I can’t remember exactly when I bought this little book — probably 35 years ago. I do remember where I bought it: at the Renaissance bookshop (if one can call a four floor warehouse a shop) in downtown Milwaukee. A pencilled notation on the first free end paper reminds me that I paid $4.00 for it.
Four dollars was probably a fair price back then, and it’s not worth much more now. It’s not a first edition, as evidenced by “Revised and Rewritten” on the title page. It’s not even a “first thus.” The copyright date is 1885, and that was preceded by an Author’s Note dated 1882, which no doubt marks the date of the true first edition.
It was once a handsome book, with the Forest and Stream logo stamped in gilt on the front cover and the title of raised letters in a gilt box set off by decorations in black ink. But even before I bought it, its green cloth cover was soiled and worn and the spine ends and corners were bent and frayed. Its first free end paper, tanned and brittle, achieved full freedom at some point in my stewardship and now is simply laid in, while the lower page edges are adorned by a tide mark that reveals a past not entirely free of water damage.
And yet this book enchanted me from the moment I opened it. Its dog training techniques wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in this day and age of animal rights, the ASPCA (let alone PETA!), and Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer. Training with kindness and understanding, teaching in small steps, shaping behavior in increments with frequent rewards, happy dogs and loving owners are what we think dog training should be nowadays.
Not so when the entries of this book were first written as columns in the journal Forest and Stream. In his note, the author says:
The system of dog training described in this book is a new one….This system is humane and rational. It is also practical and efficient. Dog training differs essentially from dog breaking, both in method and spirit, and also in what may be accepted as the test of all systems, namely — the results attained.
The first paragraph of the first chapter gives a graphic description of the dog training methods common at the time this book was written:
Nearly all writers upon the subject of dog training appear to think that there is but one course to pursue: that all knowledge that is not beaten into a dog is worthless, for all practical purposes, and that the whip, check-cord and spike collar, with perhaps an occasional charge of shot or a vigorous dose of shoe leather, are absolutely necessarily in order to perfect his education.
Hammond’s methods were far different. His first lessons begin with the arrival of the puppy at six to eight weeks old and emphasize affection, praise, food rewards, and slow steps toward the final goal.
I had a German Shorthaired Pointer at the time, though I didn’t hunt myself. Yet, I was able to teach her to make and hold a solid point and quarter a field using the methods in this book. I thought at the time, and I still think, that it is an excellent primer for someone who wants to develop a hunting dog and doesn’t live in the country or have access to birds all of the time.
In his Note to the Revised Edition, the author remarks on the number of grateful correspondents who have written with praise for his method of training by kindness. He says:
If it be true — if the public have found that they can train their dogs by kindness instead of “breaking” them by cruelty — then the object of the author has been attained, and the satisfaction that he feels in believing that through his efforts the condition of man’s best friend has been in some degree ameliorated is a sentiment that he cannot express in words.
There have been many books that were harbingers of a new era in their own fields, and Mr. Hammond may not be the only writer of his time who espoused kind treatment in the training of hunting dogs, but he is the one that marks the transition for me. I’m very glad I found Practical Dog Training, for just four dollars, all those years ago.