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Fetch, I Say! We Blow the Dust Off Vintage Dog Training Books

We look at some classic (and some sorta scary) dog training books from the last century. Recoil in horror, or pine for those better days, as per your training philosophy.

 |  Jul 30th 2012  |   4 Contributions


Television, rock ’n’ roll, and dog training books. This is the trifecta, the cocktail that stirred and exploded in the 1950s, changing our world irrecoverably. Today we take these things for granted. It’s understandable we might overlook TV and rock ’n’ roll, because by now they’re largely rubbish. But dog training books continue to add value to our lives by helping us connect to our only friends who will tolerate us throwing copies of Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto at them while imploring they “go get it, boy!” (Anyone besides your pooch who lets you do that is both something much more and much less than a friend.)

So let’s take a moment to remember the dog training books that have mattered most, even when they’ve been wrongheaded and frightfully barbaric. Let’s find out how we got to the relatively enlightened place we call the present day.

Training Dogs: A Manual by Konrad Most

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Colonel Most’s groundbreaking book has had at least two lives. It was first published in the original German in 1910, when it became a best seller. It proved highly influential internationally when German dog trainers began exiling around the world during the 1930s. In 1954, when Training Dogs was translated into English, it helped spur the first wave of dog training books that flooded the market in the 1950s and ‘60s.

The Complete Book of Dog Obedience by Blanche Saunders

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Equally influential on the mid-century dog training boom was Blanche Saunders, who already had published the best-seller Training You to Train Your Dog in 1946. By the 1950s, Saunders had established herself as the most prominent face associated with dog training, thanks to a run of successful books and television appearances.

The Koehler Method series by William R. Koehler

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By the 1960s, dog training books were often written from one of two opposing points of view. The first, placing emphasis on punishment as a way to guide canine behavior,was despicable, and appears rightfully archaic today. The school of thought was popularized by William Koehler’s series of books, which are valuable today only as artifacts from a kind of dark ages in publishing for dog lovers.

Obedience Class Instruction for Dogs by Winifred G. Strickland

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In the other camp are the positive-reinforcement trainers. Strickland’s 1960 volume was one of the most celebrated of this school and is a forebear of the books from the ‘80s that would emphasize human-canine symbiosis over domination.

Stop! Sit! And Think! by Charles P. Eisenmann

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The author of this self-published curio is more famous for owning and training London, the German Shepherd who starred in the 1960s Canadian television series, The Littlest Hobo. Eisenmann’s book was unusual in its day for being written in the digressive and intimate tone of a memoir. Today, it remains one of the rarest dog training books, fetching up to $400 on Amazon. 

Playtraining Your Dog by Patricia Gail Burnham

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From the sublime to the uproariously silly -- though, in its own way, brilliant -- Playtraining Your Dog was a faddish ‘80s best-seller. The book is notable today for laying the groundwork for the increasing use of a canine’s prey drive -- the inclination to chase moving objects -- as part of a trainer’s motivational technique.

Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor

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The classic era of dog training books reached its apex and conclusion with Karen Pryor's best-selling 1985 guide. The key to this book’s lasting influence is the importance it places on effective communication between owner and dog. In a move that seemed to sweep away Kohler’s influence once and for all (that is, until “domination” methods rose to prominence in the past decade), Pryor implores us to establish a truly symbiotic relationship with our beloved pets.

Did we miss one of your dog-eared favorites? Let us know in the comments!

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