Dog Sense

Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet, by John Bradshaw

The subtitle makes it sound a bit self-helpy, but it's a good summation of what we currently know about dogs through science, which in many cases is significantly different than what "everybody knows." Case in point: popular domination-based dog training methods popularized on TV are based on a mistaken assumption: that dogs' natural social behavior is like that of the wolf. More to the point, the wolf pack research on which this belief is erroneously based was done with artificial wolf packs living in captivity, where unrelated wolves were thrown together and forced to figure out how best to behave in order to get along.

Your typical wolf pack in the wild is actually a family group of mother, father, this year's young, and last year's young, who stick around to help raise the next brood before breaking off to form their own family packs. In artificial wolf packs, behaviors that are normally performed by younger wolves to older relatives in the pack were changed a bit and used in ways that were mistaken for submission behaviors by researchers focused on an alpha-wolf pecking order.

Bradshaw also points out that dogs are not descended from today's wolves, but wolves and dogs are descended from a common ancestor, which was probably less fearful of humans than current wolves, who have been hunted for millennia and thus have been selected to be more fearful of humans.

He delves deep into dog behaviors, communication, and senses. Something I hadn't come across before is that with many of the pedigreed breeds, humans have bred away or minimized many ways that dogs communicate with each other - fur that hangs over eyes, short (or docked) tails, permanently pricked ears, hackles that never raise, etc. These sorts of dogs usually manage to cope when encountering each other, but it takes a while and they approach each other with caution for much longer than usual before establishing trust.

If you've got an interest in the subject, or if you've got a dog and have been using domination-based ways of training because you didn't know there were other ways, recommended.

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Tags: book, review
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