By Don Hanson
What we know about the science of canine behavior and dog training is continually evolving. As such, every year I like to select a new book to recommend to my students, my staff, area veterinarians, and my colleagues that I feel will be the most beneficial to them and their dogs. This year I have chosen Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog by Linda P. Case.
At the beginning of her book, Case states she has two primary objectives: “…to provide accurate summaries of some of the most important evidence regarding present day understanding of the dog’s history and domestication, behavior, social cognition, and learning process.” and “… to apply this information to practical dog training methods and to provide means for communicating this information and teaching these methods in ways that are both interesting and useful to all dog owners.” From both my perspective as a pet care professional and as a pet parent, I believe that Case has met her objectives admirably.
Those of you familiar with my column and blog know that I am passionate about setting the record straight on the following; dominance, dog breeds, the importance of puppy socialization, and the unnecessary use of aversives for the training dogs. Case addresses all of these issues thoroughly.
The idea that one must be dominant or the “alpha” with their dog has probably done more damage to the human-dog relationship than any other piece of bad advice given by anyone about dogs. Case does an excellent job of getting into the scientific details about dominance. She clearly explains how dogs and wolves are related and how they are also very different. Case then goes on to discuss the scientific view of how the dog evolved and eventually became our companion. No discussion of that process would be complete without a review of how humans developed a seriously flawed theory called the “hierarchical model of pack behavior” which led to the false belief that we had to dominate our dogs and physically punish them to ensure we were always in control. Case uses science to explain how this model has been refuted and goes on to state “A parent-family model better describes wolf relationships in packs than does an outdated hierarchy model that focuses on strict social roles and conflict.” If you are a trainer and having difficulty explaining this to your clients, or a pet parent trying to explain this to other family members, you need to purchase and share this book.
Other topics addressed by Case include:
- Dog breeds and how they influence behavior. Anyone thinking of getting a dog should read this section before deciding which kind of dog they want as a companion.
- The critical importance of adequate and appropriate puppy socialization and habituation. Case explains why early socialization is crucial to a puppy’s development but adds a very important warning; if you do not do it right, you may create behavioral problems. Socialization is one of those issues that I find far too many alleged “dog experts” do not understand well. They are all perfect candidates for this book.
- The emotional response to the use of aversives in training and why reward-based training free of pain, fear, and force is the only humane choice. Case notes that she has chosen “…reward-based training methods (aka positive reinforcement) as a training approach because: 1) It works well. 2) It has desirable emotional and relationship benefits for our dogs and for us and is not associated with causing pain, anxiety or stress in dogs. 3) We have evidence for 1 and 2.”
As a pet care professional, I have found the biggest obstacle to helping my clients, and their dogs are often the erroneous beliefs they have acquired about dogs and their behavior from the internet, TV, friends, family, and sadly even ill-informed pet care professionals. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) acknowledged this as a serious problem in 2015 when they published their 2015 Canine and Feline Behavior Guidelines. Unfortunately, this document was not written for Jane and Joe Pet-Parent and does not offer the additional wise counsel found in Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog. Linda Case, thank you for filling that void! For those that want to know as much as possible, Case has also provided ample references to the scientific articles supporting her work.
If you love your dog, or if you work with people that love their dogs, you owe it to them to read Dog Smart: Evidence-based Training with The Science Dog by Linda P. Case. It is the smart thing to do.
About the Author
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop in Bangor, Maine where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He also produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show heard on AM620 -WZON every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at here. Hanson also writes about pets on his blog. He is committed to pet care that is free of pain, force, and fear.