When pigs fly! Training success with impossible dogs

Killion When pigs flyPUBLISHING YEAR: 2007

SUMMARY: Force-free training manual for hyper excited dogs.

AUDIENCE: Written for dedicated owners of hyper dogs.

01 Owner


Author: Jane Killion is a big name in dog training. Her seminars sell out the world over. Her main angle is prompt-free and lure-free training. She likes to ‘capture the dog’ in the act of doing what you want rather than push him there. She has profoundly influenced the way we teach at OhMyDog!

Style and contents: The book is entertaining enough, but it does use quite a bit of jargon. It is meant as a step-by-step manual for transforming your boisterous ADHD ball of energy into a dog who keenly checks in with you for the next instruction. It reminded me a lot of this other good book: Fired up, Frantic and Freaked out by Laura VanArendonk-Baugh.

Jane Killion invites the reader to question whether seeing yourself as your dog’s “master” is such a healthy premise. She encourages you to capitalize on what’s naturally motivating for your hyper rabbit-chasing ball-obsessed dog rather than prods and admonitions. She wants the dog’s guardian to see themselves as the ‘guardian of the keys”: the gatekeeper controlling access to the good things in life like chasing squirrels, going sniffing and digging holes.

She uses great analogies that bring the point home oh-so-compellingly, analogies that have resulted in greater compliance with my own customers:

  • About shaping: “Imagine you’re looking at a frame-by-frame motion picture of your dog picking up a tennis ball. What would the first frame be? Probably turning his eyes toward the ball. Then maybe a direct stare at the ball. […] Each of these frames is called an approximation – a little step towards the finished behavior of picking up a ball”
  • About going over to a more difficult training stage: “When you can bet 100 dollars that your dog […] you can add a cue”
  • “If instant compliance […] were the only thing we cared about in children, the majority of [them] would be completely unloved”

She outlines each step to teaching the dog practical skills like a solid stay or liking the crate. The chapter on common behaviour problems was  a great bridge back into the world of real-life problems.

Possible improvements: The program is a tall order for the average dog owner. Having said that, I asked around and many have told me they did not feel overwhelmed or intimidated and could successfully put her suggestions to practice. So maybe it’s just my obsession for the simplest-humanely-possible-program getting in the way of my judgement. Years of practice on the front-lines have taught me that a dollop of quick wins and the path of least resistance are key to compliance. In contrast, Jane Killion exhorts the reader that “there is no downtime when you take your green dog to class or on the road” (p. 59). Her honesty about how long it could take to get solid results is refreshing, but a massive cold shower to even the keenest of owners. She warns it can take years. In our instant gratification society, that’s a tough sell.

The book is still too reliant on technique and jargon, in my view, if it was written for the layman. It talks of the operant quadrants, and devotes an entire chapter to clickers and markers. Still, the introduction to the clicker chapter was one of the best I’d read so maybe she can pull it off (p. 39).

No matter how compelling the arguments for using the clicker are, they will not overcome the public’s resistance to what many see as complicated and ‘fancy’ technology. As the author is a strong clicker proponent, she may leave a few readers behind.

I approach behaviour problems from a multi-disciplinary perspective (including pathology and ethology) so I was wary of a purely behaviourist angle – purely looking at changing the consequences of the animal’s behaviour. But then again, this book is clearly a training manual and does not claim to be an all-round handbook. The author even closes with an honest disclaimer along the lines of: not every problem can be addressed by this method.

The verdict: I would absolutely recommend it. If you’re a beginner, it gives you great explanations about dog training theory. Seasoned dog trainers will find her wording and exercises helpful to help their own clients. But don’t pick this up hoping for a quick fix for your out-of-control dog. Some problems just need professional guidance and most problems need a lot of work.

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: Killion Jane
Genre: owner 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>