Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dog, Training and Finding Grace by Kathy Sdao (2012) ISBN 978 1617810 64 0

I was asked to do a book review of around five to six hundred words on a behaviour book of my choice. The book I chose was “Plenty in Life is Free” by Kathy Sdao, however I cannot fully give this book justice with such a small word count. Wow, just wow!  What an amazing book!  Not only is this book helpful for canine professionals but also first and long term dog owners.

This book is based on the rank reduction programme “Nothing in Life is Free,” which means our dogs must offer us a behaviour before they are allowed, food, water, attention or affection. As a force free dog trainer and behaviourist this is not a method I use within my behaviour programmes, hence why I found this book so fascinating. Kathy talks about rewarding our dogs when they offer us something we want or they look cute rather than “issuing orders”. She explains that reinforcing our dogs being re being “good” creates a flow of information between dog and owner, resulting in successful animal training.

I will forever look at the letters SMART in a completely different sense from setting targets in annual appraisals, to See Mark And Reward Training. Instead of asking our dogs to “do this now” we are giving them back a choice that says, “if you offer this behaviour you will then get rewarded”. Dog training is not only what you can see and ask for but how we can set our dogs up to achieve training success by having a choice. A dog that is rewarded with something fun and exciting will choose to repeat this behaviour again in the future. By reinforcing behaviours we like we are less likely to reinforce behaviours we don’t like.

Kathy explained we would need an idea of what we would like to SMART train so we have a visual of what we are reinforcing. The following are my four behaviours:

  1. No barking when people pass the window
  2. Going to bed when people are eating
  3. Staying in the car until the lead is clipped on the collar
  4. Greeting people with four feet on the floor

These are behaviours that I will continue to reinforce with the SMART x 50 method Kathy recommends in her book. The SMART x 50 technique is a method Kathy started in her training sessions, where owners put 50 treats into a pot daily. During the day the owner can reward their dog when they offer something “good” or “cute”. Therefore straight away the owner is using positive reinforcement training allowing their dog the choice of offering behaviours that will get rewarded and not asking their dog to do this or do that.

The following two amazing sections of information have inspired me from this book and I will continue to use them during my training journey and I hope others will too.

Firstly, if you think you have a “naughty dog” ask yourself:

  • Do I have a dog that is a working dog with no job?
  • Do I have a social dog without enough companionship?
  • Do I have a clever dog without enough mental stimulation?
  • Do I have a hyper dog without enough exercise?

Secondly, instead of using the terms hierarchy or anarchy opt for heterarchy when applied to dog training. It means there is a flow of information  and reinforcement (ie communication) back and forth between human and dog. It encourages moving, behaving and living rather than withdrawing, avoiding and submitting.

Thank you Kathy Sdao for such an inspirational book.

Review by Nikki Caddick, RVN, A1, MBVNA, FdSc, PPG, member of ICB