The best books for those who compete in canine sports

Emma Parsons Author Of Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog
By Emma Parsons

Who am I?

I’m passionate about these topics is because I'm a world-renowned dog trainer and an elite agility competitor. In both of these activities, I need to know my learning theory as well as how to break behavior into tiny pieces. When counseling canine behavior clients, I teach them these skills as well. My hope is that if they learn how their dog's brains work, they might make more of an effort to teach their dogs more cooperative skills. There are so many activities that people and dogs can share, one such being agility! People love to teach it (form of play) and the dog's confidence grows, as many as the obstacles are introduced.

I wrote...

Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog

By Emma Parsons,

Book cover of Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog

What is my book about?

Positive Answers for the Aggressive Dog. The dog that bites. The dog that attacks other dogs. The dog who may not survive his own aggressive behavior. What can be done to help these dogs? When Emma Parsons, canine behavior consultant, discovered that her own dog was aggressive, she developed innovative and effective strategies to calm, alter, and re-shape his reactive displays, and those of her clients' dogs.

The books I picked & why

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Don't Shoot the Dog: The Art of Teaching and Training

By Karen Pryor,

Book cover of Don't Shoot the Dog: The Art of Teaching and Training

Why this book?

Whether we are a human, dog, or fish: we all learn the same way. Karen Pryor, a behavioral scientist, and a brilliant animal trainer, teaches us how to create or change behavior in this “easy-to-read” and entertaining format. If you have a child who needs to learn a new skill or a dog who needs manners, this is the book for you! You must know how learning works before you can teach. We all learn the same way whether we are a human, a dog, or a kangaroo!

I chose this book because many of us take dog training classes and do what we are told by the instructor. We might not know why and accept the information blindly. It is important that we understand learning theory and understand the impact on those we are teaching whether our learner is a person or a dog.

Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals

By Karen Pryor,

Book cover of Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals

Why this book?

Another winner by Karen Pryor! In this book, Karen talks about the methodology of clicker training and why it is such an important teaching tool. With the sound of an audible signal (the click), we can teach the animal that what he/she did, at that moment in time, is the reason why they are receiving reinforcement. As Bob Bailey once said, “The clicker is used as a scalpel to carve out behavior.” 

Scattered throughout the text are video URLs to demonstrate some of the concepts. For example, a reader can go to the URL and watch a cat do agility!

Whatever canine sport you are in, the clicker can be a valuable tool in your toolbox.

I love this book because, as a dog trainer, I want to use tools that communicate effectively to the dog. This book talks about clicker training and why it can be used to pinpoint exact behaviors that the dog does correctly. It discusses what the clicker does to the brain when an animal is learning a new behavior. This is especially important to those who teach reactive and aggressive dogs.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

By Carol S. Dweck,

Book cover of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Why this book?

How do you deal with failure? Mistakes? Those who have achieved tremendous success, not only have extreme dedication, but many possess a growth mindset as well. No matter what the experience, it is all for a greater goal: the perfect player, the perfect speaker, the perfect mother or father. 

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordan

When I am looking for new ways to teach dogs and their people, I frequently delve into human psychology books. When we train our dogs, we need to change our mindset. Though this book is about excelling in different sports, I can adapt it to people who have reactive or aggressive dogs.

For example, if I can change the human’s mindset (perception) on how they view their dog’s behavior, then frequently the dog’s behavior will improve. For example, a dog who is about to react can shift into a different mindset by being presented with a favorite toy or cued to do a favorite behavior. Because the guardian no longer fears the behavior, progress can be made.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

By Geoff Colvin,

Book cover of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

Why this book?

What is the difference between world-class performers and others? If you are thinking innate talent, you are wrong!  There are many people who are born with astounding gifts however some never aspire to greatness. Talent certainly does come into play however it is deliberate practice that is the key.

Deliberate practice is defined as being effortful in nature. The main goal is the improvement of performance rather than enjoyment and is often performed without immediate reward. This book discusses this concept in extreme detail.

What this means is that those of us, if committed to practicing perfect, have the chance to build talent even if we were not originally born with it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that if you are learning a new skill, and you practice repeatedly, that you could become as great at that new skill as someone who is talented naturally? That’s why I love this book so much! No matter what skills we are learning, practicing can make a world of difference.

Although I have shown one of my dogs (Golden Retriever, Austyn) to four AKC Agility Championships, I was hardly the most coordinated handler out there. After reading this book, I realized that if I practiced a lot, I could eventually reach my goals. (My confidence was fading fast!) And that I did! After taking about four agility classes a week, I was ready to trial. Originally my goal was to attain one Agility Championship with him. Instead, I was able to guide him through four!

Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

By Stuart Brown, Christopher Vaughan,

Book cover of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Why this book?

This book explains the importance of play: how it helps humans to learn different skills. It is as vital to our growth as sleep and nutrition. The role of play functions the same way in the dog. Play helps to keep a dog mentally and physically stimulated. They learn various motor skills like jumping, rolling, stalking, etc. Both species continue to play well into their adulthood. Play allows its participants to try on different roles and fosters creativity.

When was the last time you played?!

When I see clients with their dogs, one of the first questions I ask them is whether their dogs are mentally stimulated. Most people say, “Oh he’s good with that! He gets three walks a day!” Then I ask, “What games does he play?” Most look at me dumbfounded. “Well, he plays ball…”

Play is such an important activity for both us and our dogs. Through play, we experiment with different situations /outcomes or learn new motor skills. For a dog that looks like: jumping, chasing, stalking, etc. Play, like sleep, is absolutely crucial to the quality of our lives.

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