behaviorist in our area is Dr. Colleen Koch, who works out of two locations:
University of Missouri – Wentzville location, and Lincolnland Animal Clinic in Jacksonville, IL
A veterinary behaviorist does not teach classes, but offers diagnosis and treatment solutions for any behavior issue from separation anxiety, aggression, anxieties and phobias, etc. She’s a good first stop for addressing the root cause of these behaviors.
I personally read ten popular books about dogs, dog training, and behavior problems to see what they really said. I think every book listed (with one notable exception to avoid) is a worthy read. A good rule of thumb to remember – if any book or video talks about an alpha dog, dominance, or you being a “pack leader,” throw it away. If a choke collar or, god help us, a shock collar is recommended, return the book for a refund. Those theories were widespread in the ’70’s and ’80’s, but are now understood to be ineffective and cruel. Here’s my mini-book reviews to help you pick which you’ll like the best. Everyone’s brain works differently, so it’s good to find a book that you’ll enjoy while you learn!
(I HAVE LINKS TO ONLINE RESOURCES BELOW MY BOOK SUGGESTIONS)
The Culture Clash – by Jean Donaldson
This is a general “dog psychology” book combined with a training manual. It explains how dogs think, and the difference between canine and human thought processes. I like this book because it addresses many of the myths so prevalent even today (he looked guilty, so he knew it was wrong = total BS) and explains how they make no sense. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to have a happy, confident dog and a good relationship. She advocates positive reinforcement, discusses clicker training, and is opposed to punishment-based training. The last chapter is more a manual of how to train your dog, while the rest of the book touches on training and more importantly, dealing with and preventing problem behaviors. I read this as my very first behavior book in veterinary school.
Don’t Shoot the Dog – by Karen Pryor
Karen Pryor has created a nationwide dog training academy that produces some of the best and compassionate dog trainers around. This book is not a dog training manual. It can be applied to dog training, but focuses on positive reinforcement and operant conditioning through clicker training. She compares clicker training of all animals to training dolphins. (Personally, I found all the references to marine mammals a bit much). This book explains the fundamentals (why’s more than how’s) of using positive reinforcement techniques to train animals…or spouses.
Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones – by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
This is the dog equivalent of LeBron James writing a book about basketball. They are the masters at what they do, and getting their insights is a dream! Enter this book – veterinarians who have extensive training and specialization in behavior medicine. They recognized the need for an authoritative guide to understanding and training your dog, written by the “top dogs” themselves. The book is filled with a real-life stories that are very relatable, and they explain the underlying reasons, the treatment, and how and why it works. They are quick to dispel the dominance myth, with the focus instead being on proven methods of positive reinforcement. Most chapters have a “Facts, not fiction” section which address common misconceptions about dog training and behavior.I like that they address training dogs of all ages. There’s a lot of pages, and has a variety of authors, but it is an enjoyable read. Highly recommended!
The Puppy Primer – by Patricia B. McConnell and Brenda Scidmore
This is a very practical guide on raising and training a confident,well-behaved puppy. The authors don’t go into the theory behind positive reinforcement as much as the first two books, but employ it throughout. This is more of a manual, telling you where and when to hold the treat, your hands, etc. Even though it’s a manual, it’s an entertaining and enjoyable read. I recommend it for every puppy owner! It has no pictures, and at times I wished it did. I also wish they would provide more info on reading your dog’s body language, especially signs of stress. Nonetheless, the large font and frequent reviewing of concepts makes it quite practical.
How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves – By Sophia Yin DVM, MS
This book delves into the theories and terminology of animal behavior before then teaching the reader how to apply these concepts to their own pet. It is full of colorful pictures, and broken down into small chapters, which makes the book an enjoyable read. (Dr. Yin was a veterinary behaviorist who created a program for veterinarians to handle patients with minimal stress.) This book focuses on the “learn to earn” approach, using positive reinforcement. It teaches how to train your dog not just tricks, but more basic manners, coping with life situations, and tools for addressing problem behaviors if they arise. I was disappointed to see her mention in passing the now out-dated and disproven “dominance theory.” She does not use it as the center of her training (it’s mainly positive reinforcement) but the fact that she does not dispel the alpha dog myth surprised and disappointed me.
Fight! A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog-Dog Aggression – by Jean Donaldson
If this is the first behavior book you’ve ever read, you might feel a little overwhelmed in the beginning. The author uses a lot of terms like “operant conditioning” without spelling out what they mean (although you’ll get the gist if you keep reading). I like her approach and explanations a lot, but would recommend having the background of any of the books listed above to get the most out of it. Can you read it without those other books? Certainly – but it just might seem a bit technical in the beginning (I wish she had included a glossary)! This is not a quick, light read like some of the others (though not super long at 116 pages). BUT, if you are dealing with inter-dog aggression, this book is well worth the time. I love how she spells out prognostic indicators.
DO NOT READ THIS BOOK: How to Raise the Perfect Dog – by Cesar Millan
This book (or any book by this author) is NOT RECOMMENDED by me or any veterinarian who has specialized in behavior (they know more than I do!). I listed it here because many people may wonder if his books are good – they are not. His punishment-based treatment theories and methods are based on an antiquated theory that has repeatedly been proven wrong, even harmful, over the past 30 years, and can make a fearful dog worse. You are not the alpha dog, and your dog is not trying to dominate you. Having submissive dogs too afraid to misbehave is not a healthy relationship. Here’s my article spelling out how the alpha dog theory came to be (I was taught it too, growing up!) and how we now understand it to be false. If you have any of his books, please recycle (let’s not add to the landfills).
Training the Best Dog Ever – by Larry Kay and Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz
The author explains why dominance/punishment training fails, and has a five week program using treat-based positive reinforcement. She does not go into dog psychology much, but more demonstrates why it works through stories and examples of her real-life experiences. She does not go into socialization of puppies much (I wish she did), I suspect because her plan can be applied to dogs of all ages. After completion of the program, she then starts with clicker training – not bad, just a little oddly timed, I thought. Later chapters discuss managing problem behaviors, but are not overly in-depth. The book has great photos clearly demonstrating many of the step-by-step techniques being described, which I found very helpful. Not the most entertaining read, and not my personal favorite, (few small things I didn’t love) but it contains solid, positive training techniques that will benefit your dog.
On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals – by Turid Rugaas
This is a neat little book about signs of stress in dogs, with lots of good, color pictures. I personally don’t like the term “calming signal” and would prefer “sign of stress”- maybe it’s just me. I think every dog owner needs to know the subtle signs of stress in dogs, as many are missed (glance at some cute photos on pinterest and you’ll see many stressed dogs whose signals the owners are missing!). This book is good, but has one glaring omission: throughout the discussion and examples of calming signals/signs of stress, she never mentions what I think is the most common one: “whale eye.” Basically, when you can see the whites of a dog’s eyes, it’s stressed. I found it ironic that the very last photo in the book is a nervous dog exhibiting this whale-eye behavior, and no mention was ever made!
The Cautious Canine – How to Help Dogs Conquer their Fears – by Patricia McConnell
At only 30 pages, this little booklet is a quick, easy read. The author spells out classical counter conditioning (rewarding good behavior and avoiding scary situations) in a step-wise fashion, with the focus on dogs who are afraid of strangers. She explains how this technique may then be applied to other fears as well. It doesn’t contain much theory, more step-by-step slowly getting your dog to gain confidence in certain situations. The brevity might make this a good book for someone who “has no time” to learn from the other books.
Dr. Sophia Yin – her website has lots of great info on dominance theory’s failures, and explains how and why to use positive reinforcements. Also sells lots of books and videos on her site.
Dr. Colleen Koch – our “local” behaviorist sees clients in Wentzville, MO and Jacksonville, IL. Her website has good info, and links to other great sites.
Dog Body Language – on Dr. Koch’s website – lots of good links here!
The Family Dog – website geared towards teaching children to safely understand when a dog is unhappy
Zak George Dog Training Revolution – lots of videos on a variety of topics!
Zoom Room Guide to dog body language – 5 minutes well spent!!!
The Family Dog – under 4 minutes and snazzy music to teach you how to read your dog
Dog Body Language – I find the lady totally annoying, but the information is good once you get past her part.