Bad Dog-Science

I am a dog book-junkie and try to read at least three books by each author to truly understand their work and teachings.  And, while I do not always agree with everything I read, I always learn something or have some sort of take-away from the experience.  However, John Bradshaw is the exception.  I came across his research numerous times during my own research project and as a thorough student, I combed through his references and became quite familiar with the basis of his theories, most of which I found unrepresentative, dated and/or self-supported.  More over, Bradshaw lacks the practical knowledge necessary to put forward a book about dog behaviour management and training – he does not write as if he has handled a dog, let alone a dog with problems.  Therefore, I share a critique of his latest book, In Defence of Dogs, Why dogs need our understanding written by Dr. David Sands, FCFBA. 


Dr John Bradshaw ‘In Defence of Dogs’   Allen Lane (Penguin), 2011

Dr David Sands

What can be said about a scientist who is determined to give dog trainers and animal behaviour practitioners a bad name – who denies that our dogs can have pack-like status and is making his life’s work to dismiss any other opinion?   Bradshaw uses his book to attack those he describes as amateur and professional dog trainers or whisperers that suggests he may have watched too many Cesar Milan and Victoria Stillwell episodes.

Bradshaw is like a ‘tracker dog’, constantly stalking bad dog-trainers and misguided animal behaviourists. He rounds them up because, according Bradshaw, they are currently preaching outdated wolf-pack sermons and constantly advising dog owners to harm their pets in order to dominate them as though they were wolves. In obsessive mode, he herds up canine professionals as though they are one ‘dumb flock’ of sheep and appears deluded enough to believe they all encourage barbaric dog-training systems, alongside punishment methods. This includes electric-shock collars and any other form of physical punishment he can detail, including attacking dogs – and choke/check chains. He intimates that these outdated and potentially illegal here in the UK methods are in common usage everywhere. Although noted research-references, used as supporting evidence, are almost always USA-centric.

He argues that dogs are not genetically- influenced and do not express levels of status – even as pack-animals descended from the wolf. However, on the other side of the fence, most professional behaviourists consider the domestic dog to be a social animal. His mission is to obliterate the use of the terms dominance and submissive in any discussion about the domestic dog. An obsession that results in him either missing the wood for trees or leads to him ignoring the obvious. He brings up the 1) ancient-wolf 2) wild-wolf versus outdated captive-wolf research in many discussions and this wild card seems to trump clinical experience. This is especially obvious when research is cited to support an elitist assertion – that the domesticated dog is misunderstood by almost everyone outside of academia. Bradshaw can surreptitiously introduce his own research to back up any assertions. Then, there is the sound of his constant mantra that the domestic dog is socially different from its closest relatives. Dr Jekyll, sorry, Dr Bradshaw, maintains this rigid stance throughout and howls it from the proverbial rooftops – like some a demented Mr Hyde. The reader is told that any status-like, hierarchal-behaviour observed in dogs should never be associated with wolf behaviour; in spite of shared ancestry. That is unless, of course, he makes a comparison.

What is disappointingly missing from his main speculation – about how dogs might have become part or fully domesticated – is some greater imagination. Theories should include a reasonable hypothesis that allows for transitional periods or even a mutated gene-effect causing a change which is often referred to as evolution in action. This line of thinking would allow for a potentially less rigid lineage – for an ebb and flow of the opportunistic, curious and eventual tameable-wolf – alongside Homo sapiens. Humans – the most successful and potentially most selfish animals on the planet – succeeded where Neanderthal man could not by being the fast-adapting, hunter-gatherer, come-agriculturist and eventual earth-voyager in the brief time-frame of tens of thousands of years. This image allows for the effects of parallel adaptation and includes wolf and ancient dog. It illustrates the more likely journey canine species and man shared to includes part, and gradual, domestication of the dog we know today. There could have been times when animals fluidly reverted back to wild, in events which would have taken place at different times on different continents.

Bradshaw frequently gives the impression that he is a champion ready to defend the dog. This is despite the fact the dog have successfully adapted to almost everything man has thrown at it to date. The range of adaptation is wide: to work at physical and smell-locating tasks; to be a faithful-friend, replacement-child or partner; to be a weapon or defend; to be an accessory for drug dealers and celebrities. When he is being captain of the cavalry and he wants the reader to accept that it is science that provides all the answers. This is despite the obvious fact that he has not – to my knowledge – professionally treated or professionally trained a dog in his academic life.

Research and practical experience expands knowledge. They pioneer ‘together, not as Bradshaw would have it, as factions pulling against each other. Like many practitioners, I had to learn quickly that there are no hard and fast rules in understanding companion dogs or the motives of their owners. I have never been judgmental about owners. Many have experienced issues with a first dog owned or one of many dogs they owned but a first to display undesirable behaviour. I openly defended clients many years ago – at veterinary pharmaceutical-sponsored behavioural lecture I gave to Lancashire veterinarians – when owners were wrongly criticised for not seeking help soon enough. Many clients had not known or realised they could obtain professional help by consulting their registered veterinary practice. This situation has improved greatly – especially in the last ten years. I quickly stopped trying to guess which dog was top-dog in those multi-dog households I was visiting. I quickly learned that the status quo often changed or was fluid.

The greatest argument I have with Bradshaw is about the way he lumps all dog trainers/practitioners into a single negative group and chooses to save only those individuals he has an affinity/association with them. If anyone was to publish a book declaring all other biologists to be wrong – to be misled by research, mistaken about experiments and modelling and declared they are all using incorrect methodologies – they would be ridiculed

Bradshaw makes obvious, unhelpful, statements including, ‘dogs are more adept than wolves at forming relationships with people. This is akin to comparing apples to prickly pears. Are wild dogs adept at forming relationships with people? I don’t think so. He introduces Konrad Lorenz’s, ‘Man meets dog’, a book of a series of anecdotes, published in 1949 (English edition 1954) in which Lorenz indicates that he believed that the jackal was involved in the European development of domestication. Bradshaw then dismisses this idea because ‘dogs cross with wolves but not with jackals’ and argues that the howl of the jackal is an example of behaviour difference – stating it is nothing like any dog. African and Asian jackals can be heard howling and calling (review recording on the internet) and, whilst I agree there are unique jackal phrases, the intonation or pitches can be matched by some dogs. Again, there are many recordings of companion dogs ‘howling’ and these are equally accessible via the internet. Like most professional practitioners, I have heard countless dogs howling, mainly because of owner separation stress-related issues, and smaller breeds can sound similar to a jackal. The dogs that howl during separation from an owner seem to be calling. Some sound remarkable wolf-like. Bradshaw announces, ‘While we are certain that the grey wolf is the domestic dog’s one and only direct ancestor,’ but he immediately hedges his position by stating ‘the dog shares its earliest ancestors with still-living relatives’.

I would argue that sexually-mature foxes, jackals and the coyote are known to live solitary lives or in bonded pairs and they offer other potential genetic and behavioural influences for the domestic dog. Perhaps, they are in the dog recipe and this would help to explain why dogs successfully adapted to live with modern man and form different relationships. To be able to live in a one-to-one relationship or accept a social role within a family group is a most significant aspect of adaptive behaviour.

A particularly odd sentence follows: ‘No account of dog behaviour can afford to ignore the wolf, if only because many books about dogs place such an emphasis on the dog’s wolf-like nature’. This is indicative of Bradshaw’s law of logic and this follows the same theme: ‘The past decade has seen a radical reappraisal of the wolf pack, however – regarding both how it constructs itself, and the evolutionary forces that drive it. Our concept of the dog is therefore overdue a revision.’

Bradshaw is referring to prevailing misconceptions about wolf behaviour, from decades ago, and this is an early indication that he has never professionally treated an aggressive dog. He makes the first of many repeats of the same mistake – that dog trainers and animal behaviour practitioners believe (or believed) that all dogs are potentially ‘dominant’ (the Bradshaw Guide = aggressive).  Despite this jaundiced view, it is actually understood by practitioner behaviourists that it is only a minority of dogs that are aggressive towards their owner, or strangers or other dogs. Logically, it is those ‘problem dogs’ that behaviourists see mostly. His suggests that, ‘dog trainers and animal behaviour practitioners’ believe that all dogs are potentially ‘dominant’, which is one of many ‘bad-science correlations’ he makes. Bradshaw also writes, ‘Contrary to many notions of wolf behaviour, co-operation, not dominance, seems to be the essence of the wolf pack’.

This sentence serves to illustrate a surprising level of arrogance in his commercial writing. Does he really believe that, outside of academia, everyone else is unaware that in order to operate as a group-hunting and foraging unit or social group – cooperation is essential? Is Bradshaw suggesting that we cannot understand – or imagine – that wolf and dog body-language and their limited vocalisation has evolved for obvious reasons – not least to prevent interspecific-injury within their social groups? This canine communication-system – that includes look away, move, commence grooming, withdraw, bow down, appease, wolf-packs and wild dog groups would all be wandering around with individuals limping or dying-dead and therefore of no use to the hunting pack. Social-order is essential for group-hunting and even a loose hierarchy system – that offers leadership and structure – is required for packs to be evolutionarily successful.    

In order to back this idea up, Bradshaw needs to knock down any ideas of submission in the wolf. He writes, ‘a smaller wolf will be submissive (to show it’s not worth pursuing) but if it doesn’t run away it will be attacked and often killed by the larger wolf’. There is no research citation for his opinion. He goes on to state that ‘submissive displays only come to be a standard response in wolves kept in zoos because’, he presumes, ‘they learn by trial and error what works’. He then writes about wolves performing ‘active’ and ‘passive’ submission signals adding dogs perform similar signals. The ‘active’ (mouth-licking) is more of a bonding signal and is known as affiliation display. He states that ‘younger ones do it mostly but parents can do it and it’s not to do with being dominated’. He then concedes the passive submission signal, belly up display, IS an actual sign of submission – but in zoos it’s only fringe members. ‘In captivity they are continually stressed by being in close quarters with those wolves that feel a need to attack them’. He discusses wild wolves, not manipulated by man, fighting against but finally accepting the obvious – that they can be aggressive.  He adds that ‘the fundamental misunderstandings about the structure of wolf families themselves, misunderstandings that have warped the popular conception of dogs as well’. He continues his diatribe, ‘dog trainers, borrowing from this misunderstanding, insist owners must impress their alpha status onto the dog or it will seek alpha status for itself’ and offers a nugget that ‘alpha status comes from being a parent’.

It is commonly understood that the alpha pair breed in established wolf and wild dog packs and therefore it is pedantic to argue which way around status is established. Judging from this and several other statements, Bradshaw has not acknowledged or seen the recently broadcasted Yellowstone footage of a wolf-pack line – filmed from the air – trailing in a line through snow when a beta male wolf sneakily mates with the alpha female. He has a tendency to make sweeping statements such as: ‘Wild wolves, as they exist today are certainly quite different in behaviour from their – and dogs – ancestors’. And: ‘Since comparisons with the wolf are no longer valid as they seemed as recently as a decade ago, my approach is to widen the search for the biological characteristics that make up the dog’s true nature’.  He does this because of a need to separate wolf behaviour from the dog in order to eradicate any comparison that could undermine his theories or research based on his particular theory. Any consideration that innate social-status behaviour, inherited from a wolf-ancestor, has an influence on the domestic dog we know today. This is ruled out by Bradshaw and his dogma has to be challenged.   

There are more sweeping statements including: ‘there is no indication that dogs were domesticated as food animals’. This is Bradshaw’s position even though there is no reason to exclude them as prey for primitive man, as a food source during famine, sieges and even today where dogs are eaten in Korea) and, then, he writes this sentence: ‘… the dog is different than other hunter-gather pets, Whereas the dog eventually became domesticated, these other ‘pets’ from rodents to parrots to monkeys – are really just tame animals, many of which have been raised in isolation from their own kind and would not know how to breed  even if given the opportunity..’ 

I need to ask Dr Bradshaw this question: After millions of years of evolution, can animals forget how to breed? Perhaps his faux pas reveals why he might struggle with imagining a transitional wolf leading to an incredible size-variable domestic dog and its co-evolution with man. This doesn’t necessarily mean the dog has to lose its ability to be wolf-like. Although Bradshaw elaborates about modern wolves being historically decimated by man in Europe and North America there is no reason to that those that are restricted to isolated regions on earth do not behave like their ancestors. Why should the domestic dog not be represented by dominant or submissive individuals – within an adapted pack – the replacement social group – which modern family life and dogs offer? Breed-selection and continual selected manipulation for desired attributes and behaviours – matching the environment and suiting purpose (guarding, hunting, pulling, controlling and herding) – clearly resulted in the incredible range of dogs we see today. They include the large, wolf-like Malamutes and Huskies in the cold north and small hairless and bush dogs in Central and South America. The physical plasticity of the domestic dog, for dwarfism and giantism, (identified and referred to as the small dog gene), is remarkable.

Throughout the book there is a lack of reference – or acknowledgement – to how behaviour can be genetically inherited. How could the domestic dog avoid inheriting social-structure from its closest relative? There is a reference to the famous Siberian experiment related to taming the native fox. A peer reviewer of a paper I submitted to journals – in response to Bradshaw’s research – argued that this research was flawed but did not explain how or why. One extremely relevant factor that came out of the Siberian fox experiment, in my opinion, is that individuals best suited to taming could be identified from their less fearful behaviour towards people and therefore could be distinguished from those that would not. Bradshaw immediately dismisses this: ‘Nothing in the farm-fox experiment sheds any light on how this capacity might have come about during the domestication of the dog’.

I disagree with him strongly on this point because farming is recognised as the driving force for domesticating animals. The reality of many years of the Siberian experiment will prove more significant than artificial academic computer models (selected statistics and flawed ethology designed to support a particular theory).

‘Instead of hiding them away in a den, the intrinsically ‘tame’ mother wolves must somehow have allowed their cubs access to humans, so that taming, and selection for tameness in subsequent generations, could proceed further.’  [I think Bradshaw sometimes writes like the government bureaucrat.] 

In this one scenario he is not allowing for other realistic scenarios – such as that the litter-mother or breeding-male (hunting) may have been killed, by human or another predator, or for a den to be raided by hunter-gatherers seeking cubs either for food or to use as an early ‘pet’ or trophy. Having feral or partially-tamed dogs around settlements could have served a purpose, acting as an early warning system for intruders or predators. Bradshaw makes it clear that he does not really want to compare dogs with wolves and it is obvious why. He states that it is better to compare ‘breeds, a comment reminded me of the Dangerous Dogs Act, 1991, s5 (2), ‘”Type” is not synonymous with the word “breed”, but has meaning different and wider than the word “breed”. 

This is an example of where his style fits snugly with legal terminology. I know that this intimates there is a type rather than pure breed. Legislation was demanded to help the police determine a ‘Pit Bull type’ because of a need to establish – in cross-breeds – the predominant breed. 

Earlier, Bradshaw rejects the Siberian fox experiment, in terms of understanding the domesticated dog, and yet two pages later he contradicts himself: ‘The farm-fox story sheds important light on this process (he has already mentioned that dogs continue to play even when they are adult) by telling us that tameable wolves probably differed from untameable wolves in having a delayed period of social learning at the beginning of their lives….’

He has a real ‘moment’ when theorising about canines scavenging around human encampment latrines – to finding a way into a human relationship. Then, when comparing that wild pigs were first encountered in this way for early domestication he adds, ‘it would explain the unfortunate penchant that some modern dogs have for eating faeces.’  This musing reveals a lack of understanding of learned-behaviour in modern dogs. I have wondered if Bradshaw was moonlighting, at the time he was writing the book, developing spin for Government. Here are two examples:

‘Today’s dogs are clearly not wolves on the outside, but their behaviour is often interpreted as if they were still wolves on the inside‘.  Moreover, equating dogs with wolves allows trainers and owners to justify punishment of the dog.’

This kind of jaundiced opinion rears its ugly head throughout and he does his best to bait at every opportunity. Bradshaw concedes early on the first page that: ‘most dogs love meeting other dogs and most love people’. He admits this statement is blindingly obvious (throughout, he proves himself to be an expert in stating the bleeding obvious) but when he does Bradshaw often falls down a self-made hole just like the Basil Faulty character would. He writes many stupid statements in this book but this one ‘takes the biscuit’:

‘After all, neighbouring cats often spend their whole lives avoiding one another!!!’

The exclamation marks are all mine. This statement comes from the same Bradshaw who is listed as the author of a book, published in 1992 by C.A.B International, ‘The Behaviour of the domestic cat’. This was when he was then in the Department of Biology of the University of Southampton. Granted, the problem behaviour chapter was written by Peter Neville. Bradshaw knows very well that domestic dogs and cats are at opposite sides of the ‘group and solitary predator’ behaviour spectrum. He knows they have evolved from a common ancestor to exploit different prey. So, why on earth should he choose to bring in such an irrelevant comparison? 

There are so many statements that HAVE to be challenged. Suffice it for me to repeat these few: ‘Dogs, unlike wolves, are extraordinarily outgoing’ (here, he reveals his uncanny parallel ability with Conan Doyle’s character, Sherlock Homes), ‘Dogs that are self-evidently unrelated – say from different breeds’ (outward appearance defines relatedness?), ‘… few dogs, if any, possess the innate ability to put all these elements together (he is referring to hunting behaviour) in order to locate, hunt, kill and consume prey on a regular basis.’

(How does he get away with writing this? I have a Parson’s Jack Russell Terrier that can do just that). After alluding to a number of ancient types of dogs and stating that re-adaptation into the wild offers compelling glimpse of how dogs might organise themselves in the wild, he dismisses the Dingo outright in his considerations. He argues they have not been properly studied (ignoring the Frazer Island population) even when these Australian canines offer an interesting representative of domestication-feral-wild transition. The Aboriginal connection with the Dingo makes for a colourful palate yet this example of a detached-style relationship between dogs and man is passed over. Perhaps the Dingo does not serve to support his mission? The mere passing references of the Dingo is curious enough on its own but it comes without enough emphasis for other canine species having a potential role in the complete ‘domesticated dog story’ science has yet to reveal. He also ignores a significant feral dog studies published In Serpell (Editor), ‘The Domestic Dog’, Cambridge University Press, pp. 217-244.), which we have to presume is because he is being selective or there is some other reason, such as the potential persecution by man, affecting their behaviour and so the study.

Then he introduces two pages about what I describe as the ‘elephant in the book’. One of the most challenging of his personal research references includes ‘unpublished and unsubstantiated’ research – originally included in a co-authored paper (‘Dominance in domestic dogs — useful construct or bad habit?’ Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, May/June 2009, Pages 135-144) – based on observations of a group of rescue dogs, which at the time were being housed at a Wiltshire Dogs Trust centre. These ‘study dogs’ quote: ‘were released into an exercise space‘during the day they have the run of a large paddock planted with trees and bushes, littered with toys, and equipped with tunnels through which they can run from one part of the paddock to another’ and they were ‘observed’.

Importantly, it is this ‘unreliable data source’ that Bradshaw continues to use to support his ‘mantra’ that ‘dogs should not be described ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’ because they do not operate in a hierarchal social-system’. Boom! Boom! As Basil Brush, the stuffed version of a fox, might exclaim. This is ironic as a fox species may turn out to have a significant bearing on evolution of domestic dog behaviour. The rescue dog ‘study’ is attributed to Bradshaw, Cooke, Robertson and Browne in the literature cited. In September, 2009 I began requesting information and data from this ‘unpublished (yet included) study’. Unfortunately, information was not forthcoming and I did not press for it any further. Any potential challenge to Bradshaw’s thinking, based on a clearly flawed data obtained from observing a rescue dog study-group, has yet to come. There are also claims that have to be challenged. These include,

‘…modern dog-training techniques is that the dog is driven to set up a dominance hierarchy wherever it finds itself’, ‘Every dog, conventional wisdom holds, feels an overwhelming need to dominate and control all its social partners.’. He quotes from an outdated online blog by Robin Kovary. American Dog Trainers Network, (dated 1995/1999) that he accessed in 2010, ‘A dominant dog knows what he wants and sets out to get it, in any way it can. He’s got charm, lots of it. …’   Bradshaw says it describes ‘an unruly, untrained dog, yet somehow charming, dog’. Once he has countered Cesar Millan’s description of dogs trying to ‘dominate’ cats, or a dog chasing the light from a laser pointer – trying to dominate it, Bradshaw, points out a biologist would describe this as ‘predatory’ not social. I don’t believe that Cesar Millan has ever described himself as a biologist and I might use the word ‘control’ in these instances. The battle over ‘term-nomenclature’ could keep Bradshaw writing nonsense for a long time but would it help those dog owners that want guidance?

Bradshaw later creates a scenario in a four-dog household in a bid to break down any concept of hierarchy. He writes ‘it might look like this’ and provides an illustration of four connected boxes – vertical – alpha-beta-gamma-omega. He then writes, ‘Relationships between real animals are usually not as simple as this neat hierarchal arrangement’. So, why did he put it this way – to extrapolate his various scenarios!! He adds other schematics including circular hierarchy and captive wolf-pack hierarchy and wolf-pack structure. At this point he writes ‘Since it’s clear that modern wolves are almost certain to be much more wary of man than domestic dog’s wild ancestors’ [educated guess?] and adds we should consider whether ‘social grouping preferred by modern wolves – the family-based pack – is likely to have also been the preferred social structure of the wolves that became dogs, tens of thousands of years ago’. Thankfully, he steps back from this statement and adds it’s impossible to be sure stating the obvious, ‘behaviour doesn’t fossilize’.   

There are sections that clearly reveal his semantics.  He writes that ‘rejecting the idea of dominance as a natural driver of dog behaviour is not the same as saying that dogs are never competitive.’  He alludes to his ‘flawed rescue dog study’ stating that ‘dominance based on competition and aggression does occur in captive wolves but dogs kept under similar conditions do not establish hierarchies‘.

He pedantically writes in the chapter ‘Why dogs were – unfortunately – turned back into wolves’: ‘… the fact that hierarchy can be observed by scientists does not mean that any of the animals involved have any awareness of hierarchy.’  What follows is a paragraph that includes ‘If dogs do understand this concept , then training methods based on concepts like ‘status reduction’ and ‘putting a dog in its place’ have a logical foundation,But if dogs have no concept of their own status…’  ‘Many methods are based on punishment.’

At this point I imagined he was addressing himself in a mirror. Then begins a discussion about the needs of dogs (food, water, opportunities to mate and raise offspring but not to hunt and forage = walks/exercise) and how it is mostly met by human owners. He writes about youngsters playing with objects to enhance hunting skills and how play-fighting between litter-mates is mutually beneficial to improve competitive skills. He then introduces food or exclusive territory competition and states that, ‘what dogs want brings them into conflict’ and discusses that the ‘dominance concept is unnecessarily restrictive in thinking about how conflict can be resolved without coming to blows’. 

He introduces the Resource Holding Potential (without acknowledging or citing the concept author, Professor Geoff Parker* who first explored RHP and Resource Value (RV) and, coincidentally, was my internal examiner for my PhD viva, at Liverpool University in 1995. Nor does he acknowledge the work of Parker’s fellow biologists, Rubenstein and Maynard Smith and later co-authors who explored this model. Bradshaw includes examples of a likely resource value (he lists: food, toy, etc.,) and how this model examines how two competing dogs weigh up risks or injury over the value of what can be gained or held.

My issue is not with the RHP model and concept, which I believe does not exclude or prohibit the notion of status (in domestic dogs huge variations in size does not prohibit small dogs successfully challenging larger dogs without resorting to aggression), but with Bradshaw for insisting it should replace the concept of dominant and sub-dominant status in dogs. Bradshaw plays words with RHP and reveals a complete lack of understanding of how bitches often have status over dogs (which is about to mate-choice and selection in wild dogs/wolves). He makes several sweeping statements which indicate an ignorance of basic cognitive skills in dogs. The most striking of which is Dogs are unlikely to be able to associate events’, and he later adds, or even recall specific incidents that involves that dog, which suggests to me that he doesn’t understand dogs at all never mind having any ability to defend them. Of course dogs associate events, possibly from a number of visual, sound and scent cues and including specific-location, animals involved and repeated actions or reactions. An associate memory is vital if a predator has to learn and remember dangerous or poisonous prey or situations where prey can be taken by surprise.

Bradshaw introduces the following scenario to promote his reasoning: ‘.. if a terrier has .. a history that makes it fearful of black dogs, and neither is in a position to back down (…they meet on a narrow path), then both may try to alleviate their fear by turning to anger and attacking each other.’

The citation for this sentence given in the end of the book notes, you may not be surprised to read is: ‘Bradshaw John W.S, Blackwell Emily J., Casey Rachel A. (2009) ‘Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit?’ In the ‘Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research’.

How would he describe away the ‘fearful Terrier’ that frequently displays aggression towards a passive black Labrador it regularly meets on the street that always fails to retaliate? To further eliminate ‘dominance’ he brings in more of his research:

‘In my study of French Bulldogs, one of the bitches could be described as ‘dominant’ because other bitches usually (but by no means always) deferred to her. But we have no evidence that the dogs themselves saw it this way.’ He states that the ‘other ‘unrelated bitches’, each individually remembered that the dominant bitch was ‘grumpy’ (his wording) towards them when food appeared’. Desperate to pull down the walls of the idea of hierarchy in dogs, he continues,

‘Even in groups of dogs that live together, what appears to be a hierarchical structure is almost certainly a projection of our preconceived notions of canid relationships’. ‘The majority of encounters between dogs pass without incident…. Neither participants knowing or caring that its ‘status’, as some experts would have it, may have been affected.’  

Throughout this chapter, Bradshaw fights any notion of variations of status in dogs and any idea that a dog has any concept of its status. He continues to lump all who work in the field of canine behaviour into a single faction with the same ideas that all dogs want to control human families. This is where his ‘telescope view’ (like Nelson, through a blinded eye) prevents him from recognising that – it is not ‘every dog’ that challenges family members – but only a small percentage. The minority of dogs that display unwanted behaviours do so for many known reasons. These are especially when they have been puppy-farmed, age-mixed (where puppies have been bullied by physically much stronger dogs) inexperienced or accidental breeding, a background of aggressive handling, poor-socialisation, re-homing/rescue and inadequate or impoverished conditions at the litter-stage. 

Bradshaw quotes an American paper from 1985 to back up his assertion that ‘The model adopted by many dog trainers …’ is based on ‘the view of dogs continually struggling to assert dominance’.

He resorts to citing information that is 25 years old – and from the USA – to back up his jaundiced views. This, I feel, reveals just how desperate he has become to self-promote his own warped ideas.  

He also offers a web link reference to a ‘H2G2-linked’ BBC internet page (when I checked his reference H2G2 was announced to be no longer associated with the BBC). The pages that I was able to locate were outdated. In this section of his book Bradshaw lists a set of ‘status’ countering ‘Commandments’ (I presume these had been provided to help for dog owners with challenging dogs) linked to this now  unavailable webpage. Bradshaw regresses into predatory mode with ‘Indeed, if dogs do not have a concept of ‘status’, and there is no evidence they do, then some of these recommendations will be either harmless or accidentally beneficial to the dog-owner relationship.

This is followed by Bradshaw citing paragraph he attributes to ‘his colleague’, Nicola Rooney (once his postgraduate student) who undertook a study to allow dogs to win at tug-of-war games to ascertain if it caused dogs to be ‘dominant’. What he doesn’t make obvious is that this study, together with a second paper, is jointly authored by him. This is only made clear by using the chapter-number and then referring to the extensive chapter by chapter ‘Notes’ section at the back of the book.

The first references, taken in order by oldest dates, are Rooney 1999 (PhD thesis), Rooney and Bradshaw 2001 and Rooney and Bradshaw 2003. The oldest was described as an experiment using 30 Labrador-Retrievers and the second, 14 Golden Retrievers (11 bitches and 3 dogs would be skewed to most biologists). The last ‘study’ or experiment involved 50 dogs (29 dogs – 52% neutered, 21 bitches – 75% neutered) that are under-described as 17 gundogs, 16 working dogs, 10 terriers, 3 hounds, 2 toy dogs, and 2 utility dogs.

It is cited in the 2001 ‘study’ that the Golden Retriever was the ‘chosen dog’ because Roger Mugford recorded – in a section ‘Canine behaviour therapy’, (The Domestic Dog, edited by James Serpell, 1995 Cambridge University Press in 1995) – that this breed involved the most owner-directed aggression.

Mugford did indeed list ‘Golden Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels’ as the common breeds brought to his clinic (at that time) because of owner-directed aggression. What seems to be obvious but clearly missed by Bradshaw and co is that both these breeds reflect two of the most popular dogs registered with the Kennel Club for decades. I could list a number of issues with the 2001 and 2003 studies (I have not accessed the 1999 PhD thesis) but suffice it for me to record one major concern. I believe that most UK canine behaviour practitioners would prefer to see studies undertaken which reflected more appropriate breeds including those more likely to be presented for treatment for aggression. It is especially relevant for their model (experiments) to include powerful ‘guarding/controlling’ breed types such as German Shepherd, English Bull and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Mastiffs, Japanese Akita, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Doberman and any of these breeds combined with Collies (specific cross-breeds). Those dog trainers/ UK canine behaviour practitioners who have observed police dogs being trained to display holding/possessive/predatory aggression are aware of the repeated use of tug-or-war holding techniques. Once trained, police dogs used for the purpose of catching target suspects or controlling individuals in aggressive crowds, can be instructed to a switch to a mode of behaviour that includes aggressive biting and holding.

With their joint published research in mind, I challenge Rooney and Bradshaw to undertake their ‘study models’ – testing how boisterous play-games including tug-of-war and play-fighting and rough and tumble impact on dog behaviour and owner interaction – to involve breeds that have a predisposition for ‘protecting’ and ‘territorial’ behaviours. If such breeds of ‘companion dogs’ are already challenging their owners I have no doubt that under controlled observation they will provide an opposite data outcome. Undertaking canine research, with extremely biddable ‘gundog breeds’, is akin to avian researchers testing blackbirds instead of sparrow hawks for bird-hunting behaviours.

Bradshaw repeats his mantra that ‘.. the model upon which many people are training, managing  and simply interacting with  their dogs is wrong.’ He adds a sentence that includes a word that sums his ‘test tube personality’ up perfectly: ‘Nevertheless, this model is still promulgated by many trainers.’  The dictionary definition for promulgation is the proclaiming or declaration of statutory law or the making of a public statement. Bradshaw can be seen as the man in the mirror again.

In the chapter, ‘Sticks or carrots? The science of dog training’, Bradshaw opens by quoting USA ‘dog trainer’ Cesar Millan – from a jointly authored (Mellisa Jo Peltier – the producer on his series – Dog Whisperer) 2008 book, Be the Pack Leader and, second, Colin Tennant in his book Breaking Bad habits (2002). I am not sure what qualifies Cesar Millan or Mellisa Jo Peltier to write about canine behaviour other than being involved in a popular television series. Colin Tennant, other the other hand, has trained thousands of dogs and was instrumental in establishing the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association (CFBA).

He then praises ‘Dr Ian Dunbar’ – as though he is the ‘font of positive-training methods’ and in the use of reward-based training. He brandishes Dunbar’s veterinarian and academic background to help create two fictional polarised camps. This is simply misleading. Bradshaw next attributes two authors, Colonel Konrad Most and the Monks of New Skete, from their books dating 1910 and 1978, as being the source of and why every dog-owner and dog-trainer is using physical force to dominate and train dogs! In the mandatory notes section, Bradshaw almost vindicates Konrad Most as he acknowledges that this author did at least advocate reward for shaping behaviour and that he was a pioneer guide dog trainer!       

Quoting David Appleby from the APBC, ‘Their uppermost concern is that punishment-based methods, often used in an attempt to cure a supposed ‘dominance problem’, may initially suppress the behaviour, but can then cause the dog to become depressed and withdrawn’ (APBC website 2010).

It is widely understood that aggression leads to aggression and that ‘punishment based-methods’ can only lead to suppression and frustration. However, it is not made clear what is included by ‘punishment based-methods’. Bradshaw then dreams up a scenario where the owner fails to succeed with a ‘dominance reduction schedule’ and become more aggressive which results in a dog biting in self-defence. Excuse me here while I break off to laugh. He writes around the captive wolf over the wild wolf (the former fraught with tension – the later not yet proven to experience tension). Bradshaw hastens to add that he was relieved when he discredited the wold pack idea – as a dog owner – and does not advocate methods that routinely punish a dog. Welcome to the club!

He quickly falls into the ‘description covers all dogs’ trap on the next page:

‘… dogs find human contact very rewarding and, conversely, become anxious when they are separated from their owners.’ No, Dr Bradshaw, top academic!!! There are hundreds and thousands of dogs that are not anxious when they are separated from their owners. They lie down in a comfy spot, in a dog basket, in a den and wait for their owners to return. Dogs that have been adopted and rehomed one or more times, dogs that have gone through issues I have already mentioned may become anxious when separated from their owners but they have an attachment issue. This would be an indication of an anxious and therefore unhealthy relationship which can be expressed in an attachment condition associated with an owner known as Separation-related Disorder (see chapter six).

The next stages are to discuss habituation which he illustrates with a dog losing interest in a toy – he states ‘usually after five or six presentations’. Only the presentation of another toy – except it has to be a different colour or odour – will get them excited again but soon they will bore of that too’.

‘Why do dogs show this rapid loss of interest in a particular toy? Bradshaw asks the reader.

[The limited information is in the notes (undated) documented by his student Anne Pullen. Has Bradshaw or his student never seen the dog that wants to possess all the toys? Some dogs that want to possess every ‘toy’ against all other dogs in the home and yet ignore them until interest in them is shown by the other dog/s. Have they not seen the dog that only wants the one that its owner has in his or her hand?]

He then speculates about the ‘ancestor dog as a hunter, tossing food in the air – but only worth persisting if it produces food – or if it breaks apart it might yield food’.

I checked the chapter notes and this is the likely explanation is the (undated and unreferenced) opinion of yet another former graduate student of his – Sarah Hall. Now I see a pattern forming. Habituation, Bradshaw postulates, can be useful. He introduces the trigger for fear (say, the sound of fireworks) and then immediately introduces about the availability of professional recordings of ‘gunfire and fireworks’ as only an academic or physiologist (most veterinarians) would. He declares that these recordings are a practical way of reducing the anxiety associated with such noises. This is the academic who – as far as I know – has never treated a dog for noise-phobia. This is the man who names his book ‘In defence of dogs’ and is self-appointed to use his ‘sword and shield’ to protect dogs from punishment. Yet, he is, advocating (at this point) owners should expose dogs to a sound that frightens them. Of course, he qualifies that desensitisation ‘should occur gradually by increasing the intensity of the sound’. I challenge him to treat a noise-phobic dog using recordings alone. Flooding, as it is known in human psychological treatment, is counter-effective when used on dogs. I have known dogs to have the ‘associated fear’ become progressively worse because of exposure to professional recordings of ‘gunfire and fireworks’.

I can introduce ‘association’ here; in that thousands of working gundogs ignore the sound of guns because they are otherwise happily occupied. Millions of years of evolution, where thunder and lightning is a natural event mean animals ignore the sight and sound. Ask any farmer how livestock react to thunderstorms. They shelter from the rain – if shelter is available – but they do not panic a storm like dogs that are noise phobic go into fight or flight reactive behaviour.

Over the next pages Bradshaw introduces (plays with concepts) classical and operant conditioning (read – be bored – and move on) and discusses aversion, allowing him to discuss methods that use collars that can be triggered to repeatedly give a dog an electric shock. This is so ‘punishment’ and ‘dog training’ can be presented again. The next five pages read like a dog training manual written by an academic and I can only apologise for asking interested parties to read for themselves. That is, until Bradshaw introduces the clicker. He makes two almighty mistakes, made commonly in his defence, to show an illustration of a dog being shown the clicker and secondly to state ‘Eventually, the click alone should be enough to secure the dog’s attention’.

Bradshaw makes a common enough mistake. The idea that the ‘conditioned association’ with food (there is a dry discussion about classical conditioning) is a method to get a dog’s attention rather than to reward a correct-response from a dog as it is occurring without having to give a reinforcing food-treat. This, alongside sound-uniformity and non-voice dependent signalling, is a critical aspect of clicker-training especially when a dog is experiencing an episode of fearfulness or anxiousness and will not take a food reward for responding positively.

Bradshaw writes about the need to ‘switch owner-attention on and off’ when dogs chase cyclists for example. Owner-attention is a ‘secondary reinforcer’ but, not really wishing to teach an academic how to be an animal behaviour practitioner, there are times when the clicker is needed to instantly ‘reward’ a dog for not performing an unwanted-behaviour without giving attention (for example – predator-prey motor responses or OCD-like behaviour displayed by a dog to gain attention). If a dog can ‘see’ a clicker when given food it is being conditioned to expect food when a visual cue is given. He provides clicker-related information, including ‘shaping’ and then he finishes on an anecdote. Bradshaw has encountered dogs that ‘growl and snap but only to get owner-attention’. He adds, the dog is demanding ‘play with me’ and then Bradshaw decides to counter this ‘romantic view’ of unwanted behaviour with a prevaricated caveat, ‘This is not to say, however, that the same dog will not still use growling and snapping  as prelude to real aggression as well.’  He continues, ‘.. ..unintentional shaping …  an owner may misunderstand what is going on … unwittingly putting a nearby child in danger’.                

Is it just me or is Bradshaw skilled at skating around a subject and then stating the ‘obvious’? His mantra soon appears again and, in a single, over-extended, condescending sentence writes: ‘Unfortunately, however, our relationship with dogs predates the science of learning theory by many thousands of years, and so they come with much historical baggage attached, including the mistaken idea that training can be best achieved by physical punishment.’

Leaving aside how cumbersome this series of sentences is bundled together with comas, it is in this ‘telescope view’ that Bradshaw reveals his weakness for ‘obsessive/misinformation/mantra’ over ‘quality of information content’ and this is ultimately his downfall. He continues with more outdated discussions about choke-chain (he presumably read the Roger Mugford ‘Equipment’ section within an article as he referenced it from Serpell, 1995, which reveals this physical system of control has long been vetoed as a training aid in the UK back in 1981). He also discusses the use of ‘citronella’ anti-bark collars – long the bane of animal behaviour practitioners – but does not appear to recognise the difference between that and remote-controlled ‘citronella’ collars successfully used to interrupt livestock-chasing. He includes paragraphs about shock collars again as though animal behaviour practitioners advocate their use.

Some aggressive-methods used by handlers/trainers to train gundogs are discussed but it is important to counter that – when most gundogs are used as working dogs – they are not usually viewed as companion dogs. It is useful to highlight some gundog training methods are unsavoury and point out that they are cruel in some extremes. In Bradshaw’s world, however, ‘Almost every day, I see owners beating or remonstrating with their dogs for being slow to come back to them’.

Bradshaw includes an anecdotal story (from a colleague and their neighbour’s small terrier) about a shock collar being applied to the run-away dog with the owner setting off the collar whilst shouting, ‘Bad dog,bad dog’. ‘From that day the dog growled at anyone it did not know…’ 

I do believe that The Wicked Witch from the East was there too.

Bradshaw introduces a ‘growing body of evidence’ which ‘indicates that in inexpert hands physical punishment is not only likely to harm the dog but it is ineffective…’

Two separate surveys indicate that ‘dogs trained with punishment are less obedient and more fearful that those trained with reward’.  There is a numbered note and, guess what, it can be found at the back of the book that it is Bradshaw et al! Firstly, as master of telling us the ‘obvious’ I want to offer this musing… ‘Mmmm, I wonder which might work with my dog: beating it with this stick or giving it delicious food-treats?  I might develop an experimental study to test which might work. Not!

Secondly, why not come right out with it Bradshaw – and say your research to justify every opinion you have and what you know about domestic dogs. Bradshaw reveals his ignorance over the use of Training discs (a signal for non-reward or the removal of reward to help change unwanted-behaviours such as hyperactivity resulting in jumping up or repeated barking) and I almost lost the will to live. Just when I thought his dribble could not get much worse, he writes, ‘…owners can purchase so-called ‘Training-discs’, but a distinctive uttered word can be just as effective.’ In his ignorance, Bradshaw reveals he is missing several important factors about using ‘conditioning’ with sound-signals, such as the clicker, whistle and training discs, for training dogs. I) Dogs learn sounds quickly; 2) Sound training aids are not voice-dependent; 3)These offer a consistent sound (members of a family will have different voice tones).

In my early days, on one particular occasion when I was demonstrating Training discs – in the manner an APBC member instructed in a video and booklet – I dropped them on the ground to perform the ‘replacement of the treat’ action. In a flash, the Staffordshire Bull-Terrier – belonging to that client – grabbed them up and disappeared from the lounge. In that one moment, I realised that the ‘passive Golden Retriever’ – employed in the video demonstration – did not represent the majority of dog breeds that the 50 or so veterinarian clinics would be referring to me. After that particular session, I always held onto the Training discs and advised clients to do likewise. Learning by experience is extremely useful. I could add information here about correctly exposing a dog to the clicker-system for the first time. Then, ‘how to use it proactively’ and reward ‘good manners’.  However, I am not writing this review to teach anyone about useful dog-training aids.

I will refrain from further patronising Bradshaw in the way he patronises the reader (the reward for stopping jumping up or barking is to use positive reinforcement) and add that he introduces information from a APBC blog and then a USA survey which includes methods, such as hitting/kicking, alpha roll and grabbing the dog by the jowls and shaking, never sanctioned here in the UK. The majority of dog owners, in my 20 years including learning and eventually becoming an experienced animal behaviour practitioner, don’t treat their companion dogs in that manner. This chapter finished with ‘spin’ about how the tide is turning to ‘reward-based training’ with Cesar Millan asking Ian Dunbar to contribute to his book ‘Cesar rules’.

 In the chapterHow puppies became pets’, I need only to quote the pedantic opening sentence:

‘Dogs are not born friendly to humans. No, that’s not a misprint. Dogs are born to become friendly towards people, but this happens if they meet friendly people when they are still tiny puppies.’

Bradshaw then quotes research, published in 1961 and based on 5 litters of Cocker Spaniels and 3 litters of Beagles held in a high-fenced field so they never saw people. They were fed through a hole in the fence. Interesting as this research is, there are far more recent studies in which litters have been observed and how the timing of human-contact and removal from the litter-mother can influence behaviours. He adds more of his own studies (with students).

I would argue that the 1930’s Lorenz studies of imprinting is more relevant to avian enthusiasts that to dog owners.  He allows pages of wandering to ‘come to a head’ with ‘.. as a biologist my instinct is to look for something pre-existing for evolution to work on. Since dogs are neotenized wolves, it is logical to look for an answer in the behaviour of wolf cubs and juveniles, rather than adult wolves.’

So, Bradshaw has no issues comparing domestic dog and wolf behaviour providing it doesn’t involve adult wolves. He discusses how a sense of smell is useful in identifying litter-mother, siblings and people. He writes: ‘Wolf cubs are born.. they learn the characteristics of those individuals, based on the eminently reasonable assumption that they must be their parents, or, in a large pack with existing helpers.’

This is noted to a reference at the end of the book which, when read, begins, ‘Although research to prove the occurrence of such learning has not, as far as I know, been done on wolves themselves…. ‘  He then makes passing comment to no particular specific-research about kin-recognition in mammals and then quotes human research about ‘unrelated individuals living together in  childhood find each other sexually unattractive’.

Does anyone else smell metaphysical dung here?

There is another paragraph about some dog’s mistrusting children and he asks how dogs might identify children from adults. He answers himself, with size and animation differences and includes smell. It is quite commonly understood that testosterone and oestrogen levels would differ greatly between juvenile and adult people and this could have been discussed in more detail. He goes on and on and then in an information box, ‘Brothers and sisters’, quotes the work of two of his students involving a litter of French Bulldogs and Border Collies. The is more about the ‘socialization period’ and more quoting of his own work ..’research has shown that hearing fireworks in this or early juvenile period protects puppies from becoming fearful of loud bangs’ and then this leads into quoting his 2002 research undertaken with data from Appleby and co-authored with the ‘usual suspect’, Casey. 

Some of the information provided points to the fact that purchasers of puppies would be advised to see the litter-mother and the environment in which a litter is being housed. However much this is common sense to my colleagues, it is advice that is rarely discovered by many dog owners who buy puppies online, from newspaper and magazine adverts, from pet shop and puppy-farmed linked outlets.

He raises issues about why some dogs are not concerned in separation periods from owners and notes – what many practitioners have learned from treated dogs with owner-separation distress – that being with another dog does counter distress because it does not replace the owner.

One sentence – more than any other – caused me to question Bradshaw’s powers of reasoning. He writes:

‘Since the need for a human attachment figure seems to be unusually powerful in the domestic dog, dogs that have been abandoned by their owners and end up in rehoming centres must feel this acutely’.

If Dr Bradshaw, reads this I need to ask this question. Why did you believe that the use of rescue dogs, experiencing (acutely – in your words) the loss of human attachment figures – were ever ideal for an experimental study on dog-relationships???       

In the chapter ‘Does your dog love you?’ I assumed Bradshaw had entered his book in a competition where the winner is deemed to have published the oddest opening sentence. He might not win a prize for concise and clear writing but he would surely win the one for pedantic opening sentences.

‘Dogs are obviously attached to their owners – in the sense of their behaviour, in the sense that they follow them around. But does your dog actually love you? Of course it does! It tells you every time you come home….’               

…’Emotions are not easy to pin down….. As a scientist (here we go again), I can investigate how much you love your dog, and, as a human….’

This chapter goes into physiology of the mammalian brain and Bradshaw felt the need to create a three-part Emotion model based on the hormonal physical cycle.

He plays around with semantics and whether our emotions are the same and shared with dogs. He suggests a scenario where adrenaline causes a dog to run away (he does choose the fight or aggression option) because he wants to discuss the emotion ‘fear’. I must highlight a sentence (he has a thing with cats), ‘Dogs have expressive faces’ – he suggests. ‘Cats have not’. ‘Cats’, he concludes, ‘suffer in silence. Cats can communicate extreme fear, or extreme anger ‘– he argues ‘and then asks, ‘What about anxiety or joy?’

This is simply nonsense wrapped up to become bad science His lack of real clinical experience with domestic cats – and a shocking ignorance of feline behaviour – leaps out of the page. Cats – anxiety; if he has not observed a cat that is displaying withdrawn behaviour and obsessive (OCD-like) over-grooming then what was he doing authoring a book about domestic cats? Oh, yes, Peter Neville wrote that chapter. 

There are discussions about ‘true’ as opposed to ‘fake’ emotions but I suggest readers trudge through this part as the other price for buying this book. At one point, he does mention his own Labrador, Bruno, who would ‘hedge his bets’ on greeting people by wagging his helicopter tail and half crouching. Apparently, when he met other male dogs, Bruno made himself bigger by ‘standing tall’ and ‘raising his hackles’. Amazing! They do say dogs look and behave like their owners and vice versa. 

A few pages on and he introduces discussion and images of Charles Darwin’s ‘attacking’ and ‘submissive’ dogs. I can only think this is to increase his prevarication and perhaps credibility. He suggests that in Darwin’s 1872 book, ‘Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals’ – his interpretation of a dog’s emotional states – is still considered sound. He frequently dips into ancient research. Bradshaw knows that some ground-breaking research can and does stand the test of time whereas others, on closer inspection, do not because it was given the rigorous statistical testing that is applied in biology today. What follows is some more awful science, including a discussion that suggests we openly show our emotions but that ‘…wolves and dogs use their whole bodies, not just their faces, to communicate emotions’. We don’t use our bodies to communicate how we feel??? Perhaps he should read library copies of ‘The Human Animal and The Naked Ape, both by Desmond Morris 

The ‘mantra’ reappears: ‘Indeed, many clinicians will tell you that most of the cases of aggression that they see are motivated by fear and not by ‘anger’ or any need to ‘dominate’.’ He plays around with semantics because there is a need to separate ‘anxiety states’ from ‘actual fear’. Included are anecdotes about his dog Bruno and he even mentions his other dogs. Fifteen years ago, he tells us, ‘he started a research program that revealed, among other things that half the young Labradors in the UK hated being left alone.’   ‘But in those days’, he adds, ‘I do not think anyone even suspected that this was the case.’

Firstly, I cannot think how he proved that half the young Labradors in the UK hated being left alone. Secondly, only scientists like him (ass Bradshaw is intimating here), were aware of separation issues in dogs way back in the ‘medieval times’ (15 years ago). Is it really 13 years ago that we attended ‘The Separation Summit’ at the University of Warwick?  He becomes embroiled in describing aggressive behaviour in dogs as ‘anger’ and suggests, ‘Indeed, domestication has raised the dog’s threshold for anger to a point where dogs rarely become angry.’ And, wait for it – what do you guess comes next?

Dog trainers who still regard dominance as a key motivator for dog behaviour tend to explain most aggressive behaviour as driven by anger’

Around this point, Bradshaw gets his proverbial ‘knickers in a twist’ suggesting that ‘some dogs are highly territorial … and when their territory is invaded they will bark to show how angry they are at the intrusion’. Bradshaw must have surely heard of alert-barking, a ‘warning call’ rarely used by wild dogs (and obsessive behaviour in some domestic dogs) to alert the pack of potential predators or intruders? Where does ‘anger’ come into that scenario?

He adds his expert advice that ‘dogs need to be taught emotional more than physical boundaries’. Then, in some kind of ‘weird world of Bradshaw’ he continues and discusses aggression in the wolf ‘as a component of ‘predatory behaviour’’ – but – that this should ‘not to be confused with a dog that kills a sheep that is called ‘aggressive’’. This is because the dog is ‘unlikely to be frightened of the sheep’ – ‘it’s not a rival – it is just following instinct.’ He then goes into motivation for predatory aggression – and declares ‘it’s distinct from anger or fear…….

Bradshaw writes a ‘full attack’ when discussing how his research (2002) was undertaken because of a previous ‘ill-conceived study – purporting to show that that dogs that had gone through rescue and rehoming were very likely to develop separation distress’. Interestingly enough, I would use the term ‘ill-conceived study’ on more than one of ‘Bradshaw and his et al ‘papers but, perhaps understandably, he would never use that term on his own studies.  If only from my own 15 years of clinical data, I would argue that rescue dogs are highly likely to develop after being rehomed or are already experiencing separation distress prior to rehoming.

There is a quote from research by his former student, Emily Blackwell’s (undated and lacking in the chapter notes) study of ‘20 owners and their dogs’ (in which she declares that the owners were certain that their dogs were happy to be left alone) and then arrived at a statistic that 20% of all dogs suffer from separation distress.

Firstly, Practitioners are fully aware of the ‘how dogs behave when home-alone’ can come as complete surprise to owners. It is why we recommend that they leave a video/digital camera filming when first leaving a dog alone in the home. How can owners know how their dogs behave when they are away if there are no physical signs for distress when they return? 

Secondly, Bradshaw states the separation condition is difficult to cure (treat) and yet my own success rate is, modestly, at least 95% successful. However, as he keeps informing readers that he is a scientist, I openly challenge Bradshaw to treat a dog with Separation-related Disorder in the manner described within this chapter on page 175. He concedes, at least, that treating a dog with this condition is outside his scope and offers a table put together by co-published colleagues, Emily Blackwell and Rachel Casey. To make it clear, a dog with this condition – is displaying unhealthy owner-attachment – that results in home-alone stress-related behaviours. 

I shall resist the temptation to quote the complete table – suffice that it includes ‘Keys picking up..  leaving the house..  coming straight back and praising the dog’. This kind of ‘regurgitated advice’, as offered in this introduction, is woeful. It should be recorded that this type of what I would call ‘comic book’ advice is about as unhelpful and outdated much in this book. In particular, aggressive training methods – frequently referred to in this book – that all canine behaviourists advise dog-owners to use: Bradshaw’s Guide, ‘we urge owners to dominate the wolf in the dog’.

‘Canine brainpower’ provides an interesting exploration of areas in canine research and is one of two chapters (‘A world of smells’ is the other) that I have very few issues with comes a caption line: 

‘Dogs playing with a tug-toy are actually competing’. 

I could refer to the lack of information with regards to dogs ‘understanding’ the ‘phonetic sounds of words’ when they used by owners in association with events and items but that would be nit-picking. I only mention it because Bradshaw virtually closes this chapter with a question – ‘Can dogs learn human language?’

In the chapter ‘Emotional (Un) sophistication’, there are aspects of discussions – centred on the interpretation of emotions – about how people ‘project’ their level of intelligence and emotional understanding onto their dogs. This is a natural response from people and aspects of it are important from practitioners to counter. Understanding the differences and influences – instinctive, associative, reactive, innate and learned behaviour – is important to professionals with a role in correcting undesired domestic dog behaviour. Owners can perceive their dogs to be who they want them to be – in the relationship – providing there are no behaviour problems.

I got the feeling that his discussion about ‘guilt’ belongs in chapter six, ‘Does your dog love you’. It is true that there are many owners who confuse the submissive behaviour of their dog upon returning home only to discover the physical signs of separation-stress such as ‘destructiveness’ or indoor urination/defecation. Dogs with separation-related disorder learn that their owners might be unhappy or even angry when they return to see damage or soiling. It is human error to connect a dog’s anxious, learned, associated and response behaviour with the idea ‘that it knows it has done wrong’. This appears less obvious that the potential association of the owner’s return with unhappy or angry ‘emotional responses’. It is an important factor that is discussed by practitioners in the early stages of offering a treatment program for dogs in these cases.

We know that the ‘human emotion’ jealousy can be easily confused with ‘competitive behaviour’ in dogs – although I could easily give examples on both sides that are similar in terms of motive. Bradshaw offers an information box, ‘The changing face of animal emotion’ and discusses Darwin and Lorenz (again attaching Nobel Prize-winner tag) and Lloyd Morgan alongside Watson and Skinner. Semantics return with a discussion about ‘grief’ – an emotion he suggests is beyond the lesser cognitive abilities of dogs. I would argue that grief experienced by people comes about because of separation and, ultimately, death is a permanent form of separation. Some dogs feel separation from people – or other dogs – more than others even when it not permanent.

There is a most ridiculous paragraph’s worth of ‘fantasy’ in which Bradshaw feels the need to suppose ‘a young wolf walks up to its father and confesses it had eaten the best piece of meat while his back was turned. ‘Unlikely’, Bradshaw confesses with the start of the next sentence of this ridiculous scenario (which is his way of illustrating how a dog cannot feel guilt) ‘let us entertain the possibility…’   

Why he feels a need to write this I can only guess.

Much of this chapter is about how ‘American research’ identifies that owners are misreading their dogs in terms of ‘guilt’ which means the text really belongs in the chapter where he discusses ‘separation-stress’.

The next section is about ‘noise phobia’ which could also have been added to earlier chapters. He ‘plays’ with ideas around ‘projecting’ or confusing dog behaviours with human emotions, including ‘shame’, in this section.

He introduces ‘rodent study colleagues’ from Bristol University, who examined 24 dogs ‘awaiting rehoming’ at a rescue centre in order to experiment if they could predict which would develop separation issues. They concluded that the dogs most likely to experience such attachment issues were the one with a pre-existing pessimism. He finishes this chapter in the manner of how he started it with a random ‘clever’ line:

 ‘If the Inuit can have fifteen words for snow, maybe dogs can experience fifteen kinds of love.’

In ‘Problems with pedigrees’, Bradshaw details what most professionals and concerned owners are acutely aware of that is now going wrong for dogs. This includes a long-time ‘show-winner’ obsession with ‘appearance’ and how it has taken precedence over disposition. The continuous selected-breeding within a few animals in terms of numbers, narrow gene pools and the deliberate ‘ignoring’ of life threatening genetic defects. There are clearly breeders who are fully aware of these defects but who prefer ‘turning a blind eye’ to their significant involvement because they care more about money that the worth of a healthy companion animal. Maybe so-called ‘designer dogs’, introduced with the allergy-friendly Labradoodle, or to be more exact ‘pedigree crosses’ may offer the mongrel effect. The main concern is that two breeds with a known predisposition for genetic disease including physiological deformity could share and exaggerate them.

Science counters ignorance but is not going to change dog breed nightmares. It is the millions of caring dog owners watching, sometimes in horror, each insightful television program that highlights what and who is going wrong. It is those same dog lovers who campaigned to the BBC, to politicians and to The Kennel Club. Changes are coming, such as those seen at 2012 ‘Crufts Show’ where veterinarians examined and disqualified in some cases place-winning representatives of harmed breeds. Changes are never fast enough. Commercial puppy-farming will continue unabated – without legislation to makes it illegal – for as long as it is more profitable to farm puppies rather than livestock.

He sidesteps the significant potential for genetic inheritance for aggression in some breeds and practitioners and researchers, in particular scientists working in the fields that include behavioural genetics and socio-genetic behaviour, would (like me) disagree with him.

In ‘Dogs and the future’, Bradshaw imagines himself as the knight in shining armour. This book is only lacking a biography photograph of Bradshaw wearing a comic-book hero cape and leotard as he takes on the world of dog-trainer and canine practitioner. Bradshaw declares he is here to rescue our dogs from what he describes as the ‘kicking and beatings’ we give them. 

‘Do they have the capacity to continue reinventing themselves (in modern society) … In my opinion they do, but they need hep along the way, help that canine science is ready to provide.’

Is this not the ‘sanctimonious sentence’ quoted from this book?

‘For one thing, dogs are recognizably canids, but they do not behave much like wolves.’

That’s the ‘Bradshaw Mission’ to the fore again; and here again:

‘Superficial comparisons between any wild animal and the dog (the most domesticated animal) are rarely helpful’.

I believe this statement is only valid when Bradshaw is not the one making that superficial comparison (refer to the young wolf cubs and dogs). He then continues to write about how wonderful his brand of science is – ‘Second, Dogs have a unique capacity to form attachments with humans’, ‘Third, dog’s sense of smell’ : ‘These ideas are no-brainers, notions that any dog lover should find straightforward to accept, provided they have respect for the science that created them.’

What is clear from the rhetoric is that Bradshaw enjoys challenging and attacking but is not keen to be challenged or attacked in return. The signs of a superiority complex as he writes:

 ‘Dog training is one area which the new canine science has met with strong resistance … to the point where some trainers and self-proclaimed ‘behaviour experts’ have openly and deliberately attacked the credentials of those trying to disseminate reliable, science-based information’.

In the summary stages, he states the ‘dog training/behaviour thinking’ areas are wrong throughout the book. He lists all that is wrong: ‘Pack-theory debunking; ethical and philosophical of physical punishment, shock-collars; trainers mistakenly working within a dominance-framework and the detached methods of the working dog people. Revealing a myopic view of the dog-world, he recounts an experience, presumably, as he is finalising his book:

 ‘Today, jogging in the park near my house – sunny day – nine dogs – off-leash – and only one immediately responded when called by the owner’ (the rest are described in Bradshaw Film World as being a mild embarrassment to their owners – misbehaving – jumping up at children – chasing cyclists and scrounging off picnicker) … ‘Assuming this very small sample is typical, such behaviour must contribute to giving dogs a bad name’. Then, he presents a Bradshaw Whammy in this single sentence!!

‘I do not know what methods, if any, these owners had used to try to train their dogs to come back to them on command, but I am willing to bet that many tried punishment’.  

 If Bradshaw constructs his research experiments and studies using that form of logic then God Help the ‘science’ he produces.

He writes ‘rescue dogs are already psychologically damaged’ and, in my mind, he shoots himself in the foot. Why would he use such dogs – for a study to ascertain if dogs, when allowed to ‘roam freely’ (in a DogsTrust, Wiltshire compound), would display dominant or submissive behaviour?

In the current UK and wider economic downturn it is being recorded that there are more and more dogs in rehoming and rescue centres. It is clear we need more responsible breeding and ownership in the UK.  This is discussed in this chapter. Bradshaw makes a ‘biological’ error in stating that ‘genes do not code for behaviour as such’ and I would suggest he puts down his telescope vision and try using his academic eyes to obtain a more 20/20 view. He does at least concede at the end, in ‘Looking into the future’, that dogs will need help from scientists and enthusiasts alike.  He adds, ‘Addressing the twin pressures of misguided breeding and poor understanding of canine psychology is crucial…’

Bradshaw declares his hope is that his book will make some contribution to that goal. He could have made a more constructive start (and scored less of an own-goal) by not pigeon-holing and alienating a great many with his misguided belief that there is only one way – ‘The Bradshaw Way of Thinking’ – when it comes to understanding the behaviour of the domestic dog. Science has not elected him to speak for all disciplines. Professional canine behaviour practitioners did not elect him either.   

His book, in my opinion, is a giant haystack of ideas, in which interesting facts and abstracts of 21st Century research have been concealed. When included in my library favourites, that includes James Serpell (editor) ‘The Domestic Dog’ (1995), Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, ‘Dogs’ (2004), and Alexandra Horowitz, ‘Inside a dog’: What Dogs See, Smell and Know’ (2009), I believe ‘In Defence of Dogs’ might be useful. The one caveat is only when it is taken in context of who has written it and knowing that it includes a hidden agenda.


Dr David Sands – edited summary  – 26th May 2012



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