Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog: 4 Book Complete Set by Beverly Courtney

This is Annika, the Terrible Dog. 

Don’t let that sweet face fool you!

I got her last year from a family who couldn’t control her bad habits.  First, she tried to eat the family cat, which got her banished to living outside only.  Then Annika kept escaping their yard whenever there was a thunderstorm.  The neighbors were complaining and some even threatened to shoot her if she got on their property again.  Building a better fence wasn’t an option unfortunately.  So with extremely heavy hearts, they decided to re-home her.  

Luckily for me, a friend (not one who complained or threatened to shoot her) lived next door to Annika.  Knowing how much I love huskies, she asked me to take her.  How could I refuse? At the time I had 3 other dogs.  Sergei was the oldest at 11 years, and he had some orthopedic issues that made him pretty grumpy sometimes, especially when other dogs played with him too roughly.  Sergei also absolutely hated Sirella, a 9 year old rottweiler so we always had to keep them separate.  Then there was Natasha, a 4 year old husky who learned how to play nice with Sergei and played also with Sirella separately of course, but she wore them both out by mid-morning.  So I got Annika for Natasha, and to give Sergei and Sirella a break.  

Annika is actually a very nice dog, but she’s a wild child.  She wasn’t house broken when I got her, so that was fun (not).  She also got into EVERYTHING.  She was expert-level counter-surfer; she even pulled dishes out of the sink.  NOTHING was safe.  She got into the garbage and made this nice mess. 

She shredded everything shreddable, including several dog beds.  This was bed #3.  She gnawed on furniture, my popup trailer cover, and my grill cover.  She tore apart a lawn chair.  She was always busy, like she didn’t know how to relax, and had boundless energy, which was unfortunately used mostly for destruction.  



I bought this book series so I could train Annika to be the titular Brilliant Family Dog.  Actually I wasn’t expecting that much because Annika was already a year old when I got her and her habits were pretty set.  I would have settled for a dog that didn’t eat the house and shred everything in it. 

Obviously I started with Calm Down!  This skill is on its face just mat or place training but Ms. Courtney uses modern dog behavior science to also teach the dog to really calm down and truly relax.  Just what Annika needed!  I couldn’t believe that the directions were to do 2-3 minutes of training at a time but I did it anyway, just 1-2 times per day.  There is no commanding the dog to do anything, the training is done in a fun game-like way and using all positive reinforcement.  If the dog does what you want, she gets a reward.  If she does something else, she gets nothing.  


You can see what she did to my pop-up trailer cover!  This was Day 2 of mat training.  We were already increasing the time she stayed on the mat by this point.

Positive training methods are extremely important to me as a veterinarian who does a lot of behavior work.   I treat a lot of dogs with fear aggression and they have almost invariably been made worse by bad trainers who used punishment and pain on these dogs.  The absolute last thing a fearful dog needs is to also become fearful that they will be choked, shocked, yelled at, or otherwise mentally or physically injured.  One of the reasons I chose this book series is from the Amazon reviews saying that there is no punishment allowed.  

Back to Annika.  Within a week, she learned to love her mat (I use a yoga mat- cheap, easy to carry, easy to clean) and just putting it on the floor or ground made her jump to it and lay down right away.  She gots lots of treats for staying down and relaxing but if she got up to do something else, she got nothing.  That’s it.  I gave her a release command (I use OK) and now she just stays on her mat until I tell her OK.  We’ve gone to dog-friendly restaurants and while I can’t say she’s been perfect, she does settle onto her mat.  I bring lots of treats and some busy toys for her.  Sometimes I even give her a little of my food when she’s been exceptionally good.  She gets plenty of attention from strangers too because she’s so pretty and nice.



Annika at a pop-up restaurant.  For whatever reason, she refused to lay on the mat but she was still being a good girl.



Now we’re working on walking nicely on a leash and it’s been going well.  I think teaching her to be calm and relaxed first is key for success.  She’s a much happier dog now.  She doesn’t shred things or eat the house.   I haven’t even done the Leave It! training yet because the Calm Down! seems to have fixed her issues.  Or maybe she’s actually that smart.  I was even able to buy her a nice sofa bed that hasn’t been destroyed.  

The brilliant thing about this training book series is that you’re only teaching your dog 4 universal skills that she needs to be successful in every situation.  It’s all fun and games, and Ms. Courtney uses simple language to tell you how to perform each training method.  Even a kid can help teach your dog these essential skills!

You’ll need some tools to complete the training:

  • Yoga Mat– I like a yoga mat because it is easy to carry and clean, and comfortable for the dog.  You can cut the mat to make a few extras unless you have a Great Dane!
  • Treats- you need non-bouncy treats, so something soft but irresistibly delicious.
  • Treat Holder- keep those treats handy for rewarding your dog whenever she is making good decisions.
  • Leash- 6 feet is the proper length leash for most situations.  I like leather for durability.
  • Harness- nothing that jabs or causes discomfort.
  • Collar- need one that is strong and durable, properly fitted, and if you have a puppy, very adjustable.

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Best Dog Training Books for Any Purpose

I’ve got several dog training books in my store and it may be confusing as to which one is best for your particular needs.  Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

Let’s start with the best all-purpose new dog training books:

  1. Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Complete 4- Book Set Dog by Beverly Courtney
  2. Train Your Dog Positively by Victoria Stilwell
  3. Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution: The Complete Guide to Raising the Perfect Pet with Love by Zak George

Each of these books has pros and cons.  For pure simplicity of just training, without a lot of technobabble and background, you really can’t beat Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog.  After all, you’re only teaching your dog 4 things- relax, come when called, walk nicely on a leash, and impulse control.  Each of these skills can be globalized- used in all sorts of places and for all kinds of reasons- so you don’t have to teach sit, down, stay, heal, drop it, leave it, come, etc.  Just 4 things, and it’s all positive no force training.   However there’s nothing about potty training or helping with specific training issues.  If your dog has a training problem, Train Your Dog Positively is a better bet.

Train Your Positively has a lot of background information on why we use positive training methods for dogs.  If you have someone in your family who wants to yell, yank, choke, punish, shock, or otherwise “correct” your dog, this can be a good one for them to read and understand.  Stilwell also has advice for using positive gentle ways to fix training problems such as potty issues, excessive barking, and so on.   Some people don’t like the introduction as to why we use positive methods for training, especially trainers who don’t use positive methods for training.  While it’s difficult to hear you’ve been doing it wrong for 20+ years, it’s never to late to make a positive change!

Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution is like Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care book for new dog parents who want to be sure they’re doing everything right.  There are chapters on diet, all kinds of training, general veterinary advice (most notably when to see a vet), pretty much anything you’d need to know as a new puppy parent.  A huge pro is that most of the training techniques described in the book are linked to George’s youtube channel.  We love to watch and learn!

101 Dog Tricks is exactly what it sounds like: a book teaching you how to train your dog to do some pretty cool tricks.  This is way beyond your basic training!  But it’s really fun once your dog has mastered the basics, especially if you’re stuck inside on a yucky day, or if she’s on physical exercise restriction for any reason.  Exercising your dog’s brain is just as important as exercising her body.  So spend some time with your dog and show off how smart she is.

Clicker Training for Dogs teaches you a very specific training method that a lot of people use especially for dog sports like agility and flyball.  There are definite advantages to clicker training- it’s 100% consistent, you don’t have to be near your dog to mark the correct behavior, and your dog can’t confuse the clicking sound with anything else.    This book is written by Karen Pryor, the person who pretty much invented clicker training for dogs, so you get the guidance right from the source!

Don’t Shoot the Dog also by Karen Pryor is for you geeks out there- you know who you are!  This one really gets into the science of operant conditioning, of which positive reinforcement is a part.  However it’s really a fun read.  Operant conditioning works on any species because we all learn basically the same way, so you can use it on your cat, employees, children, and spouse!  Just don’t tell them I said that 🙂

Keeping the Peace by Nicole Wilde is for people who are having inter-dog aggression problems.  It would be nice if nobody ever needed this book but unfortunately a lot of people do.  Really good advice is in here.  Just skip the parts on alternative therapies.  If your dogs are fighting, they need more than TTouch!  The training bits are actually quite good.

So there you have it- the best dog training books for pretty much any situation!




2 Hounds Design No Pull Dog Harness

This harness set is the bomb.  It uses a 2-lead system to help control your dog from the front to prevent pulling, and from the back to help him understand what you want him to do.  The object is to give your dog some freedom in going on walks.  He’s not a robot, and he should enjoy smelling the roses when out for a walk.  Or whatever, I know it’s not roses he’s sniffing.  The harness works without any pain or discomfort to your dog, which is exactly what we want.  You’re going to be training your dog through 100% positive means to walk on a loose leash.  See Let’s Go! in the Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog book set by Beverly Courtney.   So throw out the shock, pinch, and choke collars.  Get rid of the harnesses that dig under the armpits and cause pain and chaffing.  We’re going to take your dog on a leash walk that BOTH of you can enjoy!

I’m using this leash system for Annika because

  1. She’s a husky, and they’re designed to pull.  I don’t want to use a harness that rewards her for pulling.  So most harnesses that only have a leash hook on the back are out.
  2. She’s a BIG and STRONG husky at that!  I made the mistake once of rollerskating with a previous husky of mine who was about her size.  I ended up in my neighbor’s hedges because Aleks had decided to take me off-roading in pursuit of a squirrel.  I won’t make that mistake again!  The front clip prevents her from lunging and pulling- she’s guided gently back to me to look for different directions.
  3. A front-only harness only guides a dog when they’re trying to pull.  Annika needs to know which direction I’m intending on taking her even if she’s a little ahead of me.  The subtle change in balance of the leash connected to her back clip on this harness accomplishes that.
  4. The buckles and clips are stainless steel, not easy to break apart plastic.  Much safer for a strong dog.
  5. They even include a warranty against the dog chewing through the leash and harness.  Considering Annika has chewed through 2 leashes so far, this is a good thing.  She hasn’t found this leash interesting, at least not yet.  Fingers crossed!

This harness comes in  multiple sizes and colors and includes the double lead system.

I am an Amazon Affiliate.  When you purchase on Amazon by clicking through my website, you pay Amazon’s current price and I get a commission.  10% of our proceeds go to It Takes a Village Rescue.  Thank you for your support!

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Keeping the Peace by Nicole Wilde

If you have dogs who don’t get along well, or worse, dogs who fight, this book may help.  In severe cases, dogs who are fighting to cause harm, you should seek the help of a veterinarian skilled in treating behavior problems ASAP.  That could be a board certified veterinary behaviorist or a veterinarian like myself who is a general practitioner with strong skills in treating behavior problems.  Do NOT seek a trainer first- your dogs do not have a training problem, they have a behavior problem!

That being said, in cases of mild inter-dog aggression, this book can help.  Of course prevention is the best way to keep the peace.  And prevention does involve training.   I recommend Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog series by Beverly Courtney or Training Your Dog Positively by Victoria Stilwell.

Ideally, you would add a second dog once the first is very well trained.  Two main reasons why we recommend this: Dogs are a constant source of distraction for each other, making training that much more difficult.  You will need 5x more time to train 2 dogs at the same time- individual training for each dog, and then training them together.   You’d need a place to put one dog while training the other to reduce distractions, which may not be practical.   If you have a well-trained dog already, you can focus training on the new addition.  Plus, the new dog can learn from the well-trained dog, making your job that much easier.  All you have to do is train the new dog, then train the dogs together.   So much easier!

Keeping the Peace offers positive preventative training for circumstances where inter-dog aggression is likely to occur.  Doorways, resource guarding, and jealousy are all addressed in a positive way. You will learn management techniques to prevent problems in these critical points and more.  You will learn to identify early signs of emotional discomfort which can lead to aggression in your dog.   You will also learn safe ways to intervene, preferably before a fight happens, but also should the worst happen and you need to break up a fight.

Other aspects of this book are not so great, such as the alternative therapies.  I’m not one to advocate using unproven methods such as T-Touch or Reiki in helping dogs learn to relax and keep the peace.  Especially in severe cases of aggression, seek veterinary help FIRST.  Your vet can help you help your dogs with safe proven methods for their behavioral disorder.

My hope is that nobody ever needs this book but that’s not realistic.  I’ve adopted dogs that I thought would get along well, only to find I was very very wrong.  Using techniques in this book has helped prevent both canine and human injury.  Some dogs will never get along for whatever reason, just like some people just don’t get along.  That’s where management becomes even more important.  For example, because of severe orthopedic injuries before I adopted him, Sergei had a VERY large personal space bubble and absolutely zero tolerance for bouncing puppies for fear of being injured.  Annika, a newly adopted, younger, and much larger husky has no concept of personal space.  Keeping Sergei on a pet bed in one area of the living room, and Annika on a pet bed behind my chair in the living room, meant both dogs can be close to their people, but also kept Sergei safe from possible injury and Annika safe from possibly getting bitten by him.

If you are having minor dog skirmishes in your home, Keeping the Peace is a good resource for you.  Otherwise it’s not a great overall training book, and for serious cases, you’ll most likely need professional veterinary help.

I am an Amazon Affiliate.  When you purchase on Amazon by clicking through my website, you pay Amazon’s current price and I get a commission.  10% of our proceeds go to It Takes a Village Rescue.  Thank you for your support!

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Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs by Karen Pryor

If you’re going to learn clicker training, you might as well get it straight from the person who brought this training method into the mainstream.  Karen Pryor started her career by clicker training dolphins.  Yes, dolphins.  She was using operant conditioning – namely positive reinforcement- to increase a behavior she wanted the dolphin to display.  Of course, operant conditioning works on any animal that learns, including humans.  But this book is all about clicker training your dog.

Clicker training certainly has advantages over other markers for good behavior.  It’s 100% consistent.  The dog knows “click” means that behavior he’s performing right now is the one you want.  When you say “good boy” or “good dog” or “YAY Buster” you’re not being consistent and that can potentially confuse your dog.  I know I’m guilty of this next problem: sounding so excited about my dog doing the right thing that she gets distracted and stops doing the right thing.  D’OH!  And finally, it’s easier and faster to click than to think about what you’re going to say and say it.  Again, you’re trying to mark the exact correct behavior, and timing is everything!

The other advantage is that you uncouple the marker for good behavior with the reinforcer.  I know, I’m getting technical, so let me explain.   When you are clicker training, you mark the good behavior with the click.  Then you have all the time in the world to provide the reinforcer (the treat for example).  Let’s say you’re doing treat to train.  That requires you to deliver a treat at the exact moment your dog is performing the correct behavior.  If you can’t get your hand into the treat bag fast enough and give your dog the treat, your dog may not know what earned her the treat.  You may have marked and rewarded the wrong behavior.  Or what if your dog is doing the right thing but is far away from you?  No way you can mark and treat at the same time then, right?  I see this all the time when clients are trying to potty train their dogs.  Your dog goes outside, goes potty, and you call him back inside for a bunch of treats.  What did you reward?  Coming when called.  Which is fantastic, you do want a bomb-proof recall, but that’s not going to help your dog learn to pee and poop outside.

I think the major disadvantage to clicker training is that it requires more hands than I have in some cases.  I have huskies, who are notorious for pulling on a leash.  Which totally makes sense considering they were bred specifically to pull on a harness.  They don’t naturally walk, they trot or run, and both paces are too fast for my fat butt.  So in order to train my dogs to walk nicely on a loose leash at my pace, I need a hand for the leash, a hand for dispensing the treats, and this magical 3rd hand for the clicker.  I know you mommies out there can juggle 3 kids 2 cats and 5 dogs while hauling in the groceries and talking on the phone but that’s way beyond my skill set.  So I’ll be honest, I haven’t clicker trained my dogs.

My best friends clicker trained their dog, and yes, he was much better behaved than any of my dogs.  All of my dogs, actually.  So I do think it’s worthwhile to clicker train, I just haven’t done it with my dogs.  Yet.  After I’ve worked through the Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog set with Annika The Terrible Dog, I’m going to use clicker training to work on 101 Dog Tricks, specifically the trick to get me a beer from the fridge.  Yes, I’m willing to put in the work to be that lazy.

I am an Amazon Affiliate.  When you purchase on Amazon by clicking through my website, you pay Amazon’s current price and I get a commission.  10% of our proceeds go to It Takes a Village Rescue.  Thank you for your support!

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