The best books for those who compete in canine sports

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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

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

Emma Parsons Why did I love 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.

By Karen Pryor,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Don't Shoot the Dog as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Karen Pryor’s clear and entertaining explanation of behavioral training methods made Don’t Shoot the Dog a bestselling classic with revolutionary insights into animal—and human—behavior.

In her groundbreaking approach to improving behavior, behavioral biologist Karen Pryor says, “Whatever the task, whether keeping a four-year-old quiet in public, housebreaking a puppy, coaching a team, or memorizing a poem, it will go fast, and better, and be more fun, if you know how to use reinforcement.”

Now Pryor clearly explains the underlying principles of behavioral training and reveals how this art can be applied to virtually any common situation. And best of all,…

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

Emma Parsons Why did I love 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.

By Karen Pryor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Reaching the Animal Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the founder of “clicker” training, the widely praised humane approach to shaping animal behavior, comes a fascinating book—part memoir, part insight into how animals and people think and behave.

A celebrated pioneer in the field of no-punishment animal training,Karen Pryor is responsible for developing clicker training—an all-positive, safe, effective way to modify and shape animal behavior—and she has changed the lives of millions of animals. Practical, engrossing, and full of fascinating stories about Pryor’s interactions with animals of all sorts, Reaching the Animal Mind presents the sum total of her life’s work. She explains the science behind clicker training,…

Book cover of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Emma Parsons Why did I love 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.

By Carol S. Dweck,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Mindset as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the renowned psychologist who introduced the world to “growth mindset” comes this updated edition of the million-copy bestseller—featuring transformative insights into redefining success, building lifelong resilience, and supercharging self-improvement.

“Through clever research studies and engaging writing, Dweck illuminates how our beliefs about our capabilities exert tremendous influence on how we learn and which paths we take in life.”—Bill Gates, GatesNotes

“It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”

After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this…

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

Emma Parsons Why did I love 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!

By Geoff Colvin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Talent Is Overrated as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Excellent.”—The Wall Street Journal

Since its publication ten years ago, businesspeople, investors, doctors, parents, students, athletes, and musicians at every level have adopted the maxims of Talent Is Overrated to get better at what they’re passionate about. Now this classic has been updated and revised with new research and takeaways to help anyone achieve even greater performance.
Why are certain people so incredibly great at what they do? Most of us think we know the answer—but we’re almost always wrong. That’s important, because if we’re wrong on this crucial question, then we have zero chance of getting significantly better at…

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

Emma Parsons Why did I love 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.

By Stuart Brown, Christopher Vaughan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Play as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From a leading expert, a groundbreaking book on the science of play, and its essential role in fueling our happiness and intelligence throughout our lives

We've all seen the happiness on the face of a child while playing in the school yard. Or the blissful abandon of a golden retriever racing across a lawn. This is the joy of play. By definition, play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun. But as Dr. Stuart Brown illustrates, play is anything but trivial. It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition. We are designed by nature to flourish…

You might also like...

Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

By Sharman Apt Russell,

Book cover of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

Sharman Apt Russell Author Of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Explorer Runner Mother

Sharman's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Citizen Scientist begins with this extraordinary statement by the Keeper of Entomology at the London Museum of Natural History, “Study any obscure insect for a week and you will then know more than anyone else on the planet.”

As the author chases the obscure Western red-bellied tiger beetle across New Mexico, where she lives, she explores a dozen other citizen science programs with lyrical prose, humor, and a profound sense of connection to place. Diary of a Citizen Scientist celebrates a renewed optimism in the mysteries of the world and a renewed faith in how ordinary people can contribute to science and environmental activism.

Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

By Sharman Apt Russell,

What is this book about?

A critically acclaimed nature writer explores the citizen scientist movement through the lens of entomological field research in the American Southwest.

Award-winning nature writer Sharman Apt Russell felt pressed by the current environmental crisis to pick up her pen yet again. Encouraged by the phenomenon of citizen science, she decided to turn her attention to the Western red-bellied tiger beetle, an insect found widely around the world and near her home in the Gila River Valley of New Mexico.

In a lyrical, often humorous voice, Russell shares her journey across a wild, rural landscape tracking this little-known species, an insect…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in golden retrievers, clicker training, and execution?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about golden retrievers, clicker training, and execution.

Golden Retrievers Explore 21 books about golden retrievers
Clicker Training Explore 7 books about clicker training
Execution Explore 16 books about execution