Homeschool your Puppy

Tracy Erika - Homeschool your puppyPUBLISHING YEAR: 2013

SUMMARY: Instructions on how to prime your pup to training greatness.

AUDIENCE: Whilst the book is aimed at owners, its vocabulary and objectives are more suitable for the dog sport hobbyist or professional trainer.

02 Professional


The author, a search-and-rescue trainer, teaches your pup solid foundations that will facilitate his later training. The book approaches training with an original ‘meta-training’ [my own words] angle will make you take pause.

The book uses solely reward-based methods with two minor (and vague) exceptions (the ‘rattle’ and the ‘explosive bad potty‘), and exercises that go easy on the growing pups’ joints.

In the author’s words: “Who would be a good reader if first-graders were plonked into Shakespeare and Newton after learning the first three letters of the alphabet?”


So it’s established, Erika Tracy can definitely write. Here are some nice extracts:

  • “Training by shoving, pushing, or pulling tends to quell comments from the trainee. Positive training is more like a conversation”
  • “This is your dog we’re talking about, not some woofy robot to be kept in a closet when you’re not playing with it.”

It’s a shame these gems are too few and far between among the reams of dry instructions.

Training pearls of wisdom

The book introduces interesting ‘meta-training’ [my own words] concepts:

  • Charging the ‘good boy’ like you would the clicker – i.e. say ‘good boy’ regardless of the dog’s previous action, for the sake of presenting a treat after saying the word (for the nerds among us, she’s giving the bridging stimulus predictive value). 
  • The two-pat release: to tell the dog he’s off duty.
  • The “not yet” cue: kind of a No Reward Marker [not the author’s words] to interrupt a dog who starts  a sequence before he should, and to re-position him to the starting point.
  • The “arms behind back” cue: It says “Pay attention, I am about to change the name for this behaviour but you know how to do it.” Although I didn’t get why it couldn’t just mean “Pay attention, I am about to teach you something new.” regardless of whether you are about to transfer from an old cue, or solely work with the new one.
  • “good sit”, “good down”, etc.: Post-hoc labelling of the desired behaviour. It was intriguing and reminded me of SATS training, but the author failed to elaborate.

And then there are more concrete, but no less useful tips to handlers:

  • It takes about 200 repetitions to make a habit, so if you do a 10-rep session twice per day, you’ve got your new skill within ten days.
  • Organize your sessions in this order to capitalize on the pup’s frame of mind:
    • Movement (e.g. recall);
    • Interactions (e.g. explore a balance beam); and
    • Position (e.g. down).
  • Use yellow post-its as targets, as dogs can see yellow the best.
  • If you want to get a scared stray dog to follow you, use the find-it game.

Some nice touches

  • The author concludes each skill-chapter with a list of the training contexts in which the skill can be used (e.g. cute trick, agility, search and rescue).
  • The author is neither die-hard opponent nor terminally fanatical about the clicker. She states her pragmatic reasons for not using it without going into a partisan frenzy. This was refreshing.
  • Ridiculously easy introductions to various aspects of scent training.
  • The author is very cautious in avoiding exercises that would exercise undue strain on a growing pup’s joints.

Suggestions for improvement

  • Whilst it was a thoughtful idea, the double-spaced paragraphs gave the book the look of a student thesis. The paragraph indents compounded that impression.
  • The reference section listed only authors, rather than books and articles. Whilst Erika Tracy laid out her reasoning for this, it felt like an unsatisfying shortcut. The book made no in-text references to peer-reviewed literature. This is arcane criticism for such a practically-oriented book, I’ll admit. But it could have done with a reference here and there to back up some of its more definitive statements.
  • The book over-relies on avoidable jargon in many passages: “randomize”, “secondary reinforcer”, etc. Whilst I am at ease with the terminology (except for the Optimum Placement Technique – which the author failed to explain enough), I imagine the layman will have to muddle through some passages. The paragraphs about heeling, not yet, and leash manners were particularly clunky and confusing in my view. These passages could do with more “one-picture” and less “thousand-words”.
  • Some paragraphs, like potty training and socialization, were over-truncated. The author left huge gaps in her attempt at a no-nonsense approach. Sure gallons of ink have been spilled on the subject, but this book was a few milli-ounces short of tackling the topic satisfyingly.
  • “Homeschool your puppy” occupies that uncomfortable zone between bona fide book and ambitious leaflet. It could make a fine book if it was beefed up with positioning terminology, adding more pictures, and plugging a few gaps.


The author clearly knows her stuff, is experienced, and can write; but the book needs some work to mature into one of the unmissables.

As it is, it can be for you if you want to specifically prepare your pup for agility, obedience, search and rescue, conformation, and other dog sports, and are ready to put yourself through some dry passages – it is really short, so you won’t be investing tons of time. I myself will certainly incorporate some of her suggestions into my own school‘s curriculum, and it left me thinking more about meta-training.

More book reviews

Like the main page: If you like what I do, please let me know by clicking ‘like’ on the main page (not on this individual review). Each ‘like’ feels great and makes me want read and review more.

Author: Tracy Erika
Genre: professional manual
Browse the Book Review archive. Genre: . Author: . Reading Level: . Star: . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>