B.A. Book Club: “How Dogs Learn”

Dog.  Man’s Best Friend.  Our most beloved four-legged companion.  Lover of all things tennis ball shaped, meat scented, and squirrel resembling.

Proprietor of sniffs, tummy rubs, and fire hydrants.  Chaser of tails.  Subject of adorable memes:


With all of the love and affection surrounding our canine companions, a fundamental concern among every dog owner is finding the right training resources for their pet.

For those of us who aren’t inherently gifted “Dog Whispers,” where are we to turn?


I might offer an incredibly practical, insightful, and behaviorally sound read: “How Dogs Learn” by Mary Burch and Jon Bailey.

From the authors of such behavior analytic classics as “25 Essential Skills & Strategies for the Professional Behavior Analyst” and “Ethics for Behavior Analysts,” Bailey & Burch deliver an easy-to-read training companion that builds upon the concepts and principles of behavior analysis.

To begin with a foreword by the great Jack Michael, Ph.D.:

The alliance of the practical art of animal training with the science of behavior is relatively recent.  Of course, animal trainers must always have been somewhat familiar with the concepts and principles of the science of behavior, or they could not have developed the useful or entertaining behavior of their animals.  And behavior scientist have long studied animal behavior as a part of their science.  But relating the practical tools of animal trainers and the science of behavior nevertheless results in some clear gains for both fields…

If I had to characterize this book with a single sentence, I would say that it is practically very useful without sacrificing scientific and technical accuracy.

For non-behavior analyst readers,  this book can both serve as a “primer” to behavior analytic principles, as well as a trustworthy training companion, capable of explaining not only the “How To’s,” but also the foundational behavioral principles supporting each strategy.

For behavior analyst readers, I found this book to be an entertaining, conceptually-sound demonstration of the principles of behavior.  It’s as if this book was a hybrid between “POB“and “The White Book,” except instead of human case studies, their vignettes revolved around Pongo and Purdy!

After reading this book, my dog training competency ascended from  “Andy Dwyer status” to “Cris Traeger level.”

While this book serves as a tremendous bridge between the rich history of basic and applied behavioral research, formidable challenges continue to lurk ahead for pet owners and behavior analysts alike.

These challenges remain creeping under neighborhood couches, laundry baskets, and litter boxes.




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