Donaldson's Book Cover

The Culture Clash

Author: Jean Donaldson

ISBN 1-888047-05-4
Publisher: James & Kenneth Publishers, 1996
224 pages, paperback, 2 pages of black and white photos
Retail price = $17.95 (US)

Table of contents


Before getting into the downfalls of this book, I would like to point out one thing -- this is a good book, and probably an important one in some ways. The approach that Ms. Donaldson takes is refreshing and her perspectives on the dog-human relationship are ones that are not often outlined in many dog behavior books. Her thesis, that dogs and humans are part of very different cultures and as a result often have conflicting agendas, is something that all dog owners and trainers should fully understand and realize when setting out to train their dogs. However, most of this is lost in the confusing and oftentimes disjointed body of her book and it takes quite a bit of patience to get through it without becoming overly confused.

I'm not sure whether it is the writer's fault or probably more appropriately, the editor's fault, but the result is a morass of cloudy and unconnected points that are made page after page. And this is truly a shame because Ms. Donaldson has a lot of good things to say that should probably be heard by most dog owners. I thought maybe I was being a little bit demanding and maybe it was only me that was confused by her writings so I handed the book over to a friend to see what she had to say. She came to the exact same conclusion after only reading a few pages. In fact, I never really told her what I felt the problem was but the first thing out of her mouth was that "this book is confusing and it is difficult to figure out just what the point is." The reasoning behind the chapters doesn't make a whole lot of sense and they are filled with distinct sections that, though they have very important ideas in them, they really don't flow together or amalgamate to support her overall thesis. Countless times, I found myself stopping just to try to figure out what exactly she was getting at and how it fit in into what I was reading. The foreword was written by Ian Dunbar and notes how the book was written in Ms. Donaldson's informal yet precise lecture style - and I think that is the exact point, as this book appears to be more like a conversation than a carefully organized writing and flows from thought to thought like a conversation. If you've ever read a transcript of people talking, you'll know how easy it is to become confused without the contextual interaction of another person. "Train of thought" processing works well in conversation with another person but falls flat on its face in a lengthy book. Mr. Dunbar also notes how he read the manuscript three times before it was even published - most likely in order to understand it completely.

Don't get me wrong, this is a thought-provoking book and though it is disorganized, I think I still would recommend that people read it. It's the kind of book that you can pick up and read a page or two at a time (in fact, that is how I would recommend that people should read it) and come away with a distinct and important idea. There are many things in the book that I vehemently disagree with, many things that I think are right on the money, and many more that are somewhere in between, but this is a good indicator that a book is thought-provoking and is full of fresh ideas. I think everyone should read the first two pages of her fourth chapter about what it would be like if humans were the "dogs" on another planet. It puts you in the perspective of your own dog and makes you think about what it would be like to live life in their position. It is enlightening and makes you stop and think - this is truly the central theme of her whole book. She probably should have made it the first two pages of her first chapter and gone on from there.

Her first chapter, "Getting the Dog's Perspective", is a brief introduction to her thesis of the differing cultures of humans and dogs. Some of the things that I agree with most are in this chapter and some of the things I disagree with most are also included. However, it should have been a much more precise outline of her ideas. The next chapter, "Hard Wiring" is basically a series of innate dog behaviors that she explains as hard-wired behaviors. Nothing new here. Just to give you an example of the confusion created by her writings, there is a section on tug-of-war followed by one on chewing in dogs, then one on chew training, and one on chew toy stuffing (i.e what a person should put inside of a chew toy) and then a section on organized dog sports. What any of these sections have to do with one another, or why a section on dog sports belongs in a chapter about innate dog behavior, or why it is sandwiched between sections on chew toy stuffing and dog social behavior, is beyond me. It is as if she has taken things she wrote down on scraps of paper and combined them all to form a chapter. Needless to say, it makes her book almost not worth reading. The shame is that each one of the sections has some good insights (though she skipped canine Frisbee in the dog sports section!) and yet their importance is lost by the pointless flow of her book.

Her next chapter is on socialization and aggression problems. Again a lot of the sections are insightful but there truly is not much of a point to the chapter. What is even more frustrating is that she goes over aggression and aggression models in dog behavior, how they work, and explains the problems of looking at aggression in traditional ways, but fails to even analyze how aggression should be dealt with in light of her model. Her next chapter is a series of troubleshooting exercises for problems that an individual might have with their dog. Housetraining, barking, jumping up, and food stealing, are all covered in this chapter. Again each section is good in and of itself but taken as a whole, it is confusing and difficult to muddle through.

Her next chapter is very similar to Karen Pryor's "Don't Shoot the Dog" and explains feedback, rewards and shaping in behavior training. Almost all of it was covered in Pryor's book but if you haven't read that book, this is a decent introduction. Her last chapter is on basic obedience training, and though I agree with almost all of her training methods, I question why this chapter is even in this book. Her methods have little to do with the "Culture Clash" that she speaks of and do little to advance her thesis on dog behavior.

Overall I'm not really sure whether I could recommend this book, precisely because it is difficult to read. If you are willing to muddle through her confusing text or to glean the important bits of information section by section, then I would definitely recommend a reading of "Culture Clash". Ms. Donaldson's approach is new and probably should be incorporated into most interactions with our dogs. The bottom line of her book, that people should stop and think about things from the dog's perspective, is what one should walk away with after reading through all 224 pages. Each time we face a problem with our dogs or go to train a new behavior, it is often beneficial to look at it from the dogs perspectives -- and this is what Ms. Donaldson thesis is about.

I'd give it a B-.

Dr. Nicholas B. Carter


Other Reviews

Border Collies by Michael DeVine

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

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