Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker by Jean Donaldson

Link: Oh Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker

I bought this book, sight unseen, because Jean Donaldson wrote it. One of her other books, The Culture Clash: A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs, is generally regarded as one of the top books in dog training and animal behavior.

That said, here are some things I wish I had known before I bought her latest book, Oh Behave!

First, almost all the chapters start with a "Dear Jean" letter sent in from a reader. Since it is a Q&A format, the answers sometimes seem specific to the question.

Second, she also highlights the "Key Concepts" that are covered in that chapter. However, sometimes I feel that these concepts are merely touched on, not always 100% covered, because they are often huge topics.

Third, I wish I had thumbed through the table of contents to get a rough outline of the book's sections to understand if it would be useful to me overall. At the risk of disclosing too much, here are the section and chapter headings.

Section 1: Behavior
Chemistry and Constraints: How We Choose Our Dogs
Test Your Dog's IQ
Observation vs Interpretation
Wolf Behavior Patterns
Social Organization Models; A Mind Virus
Neonate Puppies
The Owner Signature: How We Build Our Dogs
What Is Play?
Dog Cognition Research
Ambivalence and Conflicting Motivation
Nutrition and Behavior
Malingering: Do Dogs Ever Fake It?

Section 2: Training
Dog Training Philosophies
Puritanism and Reward Training
Pavlov in Everyday Life
Prompting and Fading
Exploiting Premack's Principle
Ringwise Dogs
Training Deaf Dogs
Managing Barrier Frustration
Home Alone Training
Scratching the Rescue Itch

Section 3: Behavior problems
A Problem According to Whom?
Oh Behave! Love and Mounting
Car Whining
Behavior Problems in Geriatric Dogs
Understanding and Executing Time Outs for Dogs
High Performance Dogs
Dogs and Cats
Small Dog Syndrome
Tales From The Potty Training Trenches

Section 4: Fear & Anxiety
Better Safe Than Sorry: Fear
Compulsive Disorders in Dogs
Understanding Psychotropic Medications for Dogs
Desensitization to Veterinarian Visits
Separation Anxiety
Do Dogs Pick Up Their Owners' Prejudices?

Section 5: Aggression
The Dog Bite Epidemic
Aggression Prognosis Estimates
Resource Guarding in Puppies
Resource Guarding Prevention
Fighting Dog Rehabilitation
Predatory Drift
Breed Specific Legislation and Behavior

Section 6: Genetics & Evolution
My Genes Made Me Do It
Genes and Behavior
Adaptive Significance of Various Dog Behaviors
Chows vs Border Collies
Theories of Domestication
Breeder Power
Dog Moms and Other Evolutionary Misfires

Last night, I read through the chapters in section 1. I have to say that I think that each chapter is going to be hit or miss with me.

For example, the chapter called "Chemistry and Constraints: How We Choose Our Dogs" wasn't that enlightening. Jean even admits that there isn't a lot of research about how we choose our dogs, and she confesses, "So, using a wholly rigorous approach -- mulling it over in the shower and chatting with some dog friends -- I have generated the following list of dog choice factors." At least she's honest, but in a book that throws Pavlov, Premack, and Pinker in the title, I figured the conclusions would be based more in research than mulling it over.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the chapter called "Observation vs Interpretation." She contrasts the behaviorism school of thought versus other interpreters, and I'm pretty sure she's implying folks like Caesar Millan in the later case. It's pretty clear from the subtext that she doesn't like the whole "the dog is displaying his dominance" school of thought.

In the end, I think I'll end up marking the chapters that are worth reading, and then taking the bibliography in the back and doing some further reading. This book is almost like a series of blog posts strung together, and although that's not really what I look for in a book, it's probably a good starting point for learning more about what we really know about animal behavior science.

1 comment: said...

I have been slow getting to this, but very much appreciate your thoughtful comments on the book (which I have not seen).

Having spent many years in wolf behavioral research, among other things, I agree it is important to be critical in our views.

I would be happy to chat with you if that is helpful. I am setting up a wolf behavior blog, but its in the early stages.

John C. Fentress, Eugene, Oregon

If you are curious you can Google my name along with "wolf", "behavior", "ethology", etc.