‘In Defence of Dogs’ by John Bradshaw – A Review

John Bradshaw is a biologist who has been involved in research on dogs and their behaviour for the best part of thirty years. His book, ‘In Defence of Dogs’, sets out his somewhat controversial views on why mankind, particularly in the Western world, needs to reconsider their attitude to the domesticated dog in the light of the better understanding we now have of how they think and behave. The book is well written and easy to read, full of fascinating insights and observations and is sure to change the views of many people who care about our canine companions.

The author goes into details about his view of canine evolution from wolf ancestry. He supports the most recent trends in training using reward and positive reinforcement, with persuasive arguments, in part by his assertion that contrary to popular belief dogs are not strictly hierarchical in their perception of their pack position and not necessarily intent on taking over control of their human ‘pack’ at the first opportunity. This is a view which could cause controversy amongst more traditionalist dog lovers.

I found his descriptions of how dogs experience the world through their senses and emotions particularly enlightening and the possibilities for employing dogs’ extraordinary sense of smell are truly exciting.

He points out that the vast majority of dogs were bred for a particular job of work up until about 50 years ago but that increasingly we now keep dogs as companions. The implications of this are that they still have their various working instincts which we expect them to subdue as we don’t actively breed dogs as companions.

There has been much discussion in the media recently about Kennel Club breed standards and the problems that these rigid rules are causing within the canine world. The shrinking gene pool has led to such limited variability in the genetic make up of some breeds that many negative side effects such as hip dysplasia and eye problems are now commonplace. The exaggeration of breed specific physical features has also caused increasing difficulties for our domestic dogs. For example, the snub noses and round heads in breeds such as bulldogs pugs and pekes has led to pups having to be routinely delivered by Caesarean section as their heads are now too big for their mother’s pelvises and some have difficulty breathing when they are finally born.

John Bradshaw uses his significant scientific knowledge of the canine world to explain clearly the implications of our meddling in canine genetics without truly considering the welfare of our dogs and offers a thoughtful and considered way forward for the companion dog into the future. But are we listening?