Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: When Pigs Fly

Jane Killion's book When Pigs Fly is about training dogs that don't really want to be trained. A lot of dog sports and activities are geared towards biddable dogs that actively want to do whatever their handlers desire of them. This book is about training my least favorite types of dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

Scenthounds, sighthounds, and terriers have been bred to pursue their own agendas, independent of humans. This contrasts sharply with herding dogs, which have been bred to focus on humans and actively attempt to figure out what they want. I love herding dogs. A lot. Other breeds just don't compare. Brisbane can very nearly read my mind, but I've found that even herding dogs I've never worked with before can astound me with their perceptiveness.

I have mixed feelings about When Pigs Fly because the author spends a fair amount of time putting down my beloved biddable dogs. Jane Killion breeds and trains bull terriers, which are among the most ridiculous dogs out there. Over the years she has successfully overcome a variety of very different problems in order to train her dogs to not only behave themselves, but also succeed at a variety of sports. Hence the name of the book, and also the glorious picture on the front of a bull terrier soaring over an agility jump.

The basis of this book is clicker training, and controlling resources. With enough control, you can teach your dog that you are the gateway to their favorite things. With clicker training, you can teach them that figuring out what you want is the puzzle they most solve to get their favorite things. The trick is to make it their idea.

I think the major weakness of Pigs Fly is that it relies heavily on the author's experiences with her own dogs, while only touching lightly on dogs that are equally difficult but in a different way. Thus this book is phenomenal for training dogs that are highly motivated by something, but not for lazy, unmotivated dogs. When discussing motivators, the author briefly mentions the difficulty in working with dogs whose chief pleasures revolve around napping in various places, but does not offer any sort of solution for these dogs. Ru's absolute most favoritest thing in the world is sleeping in his heated bed on the couch, I have not yet found a way to use this as a training motivator.

The other issue I had with applying When Pigs Fly to my own situation is that the author recommends constant management in all situations. The least applicable is the advice to teach loose leash walking at home in the yard and not trying to walk the dog down the street until they have mastered this skill, so they don't have the opportunity to practice pulling. This is fabulous for people who have fenced acreage in which to exercise their dog, and utterly useless for people like me who have a 20' wide yard. There's absolutely no way I can provide enough exercise in my tiny yard for however long it takes us to master loose leash walking. I have this issue with a lot of dog training books though, by now I'm almost positive that an enormous, grassy yard is a prerequisite for writing a dog training book.

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