Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"When Pig's Fly: Training Sucess with Impossible Dogs" - Book Review

Training is a very important part of a relationship with a dog, especially one who is an adept food thief and an expert at ignoring owners when he feels like it. Training Tuesday is my weekly installment in my adventures with getting a Basenji, a notorious breed for not wanting to listen, to listen to me.  I use positive reinforcement and copious amounts of treats to bribe train Indiana so we can have a healthy relationship and my leftovers will stay on the table.  Advice and commiseration are always welcome because I am no expert.

"Only about 10% of dog training is about training any particular behavior, like sit, down, or come. The other 90% of dog training is about getting your dog in a frame of mind where he is willing and able to pay attention and learn. Your average Golden Retriever or Sheltie is in, or close to being in, the frame of mind necessary to learn behaviors. Your Pigs Fly dog is not. That is why, despite the fact that there are any number of very good positive dog training books which show you how to train the basics, like sit, down, and come, most people who own Pigs Fly kinda dogs cannot get their dogs to perform with any reliability. Their dogs are just not engaged in the process."

Getting a "Pig" to Fly

While taking training classes, I was often flustered at the pace that Indiana was supposed to learn something.  The space of a week was never long enough to cement something, even though I have a good amount of time to work with Indiana.  At the end of the eight week course, I was supposed to be able to command Indiana's attention without treats through his Good Canine Certification.  I ended up not even going to the final test because I knew I would fail, and I was embarrassed, even though I was pretty sure that none of the other dogs in the class were at a point any further along than Indiana.

I wanted to give credit to a great book, which taught me a fantastic lesson in patience and setting expectations too fast (although they can be very high given enough time.)  I think Jane Killion's "When Pigs Fly: Training Success with Impossible Dogs" is a necessity for anyone who owns a dog that is "untrainable" (or "unbiddable" as her book phrases it.)  She emphasizes that any dog can be trained, even if they are a breed known for not listening.  The whole book is about understanding the sensibilities of a dog and not expecting it to react like a golden retriever when learning commands. Unbiddable dogs do things at their own pace, but are just as "intelligent" as any breed.  I don't always use a clicker, but the lessons in the book really break down training into achievable steps.

Indiana has been doing great at learning "Speak" and "Play Dead" and I am taking my time teaching them to him.  I'm hoping to take another stab at his Good Canine Citizen Certification in a few months.


  1. This book has been on my Kindle wish list for months, I think you've just convinced me to finally hit 'purchase.' Delilah is the kind of dog that does what you ask but when she's good and ready and I really, really want a good bond with my dog. Thank you for the great review!! And keep us posted on his Good Citizenship!

  2. I've had terriers for years and they can be quite stubborn. Learning happens best with frequent short lessons. For my Indy, food is his best motivator. He'll do most anything for a treat!

    Critter Alley

  3. thanks so much for sharing this book. i definitely hadn't heard of it before, but i will be sure to add it to my possible future arsenal if all else fails with desmond.

  4. I went through three eight week classes before I even thought about putting my Cricket through the Good Citizen test. If that was a level one class, they are being VERY optimistic.

    It's a great goal, but you want to set the owner/trainers up to succeed too.

    1. It was a Level 2 class, but that was still setting the bar pretty high! Mostly, I found out about not being able to use treats around week 4 or 5 and knew that it wasn't probable to keep Indiana's attention without them quite yet.


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