Becoming a dog parent is one of the most joyous things you can do. You choose the right breed for your lifestyle, and you’ve got a pal for life who will stick by your side and always be happy to see you when you get home. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are a ton of work to own. You’ve got to choose the right dog food for them, clip your dog’s nails, brush your dog’s teeth and choose a comfy dog bed where they’ll hopefully spend the night each night. In addition to all of that, as many hasty puppy purchasers will tell you — training a dog is no joke. It’s one of the most time-consuming parts of being a dog owner, and the stakes for doing it well are high. Apply the time, discipline and patience it takes to train and dog well and you’ve got a well-behaved dog for life. Do it badly or not at all, and you’ve got a chewing, barking, biting monster on your hands who could very quickly turn into the worst headache. No thank you. Thankfully, there are plenty of professional dog trainers out there with decades of experience turning unruly fur balls into loyal, lazer-sharp pups who will obey your every command. Many of these trainers have taken their years of knowledge and put pen to paper, writing books you can purchase and use to apply their expertise to your brand new family member. I’ve gathered the best dog training books for anyone looking into pet ownership or struggling to contain their pet below, but first let’s discuss breeds and training methodologies.
Dog Breeds and Training
Before deciding which dog training book is the best for you, it’s important to figure out which training style you’re going to use. And, your training style is going to depend entirely on what breed you have — as some dogs are food-motivated and thus positive reinforcement with treats will work, whereas other dogs aren’t and your strategy might be more relationship-based. There are over 450 breeds of dog on earth, but they can essentially be categorized into seven different groups. These groups revolve around what the dog was originally bred to do or be — as some dogs were workers while others were simply bred to sit on laps and look adorable. These natural instincts are still inside all dogs of that specific breed, even if they don’t live on a farm or are ever taken hunting. Learning what your dog’s breed was originally meant to do, and therefore which instincts live inside of them, will be very helpful in training them.
- Working Dogs: These dogs were bred to carry out tasks like pull a cart or watch over a property. Examples include Siberian Huskies, Great Danes and Newfoundlands.
- Herding Group: These dogs were, you guessed it, bred to herd livestock. They tend to have a lot of energy and some will naturally herd if brought to a field of sheep or cows. Examples include Border Collies, German Shepherds and Australian Cattle Dogs.
- Hound Group: Hound dogs aren’t just a breed of man for Elvis to sing about — they’re a specific breed of dog that were bred for hunting due to their powerful sense of smell. Examples include Basset Hounds, Beagles and Greyhounds.
- Sporting Group: These are also dogs bred for hunting, but due to their high energy they’re naturally excellent for retrieving hunters’ game after they’ve gotten a kill. Examples for this group include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and English Setters.
- Non-Sporting Group: This is the vaguest of the groups, and is mostly comprised of dogs that don’t quite fit into any other category. Dog breeds that are non-sporting include Dalmatians, American Bulldogs and Boston Terriers.
- Toy Group: This is, personally, one of my favorite categories of dogs. These are small dogs with big brains who are very intelligent. They make great lap dogs and were bred for that specific purpose. Examples include the Chihuahua, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Pug.
- Terrier Group: Last but not least, terriers were bred to kill vermin and they’re still quite good at that. Examples include Jack Russell Terriers and Scottish Terriers.
There are a variety of training methodologies you can apply to your dog, all of which have pros and cons depending on the breed and temperament of the dog and its owner. There’s positive reinforcement — the latest in dog training methods that uses things that a dog likes to reward behavior and wire their brain towards those actions. Punishment doesn’t come in the form of a reprimand or through physical force, but rather the removal of that pleasurable thing for the dog.
There’s also the alpha dog approach where you use certain tools to punish a dog, like electric shock therapy via a shock collar. Note, this is a very extreme form of training and is very controversial, it’s not something I recommend.
There’s also clicker training, which is a branch off of positive reinforcement training, where you use a clicker that makes a sharp sound to signal when a dog is doing something you want.
There are also less popular training methodologies, including mirror training where a human being may be used as a model for desirable behavior for a dog. Lastly, there’s relationship-based training, where you build on the trust between the dog and the owner to sway the dog towards certain actions and away from others.
Many of the training advice in the following books is a mixture of a few of the varieties described above, and is all written by experts who’ve worked with hundreds of animals over the years.
1. Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution: The Complete Guide to Raising the Perfect Pet With Love
Zak George is a dog training genius, and his book is sure to be useful to anyone with a brand new dog, adopted dog or badly behaving dog. His YouTube channel is enormously popular for his bite-size videos that lead you through everything from leash-pulling to potty training a new puppy, and his book is sure to be just as helpful. He’s distilled down his advice and information from hundreds of videos into a training guide that hits on all the basics. He talks about choosing the right dog breed for you, house and basic puppy training, how to handle common behavioral problems like biting, leash pulling, etc. He also discusses cool tricks you can teach your puppy as well as traveling tips and fun activities.
2. How to Raise the Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond
Cesar Millan walked so Zak George could run, he’s one of the OG dog trainers and National Geographic personalities who made dog training entertaining for the masses with his hit show Dog Whisperer. In this book, he compiles his most effective advice and guidance from years of experience raising puppies from the world’s most popular breeds. From day one, you’ll have Cesar by your side guiding you through puppy development, easy housebreaking, proper nutrition, creating obedience and boundaries and avoiding common mistakes many dog owners make. His alpha approach will help you correct issues before they become a problem, and he’ll also walk you through breed-specific exercises that’ll help you bring out the best in every dog.
3. Lucky Dog Lessons: Train Your Dog in 7 Days
BEST FOR BASICS
Brandon McMillan is another celebrity dog trainer and Emmy-award-winning star of the CBS show Lucky Dog where he specializes in transforming dogs from all walks of life into lifelong, model companions before they find their forever homes. He’s helped countless dogs overcome behavioral problems, learn to trust and ultimately become lovable household pets — through his belief that no dog is untrainable.
In this book, he walks you through seven common commands every dog owner should know about: sit, stay, down, come, off, heel and no. He provides innovative, effective solutions to problems from house training to door dashing, and includes easy-to-follow steps and pictures for all guidance.
4. Training the Best Dog Ever: A 5-Week Program Using the Power of Positive Reinforcement
BEST FOR POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
This book is all about the positive — and training from a place of love. The methodologies in this volume focus on trust, treats and bonding rather than physical signals of force. This book is a 5-week training program that has 10-20 minute-a-day modules for you to gradually progress through with your puppy or adult dog. It’s has step-by-step photographs for you to follow as you master basic training including crate training and basic commands. The book also discusses complex goals like bite inhibition and water safety, and has advice for behavior problems like leash pulling and jumping. Teach your dog how to behave at ease in the world, and you’ll find plenty of ease yourself.
5. 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond With Your Dog
BEST FOR TRICKS
Once you get through the house and crate training, then you get to move onto the fun stuff. Each trick in this massive volume of them is rated for difficulty and prerequisites so you can start mastering it quickly. Tricks from simple everyday ones like sit, shake hands and roll over to more impressive, party ones like tidying up toys or grabbing a soda from the fridge. There are love tricks, dancing tricks, funny ones and even chores! Bond with your dog, establish even more trust with them and keep your dog mentally and physically fit with this book.
6. Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy and Well-Behaved Dog
BEST FOR PUPPIES
The advice in this book for training your puppy from Dr. Ian Dunbar has been influential for dog trainers all over the world for centuries. In the 70’s when it was first published it led to a puppy training revolution away from drill-sergeant dog training classes and towards positive reinforcement with toys, treats and other rewards. Before him, no classes specifically designed for puppy training even existed, so you know he’s had a great impact on the dog training world.
This book is a combination of his two large puppy training manuals and comes with helpful photos, easy-to-follow training milestones and a humorous but structured plan for raising an excellent dog. His six main development milestones include doggy education, evaluating your pup’s progress, housetraining and chewtoy guidance, socialization with people, bite inhibition and ease in the world at large. If you’re thinking about getting a puppy or have one and are overwhelmed, this book is your ultimate guide.
7. The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
BEST FOR RELATIONSHIP-BASED TRAINING
Humans and dogs are entirely different species with entirely different ways of communicating. This book, written by animal behaviorist and dog trainer Dr. Patricia McConnell walks you through how much gets lost in translation between the two beings, and how to remedy the miscommunications. This groundbreaking guide includes ways in which the slightest change in our voice or way we stand can signal correctly to a dog what we want. She gives insight into everything from getting your dog to come by acting less like a primate and more like a fellow canine, to how “rough and tumble play” can get you into trouble. If you’re a science nerd and want data-backed insight into your dog’s behaviors, this is a great pick.
8. The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living with Reactive and Aggressive Dogs
BEST FOR AGGRESSION
Larger, more intimidating dog breeds like Rottweilers and German Shepherds were bred to be watch dogs, but this surveillance instinct can easily translate into reactivity when it comes to anybody who walks by — including and especially other dogs. Aggression is one of the most common problems with dogs and one of the reasons why many people seek professional help. This book, written by author and certified dog trainer Annie Phenix, covers training approaches for helping dogs recover from anxiety and fear, the root causes of aggression most of the time. The book includes stories and practical examples about behavioral warnings, different types of aggression, tips on how to handle a reactive dog and more.
9. Dog Training for Kids: Fun and Easy Ways to Care for Your Furry Friend
BEST FOR KIDS
The whole family should be involved in the training of your dog, and the bonding that comes with it! Every young child wants a dog to play with, but few understand the responsibility of owning an animal until they’re in the moment. This book covers the basics for kids when it comes to caring for a pup including basic training, essential commands like sit, clever tricks and fun games the child and dog can play together. This book is perfect for instilling confidence in children when training and, eventually, loving animals, and is sure to help usher in a lasting bond.
10. The Art of Raising a Puppy
WRITTEN BY PROFESSIONAL DOG BREEDERS
This book was written by the Monks of New Skete, famous German Shepherd breeders with decades of experience. They draw on their expertise as breeders and trainers of all kinds of dogs and have distilled down just the information every dog owner needs. They’ve got chapters on playing, crating, adopting rescue dogs and even raising dogs in an urban environment. They include the latest developments in canine behavioral theory and overall health, and include engaging photographs throughout.