In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

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In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding

Five words from the blurb: dogs, research, psychology, behaviour, life

Last year I became a dog owner for the first time. Since then I’ve been reading a large number of books on dog ownership and training. This is the best by a long way and the only one I feel able to trust entirely. John Bradshaw cuts through the old wives tales and takes a scientific approach to dog psychology. He compiles data from a large number of research projects to understand the way dogs think and how we can help them to lead happy, stress-free lives.

The book begins with looking at the way dogs have evolved and how this can be used to understand the bonds they form with humans. It goes on to explain the differences between our interactions with them and the way they behave with other dogs. Body language, the way their brains function and the relative power of the senses are all investigated with regular reference to scientific studies. The book also explains theory of mind and which emotions dogs are capable of feeling.

I was surprised by the number of commonly held beliefs that have no basis in fact:

It is remarkable, given how unformed a puppy’s personality is at eight weeks old, that breeders rely so heavily on puppy behaviour as a way of predicting the grown-up dog’s eventual character. ‘Puppy tests’ carried out at seven or eight weeks of age, before the puppy leaves its breeder, are still widely believed to have this predictive potential. Yet this is the precise age at which puppy’s behaviour is most malleable. Numerous scientific studies have failed to find any validity in ‘puppy testing’ as a predictor of future character. 

It doesn’t give specific advice on training, but anyone armed with the knowledge contained in this book will be able to ensure their dogs understand them and know what they are capable of learning.

I loved this book. It contains a wealth of information and lots of little facts that I can’t help sharing with friends and family. Some of the detail may be too much for the casual reader, but as a scientist I loved the way it didn’t shy away from some of the more complex subjects.

I think this is the most important reference book a dog owner could read and I strongly encourage you to get a copy.

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19 Comments

  1. cbjames says:

    We got Dakota, our Bassett hound, as a rescue when she was probably five years old. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that Bassetts are very difficult, if not impossible to train. We taught her to sit, and we taught her to wait until she is told to eat before she eats. We taught her to do her business on command, to go inside the house afterwards on command and to go to her bed on command. C.J. even taught her to shake.

    She’s not perfect by any means, but so much for that old wives tale.

    I’ll keep an eye out for this book. It’s funny how once you get a dog, you do become a bit obsessed with scientific studies about them.

    1. Jackie says:

      cbjames, I agree that you can teach an old dog new tricks – they are happy to learn new things at any point. Congratulations on teaching Dakota so many things. I hope she continues to learn things and avoids eating books :-)

  2. Chinoiseries says:

    I think every pet owner should get to grips with the psyche and physical needs of their loved animal. There’s still a lot I can and should learn about cats.
    This reminds me of the Dog Whisperer, that guy who emphasises humans to act like the dog’s pack leader and such. Is there any scientific evidence for that in this book? Or should dogs be treated as equals?

    1. Jackie says:

      Chinoiseries, Yes. Every animal deserves to be understood. I haven’t seen the Dog Whisperer, but I’ve heard a lot about him. There is no evidence to suggest we need to be pack leader. Dogs don’t see us as other dogs and so we don’t need to dominate them – doing so just leads to aggression. That is one of the biggest myths still around and I really hate seeing people shouting at their dogs. Hopefully this book will mean that more dogs can just be friends with their owners.

  3. Sandy says:

    Oh, it has been so long since we’ve had a dog, but I’d love to get another one some day. And my daughter and I DO work at the animal shelter, so we get our dog time. They are such fascinating animals. When we got our Lab, she was 6 months old, and a TERROR. Thought she was in charge of the world. But we trained her and she became one of the most gentle, well-mannered dogs ever. So I believe, like James, that you can train a dog out of a lot of bad habits.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think a lot of 6 month old dogs are terrors! They are really just giant puppies at that stage, but with good training they should get through it and become lovely dogs. I hope you end up getting another dog one day – I don’t know how you can resist it when surrounded by them at the animal shelter. I’m sure I’d have brought home several by now!

  4. Teresa says:

    One for the wishlist Jackie as we are still contemplating being dog owners. I am keen but OH is not so enamoured by the idea…he came from a non-pet, animal fearing home!

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, Animal fearing isn’t a good place to start :-( If you are after a different tactic I highly recommend a PAWS course with Dogs for the Disabled – it is all about how you train the family pet to help a child with autism. The positive stories worked with my husband ;-)

      1. Teresa says:

        Oh you are an absolute star, Jackie. I hadn’t even heard of this scheme although I already knew that animals could be extremely therapeutic for autistic children. There’s only one course in N Ireland in March next year but fingers crossed I get a place on it. Thank you again!

        1. Jackie says:

          Teresa, It really is an excellent course – it is amazing what you can teach a dog to help an autistic child. I really hope you get a place on the course. Good luck!

          1. Teresa says:

            Woo hoo, they do have a course about an hour’s drive away in March 2013. It sounds ideal, it’s seredipity at work…aka Jackie! :-)

          2. Jackie says:

            Yay! Let me know how you get on.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I need to read this one. I became a first time dog owner in 2005 and have loved having the experience!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I’m sure you’ll find this really interesting. Dogs are wonderful aren’t they?!

  6. Lindsay says:

    I have had my eye on this one for a while Jackie and you’ve confirmed it would be a good read. We got our first ever dog last year too. Thanks for the informative review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lindsay, I’ve had my eye on it for a long time too. It finally made an appearance in my local library, but I think I might buy a copy now. Hope you enjoy it too.

  7. We’re not currently dog owners…but if the other half of The Willoughby Book Club has anything to do with it, it won’t be long until we are! Thanks for the review Jackie, this littl gem will be front of mind if (when) we take the plunge!

    1. Jackie says:

      It is well worth reading this book before you get a dog as it has some good advise on selecting them. Good luck if you decide to take the plunge!

  8. Jenners says:

    I think I need to read this book. Any glimpses I can get into the minds of Romeo and Juliet would be greatly appreciated!! Thanks for the recommendation!

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