We here at LiteraryDogs.com take pride in presenting to you, the reader, reviews of good and important books. Lately we’ve reviewed some stellar titles (e.g., ‘Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology’ from Dogwise Publishing; ‘Our Debt to the Dog’ by Bryan Cummins; and The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods ). Now, here is one more in what is becoming a trend—essential books on canine lore and science, cynology, that we recommend to serious dog fanciers. No matter if you raise Great Danes or little Pugs, as pets, or for work or show, there is good sense to tap into in John Bradshaw’s ‘Dog Sense’. The book’s sub-title says it well: ‘How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet’.
I don’t usually read other reviews of a book that I’m about to critique, but after reading with intense fascination and nodding my head in agreement at the common sense scientific knowledge that Bradshaw lays out in his book, I can’t resist quoting a few remarks from others. With each of these glowing, praiseworthy comments (from many reviewers), I nodded affirmatively again and again: “wonderfully informative,” “quietly passionate,” “densely illuminating,” “a comprehensive, fascinating and often poignant read,” “valuable,” and “clear-headed.” And, in a good full sentence: “Debunking the advice of many celebrity trainers, animal behavior expert John Bradshaw urges understanding, not dominance, as the key to human-canine relations” (that one is from ‘People’ magazine).
I especially like this assessment by Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog:
“A lovely and clear-headed book on all things dog—emotion, mind, and breed. John Bradshaw’s authority and experience are matched by the thoughtfulness and humanity of his writing. Read this before you bring a dog into your life.”
Before I go on heaping even more praise, you need to know something about the author. John Bradshaw is an anthro-zoologist—an expert in animal-human behavior. He has spent his lifetime studying canine behavior and human-dog inter-actions. He is the founder of two Anthrozoology Institutes in the UK, one at the University of Bristol and the other at the University of Southampton (where he currently resides). In short, he has the credentials.
Bradshaw wrote ‘Dog Sense’ to sum up his research findings to date, and to set the record straight on many issues. In the process, he debunks some long-held myths and clearly describes the fundamental basis of our socio-cultural-behavioral connections to dogs, where dogs came from, and how the long-ago process of canine domestication affects our relationships with them and their easy adaptation to us, today.
The list of chapters reveals much about where this book will take you, from past to future, interspersed with some notable findings and some provocative questions:
1. Where Dogs Came From
2. How Wolves Became Dogs
3. Why Dogs were – Unfortunately – Turned Back into WolvesTraining’
4. Sticks or Carrots? The Science of Dog Training
5. How Puppies Became Pets
6. Does Your Dog Love You?
7. Canine Brainpower
8. Emotional (Un)sophistication
9. A World of Smells
10. Problems with Pedigrees
11. Dogs and the Future
Bradshaw’s findings are based on rigorous research, his own and others’. His copious footnotes provide us with great source material. Many of his findings are of historic importance in guiding our growing knowledge of canine behavior.
Dogs have an innate ability be trained, just as we have a need to train them, whether as pets or working dogs or show dogs. About training, one of Bradshaw’s main conclusions may rile some dog fanciers, especially trainers who believe that dominance is the key to successful dog adaptation to living with humans. Rather, he says, it is with great patience and understanding, rather than strong-arm dominance, that we have the best chance of establishing successful and amicable people-dog relations. Learning to work in harmony with dogs is far more productive and satisfying than attempting to dominate them.
At the beginning of this book Bradshaw reviews what we know of dog-from-wolf origins. The type of wolf from which dogs split off to associate comfortably with human no longer exists, though virtually everything about dog behavior around humans harks back to that early wolf type.
Late in the book, Bradshaw’s discussion of ‘Canine Brainpower’ (Chapter 7) reveals a great deal about his important anthrozoological/canine behavioral findings. I’ll take the liberty to quote a sample passage here, so that you, the reader, can get a sense of Bradshaw’s easy-to-understand style and the logic of what he has to say. He asks, in this chapter, if dogs are smart enough to know what we are thinking, and if they don’t know, then how do they give the impression that they do? –
For almost as soon as they can see, dogs seem to be especially sensitive to actions performed by humans. This difference from the wolf is almost certainly due to a genetically programmed change of focus in the dog’s priorities, driven by domestication. Those proto-dogs that happened to possess a predisposition to attend to the humans around them would have been able to learn the significance of specific human gestures. This adaptation, in turn, would give these more sensitive dogs a key advantage over more wolf-like dogs who would have been focused on their own species and the physical world.
Today, this almost overwhelming focus on people and what they are doing enables dogs to learn very subtle aspects of human body-language, possibly even actions that we are unaware of ourselves. In addition, they almost certainly gather information about us, using their hypersensitive noses, based on subtle changes in order that we are entirely unaware of…
Their ability to detect subtle changes in odor, he points out, is what undoubtedly lies behind “the ability of trained dogs to detect impending seizures in diabetics and epileptics.”
Bradshaw concludes this part of the discussion (before continuing with more on canine brainpower) that “It is the shift in focus of attention – from other members of their own species to members of the human race – that is domestication’s primary effect on dogs’ intellect.”
To sum up, John Bradshaw’s ‘Dog Sense’ makes sense! It is an important landmark in the literature of cynology, and is sure to be the basis of much more study of dog-human relations.
Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, by John Bradshaw. New York: Basic Books, 2011. 352 pages; illustrated with line drawings by Alan Peters. Preface, Acknowledgments, Introduction, 11 chapters, Notes, Further Reading, and Index.ISBN 9780465019441 (hardback), 978-0-465-03003-3 (paperback), and 9780465023486 (e-book). Read more at http://dogsensebook.com/.