Dec 17, 2009

The Culture Clash

by Jean Donaldson

This book is about dog behavior and training. It tries to look at dog training from the animal's point of view, and posits that dogs are highly anthropomorphized and should be treated as simple-minded self-obsessed creatures that respond best to operant conditioning. That's it in a nutshell. It goes into a lot of detail about how most people train their dogs wrong, then how to do it with positive reinforcement techniques. I agree that sometimes people see too much of human traits in their pets and this might get in the way of understanding your dog's behavior and training it, but on the other hand I'm not sure I agree with all of Donaldson's ideas, and I certainly didn't like her tone. She is very disparaging and insulting to other dog owners and trainers who use different methods (and, ultimately, to the reader- assuming you got this book because you want to train a dog). So some parts of the book sound like whiny name-calling, whereas in other parts the language gets so technical it's dry and difficult. Overall, I'd say The Culture Clash is a good resource to round out your knowledge of dogs and various training methods, but not to follow it as the only way to do things. That said, although I grew up with a dog and worked in a boarding kennel for some time, I never trained my own dog. So take what I say here with a grain of salt, as well.

Rating: 2/5                  223 pages, 1996


bermudaonion said...

We didn't train our dog either - she trained us.

Jenny said...

I'm afraid this book would make me (more) neurotic. We're trying to train our new puppy and everybody's got a theory about how we should be behaving.

C.B. James said...

I think I'll give this book a try. Basically, I agree with the author, as you've described her. Dogs live in the moment..the only thing that's worked with ours is positive reinforcment. They'll do just about anything for a piece of kibble and a pat on the head.

Jude said...

Just thought I'd add my point of view here as I had my own dog training business for many years. I'd like to suggest that one take a different view of Jean's work as she has been such a strong advocate for dogs and has been the director of the SFSPCA. One of the main reasons she suggests looking at dogs from a more self-serving point of view is to help us understand that if we discover what dogs actually want and desire- then we actually have the tools to reinforce them in their training. Like food, toys, access to other dogs, outdoors. For example, the dominance paradigm ( which is a form of anthropomorphizing) has gotten so many dogs into trouble and misunderstood). If you take Coppinger's studies and Donaldson's methods you have two really good books to guide you in terms of understanding how dogs think and what motivates them. I think we do a disservice to our pets when we attribute ulterior motives to them and this book, albeit with some humor and sarcasm at times, helps us understand that dogs are just trying to be dogs and view their environment often very differently than we do. It's been a great resource for many of my students who begin to understand that a dog just might chew on a new couch because he sampled it and it tasted good, not because he was trying to spite his owner. Then we get into managing the dog better and take some of the anthropomorphizing out of the training picture. I hope that helps a bit- from a trainer's perspective.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- They're pretty good at that, aren't they?

Jenny- it's hard when there's so many different opinions out there.

CB James- I think you'll find it a useful book!

Jude- Thanks for the balance of opinion. I do think the book has a lot of solid information, I just wish the delivery was a bit kinder. The snide tone and insulting remarks probably turn away more than a few readers.