Recently I was asked this question: Can anyone recommend some dog training books available in stores for an older dog (not a puppy), which has already picked up some awful habits that need correcting?

Let me give a couple of fundamental philosophical positions I take with regard to dog training (nothing specific to me – almost all exceptional instructors and dog handlers say this stuff to boot). Dogs really want our approval. Dogs do best whenever they have a job (to provide focus and purpose) and a dog “out of work” suffers and generally misbehaves. Dogs don’t generalize well (you may teach “come” inside and the dog does not automatically get that “come” means the same out at the park). Dogs learn best with reward and praise, more than they do with punishment. The dogs learn better when you teach something to do instead of not to do something (i.e. it’s far easier to teach a dog to take a position of “down-stay” when someone comes up to the door than be taught to “not jump on a stranger”). Finally, always remember that dogs are not people. Things that a grown human being and even a child could “get” a dog may well not.

Another important issue to explore is Cesar Millan. Cesar Millan is often a very arguable topic while in the dog world. It obviously gets plenty of exposure through books and television programs. We’ve been able to sort their merits and faults as well. What I will say is this: Millan is known as a great believer in the whole “alpha” issues and less about “formation” of a dog when it comes to dealing with behavior issues. Which is an essential point to contemplate: just because a dog does what he wants to do does not mean they have behavior problems. Most times when a dog piddles while in the house, it is not really alpha issues but instead it’s poor training.

So that you have to hold all this in mind and when you train a dog. And finally, whoever said you can not teach old dogs new tricks is wrong when it comes to dogs. In fact, mature dogs often learn better than younger (they have better attention span and focus – the puppies are almost pure ADD). One thing I definitely recommend that you must read about is the training with a clicker! Clicker training is based on classical operant conditioning, techniques validated by a century of research in animals and humans (remember Pavlov taught dogs to drool from the sound of a bell?). The basis for dog clicker training is one that ALL animal trainers consider crucial (well, at Sea World, they use whistles with the dolphins and orcas – but the whistle is a similar principle).

While Karen Pryor’s book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” explains the principle of clickers very well (for humans and dogs), it is more in theory and concept of the practice. For the practical purposes I’d recommend “Quick Clicks” by Cheryl Smith and Mandy Book or “Clicker Training for Obedience” by Morgan Spector. Also, Karen Pryor’s DVD / Video “Clicker Magic” is known as a terrific resource. I had 15 dogs trained without a clicker. Then, number 16 I used a clicker on. I have absolutely no idea how I did it before without the clicker. Using a clicker is much faster and more exacting. Especially with a dog that you are having some problems with.

Regarding other training issues, it really depends on where your dog is and what are the problems. For example, if the dog has received little training and is a bit like a child without education I recommend any of the books by Patricia McConnell (“Family Friendly Dog Training” is great, but also “The Other End of the Leash” is recommended). If your dog is just not a docile dog (say it can be his nature never to obey, if he is a problem solver who will do what he thinks is better) then see Jane Killion’s “When Pigs Fly” Should your dog is reactive and due to stress, fear, or overreaction becomes a mess around other dogs or strangers, then look at either Deborah Jones or especially Leslie McDevitt’s book “Control Unleashed.”

There is one other resource I share with you that alone may well be inadequate, but combined with just one of the books above increases in effectiveness: “Success With One Jump” by Susan Garrett, a great DVD.

The author writes on a great variety subjects, from movies to pets to computers. His website provides more articles on dog training and care.

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