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Book Review: Reaching the Animal Mind

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The author, Karen Pryor

I have been a fan of Karen Pryor’s work ever since reading her first book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. Karen has an excellent way of describing how learning happens and how different training methods work. In Don’t Shoot the Dog, she does a great job of describing and giving many examples of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment and how each is used while also showing the benefits of positive reinforcement.

In this book, Reaching the Animal Mind, Karen really expounds on positive reinforcement training – specifically training with a marker, such as a clicker or whistle. She gives many examples of how she has personally used this system of training with many species of animals – from a hermit crab to a miniature horse who served as a guide for his blind owner. She also discusses the psychological responses that clicker training elicits – encouraging the learner to seek and explore with the freedom to try new things and offer new behaviors. Very clear instructions are given on how clicker training is correctly used – from starting out to raising criteria and shaping behaviors, to incorporating specific cues into the training.
Reaching the Animal Mind begins with a brief story of D’Artagnan the wolf, and Karen’s session training him to put on a little show for visitors to his enclosure at Wolf Park instead of lunging and snarling aggressively at people around the fence. For me, the story gives an easy to follow example of the process of clicker training and how this form of training, unlike many other methods, can be done without any physical contact with the animal. The story also shows how positive reinforcement training allows a relationship to be developed through the training.

One of my favorite parts of the book was near the end, as Karen talked about TAGteaching, which is basically clicker training for people. It began with several forward thinking gymnastics and dance coaches using a clicker to help their students recognize when they were doing something right and breaking down a behavior (say swinging around the parallel bars) into specific areas that needed to be improved to make the whole sequence better. This way the learner can focus on one area at a time and really get the feeling of when it is correct. I love this idea for “training” people – it seems to be more beneficial for both teacher and student (so watch out lesson students at Honey Brook Stables). As described in this book, TAGteaching is being used for diverse groups of learners and skills from the gymnasts and dancers I mentioned to autistic children and even fisherman.

So if you have any interest in positive reinforcement training or need more clarification on what clicker training is and how to use it, no matter what “species” you are training, I definitely recommend this book! Here is the link for amazon:

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