Welfare of Dogs (the)

Stafford -  Welfare of dogsPUBLISHING YEAR: 2007

SUMMARY: The Dog volume in a series of books on domestic animal welfare. A condensed review on the research literature – and discussions – on the welfare topics affecting dogs.


03 Academic

REVIEW: The Welfare of Dogs‘ looks at dog welfare through welfare science and formal ethics. It was written by animal welfare researcher (and veterinarian) Kevin Stafford. Two different behaviour researchers recommended it to me, so I couldn’t resist. I am glad I followed my impulse and read it.

Backing up claims: Kevin Stafford has stuffed his book with references on our usual out-there claims: whether street dogs form permanent packs, whether dogs coming from shelters have more behaviour problems, whether reassuring your dog is effective, the lot.

The book reviews electronic collars; penning vs. tethering; single-housing vs. multi-dog; and space/exercise/outdoor needs. The breadcrumbs he leaves us with his mouth-watering reference section allows us to follow the claims back to the original research that led to them. This book can help us raise our welfare-related advice from new age ideas to modern research.

The book will also inform the position you take and the advice you give on sterilization, analgaesics, nutrition, breed defects, etc. its coverage of the complexities and discussions around these topics.

The great chapters: I really enjoyed ‘Pain in dogs’. OK, that sounds wrong, but you know what I mean. The section takes you through the detection, physiology and pharmacology of pain in painstaking — ‘scuse pun — details.  It gave me pause about my ‘instinctive’ methods for detecting pain. I also got a lot out of the chapter on shelter dogs, which tackled the factors behind successful dog adoption.

The book also covers humane euthanasia, normal vs. abnormal behaviour, and other toughies through sound ethics, logic and facts.

The confronting reality: Kevin Stafford hits you with hard-hitting truths like:

  • The welfare of laboratory dogs is more highly regulated than companion dogs’;
  • The marketing of pedigree pups destined for a family life is driven by the sporting prizes of the pup’s parents.

Some controversy (on dog training, what else?)

I felt a little insulted with his statement that training a dog ‘is easy’, and that trainers only make it sound complicated to edify the profession. Sure we can go on about P+ and BAT and intermittent ratios of reinforcement. But I have needed every grain of technical knowledge to help my clients modify their dog’s behaviour. Complex behaviour problems require more than understanding the basics of learning theory, and dog training goes beyond just obedience.

A few random gems:

  • Beautiful tables and summaries on abnormal vs. abnormal behaviour; compulsive disorders; the ‘desired outcomes of dog training’ (i.e. what dog training clients really want); the principles of learning theory; etc. 
  • Fabulous formulations around effective punishment:  e.g. “Punishers can be too weak or too strong. The former constitutes habituation, the latter constitutes abuse”
  • His closing question is, rather depressingly: “Are dogs [as they are today] an anachronism in post-modern urban lifestyles?”

On the minus front: 

For the sake of balance, here are the points for improvement:

  • The author goes nuts with physiology details in some chapters (the ones about pain, sterilisation, etc.). It was a treat for me, but I am guessing you don’t all share my love of obscure pharmacokinetics?
  • Kevin Stafford makes too many unreferenced assertions, including, pack theory-laden ones. The dominance stuff was disappointing to me: what with a book written in 2007 by an academic.
  • The book tipped over into oversimplification in some chapters (e.g. behaviour problems, pit bulls, dog training, early sterilisation).
  • I would love to see an entire chapter dedicated to Fighting dogs and Dogs as food in future editions.

The verdict: 

If you want to stop and think, this is your book. If you’re after emotional propagandist literature, move on.’The Welfare of Dogs’ is a work of serious analysis, not militant self-righteousness.

Sure it’s an arduous read if you’re not into dry theory, but if you care about making a difference, make the effort. It will beef up your arguments and you’ll be taken 100 times more seriously than by boycotting a product, threatening a scientist or picketing a fence. And do you know what? It’s only a 200-page pocket book. If you want a serious introduction to dog welfare, get reading.

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Author: Stafford Kevin
Genre: survey of peer-reviewed literature
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