Carol Price – Collie Psychology: A Review

In part, uneducated, disproven, unkind, and in places downright nonsense.  Let me elaborate:

Collie Psychology

I was quite excited when I first learned about ‘Collie Psychology’.  I have one of Carol Price’s earlier books ‘Understanding the Border Collie’, and while it’s of an age that means it has a lot of old-school talk that we now know is no longer relevant, it still contains some good information for those who are able to see past the pseudo-science.

I was hoping that her new book would be bang-up-to-date, with lots of great information on progressive reinforcement training; perhaps some discussion on why outdated training methods and tools worked, but also the issues they cause; reasons why she has “moved with the times” in her training ethos and tools of choice; and suggestions for resources to help others who are interested in learning and expanding their knowledge, alongside lots of great collie information.

Sadly, I’ve only made it a quarter of the way through the book and I’m giving it up as a bad job.  While the section on finding a good breeder is a true gold-star piece of writing that should be held up for everyone with even a passing interest in dogs to absorb, the rest of the book is filled – mostly – with the same out-dated clap-trap.

She makes aggression in puppies sound like an everyday event (growling is during play, for instance, but actual aggression is not); there’s also a fair amount of anthropomorphic fluff about puppies and dogs “disrespecting” their humans, when an understanding of learning theory would show that is not at all the case.

The section on training has a diatribe on why, how, and when to use a “correction command”, when – again – a little bit of education would show the writer there’s no need for such hostility, especially towards a young puppy.  There’s very little discussion on setting the puppy (or dog) up in the home so that he or she is unable to make mistakes, but lots of talk about what to “correct”, and how.

When she gets to actually teaching the puppy/dog and adding cues (which she insists on calling “commands”, for some unknown reason) to behaviours, she suggests people use a gesture and word cue a the same time; this is known as “overshadowing”, and when behaviours are trained with overshadowed cues it means the dog either does not listen at all to the verbal cue, or takes much longer than necessary to learn it.  She also completely fails to mention using a marker during training, meaning that – once again – the training will not progress as quickly as it could.

Not once in this section does she suggest than an owner might want to find a reputable training class to take their puppy or dog to, although she has no issues with pointing out that owners, especially those who are novice either to the breed or to dogs in general, are bound to make mistakes(!) – something a competent training instructor would not only be working to eliminate in every dog/handler team, but they could also provide personal guidance on what to do (or not do!) to help both human and canine understand, and complete, the exercise.

However, the things that really finished this book off for me were the following: –
1) her suggestion on “sticking out your leg” (AKA tripping the dog up) when he or she pulls on the lead;
2) the misinformation she gives to readers on the topic of learned helplessness;
3) her assertion that playing tug with your dog causes aggression.

After reading these nuggets of “information” – one of which does not line up with my ethos on interacting with others (human or otherwise), another which is factually incorrect (though it makes for a good sob story); and the remaining one being a just downright silly – it has relegated this book to the bottom of my reading pile, behind such authors as Toni Shelbourne, Denise Fenzi & Deborah Jones, Pamela Dennison, and my personal favourites, Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson – all people who are much more easily accessible with up-to-date research and information that appeals to dog owners of every kind, be they “just” pet owners, invested dog enthusiasts, or canine professionals.

—-

Disclaimer: I have not been asked, nor paid to write this review; the opinions contained herein are entirely my own, and are based upon both my experience and my education, both of which are ever-expanding.

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12 thoughts on “Carol Price – Collie Psychology: A Review

  1. Pingback: Saying Good Bye To Murphy

  2. Hey there,

    Do you have any “must have” books that you would recommend for anyone who has or will have a border collie puppy in the future? I was actually looking into buying this book until I read your blog post about it. I have a 15 year old border collie, but I will be adding a new addition to the family this spring. Needless to say, it has been a long time since I’ve raised a puppy, and I want to be as prepared as possible. My motto has always been that you can never know too much.

    If you have any recommended books on raising a puppy or on border collies in particular I would really appreciate the reference!

    All the best,

    Kassi

    • Hi Kassi, thanks for getting in touch, how exciting for you – a puppy! Sadly all of the breed-specific books I’ve read – for border collies and other breeds too – all seem to be pretty old and mention a lot of outdated dominance/pack theory, but most are generally fine if you can read past those sections and ignore them.

      I don’t have many “puppy books”, as a puppy is a long time off in my future, and as far as training goes, we now know that tiny puppies can start training when they’re still with mom as learning “works” the same with them as it does with any other dog. I did attend a seminar with Helen Zulch and can recommend her ‘Life Skills for Puppies’ book, though – it’s as the title says skills for life, rather than sit/down/stay type training; for a more general approach to training I always recommend anything written by Jean Donaldson or Karen Pryor, though most of Karen’s books are more theoretical than practical but if you’re already knowledgeable about training what you’ll want your pup to do then they’re great for getting more understanding of learning theory. Jean’s ‘How to Train Your Dog Like a Pro’, is a great resource for a refresher on training the “basic” exercises if you need it.

      Hope this helps
      Sam

      • It does! Thank you so much for the insight. I really appreciate it, and I will definitely be keeping your suggestions in mind while I book hunt. I know I’m probably overthinking and getting farther into it than I need to in some ways; it just calms me to know I’m giving myself the best opportunity to do the right thing.

        Thanks again! It was very helpful!

        Kassi

  3. I no u mainly concentrate on collies would you ever think of training a 15 mth old neo mastiff she has agressions issues I have tried all the books and googled yips she is getting better just be nice to take hur for walks and not be on edge.i no the dog can feel my tension through the Lead so I do try and relax .thanks jay

    • Hi Jason,

      I’m not actually qualified or registered to train or help with other people’s dogs, if you want to find someone near you to help with your dogs’ issues try the Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK (http://apdt.co.uk/); the Association of Pet Behaviour councillors (http://apbc.org.uk/); or the Pet Professional Guild (http://petprofessionalguild.com/).

      All three websites have the option to find your nearest registered professional, and I’m sure you’ll find someone to help you and your dog, although please do be wary of anyone who sounds like they watch too much TV 😉

      Hope this helps

  4. So buy a book that focuses specifically on training related issues instead?! You’d have a point if this book was called “Bang up to date information on positive reinforcement training methods for Collies” but it isn’t. “Collie Psychology” should give a fair enough idea of what to expect.

    • Yes, the title did give an idea of what to expect – and as it was new when this review was published one should still be able to hope for up-to-date information, not things that are outdated and often harmful – if not physically then psychologically and to the bond between human & canine.

      • Even still the book clearly aims to concentrate on behavioural aspects and psychology of the Border Collie. It’s about the dogs – NOT on techniques and training methods humans have chosen and the damage we’ve done along the way.

        Always open to hearing differing views, thoughts and opinions from others so by all means voice your disappointment but at least play fair instead of referring to it as being “uneducated, disproven, unkind, and in places downright nonsense”

        • Yes – behaviour aspects and modifying that behaviour using “uneducated and unkind” training methods based on “disproven and downright nonsensical” information. That is playing fair.

          • What?!! I’m losing the will to live here so not going to ask what you mean or keep this going on an endless loop. My point was the book is called “Collie Psychology” which is self-explanatory. Might touch on training but essentially it’s not about training. If you feel the stuff written about collie psychology is crap then fair shout. Otherwise you may as well have a pop at anything and everything else the author didn’t include and you’d hoped she might such as helpful hints and handy tips for seaside trips or whatever. I’m obviously being facetious but you get what I’m driving at.

            Anyway… not arguing and all done now.

            Catch you later 😀

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