Book Report

Book Review

Burch, M.R., and Bailey, J.S. (1999) How Dogs Learn
New York: Howell Book House

Mary Burch & Jon Bailey's How Dogs Learn is a very well written, fundamental guide to learning theory and its application to dogs. At the outset, the comparable early accounts of dog training and behaviourism are investigated, introducing us to such pioneers of training as Karen Pryor and the work of scientists like BF Skinner and JB Watson’s morally questionable study known as ‘Little Albert’. This is followed by learning concepts such as reinforcement, punishment and stimulus control.   Later chapters cover more complex concepts such as shaping and chaining and antecedent control. The book presents a well balanced and structured approach to learning theory, taking the reader from its early inception in 1927 with Ivan Pavlov’s work, right through to the present day.
The chapter headings and sub-headings give a welcome clue as to each concept eg: Flooding: Sink or Swim and Prompting & Fading: Can you give me a hint? Diagrams and tables are present throughout the book providing the reader with additional material to support the text. The book is divided into five parts, each with its own chapter list, which all follow on nicely from the preceding ones, enabling the reader a smooth transition from one concept to the next and so ensuring an easier read.
For those people looking for a ‘dog training manual’ however, this book isn’t really suitable. The heavy emphasis on theoretically based concepts puts this book in the category of ‘academic text’ rather than ‘dog owner’s guide’ although some people could glean certain useful information from it, theory aside and those people wishing to enhance their knowledge of canine learning should find this book an informative   and constructive read.
Chapters One and Two concentrate on introducing us to the early scientists involved in developing learning theory and the pioneering trainers who subsequently put this theory into...