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bang-up-to-date, with lots of great information on progressive reinforcement training; perhaps some discussion on why outdated training methods and tools worked, but also the issues they cause; reasons why she has “moved with the times” in her training ethos and tools of choice; and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.


Socialisation Not Isolation (Part II)

Following on from my last post on socialisation, I’m going to use this post to look at just a few of the things I would want to socialise my puppy to.  As far as importance go, these are all things which are important to me, I understand people have different situations and I will probably miss something out which would be priority #1 for other people, and likewise I will have things here which some people may wonder why I’ve included.  As important as socialisation is, it is, for the most part, very much an individual thing.  I say for the most part, because there are some situations that all puppies and dogs will (hopefully) encounter, such as veterinary offices (for their booster shots), other dogs (on walks and in training classes), and should all be socialised to.

For my partner and I, kids are an important one.  I have five nephews; though (thankfully, when it comes to Christmas!) my partner is an only child, and we also have a god-daughter.  Statistically, children are more likely to get bitten by dogs than adults.  I like Janis Bradley‘s reasoning behind that (“If children are taught not to run around or run away from dogs, and especially not to do it while shrieking and flailing in their uncannily accurate imitation of wounded gazelles, most predatory responses will be prevented“).  For whatever reason, it also seems that boys are more likely to be bitten than girls, which means it is especially important our puppy is good with kids.

After that comes men, as well as people in general.  Since we frequently have friends and family over, its important that our puppy is OK with whoever we invite into our home.  I singled out men especially, as it seems that whatever little boys do more of to get bitten, it continues into adolescence and adulthood.  For anyone unsure about how to interact with dogs, I will post some links at the end of this post which I found recently on Jez Rose’s blog.

Livestock is another important one for us.  Living in the Lake District, we fully intend to take our puppy out and about with us, and for walks when he or she is old enough,   This means we’re going to come across cows and sheep, and the odd horse and pig too; so it would be nice to walk past animals in fields (or horses with riders) without stressing our dog out, and without stressing the other animal(s) too.  As a big Border Collie fan, herding does intrigue me, and if my pup shows his or her herding skills, it’s something I wouldn’t be averse to trying, so he or she would need to be OK with the animals they were herding, be it sheep, or geese, or something else.

Living in the Lake District, crowds are important to socialise the puppy to, if anybody has been to one of the popular tourist areas of the Lake District on a sunny day, you will know exactly what I mean, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that at times it’s almost like being at Walt Disney World in Florida!

So, that’s some of the “big hitters” for puppy socialisation in my household, what about yours?  What is the one thing you absolutely have to socialise your puppy to, or one thing you wish you’d socialised your dog to as a puppy?!


Fearful/anxious/stressed Vs content/happy/social poster

The Young Person’s Guide to Woofs & Growls

Dogggy Do’s & Don’ts

Socialisation Not Isolation (Part I)

While reading Bruce Fogle’s “The Dog’s Mind” earlier today, I marked a page with a sticky note, and wrote on it “isolation or socialisation”.  My partner and I hope to have a puppy of our own in the coming months (once we’ve found pet-friendly rental accommodation, got moved in, and settled down), and I spend a little time every now and again going through my mental list of what I would like to socialise him or her to, and attempting to rank them in some sort of priority.  I have this list because I see dogs, whether they’re in the street, on TV, friends dog, and they’re scared.  They’re scared of cats, or other dogs, or of men, or cars, or kids, and the list goes on…

In his book, Bruce talks about socialisation with regards to other dogs, and seems to leave out the part about socialising your puppy to lots of different people, situations and so on; but realistically the topic of socialisation covers all of this.  Two quotes I found particularly interesting from what I read today follow:

“dogs that are isolated from other dogs during this period [the socialisation period, from around four to sixteen weeks] in their lives are often hyperaggressive towards other dogs.  They haven’t learned how to inhibit this behaviour.”

“Pups that are denied play activity up to twelve weeks of age…are poorer learners, have a greater fear of people, animals, and noises, are shyer, and more antisocial.  They will avoid stimuli and are reluctant to explore.”

I feel that both of these can apply to any form of socialisation.

I have seen more than the odd one or two dog who is socially inept, this is often because the owners don’t realise what is normal interaction for dogs.  The first time they let their puppy or dog off-leash to play with others, they quickly take it home again as they think that the normal canine play styles practised by their puppy  are inappropriate.  When the owner wants to “try again” and see if the dog is better, however because the dog now is socially starved, it is even more inept in its interactions, and this time causes real problems.

Compare if you will, with ourselves.  If you were suddenly whisked off to Japan to live with a Japanese family.  You don’t speak their language, and you know very little of their culture, but they frequently take you out to see the sights of the local area, which you enjoy; the best bit about these excursions is that you often see other Westerners on your trips out.  The first time you get within speaking distance, you and the other Westerner shake hands.  Your Japanese hosts do not shake hands, they bow – bowing is polite in Japan, and so they think you are being pushy, and rude.

After you shake hands, your hosts wait for you to “be appropriate”, and bow, but when it is clear to them you aren’t going to bow, they quickly take you home.  You’re not taken on any outings for a while, but the next time you go out, you see your new friend again.  This time, you shout across the road to him, and he shouts back.  Your host family are shocked, and immediately take you home.  This continues, but each time your see your friend, you are that little bit more excited to talk to him; and each time you are taken home and do not go out with your hosts for a little while longer than the last time, and eventually your hosts either stop taking you out, or they only take you with them when they know you will not encounter anyone you will try to communicate with.

It’s a sad fact, but this is how a lot of dogs live their lives.  May others are fearful of what we would class as every-day objects, the Hoover, the washing machine or dishwasher, cars, tractors, children, men.

This post is getting rather long, so I’ll split it and post the second part in a few days.  In it, I’ll look at what sort of things I will socialise my puppy to, and explain my reasons why.

Book Review: “Dominance: Fact or Fiction”, Barry Eaton

I’m about half-way through my second reading of Dominance: Fact or Fiction?  I realise that may make it sound long, difficult, and full of big words that are hard to pronounce, but I promise you it’s not!  With just under fifty pages (at least in the first edition I have), it might be considered more of a booklet than a book, but it’s just the right length to get Eaton’s message across succinctly.  So, why am I reading it for a second time?  In part, I’m reading it again because of the way my brain seems to work (the more I read & re-read something, the more of it sticks in my head & can be recalled for future use!), and in part I’m re-reading it because it’s such a brilliant book.

Eaton has a good and factual style of writing, which means it’s easy to see the facts from the falsehoods, and follow his well-connected train of thought, to see where there are inaccuracies throughout the “dominance” and “pack theory” methods of training.

I’ve found myself furiously scribbling throughout reading, but only a few times to write a word definition, mostly it has been to underscore some text, or add a little comment or note to myself (such as “we hope!” where Eaton lists the things dogs are given by their owners (the list includes company, mental stimulation, and having their health looked after, which are all things dogs need, though I know they are always not given, which is not the subject of this post)).

Overall it’s a good book, with just about the right amount of information that I could see both the (dog-owning) man on the street, and a professional trainer being able to pick it up, though one would hope that one would learn more that the other!