Reviews: Don't Shoot the Dog! and Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor

Early in 2017, I started doing some casual research on dog training because I wanted to teach Yoshi some new tricks. It ultimately led me to some great dog training forums, which led me to researching clicker training, which led me to books on positive reinforcement training. After reading these two books, I realized I have much more studying to go to truly understand the animal that shares my home. 

I’m reviewing these two books together because of their similarities and they’re both by the very experienced animal trainer, Karen Pryor.

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Don’t Shoot the Dog!

I immediately disliked the title for the book, and I liked it less the more I read. This isn’t a problem solving manual for dangerous animals. (Get a professional opinion on your options if you own such a dog.) Instead, it's a deep dive into positive reinforcement training theory. It focuses on the psychology behind why such training works and what needs to be done in order to “click,” or cue, correctly. The title is just an attention grabber, and Pryor mentioned in Reaching the Animal Mind that she hates the name, too. Her publishers won on that.

Don’t Shoot the Dog! also acts as an exhaustive dictionary on the terms that come into play in positive reinforcement. It was very thorough, and even though I understood the concepts pretty quickly there were always more examples to read so I think it could've been edited for redundancy a bit. That's why I lowered my rating, but the content is still solid. 

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Reaching the Animal Mind

Reaching the Animal Mind assumes you already understand the basics of clicker training or positive reinforcement training. It's less of a psychology book and has more stories from Pryor's work training various animals, such as horses, many dogs, feisty dolphins, and cats. She even worked with autistic children on occasion. I loved her observation on the mutually beneficial relationship between the fishermen and dolphins in Brazil. The anecdote about guide dog schools converting to clicker training after proven success for the dogs might’ve made me tear up a bit.

As an FYI: Pryor did do a lot of her early research in the 60's and 70's with dolphins that had been captured or born in captivity at a Sea Life Park in Hawaii. If that's something that bothers you, I get it, just be aware that much of her dolphin studies were there although she did do a good amount of wild dolphin observation. As much as zoos and water parks make me sad, I know we wouldn't understand animals as well without them and sometimes they're necessary for endangered species. With all these stories and insights, Reaching the Animal Mind is probably the best summary out there on Pryor's career. 

“Animals trained in the new way are apt to be curious and friendly, instead of reserved and evasive. They take an interest in what you are doing. They are always willing to experiment and to learn new things.”

Reaching the Animal Mind made me feel like I could become an animal trainer if I only I had the time. It's an encouraging, positive look at the relationship between humans and all animals and how clicker training broadens and strengthens that bond. 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Other Thoughts

If you’re a believer in alpha dog theory and that animals need physical force to listen, I very strongly recommend reading one or both of these books. It's easy to assume Ceasar Milan-esque training is the most recent research because of his famous name, but dominance training is out. It’s been out for decades and popular media hasn’t caught up. These books will enlighten you to the modern science of dog training. 

I taught Yoshi several new tricks after reading these, each just taking a few sessions no more than ten minutes long. I saw the light bulb “Aha!” moment go off in his eyes when he understood what clicking was after just a few clicks, and it was so rewarding! Any confusion on his part is always clearly my fault for not communicating well (he's a German Shepard, he's smart). He’s always happy to let me work on my training skills because it means treats. Clicker training WORKS. 

You can learn the things in these books by watching YouTube videos or reading articles from reputable sources and training forums (like r/dogtraining). Most of those, however, won’t go quite into the depth that Pryor does which is why I recommend these!

2017 Book Summary

My 2017 book summary is here! I decided on 60 books as my 2017 goal, which I am happy to say I passed. My 2016 summary can be found by clicking here.

The picture below is of the 17 books I own that I read in 2017. The rest were borrowed from my library in either physical or Kindle form.

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In no particular order, my 5 favorite books/series of 2017 were:

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - This is a lovely and beautifully written World World II historical fiction novel. I cried a lot reading this. It's now one of six Pulitzer Prize winners that I've read. (I'm planning on reading way more of those in 2018.)
  2. The Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson - I loved The Hero of Ages the most. Mistborn has made me a forever Sanderson fan. There’s nothing better than an author who creates his worlds seriously and with attention to every detail.
  3. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas - Rhysand. Rhysand. Rhysand. I'm not exactly proud of how much this book makes me squeal like a teenage girl, but it is what it is. 
  4. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (Illustrated by Fiona Staples) - The artwork and feisty characters work together to make one stunning comic series, and there are more to come! Don't read if you're easily offended.
  5. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - I had tears in my eyes pretty much the whole time I read this. The strength of the female characters humbled me. 
  6. Honorable mention goes to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah, We Should All be Feminists, and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. I'm looking forward to reading more of Adichie's work in 2018; everything she says is relevant. Insert fire emoji. 

A full list of what I read this year can be found here on Goodreads (click here for my profile and be my friend)! I don't know what I'd do without Goodreads for tracking books I read. I used to keep a Word document on my desktop, lol at myself. Goodreads is so much better because it helps me get stats like these! 

  • 63 books in 2017
  • 55 were new to me (I reread the 7 Harry Potter books and A Wrinkle in Time)
  • 20,280 pages read
  • 3 short stories, 3 novella length books, 8 graphic novels, and the rest were normal novel length (Goodreads just counts any items marked "Read" as a book so I had to go through and pick these out)
  • 12 non-fiction books (5 were on dog behavior and training)
  • 51 fiction books
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I’m happy with the amount I read this year - pretty much doubled from 2016! - but for 2018 I'm lowering my number goal to 45. Looking at the number 60 was stressful at times. I like having a goal; it keeps me motivated to read and not just stare at Netflix all night, but I definitely don’t need to pressure myself with a higher number. The goal of 45 gives me a little bit of breathing room. Plus, I'm planning on some longer books this year like Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series and the rest of Wheel of Time so I don't care if the number isn't quite as high. 

And for fun, here's my 2017 best nine from Instagram. Figured I'd share just because they're all bookish! Happy 2018 reading!

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Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I don’t read many thrillers so it should be no surprise that I’m about 5 years late to the Gone Girl party. (I have not seen the movie, what follows are only book related thoughts.) One of my skills is avoiding spoilers for something I plan to read/watch eventually, so I had no clue what would happen in Gone Girl before I started it.

WARNING! Spoilers are below.

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Summary:

Amy and Nick are a seemingly perfect couple - young, attractive, and madly in love. One day Amy disappears from their home and Nick begins to look more and more suspicious to the police investigating the case, especially as Amy's diary reveals that Nick may not be what he seems.

My Thoughts:

Overall, this was a really entertaining read and I had no problem getting lost in the story. The narration alternated between Nick and Amy and kept the story moving quickly, especially after the diary reveal. I enjoyed the twists, like when I wasn't sure what would happen when Amy's plans changed. (I personally enjoyed the scene where she was robbed.)

Some people seem to think Nick and Amy are equally terrible, which I disagree with to an extent. They both suck. I would never be friends with either of them, but Nick was more of an everyday kind of cheater asshole, whereas Amy was a sociopath. By the end I wanted Nick to be happier than Amy...but not too happy.

I think my main problem with this book was that there was no real resolution. Amy kind of “won” but not exactly. She came back because she lost her money, otherwise I think she would have been just crazy enough to go along with her plan. Her pregnancy was the final trap for Nick, sure, but since he knew the truth and gave up, it was less of a victory for her and more of a stalemate. I would’ve liked the ending more if one character took down the other. Then again, they did deserve each other.

It also irritated me that no one investigated the diary further. Nick, his sister (I hated her nickname, I will not type it out), and the detective all knew it was a fake, so why didn’t they have it analyzed? I'm pretty sure there are ways to tell how long ago a piece of paper was written on. They could have proved the diary was not as old as it claimed and all accounts were fabricated. And Amy’s unplanned detour at Desi’s house would never have been explained away so easily to suspicious investigators in a nationally followed case, period. That felt forced. 

Rating:

Gone Girl was 3 out of 5 stars for me, it was a great page turner for fans of thrillers but I’m not in awe of it the way many people were.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. Hazel and Gus have both had terminal diagnosis at different points in their lives, and after meeting in a support group they find true companionship and understanding in one another. 

Minor spoilers are below.

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My Thoughts:

My opinion's a slightly unpopular one. I didn’t love TFIOS but I didn’t totally hate it, either. Most people seem to love it in a rather hysterical way.

I thought it did a good job of showing how parents of kids with cancer cope. Hazel’s mom barely functioned outside of taking care of her daughter. Gus’ parents were completely focused on his happiness during his sickness and if that meant spending all his time with Hazel, so be it. Hazel and Gus did have a lot of sweet moments that were also very sad, because you never really forgot the disease these kids were living with. I was rooting for them to have every experience they could together. 

However, I did not like how pretentious it was at times. I think John Green’s personality came through and sometimes Hazel and Gus were just too much. All those “deep” quotes look great on tumblr but make for cheesy moments. The occasional light hearted moment was necessary for Hazel's happiness, but with such serious subject matter the last thing I wanted to do was roll my eyes at Hazel’s breakfast monologue. But roll I did.

The romance also seemed forced to me. I understand completely that having cancer created a strong shared bond - that’s not my issue. That part was realistic. I just couldn’t deal with how these two were a couple about five seconds after meeting. I like a little bit of suspense in a romance! There was zero buildup or time to root for them before Hazel and Gus were already a done deal.

The ending of the book was a tear jerker, true, but TFIOS made me more sad for real children facing terminal illnesses than its own characters. I haven't seen the movie but I've heard it does a good job of bringing Hazel and Augustus to life. 

Rating:

3/5 stars - I don’t really understand the John Green worship but TFIOS did have many moving moments and was an easy read.