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Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet Paperback – May 8 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (May 8 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030033
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #67,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER on July 16 2011
Format: Hardcover
In "Dog Sense," John Bradshaw (Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol) outlines current beliefs in the science of dog behaviour. Most interestingly, he debunks the pack theory made so popular by Cesar Millan that assumes an owner has to assume the "alpha" personality in order to keep his/her dog under control.

Bradshaw dedicates the first third of his book to detailing the evolution of domestic dogs. In short, the wolves from whom our pets evolved no longer exist; today's wolves are the products of constant harassment by humans in the form of hunting, observation and territorial invasion. Whereas puppies exhibit friendliness to both humans and to other dogs, wolves show no sociability to either humans or to wolves outside the pack. Thus, if our beloved dogs truly responded to dominance-based training, no two dogs from different households would ever play together and all would be extremely wary of other humans. Bradshaw presents compelling evidence to support this discussion, so much in fact that the first 100 pages become extremely tedious and ultimately unhelpful in explaining how to apply such evidence to improving canine-human relationships.

The book briefly touches on the science of dog training and contains engaging chapters on canine brain power and emotional sophistication (or lack thereof) before ending with a diatribe against "pedigree" dog breeding. Puppy mill operators and certain show breeders certainly fail to consider animal welfare but a meticulous attack on inhumane pet owners does little to enlighten readers on how to be better friends to their pets.
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By Lynnette Callan on May 16 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a dog owner I get fed up with dog books written as if the dog was a human in a furry coat. John Bradshaw simply gives you the history and facts on the dog. You will get a much better understanding of your dog from this book.
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By Olivier Piquer on Feb. 17 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Même si parfois les mots se compliquent. Le livre est terriblement enrichissant. Une très belle lecture pour tous les amoureux de chiens
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ivan Stewart on Aug. 20 2011
Format: Hardcover
First off, it must be noted for everyone (including past reviewers) that this ISN'T a 'how to' book. It was written to give people a clearer understanding of the domestic dog and to debunk the silly myths permeating the dog world, including Cesar Millan.

As a dog behaviourist, I was already very familiar with the material and research presented in the book. I was glad to see that is was written for the layman, and it is clear and easy to understand.

The book takes the reader through the history of the domestic dog, then understanding behaviours. There is considerable information on breeding and showing and the effects those things have had on the quality of life of dogs.

This book will give people the opportunity to read about proven scientific information about dogs and behaviour. It will also allow people to see guru's like Cesar Millan for what he really is, a trumped up dog walker.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 102 reviews
277 of 294 people found the following review helpful
A excellent if occasionally frustrating book June 2 2011
By Elisabeth Carey - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It was the best of books, it was--not the worst of books, not by a long shot, but incredibly annoying in places.

This is a serious effort at collecting in one place the current state of the science of dog behavior. Bradshaw discusses the evidence we have for how and when dogs evolved from wolves, as well as what dogs' close relationship to wolves does and doesn't mean for their behavior and needs in human households. For the last century or so, much training and dog management advice has been based on the idea that wolf packs are competitive, internally violent groups, dominated by the fiercest, most powerful male, or possibly the fiercest, most powerful male and female--the "alphas." Since, the reasoning goes, "dogs are wolves," dog owners need to establish themselves as "alpha" and dominate their dogs, lest the dogs seize control of the household and become problems and even threats.

Bradshaw explains in clear and understandable terms why every piece of this argument is wrong.

The studies that showed wolf packs as violent groupings dominated by the strongest were done with artificial, captive wolf packs--wolves who were not related to each other and had no way to leave the group if they weren't happy with. They had no choice but to work out Who's In Charge Here, by any means necessary. Natural wolf packs in the wild have since been studied extensively, and they are, in contrast, peaceful, mostly harmonious family groups. The "alpha pair" are in fact the parents of the younger wolves. Depending on local conditions, offspring from past litters may stick around for a year or three, helping to raise their younger siblings before eventually heading off to find mates and start their own packs. Where plentiful large game is available, a stable, long-lasting pack may include not only several years' worth of offspring, but siblings of one or both of the mated pair--aunts and uncles helping to hunt large game and feed and care for the pups.

So wolves aren't what we think they are. But then, neither are dogs what we're sometimes told to think they are--and we know this, from our own observations of our own dogs. Most dogs who have had reasonably normal puppy experiences are extremely friendly and social, both with humans and with other dogs. Wolves, as harmonious and cooperative as they are within their own family groups, do not share dogs' interest in being friendly and social with either humans, or other wolves. Contact with wolves outside the family pack doesn't always descend into violence, but it's always an occasion of conflict, with the resident group warning off the intruders. If our domestic pet dogs shared the behavioral traits of wolves to the extent that "dominance-based" training tells us they do, there would be no dog parks. We wouldn't have the idea of dog parks; it would engender not visions of happy dogs playing, but of conflict between dogs or groups of dogs of different households. Just the fact that dogs form close social bonds with humans is a clue they're not like wolves behaviorally; wolves are incredibly wary of humans, and even where an individual human has formed a relationship with an individual wolf, wolves don't have dogs' inclination to trust our judgment, regard us as sources of information, or respond to human body language.

Bradshaw goes further, and points out that today's wolves are the descendants of several hundred years of relentless human hunting and territorial encroachment; they've been effectively selected for distrust and wariness of humans in a way that wouldn't have been true of the original wolf protodogs who first started following humans to exploit our leftovers, and then gradually joined our human families and their skills for our skills to the greater prosperity of both species.

The wolves our dogs evolved from don't exist anymore.

The book further discusses how easy it is to get dogs to focus on humans. A dog who has no contact with humans as a puppy will normally be quite wary of people and is unlikely to be successful as a pet, but even minimal positive contact with humans at any point between the ages of three and eight weeks of age will set the puppy up to be ready to bond with humans and learn to be a good pet. How much contact, and at exactly what age, will affect how easy and smooth it is, but any positive contact with humans during that period will give the dog at least the minimal tools it needs to live with humans.

So, that's the good stuff. There's a lot of it, I've barely scratched the surface, and you really do want to read the book and get all of it, with Bradshaw's much fuller explanation, references to more sources, etc.


You knew there was a "but" coming, right?

Bradshaw says dogs are becoming less common as pets in the cities, being pushed out to suburban and rural areas. Maybe in the UK, I don't know, but not here in the US, where instead there is a shift to smaller dogs and/or lower-energy dogs, more likely to be happy and successful in cities--while the larger and/or higher-energy dogs remain extremely popular with people who have either more room, or a lifestyle that enables them to give those dogs the exercise and stimulation they need, regardless of geographic location. He says cats have become more than dogs as pets in the US--this is completely wrong. There are more cats than dogs kept as pets in the US--but more households have dogs than cats. The discrepancy in numbers is due to most cat owners having at least two cats, and often more, while dog owners are far more likely to have only one at a time--and this is often true even in households that have both. There's no evidence that dogs are falling in popularity as pets--not with the huge increase in numbers of dogs, numbers of households with dogs, and percentage of households with dogs over the last thirty years.

He also has a great deal to say about purebred, or, as he terms it, "pedigree" dog breeding, and he says it over and over. He talks about excessive inbreeding, kennel club regulations that prevent out-crossing to deal with mistakes that have made genetic diseases common in some breeds, the loss of genetic diversity within each breed, and emphasis on extremes of type due to show standards, leading to what are in effect major deformities in some breeds that make them less than viable.

These are all real concerns, some of them more so in some breeds than others, and yet he makes a complete hash of his discussion of it. Bradshaw places all the responsibility for the current problems on show breeders (who are not without fault), and completely misses the degree to which all of these problems are worse in puppy mills (puppy farms, commercial puppy factories, pick your terminology.) Many (not all) show breeders study pedigrees and do genetic testing where tests are available, to minimize the chance of producing puppies affected by the known genetic problems of their breed. Puppy mills don't; as long as a female can whelp litters of commercially viable size, they'll breed her. Many (not all) show breeders think seriously about the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) and out-cross to different lines to the extent practical within their breeds. Puppy mills don't; they'll happily breed a bitch to her full brother if it happens to be convenient, and it often is. Many (not all) show breeders follow up on the pups they place in pet households as well as show and performance households, and include the long-term health of those puppies in their considerations of future breeding decisions. Puppy mills don't.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a breed he specifically mentions as being descended from just six individuals and having serious genetic problems as a result (I think he's wrong; I believe it's four individuals), are a breed in deep trouble, no question. These sweet, loving, perfect pets are at severe risk of developing heart disease, syringomyelia, or both, even when they come from the best breeders. I honestly believe that this is a breed that's doomed unless planned, controlled out-crossing is introduced to fix their compromised genetic heritage.

But 100% of the breeders who care about this, and who are doing their best within the available rules and tools to save this wonderful breed, are the dread "show breeders." Backyard breeders, even the best, even the ones that love their dogs and really are breeding wonderful pets--an undertaking that gets too little respect in a world in which most dog owners desire dogs as pets and not as working companions--don't have the knowledge to do this. And the puppy millers, as well as most of the backyard breeders, simply don't care and aren't going to cut into their own profits by worrying about it.

Bradshaw doesn't state clearly enough what I believe the real problem is: between the late 1860s when much of dog breeding in the West became divorced from working considerations with the corresponding excellent empirical grasp of genetics, and the 1960s with the beginnings of a real scientific understanding of genetics, the combination of dogs shows judging by a written conformation standard and the insidious effects of "eugenics" leading to a belief that being "purebred" was a good thing in itself, caused many (not all, by any means) breeds to go seriously astray genetically. And once the problems are established, they are hard to undo--especially with the strong commitment to purebred breeding, now largely divorced from the pernicious philosophy that originally produced it, blocking planned out-crosses to other breeds or mixes to eliminate or dilute the genetic problem while preserving the essential character of the breed. And while Bradshaw rails against "pedigree breeding," at no point does he mention the most convincing proof that we don't have to lose our breeds in order to fix them, if we allow planned out-crosses: The Pointer/Dalmatian Backcross Project, which has produced dogs that look and act no different than AKC/KC registered Dalmatians--except that they lack the Dalmatians' extremely painful problem with improper metabolism of uric acid.

It's a complete mystery to me why someone who cares so much about the long-term health and welfare of dogs would waste time talking about Jemima Harrison's sensationalist "documentary," Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and not talk about the Pointer/Dal backcross project, which proves we can solve the problems without losing the breeds we love.

On balance, this really is a very good book, and I do recommend it. Read it, argue with it, come back here and tell me what you think about it!

No free galley on this one; I bought the ebook.
128 of 148 people found the following review helpful
Not what I expected Aug. 14 2011
By Dr. Ann - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I will give Bradshaw credit for several things, with which I strongly agree: that positive reinforcement is more effective than physical punishment, and that many breeders are ruining dogs by limiting their genetic variation and selecting only for looks. Further, he is a far cry and welcome departure from other scientists, who in their attempts to be taken seriously, try to purge all emotion from the study of animals. This led (and still does) to many cruel experiments, and to insane beliefs that persisted since the Victorian era claiming animals are 'merely machines' and 'do not feel pain the way humans do.'

Because Bradshaw champions ethical treatment of animals, encourages rescue, and promotes spay/neuter, I give him three stars. Otherwise, based solely on literary grounds, I would give two stars.

I enjoy the theories, but was hoping for more hands-on advice in working with dogs. As others have said, far too much time is spent on tedious genetic data, and an attempt to convince the reader that dogs are not wolves. It's almost as if he's expecting us to argue the point, when I agreed with it fairly quickly. Differentiating between dogs and wolves, and especially between wolves in the wild vs. captive wolves was extremely useful. However, to presume that wolf behavior doesn't ever apply to dogs is premature. If you have worked with feral dogs, you will notice they have some wolf-like traits, and by understanding wolves a little, you can be more successful in socializing these dogs.

Which brings us to an interesting point: Bradshaw repeatedly slams trainers who have no scientific education, yet he himself seems to have very little hands-on experience working with dogs. I found his criticism of Cesar Milan and Victoria Stilwell a major turn-off. Bradshaw lumps them into the category with harsh trainers who use physical punishment, and I have never seen either one harm a dog. Much of the time, Cesar doesn't even speak, much less raise his voice. There are hundreds of dogs alive today because of Cesar's intervention. I don't see how this warrants such contempt merely because the man doesn't have a PhD.

Perhaps Milan does over-emphasize the pack leader concept, but I dispute the notion that dogs do not form any natural hierarchy. Is it a constant struggle to dominate? Not at all. But there is a definite pecking order. We let it be. With one dog in (mostly) benevolent charge of the others, there is more harmony and we have less need to exercise discipline ourselves. Because Bradshaw does not appear to have lived in long-term, multi-dog situations, it undermines some of his conclusions.

There seems to be a backlash on here against anyone who doesn't praise this book. I hope all of them have over a dozen years experience in dog rescue, and have managed packs of 5 - 6 dogs, from pit bulls to Chihuahuas, in their homes. That way we'll know they are qualified to weigh in, and not merely peeved that someone disagreed.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
a very detailed and thorough understanding of the pet dog June 15 2011
By Adrien L. Phipps - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
First off, the people who gave this book 1 star had the similar complaint that it was too lengthy and too academic. Reality check: you read books like this to be informed, not entertained.

His training philosophy makes alot of sense. He explains that dogs need to be taught boundaries, and that permissiveness is inhumane. This leads to behavior problems which leads to the pound and euthanasia. The fate is no different than that of a dog who has been chained up and abused all its life. It annoys me when people spoil their dogs and don't bother to teach them how to safely get along in a human world. This is very detrimental to your dog, just as it would be detrimental if you allowed your child not to go to school. He also explains how the application of punishment is not a good way to train your dog. I wish more people would realize that, because every time I go out, I see someone walking their dog who is either ignorant of this fact, or does not want to learn.

The information in this book was very well laid out and I appreciate his description of the evolution of dogs, and how that information is applicable to your current dog. You cannot understand your pet unless you have a comprehensive understanding of his ancestors and origins. Bradshaw did a very excellent job of delineating all the latest research and compiling it into a coherent concept on dog behavior.

I really enjoyed how he explained what goes on in a dog's brain when he uses his nose. As humans, this is a very foreign concept to us. He goes on to say how in order to truly treat your dog well, you need to appreciate that his nose is his primary way of receiving information, no matter how gross it may seem to us. Not letting your dog sniff another dog's butt is the equivalent to hiding your face when you meet someone new. This behavior certainly would not lead to a pleasant introduction and you would likely come off as rude and antisocial.

He also puts to rest the controversial breed discrimination based on the fact that irresponsible owners are more likely to choose dogs that "look tough," and consequently mistreat them. It's a nature versus nurture debate, and he explains how puppyhood experiences influence behavioral gene expression. The truth is you can adopt a pit bull and as long as that dog is raised as any dog should; with consistent training, boundaries, and exercise, the dog is likely to turn out fine. More people need to realize this, and it's unfortunate that so many dogs are being killed just because of a specific look.
37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic - if you have a dog, you should read this book June 3 2011
By Julie - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dog Sense is an eye-opening book about what goes on inside the dog's brain, and how dogs perceive the world around them. Bradshaw's arguments and evidence are compelling and expressed in language easy to understand. Understanding how dogs do (and don't) think and what does (and does not) motivate their behavior means you can improve your relationship with your dogs simply by respecting them and treating them for who they are, not what you expect them to be or think they should be.

At least a third of this book is dedicated to debunking the most widely held (and most damaging to the human-dog relationship) myth about dog behavior and training - that dogs are motivated by "dominance," and their goal in life is to climb the social hierarchy. This myth originated from two fallacies: 1) that wolf packs operate in a state of constant conflict, with each member striving to be "alpha," and 2) that dog behavior is analogous to wolf behavior. Bradshaw goes to great length to explain why dominance theory is wrong, including in his discussion evidence from DNA, archaeology, the domestication process, dog and wolf behaviors (from both observation and experiments), and common sense. He also discusses dog intelligence, emotions, senses, and training theory, and uses that information to debunk common misconceptions about dog behavior, such as the belief that dogs feel "guilty" when they've done something "wrong" in their owner's absence.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Finally some good science about dogs! July 17 2011
By W. Anderson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The world of dog training and dog ownership is rich in myth and short on facts. We finally have a book that brings some science to the rescue in advancing our understanding of dogs. You may find some real surprises if you get most of your information from TV dog trainers.

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