Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sunday Book Review, August 26, 2012: Reaching the Animal Mind

At the county fair earlier this month, Madame L saw the Pirate's Parrot and "Pirate" Chris Biro's many parrots, conures, and cockatoos (all of which of course are included in the biological order Psittaciformes). She was amazed at how the pirate let the birds fly freely out away from his pirate ship, trusting that they would come back, which involves not only their wanting to come back to him, but also their being able to find their way back and their not being attacked by predators on their flight out and back.

Madame L talked to Mr. Biro, who gave her some advice on how to train her own birds as well as her beloved grand-dogs, so Madame L found this book, "Reaching the Animal Mind," by Karen Pryor. Ms. Pryor has written many books about how to train animals using the "clicker" method, which Madame L will be using. One of Ms. Pryor's first books on the topic was "Don't Shoot the Dog!" which Madame L didn't get because she wasn't focused so much on dog training, but which Madame L will try to check out from her local library.

Meanwhile, she has been thoroughly enjoying this book, "Reaching the Animal Mind." And one reason she's glad she bought it (used, from, for $4.00) is that she can, and has been, underlining and highlighting furiously. There is so much good information in this book that Madame L will have to read it a couple of times, at least, and it's so well written that Madame L will not mind having to read it a couple of times, or more.

Another thing that recommends the book to every reader who is interested in training any animal (and many humans---more about that later) is that key points in the book have links where you can actually see the training method being discussed, or the incident being described.

For instance, have you seen the famous video of the dog dancing merengue with the man? Here it is, just in case you've missed it:

How does he do it? Well, Madame L doesn't know about this dog and its human, but she does know, from reading "Reaching the Animal Mind" and watching Karen Pryor's video (in the online chapter 4) on the dog that performs a Charlie Chaplin routine, that it's done with the clicker training method.

For information about the Parrot's Pirate and avian training, check out 

Ms. Pryor started by training dolphins, a story which in itself is fascinating. But she has also trained dogs, wolves, parrots, rats, even various fish and crustaceans (don't knock it till you've tried it, or read about it!)...and has trained people to train their various pets.

And, since Madame L mentioned training humans, here it is: Ms. Pryor isn't talking about how to train your husband or wife to pick up his/her socks or whatever. She's talking about helping people figure out what they need to do to improve their gymnastics routine, for instance. This is done, obviously, with their consent and at their request. And it works.

And that's what works about the clicker training, as opposed to traditional training methods, for all animals, too. The Aha! moment for the trainer comes when the animal gives a little leap of joy, or lick of thanks, and when the trainer sees the Aha! moment, the gleam of understanding, in the animal's eyes, when it figures out how to do what it needs and wants to do.

Madame L cannot recommend this book too highly. As she already noted, Madame L will be re- and re-reading this book. And she'll report back to you, Dear Readers, how the clicker training goes.

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