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Bailey Jon and Burch Mary “How Dogs Learn”

There is much written on the issue of “how to train Dogs”; but there are questions and problems addressed better in this book than in any other book on the same. This review is an analysis of how useful this book is in the practice of Dog training. The book “How dogs learn” by Bailey Jon and Burch Mary is an important tool in the practice of dog training as it gives practical measures and procedures in the practice as well as insights on examining the respectability of the training by the subjects. The book may perhaps look so academic but it surely is a full course on the practice and theory of dog training. It is written in simple language and structures to enable its use by the average dog owner; aspiring dog trainers and pet owners who possess a significant interest in the technicalities of canine training.

The writer of the book commences by making a concise analysis of the parallel and then interconnects the histories of behaviorism and dog instruction. The writer further points out very interesting and amusing facts about dog training that have been overlooked in the study. Among these is the fact that to train a dog does not require that one know the behaviorist jargon nor have a PhD to be able to practice dog training. The writer further shows an excellent analysis of the different dog training approaches where he demonstrates an excellent understanding of the concepts of operant conditioning. Discussed in detail includes the concepts of primary and secondary reinforcement that include; chaining, shaping and fading. From the book it is evident that the writer is intending the book for the use of both professional and clueless dog owners who want to train their dogs and other pets; because he develops an efficient motivational training based on the use of food rewards that can be applied easily and effectively. The author further presents an impartial representation that gives the implication that the best option in dog training; is the use of moderate approaches and positive reinforcement rather than punishments to teach new skills. However he advocates for the use of leash rectification and mild penalties in order to avoid the confusion of the subject thus speeding up the training process. The writer despite the disposition of not using the force-based traditional training; gives an entertaining example of an all-positive approach when the trainer is training a dog that did not just want to comply with the training.

This book fully addresses the topic of dog learning by making the learner fully comprehend the way dogs learn, and the development of dog training over the years in the history of animal training. This book shows how the scientific use of operant conditioning methods has been applied by trainers in the past even without their knowledge. It also shows how punishment as a teaching tool is steadily replaced with positive learning methods as is the case used today. The book in the second part analyses the basic principles of behavior that include stimulus control, extinction, reinforcement and punishment giving the foundation of all behavior and the general training process.

This book carefully explains the differences and common features between punishment and negative reinforcement which often bring in confusion. The third part of the book consists of the causes and explanations that lead to the dog’s behavior, and the way they can be applied to choose the most appropriate treatment to be given to the subject. It achieves this climax by explaining extensively respondent conditioning that includes the conditioning of reflex and un-purposed behaviors like salivating with the occurrence of a conditioned stimulus or food. In the book, emphasis is given on unintended behavior and the factors that may lead to its occurrence regarding the time it shows; under conditions it shows; in the company of which person and where, in explaining the occurrence of the given behavior.

The behavioral diagnostics decide the basis of unintended behaviors, including the subjects learning past; self-stimulation; operant variations; hereditary; medical, or physical factors. The book explains that the combined use of behavioral diagnostics and functional examination gives a clear picture of the net step of treatment to take. It explains further that the first step in the combined analysis is the analysis of the dog’s medical fitness followed by other measures, to ensure that the behaviors are not a result of health-related reasons. This part also explains the different factors that influence behavior and include; the environment, nutrition, medication; individual; learning history; breed type; and subject’s genetic composition. This makes the training process interesting; as it emphasizes that the trainer should have an individual understanding of the subject as different from that of any other. The book further shows that; the different models of training are the ones that bring in problems as the dog is never wrong in the learning process, but may only be slow.

The fourth part of the book is a discussion of the various teaching methods used in imposing new behavior; the occurrence or excellence of the desired behavior. These methods include chaining, prompting, shaping, or fading that are administered together with rewards to reinforce the complex or simple desired behaviors. The book further explains the different strengtheners that include conditioned stimuli, like the clicker in clicker training and rewards on operant conditioning. The fifth part of the book clarifies the solutions to the undesired behavior; and how to discourage them using antecedent control; extinction; and the use of differential reinforcements. This part also talks of punishment as the last option when all corrective measures have failed. However, punishment is to be administered by only experienced trainers so that they can use the least aversive stimuli, to avoid behavioral problems and distress in the subject.

This book is very useful to dog owners and other parties that do not have biological backgrounds as the book is easy, entertaining and instructive especially on the Clicker method of training. The Operant conditioning model of training can be criticized for the possibility that it may lead to behavioral problems, confusion and distress in the subject. The clicker method on the other hand is to receive praise for the reason that it always works on the subjects and is easy to administer.

However; of the proposed training models, clicker training is better off applied by beginners and non-specialists, as it is easy to administer as compared to the use of operant conditioning that requires careful administration of stimulus and timing. However, the usage of operant conditioning can cause behavioral problems and training confusion in the subject under training.


Burch M.R., and Bailey, J.S. (1999). How Dogs Learn. Howell Book House; Wiley Publishing Inc., New York.


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