Excerpt: 'Reaching the Animal Mind'

reaching the animal mind

Karen Pryor, a regarded expert in no-punishment animal training, describes all she has learned about teaching animals and what they have taught her in her 30-year career.

In "Reaching the Animal Mind," she advises that people use a cheap, plastic, handheld clicker to reward animals' good behavior and ignore the bad. Using this positive reinforcement system, you can train your dog to find your car keys or your cat to give you a high-five, she says.

She also gives Web addresses so readers can watch video of the training sessions explained in the book.

Read an excerpt below and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.

VIDEO: Karen Pryor, author of "Reaching the Animal Mind," talks about clicker training.

People and Their Animals

I'm standing at the edge of a dusty road in a little town in South America. A barefoot, grimy boy walks past, a very little boy, maybe between three and four years old. He's eating a bun. Behind him trails a skinny puppy, itself very young.

The boy turns around, sees the dog, and raises a threatening fist. The dog cowers dramatically, cringing to the ground. The boy looks up with a huge, triumphant grin: "I scared the heck out of him, didn't I!" He walks on down the road. The puppy gets up and slinks after him -- and guess what: the boy has forgotten about the bun. He lets it fall, and the puppy grabs it and runs away.

That's how we've dealt with domestic animals ever since we and they evolved together. We treat them like subordinate, stupid human beings. We dominate them. We punish them. We make them do what we want. And they figure out how to get us to do what they want, anyway. Both sides get some benefit out of the system: in this case, food for the skinny puppy, and a rare moment of superiority for a small boy.

Traditionally the person who actually trains animals, beyond these ordinary practices of threatening them one minute and feeding them the next, has always been a special individual. Often it's someone with a "way with animals," a "natural gift." Usually that gift consists of two things: a personal interest in some particular kind of animals (dog trainers train dogs; horse trainers train horses) and a better understanding than the rest of us of the subtle uses of fear and force.

Traditional animal training, the way it's been practiced for millennia, relies largely on force, intimidation, and pain. While traditional trainers may also use praise and rewards, dominating the animal and obtaining control over its behavior are the main goals, and the main tools are fear and pain.

Traditional trainers are abundant among us. Nowadays of course they justify their practices with pseudoscientific explanations about pack leadership and the importance of dominance and of being the alpha animal; but the basic method, in spite of the overlay, is punishment; and people generally accept that approach. Most horse owners still keep whips and spurs in the barn. The walls in pet stores are plastered with choke chains and the aisles lined with shock collars, and people buy them. Maybe you use them yourself. I won't argue with you. Force and intimidation have been working for people since the first dogs hung around the first campfires (or, more likely, around the first garbage dumps).

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