Book Review: In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

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In Defence of Dogs
Author: John Bradshaw
Published: 5 July 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Summary: Illuminating but, at times, a little too academic.

One of the most widely held views of dog training is based on two scientific observations. Firstly, that dogs share 99.96% of their DNA with the grey wolves from which they’re descended, and secondly, that captive wolves housed in enclosures quarrel and fight until a particular individual is crowned dominant. These two notions have led to the popularisation of the ‘dominance model’ of domestic dog training, an ideology that encourages owners to continuously assert their authority on their furry companion in order to establish themselves as the superior, or alpha.

However, anthrozoologist Dr John Bradshaw has a bone to pick with the dominance model of dog training, and In Defence of Dogs is where he presents his arguments.

Bradshaw’s objections are compelling: he notes that, unlike the zoos in which a random assemblage of unrelated wolves are forced into an unnaturally small space, wild wolves of the same pack rarely fight with each other. A wild pack does contain an alpha coupling, but usually these two animals are simply the parents of the individuals that make up the rest of the group. Unfortunately, it is the behaviour of the wolves living in early zoos that have informed much of the opinion circulating around the field of canine biology.

As Bradshaw goes on to explain, this has led to the development and spread of training measures that are pointless (always eat before your dog) and occasionally harmful to the owner-dog relationship (never cuddle your dog). Bradshaw also argues that centuries of domestication has altered the modern dog well beyond application of what can be learned from wild wolves anyway, and subsequently goes on to set out an alternative view of dog training based on what current science has to say about man’s best friend.

Whilst potentially controversial, Bradshaw’s arguments are all backed up with considerable lashings of science, sadly, though, this is where the book lets itself down. The science is cumbersome and quite often repetitive; large sections of In Defence of Dogs read like a textbook or a paper aimed at fellow academics rather than a popular science book. The chapters are very long, too, with only the occasional illustration to break up the text when the simple employment of subheadings would have split the book into more digestible chunks.

This isn’t to say that In Defence of Dogs is a bad book; it’s incredibly insightful and there is no doubt that dog-owners will learn a great deal about their companion from investing in a copy. It’s merely that, even for the most devoted dog-person, the book will at times feel like a slog, an illuminating slog, but a slog nonetheless.

In Defence of Dogs is available now

FYI

Have any dog-lovers read this book? Do you agree with the review? Let us know in the comments section below.

Jack Croxall

Jack Croxall is a science/literature writer and author living in Nottinghamshire. He tweets via @JackCroxall and you can visit his author blog by clicking the 'Website' link below.

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3 Comments

  1. Lisa

    Well, I don’t know what his other findings are. But our dog eats at the same time we do and she’s curtainly cuddled to death. By us and anyone else she meets, because she’s just darn cute. And she knows it too! Doesn’t make her more dominant though, she just likes a lot of loving :-)

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