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The New Science Of Understanding Dog Behavior

Animal behaviorist John Bradshaw has spent much of his career debunking bad advice given to dog owners. His new book Dog Sense details what pet owners should expect from their dogs -- and what their dogs should expect in return from their owners.


Other segments from the episode on May 26, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 26, 2011: Interview with John Bradshaw; Review of Johanna Skibsrud's novel "The Sentimentalists."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The New Science Of Understanding Dog Behavior


What's it like to be a dog? My guest, John Bradshaw, says that some of the ways
we interact with and train dogs are based on the false premise that - false
premises about how dogs experience the world.

And this is what we're going to talk about today on FRESH AIR. Bradshaw studies
the interactions of humans and their pets, as well as working dogs. His new
book is called "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A
Better Friend to Your Pet."

Bradshaw is the foundation director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the
University of Bristol in England. His current research partners include the
group's medical detection dogs and the Royal Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals.

John Bradshaw, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, you say that a lot of dog training is
based on the false premise that dogs are like wolves. What are some of the ways
that wolf behavior has been projected onto dogs?

Mr. JOHN BRADSHAW (Author, "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can
Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet"): Well, the main that's been projected
from wolves onto dogs is that wolves are essentially an intrinsically
aggressive animal, that is continuously trying to take over whatever group they
find themselves in and dominate it.

And the new wolf biology has really exposed that as an artifact. That
particular view of wolves came from wolves in zoos and in wildlife parks, where
a bunch of unrelated wolves were put together and essentially told to get on
with it, and not surprisingly, they got on with it by being aggressive towards
one another.

The new picture of wolf society is that wolves are very harmonious animals.
They live in family groups. They get along really well together, and they're
almost never aggressive to one another. The aggression comes out when two
families meet. So they have very strong family ties.

GROSS: So give us an example of a training approach for dogs that's based on
what you describe as the misguided premise about wolves, that wolves want to be
dominant, that they're aggressive.

Mr. BRADSHAW: Okay, let's take a very simple piece of advice that some trainers
hand out, which is you should never allow a dog to go in front of you through a
doorway because it will give the signal to the dog that you are submissive and
that you are therefore allowing him or her, the dog, to become dominant.

Take another one: Many trainers advise against playing tug-of-war games because
there is a risk the dog will win, and the dog, by winning, will think that you
are being submissive and that he will therefore be able to control you in the

Now, we've done research into a number of these things, including the tug-of-
war game, and have shown that the premise is just completely not true. If you
do let a dog win over and over again at tug of war, it likes you. It wants to
play with you more than it did to begin with because it's having fun.

If, on the other hand, you always win, the dog gets kind of slightly less
attracted to you and doesn't want so much to play with you again. But there's
absolutely no change in the dog's behavior, outside of that particular
situation of play. The dog does not get into its head that you're some kind of
a soft touch, that in the future, it will be able to control you and whatever
you do.

GROSS: Well, what about things like you shouldn't let a dog, like, lie on your
bed because your dog is not your equal?

Mr. BRADSHAW: The advice that we give out and the wolf research points to is
that having - if you want to have your dog lying on your bed, I mean, that's
your choice. It won't make any difference to the relationship, in terms of
whether the dog will obey you or not. It's simply a matter of personal

GROSS: What do you think about choke-chains?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, choke-chains I don't think really do any kind of good. I
mean, there is a danger in some dogs, where there is some kind of weakness in
the neck that the choke-chain can actually harm the dog.

Simply producing some discomfort or even pain at particular times in the
training schedule, the evidence says, confuses the dog rather than sharpening
it up.

GROSS: How does it confuse the dog?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, it gets - you know, it generates its own discomfort by
pulling on the leash. I mean, some owners will actually yank the leash. I mean,
that is kind of the next stage and is even less advisable.

But the owner is not in control of what the dog is learning in that case. The
dog is dictating, really, although the whole thing becomes completely
arbitrary. The dog is deciding to pull on the leash. It then hurts a bit. It
doesn't really know why it's hurting or what to do to avoid it, and you can

I mean, dogs with choke-chains, who's had choke-chains on for years, will still
pull away at them. It hasn't really learnt - it hasn't really taught them

GROSS: So a lot of people, even if they don't want to be punitive toward their
dog, or they don't feel the need to be, like, the alpha owner; if the dog is
misbehaving, a lot of people revert to punishment for the dog or, you know, the
choke-chain - that kind of command that you were talking about before, that the
human has to walk out before the dog does to prove that the dog isn't the alpha
member of the group, the human is.

So do you advise against doing this kind of training, even if your dog is
misbehaving, even if the positive reinforcements haven't worked?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, I would advise that there is a particular kind of
punishment, which is not only sensible to use, but also almost unavoidable.
It's not punishment in the physical sense. It is punishment in the mental or
psychological sense, and it's basically just a withdrawal of attention.

Most dogs, there are a few exceptions - and they are very difficult to train -
but most dogs, most pet dogs, require their owners' attention. They want their
owners' attention. They want people's attention in general. And withdrawing
that is a very powerful signal to the dog.

So if you have a dog that jumps up on the visitors that come into your home,
then the best advice is not to slap the dog while it's doing it. It may
actually perceive that as a reward, and it may in fact make that - because it's
a form of attention. So the dog may actually do it more after you've slapped
it, rather than less.

But if you get your visitors - and this does require a bit of kind of advanced
planning - if you get your visitors to ignore the dog, look away, fold their
arms, not pat the dog even though it's jumping up at them, then you'll find
that quite quickly the dog begins to realize that this is not working.

You can then use a distraction technique to get the dog to do something else,
so that as soon as the dog's attention is away, you get it to do something
you've already trained it to do like sit or lie down. And then it will get the
idea that this is what it's supposed to do when visitors come and not to jump

But simply punishing a dog, especially in front of visitors, most people won't
want to punish the dog too severely, and the dog could easily mistake a mild
punishment actually for attention and therefore go on to repeat the action over
and over again.

GROSS: So you're talking about training your visitors.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRADSHAW: You have to train people to understand dogs, yeah. I mean, we
have to take the responsibility. We're the - dogs are very smart, but it's the
humans that are the smart one in the relationship, and we need to take
responsibility for that.

GROSS: So your training approach is based on the premise that dogs want to
please people, that dogs like people, especially the people they live with.
They want to please those people. They want to play with those people. What
have you learned scientifically about dogs' minds that might help explain why
dogs want to please the people who love them?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, what we know is that domestication has changed the wolf's
mind really substantially. What we think is that the wolf has a really
sophisticated sense of social life, of family, of family connections and so on.

And if you look at studies of dogs, which are allowed to live like wolves, you
find that they don't really live like that. For example, virtually any adult
female dog living wild in a village, for example, will breed, whereas in a wolf
pack, it's only one, the most senior female, who will breed.

What we've replaced that very sophisticated wolf behavior with is a very strong
ability to learn about people right from the minute the puppy's eyes open and
particularly strongly goes on until about six months, nine months of age.

But it does indeed persist throughout life, and you see it kind of coming back
in a dog that has to be re-homed, that it will re-learn its relationship very

So that's a very powerful attraction, and surprisingly, it's even more powerful
than the attraction to and preference for other dogs. Most dogs, given the
choice, and there are few exceptions here like hounds that hunt in packs, but
most dogs, given the choice, will actually prefer human company to other dog

That doesn't mean they don't enjoy being with other dogs, but humans are the
social partner of choice.

GROSS: Are you suggesting that dogs, when they're puppies, actually like study
human behavior and try to learn it?

I think study implies a kind of conscious effort on their part, and it isn't -
we don't think it's effortful at all. It's absolutely natural to them to want
to do this.

Quite how that has been put into the dog's developing brain is still a mystery,
but they have a very - an exaggerated tendency to learn from anything that
people do say right from the minute they're capable of doing it.

And they're particularly sensitive or become particularly sensitive to human
body language, to the way we - the direction we look in, what our whole body
language is telling them, pointing gestures with the hands and so on. They are
much more sensitive to things like that, once they've learned them, than almost
any other species on the planet.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Bradshaw, author of the new
book "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better
Friend to Your Pet." And he's the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at
the University of Bristol in England.

You write in your book about the problems of being a modern dog, problems dogs
have today that they didn't traditionally have. What are some of those

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, the dog used to be a working animal, and it served mankind
just exceptionally well in a huge variety of ways and in a variety of ways that
no other animal has ever done.

For, well, at least 10,000 years and probably longer, the roles obviously have
changed, and they have not just changed but also broadened over those years.
And they - the dog has done, you know, mankind a great service over that time.

But although dogs have always I think been companions, and I think that's part
of the story of domestication is that we just like having them around, they're
not just tools. But although they've always been companions, that's usually
been a secondary role, except for the very rich, perhaps, 100, 150 years.

A dog had to work for its living, and so we derived a whole lot of different
kinds of dog, and I don't mean breeds here because I'm talking about before the
modern breeds were set up.

We derived a whole lot of kinds of dog to fulfill particularly functions, dogs
for guarding, dogs for herding, dogs for retrieving game and so on and so on.

Now we have really replaced many of those. I mean, dogs still work. There are
still plenty of working dogs in the world. But most dogs in the West are
companions. They're there to provide friendship and companionship to humans and
participate in activities which are, you know, largely human-focused.

So what I think hasn't happened - and there are a number of people around the
world who are kind of getting together to try to get this onto the agenda,
notably in Australia, as well as in Europe, is to think about a dog as a
companion first and foremost. And I think it's...

GROSS: So would you like to see certain reforms in breeding so that breeders
are breeding for behavior and not just for looks in the show ring?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, I think there are more problems in breeding than just
breeding for behavior. Breeding for the show ring has generated very narrow
specifications and very great restriction in the dog's gene pool in each breed.

There's still plenty of genetic variability if you take the dog as a whole. But
within a breed, the variation has diminished. And so you get all kind of
inherited diseases coming up and being very difficult to eradicate at the
moment while the breed barriers are being maintained. So...

GROSS: Is breeding in some ways like sleeping with your brother or sister? Do
you know what I mean? Is it...?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I mean, the analogy is
the - I'm not a geneticist, but the geneticists tell me that most dog breeds,
except the very popular ones where there are several different lines - like the
Labrador retriever, where you have a show type and a field type and that sort
of thing - but the less common, the more specialist breeds, the degree of
relatedness within a breed is about the same as human first cousins and can be

So you can imagine a human family where nobody - none of the husbands or wives
were less closely related than first cousins, and that persisted, that
inbreeding persisted over many generations.

You can see - you know, we know from human history that that is a bad thing to
do, and we know from animal breeding history that's a bad thing to do. All
kinds of mutations that previously would have been hidden emerge and seriously
affect the breed, like the English bulldog, for example, where the pelvis is
not wide enough for the head to get through, and so every single puppy has to
be born by Caesarian.

I think we're getting - you know, that's taking it too far. You know, what is
the point of generating an animal like that, other than to satisfy some kind of
craving on the part of the owners and the breeders for something different? Do
we have the moral right to go that far for an animal which is, you know,
basically he's going to be a companion.

GROSS: Well, let me take a pause here and tell our listeners who you are. My
guest is John Bradshaw. He's the author of the new book "Dog Sense: How the New
Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet." He is the
director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in England
and he studies animal-human relationships and behavior together. Let's take a
short break here. Then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Bradshaw. He's a biologist.
He studies the interactions between pets and their owners. He's the author of
the new book "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A
Better Friend to Your Pet."

Now, let me quote something that you say in the book that I found really
interesting. And you're talking here about some of the problems of being a dog
in the 21st century. And you write: We expect them to be companionable when we
need them and unobtrusive when we don't. As for city dogs, we expect them to be
better behaved than the average human child and as self-reliant as adults.
Would you expand on that thought for us and on the problems these expectations
are creating in dogs?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, I think the main problem that we have with the modern dog,
and indeed - and I think it is a modern problem, is that we expect them to be
quiet and peaceful when we leave them alone. And that doesn't work in many

The research that we've done and others have done has shown that many, many
dogs, maybe as many as half the dogs in the West, you know, Western
civilization, that are kept in homes have a real problem with being left alone
at some time during their lives.

And the problem isn't just once. It happens, may last for weeks or even months,
and sometimes it goes on for years. Now this is - if you think about it just
for a moment is the flipside of breeding an animal like the dog, which is very,
becomes very attached and very easily attached to people.

They crave the company of people. They also have a mind which does not have a
particularly good sense of time and so when they get left alone, they can
immediately begin to think: When's anyone coming back? Have I been abandoned
forever? And they get very anxious as a result.

Or they may be okay for a while after they're left alone, but then something
happens that scares them, like a gunshot going off in the distance,
firecracker, something they really can't account for. And then they immediately
look around for some kind of company to reassure them, and there's nobody
there, no human there to reassure them, and so then they panic, even though
before that, they might have been sleeping peacefully.

So those two things, those two varieties of that particular thing combined we
call separation disorders. And as I said, they're extremely common.

Now, they're also extremely preventable if you get to them early enough. And so
that's one of the things that I've put in the book, one of the few bits of
actual training advice that I put in the book because I think it's so

You train your dog to toilet outside. You train your dog to sit on command. You
should also train your dog to cope with being left alone. And it's a very

GROSS: How do you do that?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, it's a very simple thing to do, as I say, provided the dog
is not yet anxious about being left alone. So, you know, as soon as you get a
new dog, whether it's an adult or a puppy, the adults may take a bit longer
because they learn a bit slower, but - and they may indeed have been anxious
when left alone in the past, so they may need extra reassurance.

But what you do very simply is you do all the things that you would normally do
before you go out because those will become the dog's triggers. The dog will
associate all those things, like picking up the car keys, putting on a coat,
those sorts of things, with your absence a few seconds later.

So you do all those things. You go to the door. You come back from the door.
You put the coat back on the rack. You put the car keys back down on the shelf.
Then you do it again but this time, maybe you open the door, and then you close
the door and put the things down.

Then the next time, you can go outside the door and come straight back in
again. And the next time, you can go outside and stand on the step outside for
10 seconds and then come back in again.

And what the dog learns through that, provided it doesn't panic at that stage,
and if does start panicking then you may need to call in expert help because
this is a dog which has had some serious problem in the past, you do see this
occasionally in rescue dogs.

But in most dogs - will learn very quickly the association between you going
out and you coming home. And that is enough for most dogs to reassure them. And
so you can then start leaving them for longer and longer periods, and very
quickly you find you can leave them for hours.

They've just learned that association between you going out, all the things
that you do when you go out, and you coming back and making a fuss of them. And
that's a good thing. So the idea of you going out actually becomes pleasurable
rather than something that causes them to panic.

GROSS: John Bradshaw will talk more about dog behavior in the second half of
the show. His new book is called "Dog Sense." Bradshaw is foundation director
of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in England. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with John Bradshaw, author of
the new book "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a
Better Friend to Your Pet." He studies the interactions of people and their
pets. He also studies working dogs. Bradshaw is foundation director of the
Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol.

Working dogs today, some of them are so remarkable. And I'm thinking
specifically hear of some of the military working dogs. I don't know if you've
been reading about the Navy Seal working dogs. And these dogs, they wear, like
some of them wear a $30,000 bulletproof vest that has a camera on it so the dog
can walk ahead of the actual Navy Seals and the camera will transmit back to
the humans the images that the dog is seeing. And then the dog also has audio
equipment on his vest so that the humans can speak messages to the dog.

And I think it's just like so remarkable. And these dogs can parachute out of
helicopters. I'm not sure whether the - I assume that a Navy Seal person is
holding the dog as it parachutes. But to think of the dog flying through space
like that and not totally freaking out, it's such remarkable training that must
go into this. Have you been reading about this in amazement? Of course, there
was the bin Laden dog. We don't know exactly what the dog did, but I'm sure it
was amazing.

Mr. BRADSHAW: Yes, I've been reading about it with great interest. In my case,
not with amazement, because I've been involved in advising the military on
training of dogs similar to other things...

GROSS: Really?

Mr. BRADSHAW: ...for a decade or more since really, since before 9/11. So I
think everybody but me has been surprised by the dog that went in to help to
find Osama bin Laden. Yeah, I mean they're very valuable dogs. And I must say,
if I was in an environment like that, I would actually much rather have a dog
ahead of me than another human being because, you know, it's another set of
senses - and particularly the olfactory sense. These dogs are trained to detect
and then indicate all manners of things. In that particular instance, it would
presumably be explosives and ammunitions and guns and so on. But, you know, in
many other, there are many other applications for this particular olfactory
ability that dogs had and, you know, and we don't.

One of the ones that I have been particularly intrigued by, is that
conservationists are now using dogs to monitor the population of very rare
animals. Because the dog, with its nose, is able to tell the difference between
the feces of one species and another. And so they literally just let the dogs
run around in the habitat where these animals are thought to be, but nobody's
seen them for months. And the dog will say yup, there's one of them went by
here yesterday, you can see it by the poop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRADSHAW: And so, and, you know, the number of times and the number of
locations they do that, they're able to map animals, which unless they had a
radio caller on, nobody would be aware it was even there. So dogs are, you
know, their noses are so valuable to us. And I think it's just a almost a limit
of human ingenuity and imagination that we haven't probably even yet tapped
into all those possibilities, but there’s certainly a huge range of them out
there all ready.

GROSS: Well, I'm very interested in the fact that you helped advised the
military on their working dogs. So without betraying any military secrets, can
you share with us, some of the insights that you shared with the military in
training dogs for combat or for sniffing explosive devices?

Mr. BRADSHAW: I’d imagined, as I think probably many people would, that the
military would use the same kinds of methods to train dogs as they do to train
soldiers, which is to put them through hell. And quite the opposite, they
don't. I mean, most of the military dogs are - virtually every dog that I've
ever come - military dog I've ever come across or similar dog in the public
service, whether it's, you know, looking for narcotics in prisons or checking
out whether a house fire has been caused by arson or not, dogs are useful for
all those things. And the vast majority, in fact, every dog I've ever seen, has
been trained with positive reward. And that's what kind of really woke me up to
the idea that, you know, if the military who are, you know, the hardest,
toughest most macho guys around can train dogs exclusively to do these tasks
with reward-based systems, then surely everybody else can.

And they use different kinds of reward. Some of them use food rewards. But most
of them use the bond with the handler as their reward. The reward they get is a
tennis ball thrown by the handler or some kind of game with the handler. And
the bond between dog and handler is a joy to behold, because they generally get

I was just looking at some photographs that appeared on the Internet recently,
around this whole Navy Seal business. I saw there was a couple of soldiers,
American soldiers, resting in the shadow of a wall somewhere in Afghanistan
with their sniffer dogs, their Labradors, lying on top of them. You know, and
this whole thing about, you know, you shouldn't take your dog with you or it'll
come to dominate you, if those Navy Seals can literally let their dogs lie on
their legs and go to sleep while they rest themselves, surely, we should be
able to allow our dogs to do that at home.

GROSS: What other insights have you gotten or what other insights have you
shared with the military?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, we've done some studies on how to get the best dogs. You
can imagine that, since 9/11 in particular, the demand for sniffer dogs of all
kinds has gone up many time – many times, many fold. And so there has been a
real supply problem over that time, or there could have been a supply problem.
And so we put in place a monitoring programs to look at the best way to raise
these dogs, but also how to evaluate them. What's the best time to evaluate a
dog for training in the military? They’re very, very expensive dogs once they
come to be fully trained. The whole training program can cost several tens of
thousands of dollars. They are, therefore, very well-protected when they’re in
a combat zone. And clearly, if you're going to put that amount of investment
into an animal, then you need to be absolutely sure - as sure as you can be -
that that investment is going to pay off. You're going to generate a dog that
is really, again, protect its handler and all the people around it.

So we had a long look at puppies from the age of eight weeks old, right up to
the age of a year or more where the dog is ready for - the earliest they're
ready for training - and monitored how we could - how soon it was - we could
detect whether they were going to become a good training dog or not.

GROSS: Now you talked earlier about some of the problems of inbreeding in dogs.
Of, you know, pure bred pedigree dogs. From what I've read, it sounds like the
military likes to use Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. Do you think
those dogs are purebred? Or would purebred dogs create problems because of the

Mr. BRADSHAW: Those are purebred dogs. And the other breed that they use a lot
of is the Belgian Malinois, which isn't a very common dog, I believe, in the
United States and I think they get all those dogs from Europe. They're all
breeds which've still got a very healthy gene pool. They're very popular breeds
in, obviously in their respective countries. And they're so - they don't suffer
- to the same extent, they don't suffer from inbreeding that maybe some other
breeds do. That's not to say that German Shepherds don't have their problems.
You have to be careful about the lines they have. Some of the showbread German
Shepherds have, have had hip problems for a number of years. But the German
Shepherd breeding club in the United Kingdom, anyway, has taken very strenuous
steps to try to eliminate that and to change the breed standards so that the
bad hips are bred out. So I think they're occasionally our problems with those
particular breeds, but not too often. The Labrador Retrievers are taken from
the field trial lines of Labradors, not the show lines.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BRADSHAW: And those animals, you know, have been bred for generations to
work with people shooting and are very healthy.

GROSS: Why are Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, the best dogs for the

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, I think that actually it’s just a question of the size of
the dog. They don't want a dog that's too small or too large. Military people
like working with German Shepherds and similar dogs like the Malinois because
they can be dual-purpose. They are quite scary looking dogs and many of those
dogs are trained to detain suspects as well as to sniff out contraband -
explosives and so on. So that makes a very good dual-purpose dog. And the
Labrador, and in this country we use a lot of spaniels, are better dogs for
working environments where you don't want to frighten people, like airports for
example. You know, people just don't mind too much having a Cocker Spaniel
sniff around here luggage or and their person, come to that, whereas they might
object if it was a big German Shepherd with big teeth. So I think those are
really the reasons.

I'm involved with a charity over here called Medical Detection Dogs, which
places dogs with people who have particular issues like epilepsy, like diabetes
or brittle diabetes - where they find it very difficult to predict the next
time they're going to have an attack. The dogs are exceptionally good at this.
We don't even quite know how they do it. They probably do it due to a change in
the - slight change in the body odor of the person. But recently, we trained a
little toy dog called an Affenpinscher - which is a little tiny handbag dog
with a squashed face. We thought, you know, this dog probably can't smell
anything. I mean his nose has been bred to be tiny, but it's brilliant at its
job. I mean, there really doesn't seem to be, the dog sense of smell is so good
that even in a dog where you think it wasn't that great, it's good enough to
vastly outperform any human being.

GROSS: So these dogs can smell biological changes?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, that's what we think. I mean the research is still going
on, but - and some people think it could be also, a change in - just a very
subtle changes in body language...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BRADSHAW: ...that, you know, even other humans can't pick up in a
household, but the dog can. But some of them must be relying largely on smell
because we now have dogs that will wake people who are about to go into a
diabetic coma in their sleep, which is obviously the most dangerous time
because the person has no warning of it. They go from sleep into coma without
ever waking. The dog can detect the changes. Now that person is not moving. And
so we think it must, or must inevitably be the smell of the person that does
it. We train them on smell of diabetics, so - or epileptics. So the primary
method, I think, of identification must be smell.

GROSS: Dogs are so amazing. They have this incredible sense of smell that
humans don't have. They have hearing that humans don't have. They see
differently than we do. So they're perceiving the world in a pretty different
way than we are, don't you think?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Yes, they are. I mean it overlaps with ours a lot, of course,
otherwise we kind of couldn't share their world very well or they couldn't
share ours. So their vision overlaps, pretty much, with ours. They're
colorblind to a certain extent, but I mean, colorblind humans are not that
badly handicapped. Their hearing is a little bit more sensitive than ours in
the high-pitched region. And it's their sense of smell that really
distinguishes them from us.

And I think we don't really take up too much recognizance of that. I mean I
think dogs have a right, if you believe dogs have rights at all, and I do, to
sniff things whenever it's, you know, whenever it doesn't cause a problem to
us. When I meet a dog, I hold my hand out. I don't stick my fingers right out,
just in case, but I just make a loose fist and hold my hand out to the dog. And
I'll get squat down if it's a small dog. And that dog will want to come and
sniff my hand and lick it if necessary. I mean could always wash my hands off
afterwards if I've got a problem with it. But that's a greeting, and I think if
we don't do that, it's as upsetting to the dog as if we were talking to
somebody that we never met before and covered our faces at that point in time,
as if we were trying to disguise who we were.

And I think the dogs don't suffer, necessarily by not being able to sniff
everything but I think that is their world. That's the world they live in, site
is secondary. We should acknowledge that in the same way that we make our own
lives - base our own lives around things we can see.

GROSS: So if you extend your fist and the dog not only sniffs it but licks it,
is the licking a sign of affection or is it just further investigation?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, I think it's a mixture of both. I mean dogs – wolves lick
one another. The young wolves will lick over their parents as a sign of
affection, so I think there's that in it too. But also, dogs have a secondary
sense of smell, which we think they use their tongues to sort of get it
working. They have another nose, which is between the roof of the mouth and the
nose itself and it's got two little ducts that open out just by the front
teeth. And what they seem to do, they will lick something...

GROSS: Wait. This is like inside their mouth?

Mr. BRADSHAW: This is just above the mouth.

GROSS: They have a nose inside their mouth?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Just above the mouth. Between the palates - between the hard
palate and the nose there is a space. We have, we used to have that organ but
it got lost somewhere in primate evolution. Most mammals do have it, cats have
it, horses have it, cows have it, but humans and monkeys don't. And dogs and
many other animals will lick something and then they’ll flick the saliva which
has got some odor in it, up into this little pouch above the roof of their
mouths. And that seems to store information about - or analyze information
about what that person smells like in a way that complements what's coming in
through the conventional route, the nose, the one we understand.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is John Bradshaw, the author of the
new book "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better
Friend to Your Pet." And he's a biologist who studies the interactions between
pets and their owners.

Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is John Bradshaw, author of the new
book "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better
Friend to Your Pet."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Bradshaw, author of the new
book "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better
Friend to Your Pet." He is the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the
University of Bristol in England.

How many dogs and how many cats have you had over your life?

Mr. BRADSHAW: I've had, well, I've had many dogs, four dogs that I kind of
owned and many other dogs that I've had a lot to do with. And I've had about
seven or eight cats. I find them kind of equally fascinating. But you know,
when you're a scientist studying these animals you get to meet an awful lot
more animals than you would if you're average dog owner. But nevertheless, I
mean over the course of 20 odd more years that I've been studying dogs, I never
cease to be surprised by things that I come across. A dog is such a diverse and
interesting animal and comes in so many different shapes and sizes and

GROSS: Would you describe the difference in the relationship you have with the
dogs who've been in your life, the dogs you've owned - I don't mean the
research dogs - and the cats who you've lived with?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Well, they're very different animals. I think the primary
difference for me as a biologist is to say, well, a dog has a territory that
moves around with its owner and a cat has a territory and it's not really too
bothered whether its owner is in there or not. Cats are very location focused.
They're territorial animals and not nearly as domesticated as dogs are, and
just by the fact that they're pretty well adapted to living with us. So they do
all kinds of things which - and that presents them with problems too, that they
do all kinds of things which are very different to a dog.

The main thing that arises with cats is because they're so territorial that
they get into disputes with neighboring cats and they don't seem to be able to
resolve them very easily. And so the main problem with a cat, as I see it at
the moment, is with people keeping cats in cities especially, is that they're
too crowded. They end up being constantly stressed because they're having to be
so vigilant to other cats that are coming over the fence into the backyard.

GROSS: A lot of cats aren't even allowed out of the apartment or the house.

Mr. BRADSHAW: I think if you've got an indoor cat, that's fine. The same with a
dog. I mean I don't think they necessarily miss what they've never had.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BRADSHAW: A cat that's being allowed to roam around and is then for some
reason then kept in an apartment I think will suffer, at least initially, as a
dog would. But if you raise a kitten in an apartment and you give it plenty of
stimulation, I don't think they're particularly worried about how much space
they have. I think it's the quality of that space that matters.

GROSS: So have you studied cats as well as dogs?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Oh, absolutely. I mean, yeah, I think they're equally interesting
animals. I'm kind of fundamentally a biologist who, one of the few biologists
who thinks the animals we have around us are equally fascinating as the animals
that live, you know, in the Serengeti in Africa. And, of course, the added
level of complexity and interest is that here we have a relationship between
two very different species - the human and the dog or the cat and how that
relationship works and how indeed it doesn't work are things that I have been
studying for 20 years and I'll go on studying.

GROSS: Now, one of the things you point out about a dog's brain I think is
probably also true of a cat's brain and that is that they live in the moment
and it's hard for them to make connections between something they did two hours
ago and a punishment you're going to administer when you get home later. They
don't think about the past. They don't project into the future, which maybe
makes training a little more challenging. But I think that's one of the things
we love about our animals, is that they are so in the present, they are so in
the moment.

Mr. BRADSHAW: Yes. I mean the sense of time is not, you know, it's not as
sophisticated as ours. They don't seem to think into the future. They will do
things that seem to fit them for the future, but they're probably just kind of
preprogrammed. Whether they really ever think about the past I think is
something that we don't know enough about yet. I mean do they actually have
imagination in the way that we do? We know they dream because you can measure
the brain waves and the movements of the animal (unintelligible) which are very
similar to the sorts of things that go on in humans when we dream.

GROSS: Do cats dream too?

Mr. BRADSHAW: And cats dream as well. Yeah.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. BRADSHAW: Yeah. Yeah. So what we don't know is whether they remember their
dreams when they wake up, and we tend to remember the last dream we had in the
night when we wake up. We don't know whether a dog or a cat will do that or
whether it is purely a, you know, a mechanical refreshing of the brain that
goes on and the animal is never aware of it in the way that we are aware of
some of the things we dream about. But it does point to the possibility that
dogs and cats are capable of some sort of limited thoughts about the past.
They're not simply little robots programmed by training to do particular
things, that they have minds of their own. I mean they can count, for example.
They can count small numbers. Both species can count. So if they can do that,
you know, they have a level of cognitive complexity which is not totally
robotic at all.

GROSS: Well, John Bradshaw, thank you so much. It's been great to talk with

Mr. BRADSHAW: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: John Bradshaw is the author of the new book "Dog Sense: How the New
Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet." You can read
an excerpt on our website,
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
'The Sentimentalists': Submerged Emotions Surface


In Canada, literary types are talking about Johanna Skibsrud. Here in the U.S.
we're still learning how to pronounce her name. Book critic Maureen Corrigan
has a review of Skibsrud's award-winning first novel "The Sentimentalists."

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: This is the kind of novel that the traditional publishing
industry isn't supposed to have room for any longer: a slim debut novel graced
by inventive language and a haunting atmosphere. In other words, a novel that,
if it's lucky, will attract maybe 15 readers outside of the author's family.
But Johanna Skibsrud's novel "The Sentimentalists" has already had more than
its share of first-time work of fiction luck. In addition to getting picked up
by Norton, it's been blurbed by the serious likes of Claire Messud and won
what's billed as Canada's most prestigious literary award, the Scotiabank
Giller Prize. Who knew?

I can see why "The Sentimentalists" has broken out from the anonymous finely
wrought first novel pack. For all the ways that "The Sentimentalists" feels a
bit belabored - its imagery too insistent with meaning - the melancholy mood
and restrained language of the story settles deep into a reader's
consciousness. At one point the primary narrator of the novel sadly observes
that the possibilities of a life, it seemed, were small. That line is already
firmly wedged into the wrinkle of my brain filled with quotes from Emily
Dickinson and Laurie Colwin.

The situation of "The Sentimentalists" is this: A sagging alcoholic Vietnam vet
named Napoleon Haskell is moved by his two adult daughters from the trailer
he's been living in in Fargo, North Dakota to a house on the shores of a lake
in Ontario. This is the home of a family friend named Henry, who's the father
of Napoleon's Marine Corps buddy, killed in the war. This is no swanky vacation
lodge, however. Henry's house is referred to as the government house because it
was paid for by the Canadian government after his original farmhouse and
surrounding fields were flooded by an engineering project. The lake that Henry,
Napoleon and Napoleon's daughters like to boat on is a manmade watery shroud
for the town of Casablanca, Ontario that was deliberately drowned by fiat.

"The Sentimentalists" takes its cue from the image of that creepy lake. It's a
novel that's obsessed with feelings and events long submerged and only now half
discerned. There's the pearl-sized lump that is discovered, just in time, on
Napoleon's elder daughter's ovary. Then there are the hidden emotional
revelations. Our unnamed narrator, Napoleon's younger daughter, eventually
confesses that she has the leisure for an extended stay with her failing father
because her fiance back in Brooklyn has cheated on her. It was not a grand
passion, which paradoxically makes the breakup even sadder.

Here's how she diagnoses the state of things: I had thought, having learned the
lesson from my divorced mother, that it was foolish to ask for too much out of
life. But what pain, I thought now, could be greater than to realize that even
the practical reality for which you had assumed to settle upon did not hold,
that even that was illusory. Would it not be better then to set your sights on
some more fantastic and rare dream from which even in failing you might take
some comfort in having once aspired?

As you can hear, the language of "The Sentimentalists" is thoughtful, slightly
ornate - which, to me, is one of the pleasures of this novel. Napoleon is one
of those spottily educated working-class guys who likes to declaim from what
his daughter characterizes as a secret store of poetry and song lyrics and
movie quotations. Those random poetic lines - along with a steady infusion of
beer - help keep Napoleon's personal nightmares of history at bay, though the
last third of "The Sentimentalists" is an extended flashback to Vietnam. This
ending section is much more direct – and even callous - than the preceding
chapters. Again, the lake waters that blanket the sharp fences and steeples of
the drowned town of Casablanca are invoked. The oblique opening of "The
Sentimentalists" doesn't prepare a reader for what lies beneath.

"The Sentimentalists," as I've said, is a little heavy-handed, but if you're
willing to pay that price of admission, it distinctly summons up a world out of
time - one where a father and daughter get to sit over crossword puzzles and
cans of beer and stale sandwiches as they contemplate the mysteries that they
are to each other. For the rare dad, it could be a good Father's Day gift,
though I think it's a better fit for all you daughter-readers out there who are
still trying to figure the old man out.

GROSS: Marine Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Sentimentalists" by Johanna Skibsrud. You can read an excerpt on
our website,, where you can download podcasts of our show.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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