Bookworm Blog: “Dog Sense” by John Bradshaw

Your dog is making you crazy.

You’ve been trying all summer to teach him not to dig in the yard but he comes in every morning with muddy paws. He’s housebroken… mostly. But what’s worse is that he’s starting to chew things when you leave.

He knows he’s doing wrong because you know he feels guilty, but you can’t stay mad forever. Maybe it’s separation anxiety.

Author John Bradshaw says there’s no such thing; instead, your dog has biological reasons for behaving as he does. Find out more in Bradshaw’s new book “Dog Sense.”

It’s a dog’s life. And that’s usually been good.

Archaeologists have discovered deliberately-dug dog graves from ancient times, meaning that the animal was important enough to have garnered special care in death. A hundred-fifty years ago, dogs were pets for the upper classes but for working people, dogs were mostly tools.

Still, history shows us that dogges of olde were loved and cherished.

A few generations ago – and even now, in some cultures – dogs were allowed to spend their days roaming, doing doggie things. Today, says Bradshaw, we expect our dogs to be “better controlled.” Within that controlling, we usually explain canine behavior in human ways, assigning them emotions as if we know what they’re feeling.

That, Bradshaw says, is doing a disservice to our dogs.

Dogs do, indeed, have emotions but those emotions are different from ours. Unable to relate the past to the now, they live in the moment. They don’t have the ability to consider cause-and-effect. Associative learning is the reason your dog becomes “trained,” although he does have good short-term memory. Overall, what he smells and hears means more to him, but being with you is his ultimate desire.

Bradshaw reminds dog lovers to always remember that, while dogs share 99% of their genetic make-up with wolves, dogs are not wolves. Wolves can be tamed but dogs are domesticated and, unlike wolves, they’re hard-wired to adapt to human life. Your dog wants a happy, harmonious household, which means that “dominance” in training is unnecessary.

Instead, knowing where he comes from – historically, literally, and emotionally – will go a long way toward being your best friend’s best friend.

I was, in truth, a little disappointed in the first third of “Dog Sense.” The book begins with a basic history and genealogy of dogs and how they descended from (but are not) wolves, which is interesting, but nothing new.

Then author John Bradshaw gets into the good stuff: how a dog learns, what breeders can do to ensure future health of their litters, how a “puppy becomes a pet,” why biting dogs may not be aggressive, and the ultimate question: Does your dog love you?

In his preface, Bradshaw says that this is book is not a dog-training manual, and he’s right. Instead, think of “Dog Sense” as a people-training manual that, if you can overlook the redundancy, your house-hound would probably want you to read. For you, this eye-opening book will make you crazy about that dog all over again.