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Publisher's Summary

An intimate, surprising look at man's best friend and what the leading philosophies of dog training teach us about ourselves. Years back, Melissa Holbrook Pierson brought home a border collie named Mercy, without a clue of how to get her to behave. Stunned after hiring a trainer whose immediate rapport with Mercy seemed magical, Pierson began delving into the techniques of positive reinforcement. She made her way to B. F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist who started it all, the man who could train a pigeon to dance in minutes and whose research on how behavior is acquired has ramifications for military dolphin trainers, athletes, dancers, and, as he originally conceived, society at large.

To learn more, Pierson met with a host of fascinating animal behaviorists, going behind the scenes to witness the relationships between trainers and animals at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, and to the in-depth seminars at a Clicker Expo where all the dogs but hers seemed to be learning new tricks. The often startling story of what became of a path breaking scientist's work is interwoven with a more personal tale of how to understand the foreign species with whom we are privileged to live. Pierson draws surprising connections in her exploration of how kindness works to motivate all animals, including the human one.

©2015 Melissa Holbrook Pierson (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent animal learning primer

As a professional dog trainer, I was pleasantly surprised at the content and accessibility of this book. It's a great primer for those interested in animal learning and the science of how dogs learn (hint: it's got nothing to do with packs or leadership). All hail BF Skinner!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Slightly Disappointed

Although the content itself is amazing, i felt like this book is almost a review of many different books on dog training vs new content. It was enjoyable although slightly disappointing.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Marianne
  • Peachtree City, GA, United States
  • 03-05-16

Struggled to finish.

Every so often there was a bit of information that could be helpful. Unfortunately, it seemed to me, that the author would go off on tangents about things that had nothing to do with dogs but more her political beliefs or other beliefs. I have not ever struggled so much to finish a book as much as I did with this one. The narrator did a wonderful job. It might be a good book for those who think & believe exactly as the author. I personally am not sure where the title came from.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Mercy Made Me

This is the kind of book I wish all dog owners (well everyone really) should read. The world has a lot to learn about kindness, what better teachers than our dogs. Thank you for this touching, engaging, truthful book. I appreciated the science, humor and personal anecdotes shared to tell us about The Secret History of Kindness.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Warning: praises ABA done to autistic people

What would have made The Secret History of Kindness better?

This book would have been better if it hadn't been full of such effusive praise for ABA done to autistic people, a method of "training" wrongfully applied to "correct" autistic people into acting more as if they were typical people, often by holding any praise or affection hostage in return for total compliance. Most survivors of this method end up with severe PTSD as a result. Behavioral techniques that work on dogs are demeaning and abusive to apply to people when the goal is to make them behave as if they are not autistic- which they will always be- instilling a lifetime of self-hatred and inferiority, and usually Complex PTSD.

I am autistic. I could not finish this book or even read further than hearing this dog trainer pretend to know anything about autism or what's best for autistic people.
I wanted a book about Dogs. I GOT a book full of praise for an abusive behavioral practice based in coercion and total surrender of all free will "for the good of the child".
I need a shower. Ew. Ew. Ew.

14 of 20 people found this review helpful

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No clear topic or theme

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

This book reads like a stream of consciousness that jumps topics at random. If you enjoy NPR's This I Believe, you might like this book, but don't expect the topics to flow together in a logical order.

What was most disappointing about Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s story?

The author did not appear to have an idea of what type of book she was writing. It contains random bits of several books. It contains a bit of the history of modern animal training, a bit of memoir of the authors experience with her own personal dogs and their behavior challenges, a bit of her personal experiences at training seminars such as Clicker Expo and a bit of an Animal Rights rant about zoos. The topics change randomly and appear to move back in forth in time at random. There isn't anything in this book that is worth the time it takes to listen to.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

The reader probably did as well as she could have given the material.

What character would you cut from The Secret History of Kindness?

This was a nonfiction book and did not have characters.

Any additional comments?

The description of the book is very misleading. It appears to be a memoir of the authors experience learning to train her dog, who has behavioral issues, and the history of the science based training she learned along the way. That would have been an interesting book to listen to.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great Read If You’re As Narrow Minded as the Author

I really thought I would like this book because I am very interested in ALL aspects of dog behavior/training. The author began very strong in my opinion but a few chapters in started to show how close minded her learning had made her. She only sees black and white with training. Reward only vs. correction only. There are SO many ways to combine the two in a safe, humane way. I’ve seen many dogs, including my own, that get BEYOND excited when they see their remote collar come out because fun things happen when they wear it. If you base your judgements to align with hers, these dogs would cower in a corner. Training adversatives has come a LONG way. Especially with the use of corrective collars. Although she did say she condones the use of them in police/military dogs where “life’s are at stake” like that’s any different... eye roll.

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Quite the self congratulatory drivel

I really wanted to like this book....well at least i started off ambivalent but it quickly turned to minor annoyance then sheer loathing at the author's tendency to fill every sentence with as much philosophical circumlocution as humanly possible. Replete with poetic alliteration and some of the most obscure philosophical wranglings it almost seems as if it were the author's intent to impress the reader with her knowledge of every thing she has accumulated....while some of it adds to the narrative most of it struck me as mere flotsam injected in an almost stream of conscious fashion and only served to confuse me. A few times i caught myself opening the app to once again check the title and subject of the book as it meandered through the encyclopedic wasteland of knowledge....she takes time to give the history of practically everything and then proceeds to break into some strange poetic depiction of the scene or her thoughts on the scene or what she imagined are someone else's thoughts on the scene....idk out just became too much in the end.

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Loved this book. All trainers should read it!

I loved this book. All trainers should read it. I will share it with all the trainers and owners who are training minded. Can't love it enough.

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good book

not to be read as a professional training guide. the book does a beautiful job at explaining the science behind dog behavior

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  • Nike
  • 09-21-16

I believe in Kindness

Fascinating and well written book. Thank you. I !ike the theory behind this book. I believe it has a fundamental truth.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • H. Lucy
  • 04-08-16

Fantastic lessons for life at large

I loved how in one book I could get ideas on how to train my dog, how to teach my students better in the classroom and above all how to live life with more positivity. Many things to reflect upon. Excellent.