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Dog Behavior Reading List

Compiled by Pat Cornelius and the Working Dog Committee of the DPCA.

There are many books already written about dog behavior and, it seems, more being published every day. This list is therefore by no means exhaustive. Nor is it a ringing endorsement of every concept set forth in the books listed. The science and study of dog behavior began in earnest in the late 50´s and early 60´s. It developed momentum in the 70´s and 80´s and even now ideas cherished as the “10 Commandments” of dog behavior are being rethought. For example the “alpha roll” concept espoused by the Monks of New Skete and adopted with such glee by too many trainers in the 70´s has come into disfavor because of its inappropriately mechanistic approach to every exhibition of aggression regardless of its behavioral source. For that reason the books written by the Monks of New Skete are not on this list although they are useful to read and consider after one has obtained a grounding in the fundamentals of dog behavior and can thus draw one´s own conclusions about the validity of some of the ideas presented.

Similarly, recent research has lead to the belief that the “critical periods” identified by Scott and Fuller and Pfaffenberger may in be less rigid than originally thought  – and thus while it is still more desirable to have the early socialization espoused by Pfaffenberger, the lack of such socialization may be overcome to a lesser or greater extent by subsequent environment and experience, given proper genetic makeup.

The following list of books is therefore presented as the “basics” for an understanding of the subject matter of temperament and behavior. Books cannot substitute for observation, thinking, training and actual communicating, however. And this is as it should be when dealing with the phenomenal capability for observing minute changes in body language and gleaning from those changes volumes of meaning that our dogs have. In honor of their fidelity to us despite our frequent miscommunications, should we not also attempt the same?

  • Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog – John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller.

THE pioneers in research into dog behavior; the foundation that they laid is what all other researchers in this country and others have built upon.

  • The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior – Clarence Pfaffenberger.

            Pfaffenberger became involved in developing the breeding program for Guide Dogs for the Blind.  Building  on the research of Scott and Fuller, he presented the “critical periods in puppy development” to the general public in a highly readable book.

  • Understanding Your Dog – Eberhard Trumler.

            This is a fun book to read yet simultaneously illustrates many aspects of dog behavior. It is out of print and hard to find, but worth the search.

  • Man Meets Dog

  • On Aggression

  • King Solomon´s Ring – Konrad Lorenz

            Lorenz is a pioneering ethnologist noted for his work with geese and the concept of “imprinting”. Like Trumler, his books are both entertaining and erudite. Unlike Trumler, you can usually readily find them either in libraries and in bookstores.

  • Understanding Your Dog

  • Super dog (Raising the Perfect Canine Companion) – Michael W. Fox, DVM

            Fox studied with Scott and Fuller and went on to do his own series of studies of canid behavior in the 60´s and 70´s. “Understanding Your Dog” is a basic work that should be read by all. More recently he has become involved in the “animal rights” movement; however if you can look beyond the political rhetoric, the essential concepts of behavior that he discusses are still very sound. He is also the author of several scientific books that recount the results of his study in technical language.

  • Adam´s Task – Vicki Hearne

            A beautifully written book about the “philosophy” of dog behavior and communication.

  • Behavior Problems in Dogs – William E. Campbell

            Presents insights into behavior and temperament while at the same time providing methods for dealing with specific behavioral problems. Also addresses “problem owners”, which is an all too real phenomenon.

  • Dog Behavior (Why Dogs do what they do) – Dr. Ian Dunbar

            A very readable “basics” on behavior.

  • The Dog´s Mind (Understanding your Dog´s Behavior) – Bruce Fogle, DVM

            Another excellent book for laypersons about dog psychology.

  • How to Speak Dog

  • The Intelligence of Dogs – Stanley Coren

            Coren´s book on canine intelligence was controversial when published; it is useful, however, to illustrate how behavior (and thus apparent intellect) follows function. The book “How to Speak Dog” is a thorough compendium of dog language and should be in every dog owner´s library.

  • The Culture Clash – Jean Donaldson

            Discusses in very readable terms the difficulties that can arise when canine-human communication breaks down – and also how to deal with that breakdown. This book provides useful insight into the dog´s perspective of canine-human relations.  Probably one of the best modern books addressing the issue of canine aggression and its causes and solutions.