Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Must read: Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Culture Clash: Buy it
I just realized that I've never formally reviewed my most-cherished dog behavior book in this space.
My apologies for that.
I have, however, referenced this book a number of times. I've also given it as a gift to dog-owning friends of mine at nearly every Christmas since I first read it years ago.
First published in 1996, Culture Clash should have changed the world. And perhaps it is, one reader at a time.
Donaldson wastes no time identifying the major problem in the human-dog relationship — the way humans view dogs.
Donaldson calls it the "Walt Disney dog" or "fuzzy-wuzzy" model.
The gist of it is this: We approach our dogs as though they are little, four-legged humans wearing furry suits.
Seriously, we do.
We reason what they do and why they do it from the human perspective. Did the dog tear down the blinds while you were gone? He must've been mad you left him alone for so long. And yesterday, when he tore off after a rabbit, he blatantly disregarded your command to come despite the fact that he knows to come when called. He knew better and he ignored you, right?
We never take a step back from the way we think. Every thing we reason about our dogs is colored by our own experiences as humans. It's only natural, but that doesn't make it right or helpful.
Worse yet, we've come to measure our dogs by human standards.
Ask a dog owner, anywhere, how intelligent dogs are and you will hear never-ending tales of just how smart, human-like and cleverly manipulative dogs are. It's as though they have to be smart like us in order for us to justify loving them as members of our family.
An additional problem, Donaldson wrote, is that in our approach, we've ascribed to them morality. Not only did the dog know it was wrong to tear down the blinds, but he did it on purpose to spite you.
Now consider that's not the case. How are you ever going to solve the problem if what you think is the problem really is not? Worse yet, might you be inclined to inadvertently make the problem worse?
"As soon as you bestow intelligence and morality, you bestow the responsibility that goes alone with them," Donaldson wrote. "In other words, if the dog knows it's wrong to destroy furniture yet deliberately and maliciously does it, remembers the wrong he did and feels guilt, it feels like he merits a punishment, doesn't it?"
She continues: "We set them up for all kinds of punishment by overestimating their ability to think ... The fuzzy-wuzzy model gives dogs problems they cannot solve and then punishes them for failing."
Here's the bright side: Dogs are amazing in their own right.
Donaldson leads you through truths we know about dogs — how they learn, what motivates them, instinctual factors and their own amazing doggy abilities.
"I find it disturbing that my dogs' value is based on myth and exaggeration, as though their reality wasn't good enough," she wrote.
The value of the book does not end there.
Donaldson gives you the information you need about dogs to start tackling the most difficult of behavior issues, like a step-by-step exercise to rehabilitating food guarding.
She goes beyond that in her "Nuts and Bolts of Obedience Training" chapter to give you a clear-cut plan to achieving those training basics, from a sit-stay to pulling on leash, with stellar results.
The book builds on itself.
First, you learn what a dog really is — the essential building block for everything that follows. Then, she gives you a well-defined plan for everything from basic training to modifying bad behaviors.
I have often said that if I ran the world, every person would have to read this book and be tested on it before being allowed to own a dog.
Of course I realize how ridiculous that is. But it is still my opinion that if you currently own or are planning to own a dog, you should read this book.

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