Review: Dog Sense

Dog Sense, by John Bradshaw

John Bradshaw’s new book, Dog Sense, is one of the most heavily academic and scientific dog books I’ve read so far–and I loved it.

The book came highly recommended by my dog training hero, Patricia McConnell, and so I knew I had to read it at some point. (She also provides a much more thorough and interesting review of the book on her blog.) I was excited when I saw that it was coming in at our local library and quickly put it on hold.

Dog Sense is a sizable tome, but it’s well worth wading through all of the research to get to Bradshaw’s arguments. I think a lot of the strength of this book is his strong and profound statements debunking many widely believed myths about dog psychology and behavior.

I’ve already quoted his important statement on the popular misapplication of “guilt” onto our dogs. His other significant contribution is his thorough debunking of the old “dominance” model of approaching dog behavior and training. Many other respected dog trainers, like McConnell herself, have written about how this model needs to be rejected, but I don’t think I’ve read a case as strong as Bradshaw’s for why we need to stop talking about and treating our dogs as if they behaved like captive wolves.

In a nutshell, here’s Bradshaw’s case for why the old “dominance” model of behavior is based on three false concepts:

  1. It’s derived from the way that wolves behave when they are living unnaturally in captivity.
  2. Feral dogs, when allowed to establish family groups, don’t behave like wolves at all. Feral dogs “are much more tolerant of one another than any other modern canid would be if it lived at such high density.”
  3. Dogs kept in similar captive circumstances do not develop hierarchies of dominance, based around competition and aggression.

It was helpful reading such a heavily researched opinion on why the dominance model is outdated and, frankly, wrong. What’s daunting is how many people still believe it. The majority of dog owners, at least in America, talk about their dogs as if the dogs were sneaky tyrants, just waiting for a moment to usurp their human’s power. It’s a sad and limiting way to think about our dogs and I’m grateful for Bradshaw’s fresh perspective on this issue.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who lives with or around dogs. If you’re not already familiar with the new movements in dog psychology and research, this book will undoubtedly revolutionize the way you consider and communicate with your dog.

Pup links!

Kate Moss and a watchful border collie. Source: Via Camila Chaves

Dog-related links from around the Web this week…

Vintage Dog Show. A collection of photos from dog shows decades ago. The dogs look great; the people, not so much. (Miles to Style)

Herend Dogs. Rich, old dog ladies should fill their homes with these colorful figurines. (Miles to Style)

The never-ending dog show. And pictures. Lots of pictures. Great ones, too. These border collies look so joyful, whether in the backyard sprinkler or in the agility ring. (Hippie Dogs)

Maine: Island Life. I love these beautiful photographs of a peaceful family vacation with the dogs. I can’t wait to take my dog on vacation with me! (Big Bang Studio)

Italian Dogs. Poignant photographs of dogs met while on vacation in Italy. (Ulicam)

Building Your Dog’s Drive in Preparation for Obedience. Minette discusses how we can keep our dog’s play drive alert and active–and how it can be used for obedience training. (Dog Obedience Training Blog)

Which Would Work Better, a Dog or a Scanner? Personally, I’d much rather be searched by a dog than by a TSA agent! (Pet Connection)

Spaying the Neuter or No? Oh, my goodness. This is what I mean when I talk about people who shouldn’t get dogs… (You Suck at Craigslist)

A Dog Post. A funny comparison between the regal profile of a Rhodesian ridgeback and the sloppy face of a Basset hound (including a wonderful montage of Bassets running, which is always the funniest thing I see all day). (Confessions of a Pioneer Woman)

Not Your Stick. A helpful photographic explanation of how the game “Not Your Stick” is played. (Raised by Wolves)

Self-Gratification. A hilarious montage of one German shepherd’s delight in a big orange bucket. (Raising K9)

Dog v. Goon Squad. Dogs reading and lounging around with Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I coincidentally loved. (Big Bang Studio)