"Culture Clash" & "Dogs are from Neptune"

books by Jean Donaldson

Book Reviews by Pam Green, © 2000

Reviews of two very valuable books by Jean Donaldson concerning dog behavior, how dogs learn, how to establish desirable behaviors and how to modify undesirable ones. "Culture Clash" is most valuable for raising a puppy so as to prevent behavior problems. "Dogs are from Neptune" provides case study protocols for solving behavior problems. I'd advise reading Clash before reading Neptune.

Book Reviews

"CULTURE CLASH" by Jean Donaldson

An excellent excellent book, putting what is known of dog social behavior and development and what is known of dog learning into a form that the lay owner can use. The underlying knowledge has long been known to the behavioral scientists and much written on by them, but not in a way that the average owner can easily put to use. This book is easy to understand and give explicit directions that any well meaning owner should be able to use.

Ch 1 disposes of the "Lassie myth" of dog intellect and behavior and pleads for a realistic view of same. Dogs don't have complex cognition and don't have human type morality (so much the better for them say I and so said Mark Twain : which species is it that brutalizes torments rapes and murders its own kind and which species never does so?). Dogs learn by good and bad consequences, immediate consequences, of their actions.

Ch 2 discusses the inherited , genetically hard-wired, shaped by evolution behaviors that affect our dogs and our lives with them most : predatory behavior and social (pack) behavior.

Ch 3 discusses how to raise a dog with emphasis on need for extensive socialization of puppy to humans and to other dogs, and with emphasis on what games to play and how to play them to put you into control of drives and behaviors that must have an outlet an could otherwise cause you big trouble. Her way of playing "tug" is very similar to the one I came up with some years back, except that I did not give any reward for releasing the tug beyond praise and resumption of the game.

Ch 4 discuss various behavioral problems and solutions

Chs 5, 6 , & 7 : Sets out the rules of how dogs learn (operant and classical conditioning) and how to put this into practice in training our dogs. mostly advocating training thru positive reinforcement. this is the practical how to do it version that puts into use the principals Karen Pryor so well explained. including the "no reward mark" (= "sorry, wrong answer") cue , which I would think would become more and more valuable as the rewards for right answers get put onto a variable reinforcement (= slot machine) schedule.

A very well written and humorous book. very very readable. I recommend it to all dog caretakers.

"DOGS ARE FROM NEPTUNE" by Jean Donaldson

Read this one after you have read "Culture Clash", because it is based on the concepts detailed therein.

The book consists of detailed histories and remedial protocols for behavior problems falling into general categories : aggression towards strangers, resource (food, toy, etc) guarding, aggression against other dogs, fear and anxiety problems, obedience problems, and miscellaneous problems. It pretty well covers all the problems that get dogs into serious trouble (that get them put onto death row, aka the Pound) , plus some others that are less serious but can be really annoying to the owner. The one problem that is absent which should be under the dog-dog aggression is the problem of dogs living in same home who fight each other -- and I really wish she'd included that because its the one problem I have never really found a good answer for so I'd be happy to try her answer.

My sole objection is that Donaldson philosophically objects to solving problems through negative reinforcement or through punishment techniques so strongly that she does not fully discus their applicability, even in situations where they may be appropriate or even essential. Eg for the sheep chasing dog in New Zealand (where any sheep chasing dog gets executed, shot dead on the spot by the shepherd !), I think her solutions fall short of realistic. (To me the only realistic advice would be to either keep the dog ON LEASH in every situation in which sheep are even a remote possibility or else to train in a genuinely fail-safe recall using negative reinforcement applied by a Remote Training collar -- but the latter takes serious skill and commitment from the trainer. I have written an article on using Remote to train and proof the recall to the stage of being reliable under high distraction , life-or-death situations.)

A very fine book full of approaches that are worth trying. No guarantees that any one method will work for a particular dog and owner, but with some intelligence in the execution at least I don't think this advice would make someone's troubles significantly worse. However if you have a dog who is showing aggression towards human beings, you MUST also immediately consult a well qualified veterinary behaviorist or dog behaviorist with a lot of experience with aggression !

My other quibble with the book is with the title : namely, if dogs are FROM Neptune, how come they are always going TO Uranus ????


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1/8/03 revised 4/21/03
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