Book Review – In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

20 July 2011 No Comments
Book Review – In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

In Defence of Dogs
John Bradshaw
Published by Allen Lane £20
(This review first appeared as an APBC Blog)

John Bradshaw has written a thought provoking book, but why in “defence” of dogs? He must have agonised over a few titles* In Praise of Dogs? In Explanation of Dogs? For the Love of Dogs? For he does praise, explain and obviously love dogs throughout.

He makes it clear that dogs are in dire need of defending from the very humans they sought to befriend over ten thousand years ago; from the misguided, inconsiderate and ill-informed owners, trainers, “behaviourists”, breeders and legislators, however well intentioned.

There is little new in this book, but it pulls together diverse strands of the most up to date science and comment on canine evolution, training theory, emotions, cognitive theory, physiology, breeding, social development and breed specific behaviour. Bradshaw worries about the preference for TV personality trainers over scientifically proven methods, and how dog welfare is compromised by pedigree breeders whose narrow self-interest is slow to respond to the genetic deformities in the breeds they profess to love, harking back to the halcyon dog-days when breeding was for purpose, not looks, and the occasional stray kept the gene pool relatively diverse.

Along the way he references blogs as well as the more strict peer reviewed journal papers, of which Bradshaw himself has contributed more than a few, and uses them to conclude that society needs a sea-change of attitude if the lot of future dogs is to be improved upon the tens of thousands that are currently destroyed in the UK each year.

I finished this book with a feeling of despair because we already know that things are bad for dogs and we already know what the remedies are, but humanity appears to lack the will to defend the creature with which we have most in common and at the same time seem to understand only marginally. However, Bradshaw is more optimistic than me and perhaps, if this book has the impact it should, he has a right to be.

There are dog books that I wouldn’t be without – Scott and Fuller, Serpell’s “Domestic Dog”, Coppinger’s “Dogs…”, and a few more. I’ve just added “In Defence of Dogs” to that list. It clearly states that it is not a training book, but every dog trainer should be made to read it before being allowed near a dog; it is not the easiest book to read – owners may find it tough going without a grounding in the basics because so much conflicts with current public perception.

If you are or want to be a trainer or behaviourist, buy it and read it, now. If you are an owner, breeder, legislator, or anyone who thinks they might like a dog, buy it and do enough research so that you can understand it – because if you don’t understand what Bradshaw is trying to convey, you are illustrating why his book is called In Defence of Dogs.

* The US market version is called Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet – it is the same book, don’t buy both.

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