What Would Patricia McConnell Do?

In all honesty, I’ve always been a wee bit of a nerd.

I know, you’re stunned. How could someone so wordly, someone so dang cool, be a geek? It’s crazy, yes, but it’s true. When I get involved with something, I tend to go all the way. I don’t just watch one episode of The X-Files, I watch them all. And the films. And the animated shorts. (I don’t think they actually made these but they should have.) So it follows that when it comes to dog training, I try to read and watch and learn as much as possible. I just can’t get enough. Like dorky television shows, I also have my favourite trainers. If it was possible to be a dog training groupie, I would have crossed that line long ago.

Dr. Patricia McConnell is my dog training hero. If you haven’t read her books or her fascinating blog you are missing out. I think I learn new things from each and every post. One of the things I appreciate the most, is that Dr. McConnell never seems to stop learning and questioning herself. Dog behaviour is such a new field in many respects. New theories are being tested all the time. The Other End of the Leash is one of the ways I keep in touch with the more scientific side of things

She is the kind of person I aspire to be – not just with my animals, but with everyone in my life. Whenever I encounter a difficulty with Shiva (ie. every five minutes), I try to ask myself how Dr. McConnell would handle the situation. It helps me think a little more clearly. Instead of crying in frustration, I remember to be patient, to take a deep breath, and to laugh.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to meet her in person. One of my life list goals is to attend one of her seminars. As she almost never comes up to Canada, I don’t know how likely it is to happen. Besides, what would I even say to her? I don’t normally get nervous about celebrity status. People are people, after all. But when it comes to things I am so passionate about, there are many people I would find super-intimidating. Even with all of her apparent kindness, Patricia McConnell is at the top of that list.

 Zak George is probably second. I first saw him on his Animal Planet show Super Fetch. I liked that it wasn’t the standard dog training show about behaviour rehabilitation. There was no mention of aggression or dominance or reactivity. Instead, he taught people how to teach their dogs a fun trick. From riding a bike to pouring beer at a bar, the dogs that appeared on the show all attempted to learn some very cool new abilities to show off. Sometimes they were successful and sometimes they weren’t. Zak had a very “no pressure” attitude. It’s one of the reasons I admire him so much. He would describe the basic training plan and leave it up to the dog’s owner to follow through. It was just all about having fun with your dog.

While Dr. McConnell reminds me to be patient, Zak George reminds me to relax and enjoy myself. Dog training is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be so stressful I want to hide under a blanket. If I find myself getting uptight, I am doing it wrong. Channelling my inner Zak George energizes me. I stop worrying about my previous failures and make myself play around. After all, what’s the worst that could happen if a training session doesn’t go the way I planned? As long as I remember to chill out, we’ll have a good time regardless. So my dog can’t flush a toilet. That doesn’t make me a bad person.

Do you have any dog training heroes? How do you keep it together when your dog just isn’t listening?

36 thoughts on “What Would Patricia McConnell Do?

  1. Well, you’re not the only geek! I love Patricia McConnell too. I think your description of her is right on she “never seems to stop learning and questioning herself.” I also think she’s calm in how she examines things. Something I am not. At least not all of the time. 🙂
    I love Zak George too. He does make things fun. It’s one of the things I love about him. I use a lot of that with my training. If it’s not fun it’s not as engaging for the dog (that’s just my philosophy).
    My other favorite is of course, Victoria Stilwell. She is awesome!

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    • Stilwell is awesome as well, but I haven’t seen that much of her show. For some reason Animal Planet just keeps airing the same three episodes over and over again. Sometimes it sucks to live in Canada – we don’t get the good American tv!

      I’m not all that calm either. I try to be but it’s hard when my dog is leaping around and barking at me. 😛 Shiva has picked up this frustrated vocalization problem lately that drives me nuts.

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  2. Zak George is new to me. And your write up is making me regret not having a TV. Can you get one that only plays Animal Planet (and not during shark week)?

    Patricia McConnell is a fond favorite too and I love her blog.

    I’d add Suzanne Clothier to the list. She’s the first person who taught me to listen to my dog. And to realize that “bad behavior” might be perfectly rational in the circumstances.

    And Victoria Schade taught me a lot about making training fun.

    And of course, there are professional trainers and just great dog people blogging all the time that are inspirational: Roxanne Hawn, Eryka K (please don’t make me spell her name), Laurie Luck, MelF, Edie Jarolim, Aleksandra G (another name I’ll never spell right). The list goes on and one. And of course, you and Shiva.

    Sometimes we learn the most from people who are just living with and loving their dogs every day.

    Great post. I can’t wait to see who else your readers suggest.

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    • That’s okay, Zak George is so awesome he actually has zillions of videos available for free online! If you click on the link to his show in the post or look up his name on Youtube you should be able to access most of them.
      I also love the word he uses “currency”, meaning reward. Every dog has a different motivation, not just food. I try to use that word instead of the word treat, as coercive trainers love to disparage positive reinforcement by calling it bribery or “treat-training”.

      Thanks for your comment! And the reminder I really need to catch up on my reading list!

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  3. I’d like any trainer who could make Our Best Friend have perfect recall and go quiet on command. But I’m not likely to have any of them for tea in the near future.

    I’m a nerd too, and I wonder if anyone has done a randomized trial of assigned N dogs to one training method, N dogs to a second, and seeing which group learns faster and retains more. People might be a bit surprised…

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    • I don’t know if anyone has done such a trial, but it would definitely be interesting. Maybe I will do some research and see what I can find out.

      If I find out how to get the perfect recall, you will be the first person I let in on the secret, I promise. We’re two in a half years in and still working on it. 😛

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  4. I absolutely love Patricia McConnell, and I’m a dog training junky too. Although, since we don’t have cable, I’ve never seen Zak George. I’ll have to google him! Some more of my favorites are Pat Miller, Suzanne Clothier, and Lelslie McDevitt.

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    • Just look him up on Youtube and you will find all sorts of great videos. He does a lot of disc dog stuff with his awesome border collies, and they are such a blast to watch as well!

      It’s good to know I am not the only addict around. 😉

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  5. I’m so new to all this, I haven’t yet expanded my horizons although I do like Debbie Jacobs and I am reading Pat Miller. I really need to find some good, positive trainers I can check out.

    I am a more visual learner, meaning someone has to ‘show’ me how to do something, I normally don’t figure things out easily in reading them. Which is part of my dilemma in training Delilah.

    Thanks for the info, I am signing up for Dr. McConnell’s blog!

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    • Have you tried googling some videos online? A lot of great trainers have them available for free on youtube and on their own websites. They show everything from the basics to complex tricks. Even Dr. McConnell will often share her videos of her work with her own dog. It’s not quite the same thing as being in the room and learning directly from a trainer, but it might be worth checking out.

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    • Hahaha. Yay! We recently bought all of the DVDs so I can watch my favourite episodes over and over again. It may be dorky, but it’s much cooler than Star Trek.

      At least that’s what I tell myself. 😛

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  6. I am a big fan of Patricia McConnell myself! Though I don’t check in with her blog very often – but I think I will start. I think I still have some residual feelings from her book. Let me explain.
    You know how sometimes you’re just in the right mood to watch a sad movie or read a sad book? But then other times you’re not? Well, one of the times I wasn’t was when I got to a certain part in her book, The Other End of the Leash, and I bawled like a baby. Like, serious ugly cry. Middle of the day, in the living room, completely unprepared. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven her for that. Perhaps I should start by getting back on the horse and re-reading that book.

    As far as other figures, someone I just recently discovered myself was Roger Abrantes (http://rogerabrantes.wordpress.com/). After reading his blog entry on Signals vs. Cues, I went back and read all of the archives and am instantly a huge fan!

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    • I know what you are talking about. Since I normally read while on the bus, it’s quite awkward when I get to that inevitable moment in every dog-related book. My fellow passengers must think I am quite depressed. 😛

      Thanks for the link! I haven’t heard of him before so I am excited to check out his website!

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  7. I’m a big fan of Patricia McConnell (love her writing), but Sophia Yin is probably my favourite. I love how technically savvy she is in addition to being a training brain – she tweets, poses questions and challenges fans on Facebook, and her videos rock.

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    • I’ve had a few people recommend her to me before and I don’t know why I have been so slow to join the bandwagon. Thanks for the reminder!

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  8. My personal favorite is Suzanne Clothier; I love Bones Would Rain From the Sky, beautifully written and smart on the science. I was so excited to see her in the book store at my first APDT conference that I went up to her and told her she was one of my key reasons for wanting to come. She said, without a trace of a smile or look of irony, “Oh god, I hope you’re not going to stalk me.” I would have been devastated but I knew within a fairly short period of time that this would be a funny story for me to tell as an icebreaker at the conference where I knew no one. And it was. I also get to tell it now 😉

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    • That’s hilarious, and kind of terrifying! I don’t know how I would have responded to that. But I suppose they have all had to deal with their share of the crazies. Now I am very glad I have left the few celebrities I have encountered in my life, very much alone.

      But I guess that means I also don’t have any cool stories!

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  9. I saw Patricia McConnell in Vancouver a few yrs ago. It was great!

    I also like Karen Pryor, Susan Garrett – esp recently she’s become gentler teacher LOL, and I have a total girl crush on Silvia Trkman. Her training philosophies are SO dog friendly & she’s accomplished so much with her dogs, including with difficult ones. She deserves to be more well known on this side of the Atlantic.

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    • Very cool! I am now only insanely jealous. 😉

      Who has become gentler? Susan Garrett or Karen Pryor? I have always found Susan Garrett to be mega-intimidating. An awesome trainer, but I don’t know if I could ever attend one of her camps without peeing myself. No joke. One of my agility coaches actually does attend camps put on by Garrett every year so I am almost kind of learning from her. Albeit indirectly. I entered one of her online video contests in the spring but it took me days to work up the guts.

      Thanks for the recommendation for Silvia Trkman. I’ve heard the name before but I will have to look her up again.

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  10. Zak George sounds awesome–I’d love to watch something like that. Patricia McConnell is inspirational too, and so full of good information. I was a bit bummed when I saw her advocating “responsible” breeding, but what she says about training is always awesome!

    When I met Linda Tellington-Jones, it was a transformative experience.

    I love Leslie McDevitt, author of Control Unleashed…and I have Suzanne Clothier ready to read when I get through my current stack of books.

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  11. I am a huge fan of Dr. McConnell. I read Other End of the Leash in one sitting and immediately went out and bought For the Love of Dog. Her Feisty Fido book was so helpful with Sophie’s leash reactivity.

    Another favorite is Leslie McDevitt. Control Unleashed has been a life saver and so helpful given all the activities we do.

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  12. Relax and enjoy are two really important bits of advice when dog training.

    As to your question: “How do you keep it together when your dog just isn’t listening?”

    One thing we learned when hunt test training is to try to always finish a session on a positive note, even if it is just a teeny tiny positive thing. If the session is not going well, then take a deep breath and super simplify, even going back to the simplest element. Once you get the desired response (not perfect, just good enough), then stop. Enough for that day. Enough even if you had planned to do more. This is something that has taken us some time to understand, (how far to go back and when you stop). Our trainer has been really terrific in teaching us these concepts.

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  13. one thing ive learned with my major struggles with Fred is to take a deep breath relax and have fun. Who cares if he is a crackhead. he is fred and that is all that matters. he is stubborn and bull headed and hates me. So do ai get pissed when I tell him to sit and stay and he gets up turns around and puts his back to me sitting and staying – no. I take the picture – thats his fault he will look silly on his christmas card 🙂

    When we were testing for pet therapy – fred had done EVERYTHING with flying colors except now I had to tell him to sit -stay and I had to to walk away turning my back to him for 6 feet. I told him to sit and he sat and 2 seconds later as I was saying stay he got up and went over to the corner and smelled the carpet and then yawned and laid down…I could help but laugh – I actually laughed so hard I cried. Fred is Fred and Shiva will be Shiva at times. I just hope I can make people laugh with my training stories.

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  14. Along with all the others mentioned, I also enjoy Kikopups training videos on Youtube, and there is also Ian Dunbar of Dog Star Daily, which has many posts on all sorts of dog training subjects from heaps of different trainers. There really is someone for everyone to follow and idolise these days;) The only TV trainers we get here are CM and Victoria Stillwell. We should all have perfectly trained dogs, the amount of resources available these days! Apart from blaming my laziness I also watch videos and read books and blogs when I should be just spending a bit of time training!

    We have had visits to New Zealand from Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar and others but I’m nowhere near where they speak and can’t afford to get there, bummer.

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  15. I don’t have any dog training heros, but if I’d have to go with someone, it would have to be the Volhards. They’ve been in the biz for a long time and tend to give pretty good advice.

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  16. I was going to suggest the author of Feisty Fido then realized that IS Patricia McConnell, oops. Even though I can’t remember her name, I am a fan. Leslie McDevitt is another I really like. I agree with Pamela that I learn a lot just from reading the blogs of others who are working with their dogs and sharing their experiences with the rest of us as they go. I haven’t heard of Zak George before and some of the other names in the comments are unfamiliar too, so I have to check them all out when I get the chance.

    It’s funny to read about you having trouble with Shiva and having to remind yourself to be patient and have fun. When I feel frustrated with Pearl or as if we are moving backwards I look to you and Shiva to remind me to keep a positive attitude because both of you are just so darn good at that. I think those of us with dogs that challenge us (which I guess all dogs do at some time or other) need to find that voice in our head that tells us “You (and your dog) can do it!” Having a supportive community and good role models is really helpful when you are having trouble finding that voice.

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  17. I think if I had a hero it would be Paul Owens. I got his video by mistake, because it was called the Dog Whisperer, when I was looking for the other guy. I know shame on me. So anyways, Paul Owens is suppose to be the original Dog Whisperer. He is so gentle and caring, it makes me cry when I watch it. He’s three rules that I try to stick by are: Teach step by step. Don’t go too far, too fast. It’s good for you, it’s good for your dog.

    I’s say if I had any $$ I’d have him be our in house trainer, because I feel like I could trust him and his methods and for me that would be everything.

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  18. Well I have to say she is my inspiration too. The Other End of the Leash is a must read for any dog owner. AND we were lucky enough that she came down to give a seminar at our end of the planet in January and yes I got to meet her. I did offer her my “special” dog for the seminar but she said that the surroundings would probably not help, which I so agreed with and totally respected. Learnt so much, hope she comes back , and hope she makes it up to Canada for you.

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