Companion Animal Psychology Book Club October 2017

"What if the secret to great dog training is to be an expert 'feeder' rather than a strong leader?" The book for October is Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao.

Pomeranian reading outdoors in Autumn because the book club choice is Plenty in Life is Free

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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The  Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for October 2017 is Plenty in Life Is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace by Kathy Sdao.

From the back cover,
"What if the secret to great dog training is to be an expert 'feeder' rather than a strong leader? A skilled reinforcer rather than a strict enforcer? 
"Over the past two decades, countless dog trainers across the world have embraced the liberal use of positive reinforcement. Often accompanying this trend, however, is an underlying emphasis, inherited from more coercive models of dog training, that each human in the family must be the dog's leader. Adopting the role of leader through the use of "Nothing in Life is Free" training protocols, however, can result in stifling rules that constrain people's ability to share affection with their dogs, Strict reward-rationing regimens also tend to put the burden on dogs to "earn" all their privileges instead of placing the primary responsibility on the humans to be generous, precise, creative "feeders" (i.e., reinforcers)."

Why not join us in reading the book? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

You can also follow Kathy Sdao on twitter.

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

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  1. I read this book a year ago and as with all of Ms. Sdao's writings I came away with new insights on dog training and living a less encumbered life

  2. So glad you have featured this book! I *love* listening to Kathy, and have been lucky enough to do so a couple of times. Sometimes I'm just so glad she takes a breath as it lets my brain catch up to what she just said. She talks so informatively and with such speed that it packs all of the information in and we have to digest for a second.

    Plenty in life is free is a *great* book.

    1. I'm glad to hear you love the book so much! I always hear such positive things from people who have heard Kathy speak (I hope the have the pleasure of hearing her speak one day, too).

  3. This is the first time that I've participated in your book club. I'm "just" an owner but always interested in our relationships with our dogs so this book intrigued me.

    Maybe with how my views have slowly been shaped in my three years as a dog owner Kathy is pushing a slightly open door here, but I really enjoyed her views. When we first got our rescue we went along to "obedience" classes because that was of course what we 'should' do as responsible owners.

    Now a few years down the line, having read a few canine books and a few different theories I have a very different view of those classes and some of what went on. This book helped me reflect even further. Whilst the theory taught in obedience class wasn't strictly 'dominance theory', hierarchy was. There was a lot of what was "right" behaviour, including one of the trainers raising her eyebrows at me when I told her that our new rescue followed us around the house (I was told the 'correct' behaviour was for them to stay put unless I invited them to follow). We were also told to ensure that we ate a biscuit in front of the dog whilst holding their bowl before making a drama performance of sprinkling some into the bowl so they knew that we ate first. Looking back now, it all seems so silly.

    Over time I've been happier to embrace my dog's uniqueness and his personality, as much as some of his behaviour isn't too my liking (even though he personally greatly enjoyed chasing the three deer he spotted before me earlier this week). The stuff that I'm not entirely happy with I can chill about - I now see it being up to me to consider working out alternative behaviours and not my dog being "bad".

    I genuinely believe that this makes you a happier owner, and it's always nice to read a "professional dog trainer" say that it's up to you what is good behaviour. My dog doesn't "ask" permission to climb onto the sofa and put his head in my lap, but by the same token he's quick to listen to me if I tell him it's not a good time and get down again. Some would say getting on the sofa is bad, period. Some would say not asking permission first is bad. I'm happy that he gets off if requested and I love my cuddles with him (even if he thinks he's a lap dog... despite being a big lab cross)

    I chat to so many owners who worry that their dog is "bad", "naughty" or "disobedient". They spend so long trying to get their dog to walk strictly to heel to the point they avoid walks. As a non-professional "interested idiot" (my loving term for myself :-p) I can only help that more dog owners read this book.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am so glad you enjoyed the book, and it's good to know that it helped you reflect on dog training theories. I too have heard the advice to eat a biscuit before feeding your dog, and agree it is silly - and isn't funny how these ideas sometimes take hold?! I agree that knowing it is up to you as the owner to decide what is good behaviour that you want helps to make you a happier owner. I'm glad you have such a good relationship with your dog (even though he does sound a bit big for a lap dog... I have one like that too, but mine is an Aussie!!).


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