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Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals

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From the founder of “clicker” training, the widely praised humane approach to shaping animal behavior, comes a fascinating book—part memoir, part insight into how animals and people think and behave.

A celebrated pioneer in the field of no-punishment animal training, Karen Pryor is responsible for developing clicker training—an all-positive, safe, effective way to modify and shape animal behavior—and she has changed the lives of millions of animals. Practical, engrossing, and full of fascinating stories about Pryor’s interactions with animals of all sorts, Reaching the Animal Mind presents the sum total of her life’s work. She explains the science behind clicker training, how and why it works, and offers step-by-step instructions on how you can clicker-train any animal in your life.

For bonus video clips, slide shows, articles, downloadable exercises, and links expanding on the contents of the book, go to ReachingtheAnimalMind.com.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published April 21, 2008

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About the author

Karen Pryor

33 books110 followers
Karen Pryor is the CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy.

Karen is an active, leading spokesperson and teacher for effective force-free training across the globe. Her work with dolphins in the 1960s revolutionized animal training by pioneering and popularizing force-free training methods based on operant conditioning and the conditioned reinforcer.

Karen’s 40-year career working with and educating scientists, professional trainers, and pet owners has changed the lives of countless animals and their caretakers in zoos, oceanariums, and pet-owning households.

She is the author of six books, including Don’t Shoot the Dog!, the "bible" of training with positive reinforcement. Her most recent book, Reaching the Animal Mind, describes how to bring out the undiscovered creativity, intelligence, and personality of the animals in our lives. Karen lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 93 reviews
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,214 reviews125 followers
May 18, 2020
The more books by Karen Pryor I read, the more I want to read books by Karen Pryor.

The cover of this book was a bit misleading. My copy, at least, has a picture of a happy dog on it. That and the words "clicker training" in the title led me to believe it was mainly about clicker training in dogs. This couldn't be more incorrect. There are dogs in here of course; but they keep company with plenty of cats, ferrets, dolphins, whales, miniature horses, gymnasts, autistic children, and golfers.

Pryor is a vivid and entertaining storyteller. In this book, she surveys the concept of clicker training, answers all your questions, and explores its broader applications in communicating with people for whom communication is difficult (autistic children) and in teaching other humans (gymnasts and commercial fishermen, for instance).

The book is fascinating, and Pryor keeps it humming a long with lots of stories, humor, and asides. Her natural gift for conversational storytelling makes this book a joy to read, and, by the time you're done with it, you're wondering at what point everyone else will read the book, internalize its messages, and humanity will take its next great leap forward.

As a great supplement, there's a website for the book, with photos, videos, and links to scientific papers. This is the first time I've read a book with an accompanying website, and I adored it.
Profile Image for Laura.
296 reviews15 followers
August 9, 2012
This is essentially the book that most people expect when they pick up "Don't Shoot the Dog!". Pryor gets away from trying to apply clicker training to all aspects of life and focuses on anecdotes of using clicker training for a wide range of animal species. I really enjoyed this as a light read (and oh man, did it make me miss my zoo critters) and it's a lot of fun (I particularly liked the stories about training fish and hermit crabs), but there's not as much new insight as I had hoped for. The highlight of the book is definitely the chapter on what is actually going on neurologically during clicker training, which helps explain why a click is generally more effective than a "good boy!" and why it can be so effective in physical training of humans (such as gymnasts and dancers).

My only gripe is that Pryor has fallen into the typical trap of animal training writers and spends a good deal of time bashing on "traditional" trainers and how her method consistently one-ups all those mean ol' harsh methods. There's so much good support and so many great examples in here, is the negative angle really necessary?
Profile Image for Beth.
217 reviews3 followers
January 9, 2010
Wow!! Very interesting!!! This chick trained a friggin' FISH to do tricks. Surely I will be able to teach my dog some good manners?!?!? Very intriguing stuff to me!
Profile Image for Barbara.
557 reviews6 followers
November 17, 2019
I was hoping that there would be more information about clicker training for cats, but this book focused on how this training has benefited many different kinds of animals in the world. While it was interesting, I was itching to learn more about how to get two cats to get along with each other via clicker training. Unfortunately, I am still on the lookout for a book of this type.

I just did some research and the author does have a book for cats! Yay! So happy to hear this. Trying to locate a copy. Looking forward to reading it!

31 reviews
June 25, 2013
Every once in a while I read a book that changes my thinking forever. This is just such a book. Reaching the Animal Mind is only partly about clicker training. It's more about the amazing ability of animals to think, communicate, interact, and learn from us joyfully when we meet them in a non-threatening way. It's full of poignant and powerful stories of animal-human encounters.

It also helped me understand for the first time the scientific basis for clicker-training and how the brain works differently in this kind of learning. The author explains how this type of reinforcement bypasses the cortex and goes straight to the amygdala, thus cementing the learning deep in the memory and emotion centers of the primitive brain. There is even a section on using clicker-training (called TAG teaching) to help teach people to improve their skills.

This book will permanently change how I train my animals, and especially my horses. I also think it would be a great thing to try in my riding lessons.
Profile Image for Julia.
392 reviews
January 14, 2021
This book was so fascinating, and I'm surprised it isn't more well known. Anyone who is thinking about brining an animal into their life should read this book first.

Karen Pryor's anecdotal stories about working with dolphins (mini-horses, gorillas, rhinoceroses, hermit crabs, children, oh and dogs) are so fun to read... (Note, it was the 60s when a lot of that happened, and things have evolved in terms of how we manage animals in captivity....)

She assuages skeptics and answers all the questions you didn't even know you had.

One small point I'll make note of: if you can shift a training paradigm to a partnership via clicker training/operant shaping/positive reinforcement you activate this dopamine driven seeking activity that shows that animals can exercise true creativity. Seems simple, but we don't usually think of dog training as a creative process, especially for the animal. With a few specific methods, animals can communicate complex messages, if we can learn with them how to interact.
Profile Image for Nancy G.
85 reviews
February 28, 2021
Karen Pryor had an incredible life, full of adventure, a wide variety of animal species, and incredible people. The photos and videos that go along with the amazing resource are a wonderful addition to my own imagination as i read each page. I adore her attitude towards animals and people and the detailed, practical solutions and scientifically based reasons for why punishment does not work. She’s absolutely right that people who advocate the use of dominance and punishment struggle to understand and appreciate this positive reward-based approach to training all animals (including humans). I love all the rich examples she provides in showing us how these techniques can be effective without preaching to anyone. The proof is in the successes she has had in training so many different animal species to perform both simple and complex behaviors, some of which are simply astounding.
Profile Image for Sassafras Lowrey.
Author 26 books173 followers
January 27, 2019
i've been meaning to read this book for years - it was fine but not worth the hype. i enjoy clicker training it's a modality i use when training my dogs but i don't really have much patience for the cult-like aspects the subtle way that other positive trainers get talked down to. some of the real-world application stories from different species were interesting to me but it started to feel like an infomercial for the training institute/clicker expo/etc.
Profile Image for Mer.
113 reviews
June 11, 2021
The anecdotes were so entertaining and easily relatable. It didn't feel too dense with information which made it easier to absorb! I also loved the generalization of clicker training (or tagteaching) to all species from dogs to people. In the end, the biggest message I took away was that it's important to be kind and patient when someone is learning a new skill. This is a perfect beginner book for anyone interested in dog training or even TAGteaching with people.
Profile Image for K.J. Dell'Antonia.
Author 6 books469 followers
November 15, 2018
Oh, man, I loved this so much. And I'm clicker training my dogs to stop barking and my cat to high five me. My only problem is that whenever any of them hear the clicker, they all appear...
Profile Image for Emilee.
238 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2018

Reaching the Animal Mind assumes you already understand the basics of clicker training or positive reinforcement training. It was less of a training book and had more stories from Pryor's work training various animals, such as horses, many dogs, feisty dolphins, and cats. She even worked with autistic children on occasion. I loved her observation on the mutually beneficial relationship between the fishermen and dolphins in Brazil. The anecdote about guide dog schools converting to clicker training after proven success for the dogs might’ve made me tear up a bit.

“Animals trained in the new way are apt to be curious and friendly, instead of reserved and evasive. They take an interest in what you are doing. They are always willing to experiment and to learn new things.”

Reaching the Animal Mind made me feel like I could become an animal trainer if I only I had the time. It's an encouraging, positive look at the relationship between humans and all animals and how clicker training broadens that bond. 
Profile Image for Shaya.
309 reviews
August 14, 2009
About a week ago I read Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor.
I'd definitely recommend it to pretty much anyone who likes animals. Even pet owners who aren't ensconced in clicker training can find it enjoyable. It's fun and easy to read.

Some of the stories in the beginning are the same ones that are in Lads Before the Wind, and I might have skipped that section if I'd known.

There's a really good chapter on TAGteaching. And now I finally understand it! The basic idea is that in sports (gymnastics, golf, etc.) movements are broken down into small parts like "keep your knees together" and the learner gets clicked for getting it right.

I also found the part about rats and why clicker training works so well really interesting. I won't try to summarize it hear because KP does a much better job.

Karen Pryor is great at providing lots of heartwarming stories that make reading it fun.
30 reviews
September 20, 2012
I really wanted to read Karen Pryor's book on clicker training with cats. Unfortunately, this was the only Karen Pryor title my local library had in stock. It wasn't really my cup of tea. The first part of the book is Pryor telling stories about using clicker training with various animals, mostly dolphins. She goes a little into the behaviorism mechanics behind it (e.g., chaining, shaping), but that's about it. This isn't really a 'guide' to help you clicker train an animal.
Profile Image for Debra.
59 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2015
This book is more about reaching Karen Pryor's ego, than any animals mind. I love Karen Pryor but not this book.
Profile Image for Tracie.
436 reviews21 followers
August 1, 2017
The best book on dog/animal training I've ever read and I want everyone who owns a dog to read this
Profile Image for Morgan.
22 reviews1 follower
May 12, 2021
Stellar, quick tactical book on dog training, amazing results + applicable to all animals (and people)
Profile Image for Primrosebarks.
143 reviews4 followers
December 7, 2019
This is a wonderful book that explains with stories---lots of stories, comprising the author's exceptional training experiences with wolves, dolphins, a fish, a crab, ponies and children, dogs, cats, gorillas, elephants, horses---how and why positive reinforcement training is so powerful and effective. The author is generous in sharing not only her experiences, but the accomplishments of other coaches, behaviorists, and trainers using clicker training and TAGteaching (an outgrowth of clicker training adapted for humans).

The first 2/3 of the book is a retrospective of her amazing career. The last is a compendium of clicker training research. And that research has changed my whole understanding of how to reach not only the animal mind, but the human mind as well.

Best of all, many of the stories of the author's experiences were videotaped and are presented on the website: reachingtheanimalmind.com, so that the reader can see and experience the amazing results of clicker training and TAGteaching.

I think Karen Pryor is an exceptional human being because she shares her failures as well as her accomplishments, and is very generous in sharing her colleagues' accomplishments as well. I believe that truly successful people tend to be generous, and this author's humility, humor, and generosity bears this out: Karen Pryor is amazing.

Her website videos that share her stories are thrilling, educational, and inspiring. I especially appreciate that she has chosen to share her mistakes as well as sharing others' accomplishments. The video of her fish having a meltdown brought me to tears. (It goes to say that truly successful people tend to be generous. Karen Pryor is one of those.)

The videos of the children in the last few chapters touched my heart. That four little girls could excel at the Forsbury Flop after only a weekend (two training sessions of 20 and 30 minutes) took my breath away. One girl expressed frustration, self-judgment and pain at the beginning of the video---and what a wonderful transformation at the end of the weekend, when she flew through the air, focused and brilliant. What an accomplishment not only of a physical skill, but of building confidence, enthusiasm, and joy in the challenge.

Logical, thoughtful, well grounded in science, this retrospective of an amazing behaviorist is something that is worth considering for all of us. Read this book!
Profile Image for Bianca.
90 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2020
I really enjoyed this book, which seemed to me equal parts memoir, history, and how-to. In recounting her life as an animal trainer and founder of clicker-training, Pryor also tells the story of how clicker training came to be a thing, and the book is a useful reminder of the science and research that have been part of clicker-training history. The book is full of wonderful anecdotes, but also some disturbing stories. I had a hard time reading the chapter about the tuna fishing boat, mainly because I kept thinking about the tuna (understanding dolphin behavior is the point of that chapter, but if you know anything about commercial fishing, you cannot not think about the tuna--something Pryor herself acknowledges at the end of the chapter). Pryor's knowledge of animals and animal behavior across a dazzling range of species is something to behold. The one thing I wished for as I read was more dates, especially in the second half of the book as Pryor is talking to scientists and testing her theories. As a reader, I was just curious about when in time these things were happening, and over how much time.
Profile Image for H.R. Hutzel.
Author 3 books17 followers
August 20, 2020
This book is so insightful, and it makes so much sense. I have two goldens, one is seven and the other is four. They are both so well behaved, but there are a couple of lingering behavioral issues I've been trying to correct for years. This book is a breath of fresh air compared to traditional training techniques. Both of my dogs have responded incredibly well to the positive reinforcement approach, and I'm already seeing a shift in their behavior. Aside from helping me shape my dogs' behaviors, this book has been eye-opening for myself. The scientific explanations about reinforcement made me realize how I am being shaped by my environment (in not so great ways) and how simple changes can help in areas of focus, productivity, and communication. This is a fascinating, entertaining, and applicable read! If you want to learn how to communicate better with your animal (even a hermit crab!), grab this book today!
Profile Image for Tracy.
30 reviews2 followers
December 28, 2018
I couldn’t wait to read this book after reading “Don’t Shoot the Dog.” Karen offers more information on a positive way to communicate what behaviors you want from org animals and people. She provides great examples from many different species from fish all the way to elephants, marine mammals, and people. If training does not appeal to you but animals do, this book will still interest you with the many fun and sometimes comical stories. The only thing I wish she spent more time discussing is TAGteaching. As a dog trainer, and teacher this entire book was very relevant to my career paths. As behaviors are increasing I t he school system I am very interested I learning more about the TAGteaching approach, but I worry that some adolescent students may be resistant to the approach.
Profile Image for Kasi.
104 reviews
January 6, 2022
Wow! This book was as unputdownable as the best novel. Karen Pryor fills the pages with fascinating anecdote after fascinating anecdote (and actual research too) to support the effectiveness of clicker training. I’ve clicker trained my dog for almost half a decade now, but this book is truly the clicker training gospel. I was sold on the methodology before, but now I’ve been converted to a full on evangelist. The book also has a companion website with so much extra content, including videos of instances detailed by Pryor in the book. The Fainting Fish was by far my favorite: one of those things that you have to see to believe.

I’m only two books into the year, but I foresee this being in my Top Ten books for 2022. It was that good!
Profile Image for Sea Reads.
37 reviews5 followers
April 14, 2019
Karen Pryor is an icon. This book is not precisely an instruction manual for people interested in learning to clicker train other animals. It does provide lots of guidance on the technique, as well as step-by-step shaping instructions at the end, but it shines as an invitation to readers to explore a new and wholly different way of understanding and interacting with individuals of both our species and others. Pryor will absolutely charm you with anecdotes about her experiences working together with many people and creatures and will also keep you on board through deeper dives into the science of positive reinforcement.
Profile Image for Stephen Wallace.
472 reviews66 followers
June 7, 2021
There is a lot of books on clicker training now, but I believe she is one of the first that started propagating the practice. In the book she covers training dolphins/whales and several different animals including dogs. Even if one doesn't want to use a clicker, I think understanding the psychology behind why it works is important. I still find using a a clicker as annoying, but I can see and understand that it works VERY well. From this book you can still learn about the importance of timing and consistency of your signal.
Profile Image for Lauren Timson.
2 reviews10 followers
January 31, 2018
One of my absolute favourite books - being an animal keeper myself who is fascinated by animal behaviour this is a must read. A real insight into how animals think and how they process their emotions with Karen's excellent way of writing. I love the fact that I learn information which I can use to increase my own knowledge but I feel like I am reading a story! Best way to learn I feel. Karen is a genius and has lead with the way for animal training and behaviour.
Profile Image for Kathy (McDowell) Miller.
250 reviews2 followers
April 7, 2020
I like everything that Karen Pryor has done for clicker training. I could really use her help in person. I would probably be one of those people she's not particularly fond of who say, "Yeah but...". I'm trying to stop my dog from doing something bad (biting her owners) and I'm finding it very difficult to change bad behavior though positive clicker reinforcement. I'm going to read Click to Calm by Emma Parsons. Maybe she can help me.
Profile Image for Massanutten Regional Library.
2,882 reviews54 followers
July 2, 2018
Deva, North River patron, June 2018, 5 stars:

Everyone should read this book. I was so excited after reading this book that I used clicker training to train my cat to jump over a bar. I'm now trying to train him not to bite my calf as I'm walking. The techniques described in this book work on humans too.
Profile Image for Jerrilyn.
77 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2020
Lots of interesting animal stories from someone with exceptional experience, and passing along lots of clicker training and TAG training (for humans, mostly in sports and other teaching ) knowledge along the way, from the person who developed it. Her book Don't Shoot the Dog, first published in the 1980's, remains the place to start learning either.
September 1, 2017
This is a great book every pet owner should read. Clicker training is such a wonderful, fun tool to train your animal.

The only thing I didn't like was that many of the animals mentioned are wild animals in captivity. I'm not a fan of Sea World parks, zoos etc.
Profile Image for Ruthie.
156 reviews
June 16, 2017
This book is a must-read for all animal lovers, especially trainers. It is full of great stories and wonderful insights.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 93 reviews

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