New book review out: Dog Sense

Book review: John Bradshaw’s Dog Sense
By Laure-Anne Visele, written Dec 2012

This article is part of my collection of book reviews.

AUTHOR: John Bradshaw


SUMMARY: Dog Sense is a giant research literature survey, written in layman’s terms, about dogs’ behaviour through: evolution, domestication, cognitive abilities, emotions, genetics, and training methods.


It was tough selecting a readership stamp, as:

  • Owner: It’s a long read, but in layman’s term. It will help you shed the clinging few old wife’s tales and let you look at your dog for what he is.
  • Professional: It’s fast becoming the bible of science-based trainers.
  • Academic: It’s bursting with ideas for cognitive ethologists, comparative psychologists, and clinical behaviourists.

In terms of scope, Dog Sense (aka In Defence of Dogs) combines the grounds of two pop science giants –Culture Clash (dog training and learning) and Inside of a Dog (dogs’ senses and cognitive abilities)– in one volume.

Dog Sense takes you through what we know and what we don’t know about (among other things):

1/ Dogs’ emotions: covering jealously (THANK YOU, finally someone is covering this in pop science) and shame. It takes a very interesting twist on love –I expected to be admonished for clinging to the certainty that my dog saw me as more than a meal-ticket, but nope.

2/ Dog’s evolutionary history: discussing the rise of the canid family, and the potential details of speciation from wolves, including an interesting twist on the Coppingers’ theory. Another THANK YOU for being the only other author I’ve read (with Linda Case) who explicitly mentions that the domestic dog and the gray wolf share a common ancestor: the dog does not directly descend from today’s grey wolf.

3/ Breeds: THANK YOU also, for making the oft-understated point that working strains of pedigree dogs are not the magic answer to all welfare problems associated with purebred dogs. Granted, they are not primarily selected for their appearance (a la showring), but for extreme behaviours, making them unsuitable as pets.

4/ And a few other chapters full of similar gems on dog training, learning, intelligence, socialisation, etc.

True to form, I had to find something negative to say about it. Well, two things:

1/ Breadth and depth… Where Jean Donaldson summarizes, John Bradshaw… analyzes. The discussion and analysis in certain chapters stretched too long and dug too deep for the layman.

2/ Countless paragraphs started with ‘Scientists say that…’, implying a consensus in the scientific community. My objection is: he does so even on topics that are far from clear-cut like… dominance. In his 2009 opinion piece (Dominance in domestic dogs: useful construct or bad habit?), he did a better job at presenting the inconvenient literature too. The book is now wide open to accusations of intellectual dishonesty. Brevity and oversimplification are inevitable in pop science, but even a little quantifier like ‘Most’ in front of ‘scientists’ would have gelled with me more.

Every dog book boils down to a simple question for me: “Would the world be a better place if every dog owner had read this book?” With Dog Sense, my answer is: Yes, yes, a million times yes.

Your comments

I’d be curious to hear what you thought of this book. Did you have the same objections? What did you think about the chapters on dominance, domestication, and emotions? Did something else strike you with this book? Will you be recommending it to your clients?

Further reading

Dogs and society

Dog training and behaviour

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