Welcome to a new LWDG series, I know that the world of dog training can be mind-boggling and books for me have always been a big draw to help me understand my furry friends better. My aim is to bring a dog training book to you every month to give my honest opinion. I hope you find this series helpful.
First to be reviewed is my latest read, The Dog’s Mind by Dr Bruce Fogle. A Canadian vet of over 5 years who was also Director of the London Veterinary Clinic and co-founder and vice-chairman of the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Dr Fogle was appointed an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II for services to deaf people and has been awarded Honorary Life Membership by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association.
This book was first published in 1992 so it is important to note the time in which it was written. Initially, the book does come across as dated, (although the cover has been modernised with the reprints) it contains no pictures, which would have been useful or more appealing when looking to describe dogs’ body language or behaviour, instead, it includes pencil sketches which doesn’t do much to bring the book into the modern world.
The content is split down into 13 separate chapters covering:
- The genetics of the mind
- The brain
- The senses
- Hormones and the mind
- Maternal and peer imprinting
- Our influence on the developing mind
- Eating, exploring and eliminating
- Fears, phobias and excitement
- Pack, sex and maternal activity
- Breed differences in behaviour
- The mind of the ill and elderly
The content is largely based on the stages of development of a dog alongside the neurological, physiological and biological makeup of our canine companions. I found the first four chapters quite interesting due to my personal interest in this area, but I can imagine for many this could seem quite dry content.
As the chapters went on, I found the content of the book quite heavy going with a number of the author’s examples repeated (cue a dog chasing a postman). The what in which the narrative was pitched at times also seemed confusing, although the appendix in the book cites all of the clinical research commented on in the book it was interspersed with his own experiences, his own opinions, and often attempts at humour which seems somewhat misplaced (cue a dog holding a shotgun).
I have to admit on reading it seemed unclear to which kind of reader the book is aimed for, breeders, new dog owners, trainers or behaviourists. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as a dog training guide or manual (although there are some short rudimentary training exercises at the back). From my perspective, the content would be too simplistic (and archaic, but more on that later) for dog behaviourists but not practical and engaging enough for dog owners. I guess it is what the title suggests, commentary on a dog’s mind.
From a biological perspective, I found the content useful and engaging in understanding how dogs perceive the world around us and how they engage in their environment. My biggest issue however with the book is the date it was written. From a behavioural theory perspective, I found some of it slightly uncomfortable reading and it is clear that times have moved on with the methods used in dog training since its publication date 21 years ago.
The book has a strong slant on dominance hierarchy and the importance of being an ‘alpha’ in the home, as well as some theories that aggression cases can be due to not being a dominant enough owner or that we shouldn’t allow dogs to win at tug (please don’t even tell my dog this!), or if we back away from a growl this can lead to further aggression issues.
“After selecting your pup, dominate it while it is young and impressionable. For example, the dog should eat on your terms, not his. Train him by occasionally taking his food or toys away and then returning them…. Never let threats go unchecked. If he nips and mounts, he needs to be chastised’.
Taking food and toys away from your dog for no reason but to show them you are dominant will only confuse them and promote resource-guarding behaviour. ‘Threats’ are your dog’s way of communicating that something is wrong, punishing them for this will lead to more aggressive behaviour without warning.
“Small dogs are easier to treat. We can show dominance by scruff in them, picking them off the ground or shaking them. Large dogs can be grabbed on each side of theneck and given a lift, shake and stare, but be careful. This can be quite dangerouswith a very dominant dog”.
All of the above beliefs we know now to be outdated, as well as the training methods so we need to ensure when we read the book, we take into account the time in which it was written. The author from my perspective at times could make sweeping statements such as
‘one in five visits to vets are about aggression cases’ and ‘85% of aggression cases relate to male dogs’
although it does concede that neutering is not an effective solution for a number of aggression cases.
For me, the most bizarre comment was that ‘all dogs bury bones but few dig them up’. It also left my two dogs confused as neither has ever exhibited that behaviour. I am unsure about what the chapter around breed differences in dog behaviour brought to the book, apart from almost ranking them against each other but with no real information about breed tendencies and it seemed to contradict the previous chapters around all the other factors that can affect dog behaviour from in utero right through puppy and to adult. It seemed just thrown in at the end as a bit of an afterthought.
The very short chapter at the end I found useful, discussing how age can impact dogs from sight, hearing, smell and neurological perspectives and how this may in turn affect their behaviour. Having a 10-year-old dog myself, it was a good reminder about understanding his needs better as he ages. All in all, when it comes to the biological makeup and information about a dog there is generally some sound information in this publication but some outdated concepts regarding behaviour and ways in which to address this, which for me I did find myself feeling uneasy reading about (remember always consult a qualified behaviourist if you have concerns about your dog behaviour).
In summary, I can see at the time how this book would have been very interesting and informative for those wanting to understand more about dogs and how their tick. Sadly, for me, it is a book that shows its age. It does wonderfully demonstrate how far we have come in how we treat our dogs in the past 21 years and how training theory has moved to more balanced methods. For those fascinated by this area, it may be worth a read but for certain, there are more up-to-date and engaging books out there.
See you next month!
MSC PSYCH, MBPSS, MBACP (ACCRED), EMDR PRACTITIONER
Emma is a fully qualified Therapist, Counselling Supervisor and EMDR practitioner with her own practice Windspirit Therapy . She is also a Senior accredited member of the BACP and works under their ethics and guidelines.
Away from work, Emma trains her two dogs Fudge and Scout and is an avid reader.
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