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Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet

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Dogs have been mankind's faithful companions for tens of thousands of years, yet today they are regularly treated as either pack-following wolves or furry humans. The truth is, dogs are neither-and our misunderstanding has put them in serious crisis. What dogs really need is a spokesperson, someone who will assert their specific needs. Renowned anthrozoologist Dr. John Bradshaw has made a career of studying human-animal interactions, and in Dog Sense he uses the latest scientific research to show how humans can live in harmony with-not just dominion over-their four-legged friends. From explaining why positive reinforcement is a more effective (and less damaging) way to control dogs' behavior than punishment to demonstrating the importance of weighing a dog's unique personality against stereotypes about its breed, Bradshaw offers extraordinary insight into the question of how we really ought to treat our dogs.

352 pages, MP3 CD

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

John Bradshaw

12 books74 followers
John Bradshaw is Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol. He lives in Southampton, England.

Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 264 reviews
Profile Image for Elaine.
312 reviews58 followers
April 8, 2016
Since I'm writing a book about dogs, I reread this in the light of reams of scholarly articles and books, not to mention documentaries featuring the leading dog researchers in the world today--as well as my own thinking about all matters dog. I am amazed that I originally rated this as highly as I did. Yes,i t is repetitious as I noted before, but now I see also how fallacious it is. Bradshaw seems to have forgotten Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation that accounts for all the data is the one to accept. In other instances, he seems to have forgotten the implications of his own previous statements.

For instance, he mentions Rico, the Border Collie who has demonstrated that he knew 50 words, each the name of a toy. The 250 toys are kept in a separate room, and Rico is =told to go get Blinkie or whatever name has been given to each toy. With no problem, Rico goes to the pile of toys in another room and picks out the one asked for. Then, one day, Rico was asked to get a toy with a name he had never heard before. Still he ran to the toy room and searched for a new toy. He figured that must be the one with the unfamiliar toy. He was right.

Bradshaw decided to "refute" this well-known and well-received study. He says that Rico just took the toy that had a "different scent." Differen tfromthe scents of 250 other toys? There is no evidence that Rico selected other toys on any basis except for their names. He never was told to go find the toy with Binke's scent. In fact, such a command could not be given. The dog wouldn't be able to understand it. I don't doubt that, given dogs' incredible noses, that each toy might have a different scent. However, he was always told to fetch one by its name. No matter how you look at it, Rico discriminated among the toys by human verbally given names. Now, in fact, there is a Border Collie who can choose among 1,000 toys, each with a different name. Bradshaw would have us believe that Rico knows the names for 250 toys, but, when a new name is given to him, he resorts to his sense of smell. Bradshaw offers no explanation for how or even if the toys each had a particular scent. Even if they did, which is unproven and probably unproveable, he responded in each instance, solely to the names of the toys. The simples explanation that fits the data is that Rico figured if there was a toy he had not seen before, it must be the one that had the name he hadn't learned before. Bradshaw's interpretation is over complex, based upon an unproven assumption. That is, it is bad science. And, Bradshaw is a scientist.

Another example of bad science is that Bradshaw claims that aggression is not inborn in certain dog breeds. They become aggressive because of their owners' training. However, previously he noted correctly that the complex behaviors of herding dogs are not a result of training, but of their genetic inheritance, which is a generally accepted view. Nobody could teach a herding dog to do what it does when it herds. Now, if a complex set of behaviors is inborn in certain dogs, on what basis can one then say that aggression is not inborn? Bradshaw gives no rationale. I had a very aggressive mongrel years ago. Nobody taught him to be aggressive. He just was. That was evident by the time he was three months old. He actually chased my neighbor back into his house, growling and with bared fangs. Unfortunately, he was so dangerous, he had to be put down. We got him from a litter of pups from a bitch who had mated with feral canids, possibly a coyote.

I gave Bradshaw a one star demerit because of his constant repetitions of every point he makes, 2, 3, or more times, and his preachy tone. I love dogs and am very concerned for their welfare, but I found his preaching tiresome.

On the other hand, I laud Bradshaw's rebuttal of the "dog whisperer" nonsense: all that stuff about alphas and the human family as a wolf pack.

My rebuttal to Bradshaw's other claims will appear in my book Humans, Dogs , & Civilization, but first they will appear in my blog http://elainechaika.com/dogs
Profile Image for Laura.
1,241 reviews119 followers
April 6, 2016
This is in the class of books that I really enjoyed and don’t have the background to critically evaluate. It is also loosely in the category of books exploring the thesis of “yeah, that thing you were taught? That’s wrong.” Unlike many of those books (I’m lookin’ at you, Malcolm Gladwell), it also has a positive thesis. And it’s very positive. “Train dogs with positive feedback. Not just because it’s humane. Because it works, bitches.” Okay, he didn’t put it quite that way. He is English.

Dr. Bradshaw is a professor at the University of Bristol Veterinary School. He’s a specialist in anthrozoology, and has consulted with the US military on how to train dogs. He had the good fortune to have his book published just as lots of people were going – wait, we sent a dog in with Seal Team 6? Possibly with titanium teeth? Wwwhhhaaa? He was hilarious on the Colbert Report, http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colb..., and fascinating on Fresh Air. http://www.npr.org/2011/05/26/1364970....

First, he suggests that the popular understanding of wolves at the time many dog training schools got systematized and written down was wrong, and wrong for a very good reason. It was based on observations of man made wolf packs, were unrelated adult wolves were put together and had to work it out. In the wild, he says, wolf packs are mostly family groups, made of a breeding pair and 2 or 3 litters, with the older children helping to raise their younger siblings before sexually maturing and moving on. They get along because they like each other, not because someone establishes dominance. When that sort of posturing starts, it’s time to move on.

He also points out something that I feel silly for not realizing – selection went both ways. Dogs are the descendants of wolves that could tolerate people. Wolves are the descendants of those who could not. Comparing them is a little like comparing chimps and bonobos, who are nearly alike genetically, but one settles disputes by fighting and dominance displays; the other with sex. Kinda different.

Next, dominance, he says, does not drive dogs the way we are trained to believe it does. He suggests a better model is the “resource holding potential” (RPH) (85). “According to this model, whenever a conflict of interests arise, each dog is thought to make its decision based on the answers to two questions: How much do I want this resource (food, toy, etc.) and, How likely is it that the other dog is going to beat me if we fight for it?”

Despite that, he says dogs aren’t rational the way we like to impute to them. They don’t build a model of the world and work out the causal connections. Instead, he says, their intelligence is much more associative. He doesn’t say magical thinking, but that’s what it reminds me of. That dogs remember connections between things and do what works. It’s not that they “know” they’ve done wrong when we find the poop on the carpet; it’s that they know from our body language we’re angry with them; they feel bad and/or are afraid of punishment and are expressing that fear – plus, perhaps, some behavior that seems to have deflected punishment – as a result.

He talked about a great experiment where they put a dog in a room, had the dog’s person tell the dog not to eat the treat, then leave. (219). Then in half the rooms, another person gave the dog the treat, in half the person took the treat away. Rotate 90% (so to speak) and half the people were told, incorrectly, their dog had eaten the treat; half were told a person and taken it. All the humans were asked to go back in and do what they would do if their dog had done such a thing.

There was no correlation between whether the dog had eaten the treat and how “guilty” the dog acted. And the three dogs that had been physically disciplined by their owners acted the most guilty.

I heard an interview on NPR with a guy who took in a wolf puppy, and he had an observation that really stuck with me. He said that dogs are superstitious. They don’t understand the world on a causal level; they just know that there’s these associations. But wolves aren’t superstitious. They don’t believe that humans are miracle workers. I don’t know enough to judge that, I wouldn’t mind if that was true.

He says there’s no reason we couldn’t breed dogs to be better pets; we just aren’t doing that. These days, most people who want dogs as pets neuter them; breeding is largely unplanned or designed for the show ring. That’s sad. Especially since the genetic diversity in many dog breeds is appallingly thin (like, every dog is essentially a first cousin or closer), and many of those dogs have preventable genetic ailments.

Bottom line: dogs are dogs. They aren’t wolves; they’re not people. But they’re awesome.
Profile Image for Lis Carey.
2,190 reviews101 followers
June 2, 2011
It was the best of books, it was--not the worst of books, not by a long shot, but incredibly annoying in places.

This is a serious effort at collecting in one place the current state of the science of dog behavior. Bradshaw discusses the evidence we have for how and when dogs evolved from wolves, as well as what dogs' close relationship to wolves does and doesn't mean for their behavior and needs in human households. For the last century or so, much training and dog management advice has been based on the idea that wolf packs are competitive, internally violent groups, dominated by the fiercest, most powerful male, or possibly the fiercest, most powerful male and female--the "alphas." Since, the reasoning goes, "dogs are wolves," dog owners need to establish themselves as "alpha" and dominate their dogs, lest the dogs seize control of the household and become problems and even threats.

Bradshaw explains in clear and understandable terms why every piece of this argument is wrong.

The studies that showed wolf packs as violent groupings dominated by the strongest were done with artificial, captive wolf packs--wolves who were not related to each other and had no way to leave the group if they weren't happy with. They had no choice but to work out Who's In Charge Here, by any means necessary. Natural wolf packs in the wild have since been studied extensively, and they are, in contrast, peaceful, mostly harmonious family groups. The "alpha pair" are in fact the parents of the younger wolves. Depending on local conditions, offspring from past litters may stick around for a year or three, helping to raise their younger siblings before eventually heading off to find mates and start their own packs. Where plentiful large game is available, a stable, long-lasting pack may include not only several years' worth of offspring, but siblings of one or both of the mated pair--aunts and uncles helping to hunt large game and feed and care for the pups.

So wolves aren't what we think they are. But then, neither are dogs what we're sometimes told to think they are--and we know this, from our own observations of our own dogs. Most dogs who have had reasonably normal puppy experiences are extremely friendly and social, both with humans and with other dogs. Wolves, as harmonious and cooperative as they are within their own family groups, do not share dogs' interest in being friendly and social with either humans, or other wolves. Contact with wolves outside the family pack doesn't always descend into violence, but it's always an occasion of conflict, with the resident group warning off the intruders. If our domestic pet dogs shared the behavioral traits of wolves to the extent that "dominance-based" training tells us they do, there would be no dog parks. We wouldn't have the idea of dog parks; it would engender not visions of happy dogs playing, but of conflict between dogs or groups of dogs of different households. Just the fact that dogs form close social bonds with humans is a clue they're not like wolves behaviorally; wolves are incredibly wary of humans, and even where an individual human has formed a relationship with an individual wolf, wolves don't have dogs' inclination to trust our judgment, regard us as sources of information, or respond to human body language.

Bradshaw goes further, and points out that today's wolves are the descendants of several hundred years of relentless human hunting and territorial encroachment; they've been effectively selected for distrust and wariness of humans in a way that wouldn't have been true of the original wolf protodogs who first started following humans to exploit our leftovers, and then gradually joined our human families and their skills for our skills to the greater prosperity of both species.

The wolves our dogs evolved from don't exist anymore.

The book further discusses how easy it is to get dogs to focus on humans. A dog who has no contact with humans as a puppy will normally be quite wary of people and is unlikely to be successful as a pet, but even minimal positive contact with humans at any point between the ages of three and eight weeks of age will set the puppy up to be ready to bond with humans and learn to be a good pet. How much contact, and at exactly what age, will affect how easy and smooth it is, but any positive contact with humans during that period will give the dog at least the minimal tools it needs to live with humans.

So, that's the good stuff. There's a lot of it, I've barely scratched the surface, and you really do want to read the book and get all of it, with Bradshaw's much fuller explanation, references to more sources, etc.


You knew there was a "but" coming, right?

Bradshaw says dogs are becoming less common as pets in the cities, being pushed out to suburban and rural areas. Maybe in the UK, I don't know, but not here in the US, where instead there is a shift to smaller dogs and/or lower-energy dogs, more likely to be happy and successful in cities--while the larger and/or higher-energy dogs remain extremely popular with people who have either more room, or a lifestyle that enables them to give those dogs the exercise and stimulation they need, regardless of geographic location. He says cats have become more than dogs as pets in the US--this is completely wrong. There are more cats than dogs kept as pets in the US--but more households have dogs than cats. The discrepancy in numbers is due to most cat owners having at least two cats, and often more, while dog owners are far more likely to have only one at a time--and this is often true even in households that have both. There's no evidence that dogs are falling in popularity as pets--not with the huge increase in numbers of dogs, numbers of households with dogs, and percentage of households with dogs over the last thirty years.

He also has a great deal to say about purebred, or, as he terms it, "pedigree" dog breeding, and he says it over and over. He talks about excessive inbreeding, kennel club regulations that prevent out-crossing to deal with mistakes that have made genetic diseases common in some breeds, the loss of genetic diversity within each breed, and emphasis on extremes of type due to show standards, leading to what are in effect major deformities in some breeds that make them less than viable.

These are all real concerns, some of them more so in some breeds than others, and yet he makes a complete hash of his discussion of it. Bradshaw places all the responsibility for the current problems on show breeders (who are not without fault), and completely misses the degree to which all of these problems are worse in puppy mills (puppy farms, commercial puppy factories, pick your terminology.) Many (not all) show breeders study pedigrees and do genetic testing where tests are available, to minimize the chance of producing puppies affected by the known genetic problems of their breed. Puppy mills don't; as long as a female can whelp litters of commercially viable size, they'll breed her. Many (not all) show breeders think seriously about the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) and out-cross to different lines to the extent practical within their breeds. Puppy mills don't; they'll happily breed a bitch to her full brother if it happens to be convenient, and it often is. Many (not all) show breeders follow up on the pups they place in pet households as well as show and performance households, and include the long-term health of those puppies in their considerations of future breeding decisions. Puppy mills don't.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a breed he specifically mentions as being descended from just six individuals and having serious genetic problems as a result (I think he's wrong; I believe it's four individuals), are a breed in deep trouble, no question. These sweet, loving, perfect pets are at severe risk of developing heart disease, syringomyelia, or both, even when they come from the best breeders. I honestly believe that this is a breed that's doomed unless planned, controlled out-crossing is introduced to fix their compromised genetic heritage.

But 100% of the breeders who care about this, and who are doing their best within the available rules and tools to save this wonderful breed, are the dread "show breeders." Backyard breeders, even the best, even the ones that love their dogs and really are breeding wonderful pets--an undertaking that gets too little respect in a world in which most dog owners desire dogs as pets and not as working companions--don't have the knowledge to do this. And the puppy millers, as well as most of the backyard breeders, simply don't care and aren't going to cut into their own profits by worrying about it.

Bradshaw doesn't state clearly enough what I believe the real problem is: between the late 1860s when much of dog breeding in the West became divorced from working considerations with the corresponding excellent empirical grasp of genetics, and the 1960s with the beginnings of a real scientific understanding of genetics, the combination of dogs shows judging by a written conformation standard and the insidious effects of "eugenics" leading to a belief that being "purebred" was a good thing in itself, caused many (not all, by any means) breeds to go seriously astray genetically. And once the problems are established, they are hard to undo--especially with the strong commitment to purebred breeding, now largely divorced from the pernicious philosophy that originally produced it, blocking planned out-crosses to other breeds or mixes to eliminate or dilute the genetic problem while preserving the essential character of the breed. And while Bradshaw rails against "pedigree breeding," at no point does he mention the most convincing proof that we don't have to lose our breeds in order to fix them, if we allow planned out-crosses: The Pointer/Dalmatian Backcross Project, which has produced dogs that look and act no different than AKC/KC registered Dalmatians--except that they lack the Dalmatians' extremely painful problem with improper metabolism of uric acid.

It's a complete mystery to me why someone who cares so much about the long-term health and welfare of dogs would waste time talking about Jemima Harrison's sensationalist "documentary," Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and not talk about the Pointer/Dal backcross project, which proves we can solve the problems without losing the breeds we love.

On balance, this really is a very good book, and I do recommend it. Read it, argue with it, come back here and tell me what you think about it!

No free galley on this one; I bought the ebook.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews185 followers
May 9, 2015
I picked this up on audio in my continuing quest to try to understand dogs a little better.
In some ways, I think it makes for a nice companion read to Inside of a Dog. Bradshaw's focus is very different than Horowitz, who focuses mainly on doggy perception and the way the doggy umwelt differs from our own. Bradshaw is rather (too) dismissive of this angle of study and instead seems more interested in the genetic components.

Bradshaw spends quite a lot of the book expressing concerns about purebred dogs. Overbreeding tends to introduce various health issues, and since modern breeders tend to go for looks over temperament or abilities, dogs aren’t necessarily being bred for the “right” characteristics. As I spend all my time around mutts, it’s not an issue I really considered, but it is an interesting angle. After I read the book, I started looking into the controversy surrounding the AKC and the potential damage it does to the breeds it recognizes.

Unlike Horowitz, Bradshaw goes into far more detail about the evolution of dogs. Bradshaw hypothesizes that the genetic changes that produced dogs effectively trapped dogs in various neonatal stages. He also proposes a theory that dog owners probably subscribe to almost universally: your dog is a baby (wolf) that never grew up.

At the same time, Bradshaw is very emphatic about the distinction between dogs and wolves. He points out that the wolves of today are not the wolves of pre-dog times; just like dogs, they have continued to evolve. The wolves of today are the wolves that decided not to join the humans at the campfire and spent the rest of the millenia avoiding them. He also compares the behaviour of wolves to wild dogs. In the wild, wolves roam in highly cooperative packs primarily composed of family members. The position of alpha usually goes to the matriarch and patriarch, and it isn’t contended. The strict hierarchies we associate with wolf packs aren’t found in the wild; they are formed only when unrelated wolves are forced into artificial packs in captivity. Wild dogs don’t show either pattern; they don’t cooperate to the extent of wolves, but they don’t exhibit the rigid inability to accept non-familial pack members, either.

Bradshaw’s desire to emphasize the difference between dogs and wolves is well-founded. For decades, dog trainers have used the dog-as-wolf analogy to back up their recommendation of brutal training methods. According to popular TV trainers like Cesar Milan, your dog is a wolf who is always vying to become the alpha, so you must continually--and usually forcefully-- assert your own dominance. Bradshaw repudiates this reasoning: not only are dogs distinct from wolves, but that’s not actually how wolves behave. This is especially true with techniques such as the “alpha roll,” where the person forcibly rolls the dog and holds it in a submissive position. The “alpha roll” has been observed in wolves on occasion--it’s performed in extremely serious fights and is often followed by a death bite. If we accept that dogs are wolves, then putting your dog in that position is telling him that you’re considering killing him. It’s only natural for the dog to fight back. Bradshaw also discusses evidence that indicates that negative reinforcement, especially physical punishment, is ineffective.

Overall, while I don’t necessarily agree with all of Bradshaw’s interpretations, the book presents a lot of interesting research and hypotheses about what makes a dog a dog.
Profile Image for Craig.
84 reviews10 followers
July 21, 2011
John Bradshaw is determined to improve dog's lives. This well written, if repetitive, book disproves some common myths about dogs and explains how modern breeding and training are hurting the pets we love. Dog Sense isn’t meant to be a training manual: other authors would better serve someone looking to train their new puppy. Read this if you’re looking for a history of how dogs became what they are and what we can do to help them thrive.

In the first three chapters Dr. Bradshaw explains where dogs come from and how they were domesticated. He discusses some of the myths that persist about wolves, such as packs being hierarchical with a strong alpha being the dominant leader, and explains how modern science has moved past these views. I found these to be the most repetitive chapters in the book. The author was clearly basing the rest of the book on the idea that wolf societies aren’t based on dominance and dogs and wolves are different so he felt it important to repeat this idea several dozen times. Fortunately he used different evidence each retelling taking away some of the tedium. If you consider this a controversial idea it might be appreciated, if you agreed with this premise coming into the book it is a bit tedious.

The next 7 chapters make up the bulk of the book and get into some more interesting topics. Bradshaw discusses the ability of dogs to understand human actions and thoughts and why this means we shouldn’t use dominance training. The chapters on which emotions dogs can feel were particularly interesting. He explains tests created to determine if dogs can feel emotions like love, guilt or jealousy and how long they can remember past events. Understanding dogs’ emotional capabilities is important since punishing a dog who doesn’t remember doing anything wrong would be counterproductive.

Bradshaw ends the book with two chapters discussing the current problems dogs face and what it means for their future. The chapter on pedigree dogs discussed how inbreeding reduces the genetic diversity and causes more disease is fascinated but disturbing. I was amazed that in only 150 or so years of dog fancying humans have been able to cause this many problems by breeding to standards. He closes the book on a cautiously optimistic note pointing out how we haven’t caused irrevocable harm to dogs (mainly due to dogs adaptability) and if we want to have them be around for another 15000 years we’ll need to change how we interact. Modern dog owners have less use for many jobs dogs were bred for such as herding, hunting and ratting. Instead we should focus less on standards and appearance and ensure pets have the temperament and physical abilities to be good pets.
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,253 reviews132 followers
June 28, 2011
This was another one of those books that ought to be required reading for any dog owner, or for anyone who's just around dogs a lot. However, it's the best of the bunch. Bradshaw, a published and respected scientist who has spent years studying canine cognition walks through the common misconceptions about dog mentality, personality, and behavior. He identifies where they came from, why, and why they're wrong. He doesn't just assert they're wrong and leave it at that, though. He walks through the science step-by-step in a way that makes it extremely understandable even to people who don't usually read science books for fun.

He brings up some fascinating, and relevant, points I had never thought of before. Such as that, while dogs descended from wolves, they didn't descend from modern wolves. Ancient wolves were probably socially very different from our modern wolves who have been hunted. Modern wolves are probably ones that have self-selected themselves to be elusive to humans. Dogs have been selected to be compatible with humans. This alone is a huge difference that requires us to rethink everything we thought we knew about dog behavior, and what we can learn about it from wolf behavior.

The only downfall of this book is that occasionally Bradshaw gets a little sloppy with his terminology so that, at points, he seems to contradict himself with regard to whether it is or is not useful to look at wolf behavior to learn about dogs. However, this fault is so slight that it seems small-minded to bring it up.

Overall, this is a readable and stunning work that everyone should have to read before getting a dog. It explains why certain training methods work, work in spite of themselves, or are counter-productive. He addresses how dogs sense the world, and what that means for their humans, and he adds a lot of fascinating detail and data that I never knew about dogs. For instance, I know that I love the smell of Lily's ears. And it turns out that scientifically, dogs produce a lot of their smell through their ears (which is why it's generally the second place strange dogs sniff).

I cannot reccomend this book highly enough.
Profile Image for Eduardo Santiago.
636 reviews31 followers
August 17, 2011
The whole “alpha dog” thing is a mistake: dogs aren't wolves, and we should really just forget that whole pack/dominance thing. (Side note: even wolves aren't wolves. The pack model is based on observations in old-time zoos; not necessarily the most natural and stress-free environment). Reward training works better than punishment. And pedigree breeding is harmful.

That's pretty much it. Bradshaw covers the latest knowledge about dog evolution and behavior, entertainingly and with helpful endnotes ... but then sort of continues on and on because books can't just be 150 pages, y'know. (Come on, publishers. Yes they can. The world is changing.) 5-star book if it were half the length. It would've been more memorable, had more of an impact. Instead, the second half felt like it dragged.

Content: useful, and important. I still recommend this and will pass it along to friends.
Profile Image for Alida.
573 reviews
October 27, 2011
This is mandatory reading for everyone that deals with dogs. Owners, prospective owners, staff of rescue organizations, fostering families and government officials in charge of making and enforcing policy (city council members, animal control staff, supervisors, etc.) regarding dogs. But the people that I would force to read/listen this book are the idiots of the AKC (and others of that ilk), the commercial breeders and pet store owners that are either clueless or don't give a f!&k as long as their ego/money objectives are met. The sooner the latter are put out of business and the former properly educated, the better it will be for dogs (at least in the Western world).
Profile Image for Martha Burns.
15 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2012
For those interested in biology as well as reflections on human-canine interactions. Takeaway: dogs are not mini wolves, whatever their genes say. Their adaptability and lack of hierarchical structure is what made them our perfect companions and treating them as little wolves misconstrues their nature, but does reflect our tendency to project what we want onto animals. Fascinating, thoughtful, and enjoyable to read, though our tendency to resort to cruel or pointless training techniques makes one squirm by making very clear s strand of sadism in our relationship to not just dogs, but those unlike us.
Profile Image for Ryan.
187 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2014
Fascinating read. I'm a first time dog owner and read this book during the first days of ownership. I'm so glad I did for I'm sure I would have been guilty of some common mistakes owners make in rearing their dogs. The author makes clear from the beginning that this is not a training book, but more of a book about understanding the nature, origin and science of your pet. Equipped with that insight, we can then make informed decisions concerning training and the like. I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Marina Guerra.
125 reviews11 followers
March 7, 2019
Apesar de se repetir algumas vezes, foi esse livro que me permitiu adestrar o meu cachorro e mudou totalmente a maneira que eu penso a respeito de adestramento e relação entre humanos e cachorros.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,131 reviews91 followers
February 7, 2012
This is an engaging book that explains what we know about how dogs evolved, how their social structures function, how they interact with the world, and how this might be applied to the way we live with our dogs.

The biggest focus of this book is to finally put to bed the notion that 1) dogs act just like wolves, and 2) wolves have strictly hierarchical pack structures, and thus dogs do, too. The idea of the "alpha wolf" has been by and large debunked; new research into wolves shows that most packs operate in a family structure. While there will tend to be a male and a female wolf who lead the pack, they also tend to be the mother and father to most of the animals within the pack, and the pack members' roles are more fluid. It's about time people stopped drawing conclusions based on old research.

What is more important, however, is the knowledge that dogs are very far removed from wolves in their social behaviors. They are much, much more affable toward strangers than any wolf will ever be, they are domesticated, and they have the (astonishing, when you think about it) ability to easily interact both with humans and with other dogs. Bradshaw emphasizes the differences by sharing his research on feral and semi-feral dog populations in cities around the world. Many cities, particularly in India and in some African countries, have colonies of "village dogs" that live alongside humans without actually belonging to anyone. These packs of dogs interact entirely differently than wolf packs in adjacent territories would. Their packs are permeable, allowing individuals to come and go, and loosely organized. They bear much more resemblence to coyotes than to wolves, socially speaking.

All of this is to say that the popular conception of a dog as an animal in the house that wants to be "pack leader" and will fight its owners unless it is taught not to be "dominant" is based on erroneous science. The basic idea is that most dogs act in ways that are labeled "dominant" because... they want things. They do want the best spot on the couch, the food from the counter, and to win at tug-of-war. And they do need leadership to know when that's not appropriate, because otherwise they will be untrained hellions. But everything is not related to "dominance," it's related to wanting the good stuff. In a lot of cases, this is functionally not that different. The difference is in how we think about the dog's behaviors (plotting to gain control vs. "I like sleeping on the bed") and in how we react to them. People who buy into the dominance theory of training tend to also believe that dogs expect to be physically cowed. This is not always the case, and more importantly, even if physical methods often work, they are very easy to screw up. Performing an "alpha roll" or another kind of physical correction is a good way to frighten or anger a dog into biting.

By and large, Bradshaw does a good job of explaining all this. For me, the most compelling discussion was of the village dog pack structure, because that's a very clear indication that dogs, even dogs who've reverted to a feral state, do not function the way wolves do.

There's a lot of other really interesting information in this book, such as how scent expands a dog's world, and how dogs with exaggerated and/or artificial features (such as docked tails) may have trouble communicating with other dogs. Ultimately, it won't change how I interact much with my dog, because I was already pretty much doing the right thing, but it really emphasized to me how AMAZING dogs are in the way that they have adapted to people.
46 reviews
July 30, 2011
This book will teach you a lot about where dogs came from but not much about how to enhance your friendship with your dogs.

Dog Sense offers an excellent discussion on the evolution of the dog as a domestic companion to humans and a thorough description of canine social structure. Along with Bradshaw’s thorough dissection of force-based and behavioral training approaches, the book effectively demolishes the myths that “dogs are cute wolves” and that humans must establish dominance over dogs.

But readers could be turned off by the heavy, long scientific discussion. There are two long chapters devoted to a rehashing of how dogs and humans came to be friends, with no new information presented. Despite the marketing copy (and the subtitle), there is little about the modern-day dog-human relationship other than a convincing (if obvious) statement that force-based training could damage that relationship.

Unfortunately, and again contradicting the marketing copy, the book does not present a dog’s perspective. Instead, Bradshaw falls into the familiar anthropocentric habit of denying that dogs can feel complex emotions because they lack spoken language. This anthropocentric bias is humorously illustrated in Bradshaw’s comment that dogs never evolved the ability to see colors because it wasn’t necessary, as exemplified by his belief that carnivorous wolves wouldn’t have needed to choose the ripest berries. Wolves are opportunistic omnivores who do, indeed, eat berries. More to the point, neither dogs nor wolves need to rely on sight to choose ripe berries; they simply follow their far more sensitive noses to the choicest of fruits, as many a domestic dog has been known to do.

Despite a too-common reliance on old myths and a too-anthropocentric focus, there is much solid information in Dog Sense and it is a valuable addition to any dog professional’s library, especially for those who seek a detailed analysis of the science of the evolution, domestication, and social history of dogs.
Profile Image for Why Dog Blog.
2 reviews
January 26, 2016
By far one of my favorite books, Dog Sense is written by renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, whose unique research on dog-human interactions takes this book to a whole new level. Dog Sense was, perhaps, my first, real look into the world through the eyes of a dog. Bradshaw brings to light a better understanding into the true nature of what it means to be or own a dog in the modern world. It’s a very science-oriented book and quite dense at parts. I had to re-read many thing and get a feel for chapters before I dived right in. However, once you get comfortable with Bradshaw’s straight-forward somewhat dry manner of writing, you will see that a whole new world opens up to you. Bradshaw takes research that he, as well as many of his colleagues, have preformed and explains exactly why and how many ancient myths on the dog can be disproved and kicked aside for more modern and refreshing ways of thinking about dogs and dog-human interactions. Bradshaw rebuffs such theories as dog dominance, and explains exactly why dogs are not and should not be thought of as wolves, human accessories or furry humans in themselves. You will see that I gather much information from Bradshaw and base many of my posts off his theories. I strongly believe in his manner of teaching, and agree with many of his theories and techniques when it comes to handling dogs. I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone and I hope, should you choose to read it, that you find it as helpful and as inspiring as I did. Just be prepared to sit down with a highlighter and pen so you can take lots of notes!
Profile Image for Monica Willyard Moen.
1,295 reviews29 followers
April 19, 2019
This book is written by a biologist who has spent most of his career studying how dogs and cats learn, thrive, and interact with humans. His love of dogs shines through in every page of this book as he tells us what science has been learning over the past 30 years about every aspect of the lives of dogs. In the past, many trainers told us that we should view dogs as descendants of wolves and that we should use the analogy of how wolves operate in a pack to understand what dogs want, do, and need. However, scientists have recently discovered that wolves in captivity behave very differently from wolves living in the wild, and they have also discovered that dogs have changed enough genetically and behaviorally that treating dogs as wolves is counterproductive. Instead, scientists and an increasing number of trainers have come to believe that dogs should be studied in their own right and treated accordingly.
This book can be very helpful to those of us who own dogs, especially those of us who are training puppies in their first year of life. From changing some of my training practices, I am already noticing improved cooperation from our seven month old boxer mix puppy. We are building a bond based on trust, care, and positive rewards for good behavior rather than using harsh physical punishment. I am noticing a significant drop off in behaviors like unwanted barking, inappropriate chewing, and mouthing. I’m glad I read this book, and I plan to keep it on my shelf for reference as my dog goes through later stages in his life.
Profile Image for Nancy.
878 reviews3 followers
October 12, 2018
I read this book years ago when it first came out. We had just adopted our first dog in many years, so although I found the material fascinating, it was very new to me. Since 2012, we have fostered 13 Belgian Malinois puppies for the military and adopted 4 of that breed. Therefore, when I listened to this excellent book a second time it hit home on a far more personal level. I have worked with these dogs in obedience and detection so the research on those specific areas made more sense to me than it had in the abstraction.

There has been a significant amount of research done on dogs since this book was written. For example, scientists are now able to study canine emotions by actually watching their brains with fMRI, and a lot of work has been done to improve training techniques. Yet I still found this book informative, and I recommend it to those with a strong interest in dogs. It will improve your appreciation of them as well as your understanding of their unique skills and abilities, and their limitations. Dogs are not furry little humans, and the author carefully explains why this is the case. Dogs are like us in many ways, but it is the important differences that make our relationship with them so special.
Profile Image for Susan Bazzett-Griffith.
1,784 reviews48 followers
January 9, 2018
A well-rounded, though often repetitive book about up to date dog science and training techniques, Bradshae's Dog Sense is not a fun read, but it makes some solid and well-thought out points regarding positive reinforcement training, the vast differences in disposition if dogs and wolves relative to evolutionary biology, and nature vs. nurture ideas. I enjoyed parts of the book, and found his ideas about the need to stop breeding to aesthetic standards due to concerns for the health and well being of the entire species extremely thought provoking, and frankly, a refreshing perspective as a dog person-- usually breed standards are hailed as good things/gold standards, and thus is the first truly expert opinion I've read that says that is flat out biologically untrue and in fact unhealthy. Unfortunately, several chapters drone on too long, and due to the consistently textbook like writing style, I was a little bored with the book overall and think it could reach more people with more conversational writing tone. 2.5 stars, rounded up. Recommended only for strict dog enthusiasts.
Profile Image for Joe Faust.
Author 35 books28 followers
December 3, 2020
Think that faithful Rover is nothing but a pet sleeping by the doggie door? Then give this book a spin. Early on, Bradshaw tells us that dogs are at once both smarter and dumber than we think - but this book made me wonder about our intelligence as their owners. For starters, we're been oversold on the entire "dog is a friendly wolf" concept (I'm looking at you, Blue Diamond); the chassis might be the same, but they're radically different under the hood. Bradshaw explains why and then takes us on a fascinating ride through the makeup of a dog, what we've gotten right, and where we're on the wrong track (he's not a fan of breeding for show standards - and neither am I). Most interesting of all is his look at the inner workings of man's best friend, from their way of thinking to their incredible noses. I've long believed that dogs were a gift to us from God, and Dog Sense made me realize how much we've taken it for granted.
Profile Image for Sunshine Biskaps.
335 reviews4 followers
January 19, 2021
"Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behaviour Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet"
by John Bradshaw

I enjoyed reading this book, however found it full of scientific information and research that was not helpful to me becoming a better friend to my dog. Bradshaw was very repetitive in the book about pedigree dogs. The small section about dog communication was good, but I wanted more useful information on how to understand my dog better. I didn't need all the research details.

This book reminded me of "Inside a Dog" by Horowitz, which I found even more interesting.
Profile Image for Eddie Whitlock.
Author 4 books27 followers
May 31, 2017
Great information. There is a lot of background - which validates the recommendations - but few recommendations. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating book that uses a different theory of "dog think" and offers logical ways of working with a dog from this different premise.

I made the mistake of listening to the audiobook alone, rather than playing it so the dog could hear it, too. If you have a dog, either read the book aloud to him/her or let him/her listen to the audiobook.
Profile Image for Bill Eger.
6 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2011
For many reasons this is an important book for those who want to gain a wholesome and helpful understanding of their dogs. It is likely far more helpful for readers who have had dogs on their family for some time rather than those with their first canine pet. The reason for that is the highly technical nature of John Bradshaw's efforts and its best to have some experience with dogs to fully appreciate the knowledge he is offering. His examples need to be understood with your own experience, in other words.

At 76, I've had dogs of many types through much of my life and over that time gained a lot of patience with peculiarities that each dog has with the varied personalities. My experience is that dogs tend -- over time -- to adjust to their owner's personality. That's a way of saying that most of my dog pals have become calmer and more patient with me as a caretaker devoted to their welfare. They 'get it,' in other words and seem to enjoy my relatively quiet nature as a person and adjust to it. So my reading of Bradshaw gave me some clues on how that works with canine personalities which are as varied as their physical appearances!

Be patient with this book and you will find it helpful in ways you may not have expected.
Profile Image for Lauren.
62 reviews8 followers
July 16, 2011
Though I agree with others who state that Bradshaw was at times repetitious, esp when it came to the chapters comparing dogs to wolves, I believe this book was excellent. I wanted to stop my fellow dog-owners on the streets and say, "hey, read this! Seriously you will understand your dog so much better!" Bradshaw brings up excellent questions/ideas at the end of the book concerning the future of dogs and how we as humans can help them adjust to a rapidly changing world. For me, this book was key as my dog has just recently developed separation anxiety, and I am trying to work with him to relieve his fears and anxiety. Bradshaw's chapters on how dogs learn and the connection with time was excellent and something I am trying to keep in mind as I train my dog through positive reinforcement. My last comment is that this book was extremely refreshing in terms of his complete disagreement with trainers like Ceaser Milan, who use dominance and punishment as the basis for training. I once picked up a Milan book and have watched his show, and almost from the start I have despised his methods and am happy the professionals out there are saying the same thing.
Profile Image for Kelley.
891 reviews3 followers
October 26, 2020
You better love dogs, science, the idea of purebred dogs, their breeding, dog training and dog rescue before you delve into this one. Luckily I do! The author makes good points on a variety of dog things, and I do believe we treat our dogs like mini-humans and many dogs don't do well with that, but at the same time, most dogs don't get do what they were bred for and taking on the role of family pet, hiking buddy, or the luckier ones that get to delve into dog sports that let them use their working roles in some capacity, so the author is a bit doomsday about some of it. I realize this book was written 9 years ago and in a lot has changed, but things I know for certain with my, dogs get jealous, separation anxiety is definitely a thing, case in point, Abby, my dad's dog, now my mom's dog, my dad passed away 3 years ago, and he was her person, never fully recovered and while she had quirks, her separation anxiety has gotten worse over time. Interesting read if dogs and science are your thing.
11 reviews
January 15, 2012
Lots of great findings from the latest research in canine cognition, and how those findings relate to the various dilemmas of dog companionship. Contrary to the accepted wisdom promoted by trainers like Cesar Millan, dogs are not merely domesticated wolves, and they are not inherently wired to seek "dominance". In fact, even wolves themselves aren't quite wired the way we thought. Bradshaw also touches upon some alarming findings in the lack of genetic diversity of so-called "purebred" dogs, and how the aesthetic criteria by which these dogs are bred is causing much suffering for both dogs and owners alike.

Fascinating, readable, well-summarized science, with complete references to the literature for those who want to check the original research. Highly recommended reading for anyone contemplating bringing a dog into their home. Mandatory reading for anyone considering a "purebred".
38 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2021
This lengthy book says more or less three things: dogs aren’t wolves; dogs aren’t people; and modern dog breeding practices are bad. It says those things over and over again, running through dozens of studies and experiments that confirm they are, in fact, true. I hung in there for the first few hundred or so examples, but eventually had to start skimming. The author writes with typical English deadpan wit, but it’s not enough to make a series of academic abstracts interesting. Worst of all, the book doesn’t deliver on its promise to “make you a better friend to your pet.” I finished the book without a single piece of advice that I could apply to my dog. Skip it.
Profile Image for Joell Smith-Borne.
277 reviews14 followers
April 4, 2016
Some really interesting stuff about the connections, or lack thereof, between wolves and dogs, and about dog cognition, but the author goes over some ideas repeatedly. The last couple of chapters didn't make sense to me--after spending the first 3/4ths of the book explaining how dogs are NOT that closely related to modern American grey wolves, he builds a whole chapter on how modern purebreds are handicapped by their inabilities to replicate modern grey wolf body language (because they have short tails, for instance, or pug faces).
Profile Image for Kate Baldwin.
14 reviews1 follower
January 7, 2013
Very scientific and thorough overview of dogs in general, beginning with their ancestry and how that should or shouldn't play into our training and relationship with them. It also offers some great insights on how modern dog breeding has really changed/destroyed some breeds and even how dogs relate to each other. For example, docking tails limits how that dog is able to communicate with other dogs because those other dogs can't "read" its body language. Very, very interesting material here.
Profile Image for Piet.
458 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2017
Some chapters are for scientists: DNA studies about relationships between dogs and wolves, coyotes and jackals and dogs.
There are also many concrete chapters about various aspects relating to dogs like emotions, breeding programmes, punishment versus rewarding, sight and smell and a dog's intelligence.
In short a more or less panoramic view of the phenomenon dog.
Quite often dog shows are mentioned as negative elements for the future wellbeing of dogs.
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