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Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker
Dogwise Publishing, 264 pp., 2008; $19.95
Oh Behave!

Hold onto your leashes, dog-training fans: Oh Behave! is another great ride from Jean Donaldson. This book is classic JD, with all of the solid science that wins her so many loyal fans in the dog training and behavior community, and it comes wrapped in the wry, dry wit we’ve come to expect from her. While it may be too technical for the casual reader, Donaldson’s latest effort is a jackpot for those who are fascinated by the question of why dogs do what they do. If you’re a behavior addict, as are so many of us who’ve become captivated by the intricacies and possibilities of working with the canine mind, you’ll find much fodder here to feed your fixation.

Oh Behave!
follows the Q&A format reminiscent of Donaldson’s Dogs Are from Neptune (Laser Multimedia Productions, 1998), but with a broader range of compelling topics. The book has six sections:

Behavior: Includes foundation information about canine behavior, including an excellent chapter on social organization. Discusses hierarchies and the urban-legend explanation for the popularity of the flawed canine dominance theory.

Training: Answers a variety of questions about training philosophies and specific training challenges, such as prompting and luring, shaping, and the application of classical conditioning to everyday life.

Behavior Problems: Addresses several concepts and behaviors that fall outside the scope of basic training, including barking, mounting and the use of time-outs in behavior modification programs.

Fear and Anxiety: Explains the evolutionary survival value of fear and anxiety, and describes how to modify or manage some anxiety-related behaviors, including compulsive disorders and separation anxiety.

Aggression: Discusses aspects of aggression, notably the so-called “dog-bite epidemic,” as well as resource guarding, predatory drift, and the touchy topics of fighting-dog rehabilitation and breedspecific legislation.

Genetics and Evolution: Offers thoughtprovoking information on the oftbroached question of whether behavior is a result of nature (genetics) or nurture (environment). The answer, to quote Donaldson, is “All behavior is the product of a complex interaction between genes and environment…The answer is always both.”

Whew! That’s a lot to cover in one relatively slender volume. As always, Donaldson covers it remarkably well, with a plethora of pithy, quotable sound bites. She excels at identifying points of dissension within dog-owning/training circles and setting the record straight, and is not averse to a well-aimed jab or two at those who perpetuate inaccuracies and myths about behavior and training.

Discussing the question of whether dogs are capable of deliberate deception, she says,“Dogs…while masterful at being conditioned to behave in ways that function to get them off the hook, cannot perform intentional deception the way you and I can…The most interesting question to me is why people persist in believing dogs can intentionally deceive …in spite of substantial evidence to the contrary.”

Another favorite: “The pure shaping versus lure-reward debate has been going on for years with neither side offering up much in the way of blind empirical research to support their position that their way is ‘better,’ ‘faster,’ ‘more efficient,’ ‘teaches dogs to think’ or ‘grows bigger brains.’This hasn’t shaken the most zealous in either camp from their biases, however.”

If you’re not already firing up your computer to go online and order your copy of Oh Behave!, then you’re not a true behavior addict. Go play with your dog.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 50: Sept/Oct 2008
Pat Miller, CPDT, CDBC, APDT, has been training dogs for more than 35 years; she is also a writer and the founder of Peaceable Paws. peaceablepaws.com

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