Book Review: Reaching the Animal MindApril 10, 2010
I recently read the new Karen Pryor book “Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals” and would like to recommend it to anyone who has an interest in training and how learning takes place.
I’m a huge of Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” — the book that brought clicker training to the masses (no, it’s actually not about dogs or dog training). Pryor is often credited for inspiring a revolution in animal behavior modification and making positive reinforcement the favored teaching method for most animal trainers; it also created the groundwork for other training books, including Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson. So I was definitely interested in what Pryor had to say about her experiences and observations about how animals learn.
Reaching the Animal Mind is probably not the best *intro* into clicker training as it’s not a how-to book; rather, Pryor shares a lot of really fun stories and anecdotes from her many decades of being a trainer (which includes stories of training and observing all types of animals from dolphins to wolves), which all support some points that she argues about what makes clicker training different from traditional training methods. She even makes a very strong case that clicker training is significantly different from 100% positive-reinforcement training that doesn’t use a clicker.
While she does talk a little bit about science (how data travels through the brain, etc), the whole thing is very accessible and fun… and hopefully it’ll inspire more people to use these principles in dealing with all animals (including fellow humans).
I particularly liked the chapters about how cues can act as reinforcers on their own and how to address the extinction curve so that the training subject doesn’t get frustrated. This was material that was new to me.
Also noteworthy is that every chapter includes a note about where on her website you can find videos of the examples/stories she talked about. I haven’t watched them yet, but you can find them on the official Reaching the Animal Mind website. (Navigate to more videos using the “chapter” links along the top).
The book is a lot more entertaining than one would think based on the subject matter, and I definitely encourage anyone interested in behavior and training to at least flip through for new insights and inspiration.
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