I read the headline with disbelief – “Karen Pryor turns 90 this week!” How can that be possible? It seems like it was just yesterday when I read Don’t Shoot the Dog and began my journey to the right way to train and live with dogs (and all my other animal companions). It was in fact the early 1990s when I first read it; it was originally published in 1984 and is still required reading for all my academy students. (If you haven’t read it… do!)
In addition to Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor is the author of many other outstanding books on science-based behavior and training, including Lads Before the Wind, a book about her experiences as a marine mammal trainer. She is also the founder of Clicker Expo, the Karen Pryor Clicker Company, and the Karen Pryor Clicker Academy.
Her most visible legacy is her contribution to the world of dog training. Countless training and behavior professionals, including yours truly, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Karen for awakening us to the science behind the training, and helping us understand that there are far better ways to train than inflicting punishment with choke, prong, and shock collars.
Ironically, Don’t Shoot the Dog was never intended to be a dog-training book; it was written as a self-help book for humans and human behavior. It was a stroke of pure luck that her publishers talked her into bestowing the title that serendipitously caught the attention of the dog-training world. The rest is history.
Educated dog trainers and behavior consultants around the world today truly deserve the title “professional” because Karen introduced our profession to the science of behavior and learning and whetted our appetites to learn more about how our dogs think and learn. And it’s not just dogs. Companion cats, horses, fish, rabbits, mice, birds… all the non-human animals who share our homes and our hearts can thank her for vastly improving the quality of their lives. (To learn more about Karen, read this interview from WDJ 10 years ago.)
An article posted last week on the Karen Pryor Clicker Training website gave an update about Karen, for the occasion of her 90th birthday. I was sad to learn that Karen is dealing with some dementia as she enters her ninth decade on this earth, but comforted to read that she is living in a cottage in a lovely country setting in the Sierra Mountains with one of her sons’ family, enjoying the family dogs, cats, chickens, garden, and the infinite beauty of the natural world around her.
Happy birthday, Karen, and thank you for all you’ve done for all of us. May you enjoy your remaining years on this planet. Rest assured that your legacy will live far beyond your all-too-brief time on this world.