Best Books on Dog Behaviour

best books on dog behaviour

During my early studies and research I found it difficult sorting through the huge volume of books about dog behaviour to find the information I was looking for.

Here are some of the best books on dog behaviour and psychology I found most useful early on in my theory work or which I would recommend to people interested in canine psychology and behaviour.

The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World by Susan M. Schneider

Although this isn’t a canine specific book, it is still extremely relevant for canine behaviourists as it illustrates the plasticity of the mammalian brain and how this can be encouraged to change habits or behaviours.

It is fully referenced and covers many aspects of the science of consequences drawing on a wide range of interdisciplinary areas; animal/human learning, communication, cognition, evolutionary biology, neuroscience and biopsychology.

This interesting read brings together the science behind how decisions, experiences, consequences and rewards discussing not only how they shape or cause behaviours, but also how they can be used to effect behavioural changes.

You can get this via your local library or you can buy The Science of Consequences from Amazon here

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky

This fascinating book explains why humans behave the way we do. Sapolsky breaks down complex science into enjoyable explanations, beginning at the level of our brains, then diving into hormones, genes, evolution and even culture and history.

By the end, you’ll be questioning many long-held assumptions about how much we control ourselves. Every aspect of behaviour is comprehensively covered from brain structures, their stand alone roles and how they interact, neurobiology, hormones, neurology, childhood influences, epigenetics, brain plasticity, gene evolution and an amazing section on ‘Us vs Them’ the neuroscience behind community, conflict and war.

This book easily translates into canine behaviour as, although human focused, is a mammalian brain explanation. Indeed, many of the referenced science is based on animal studies.

Favourite quotes:

“The most interesting part of the brain evolved to be shaped minimally by genes and maximally by experience. That’s how we learn, context, context, context”.

“You can’t understand aggression without understanding fear”.

“Genes aren’t about inevitability, they are about potential and vulnerabilities and they don’t determine anything on their own. Evolution is most consequential when altering regulation of genes rather than genes themselves”.

You can get this via your local library or you can buy Behave from Amazon here

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

Another great book from Robert M. Sapolsky, this time he explains stress and it’s effects on every aspect of your health and behaviour. Again he explains this huge subject in his usual relatable, accessible and digestible style.

As Sapolsky explains, most of us do not lie awake at night worrying about whether we have leprosy or malaria. Instead, the diseases we fear, and the ones that plague us now, are illnesses brought on by the slow accumulation of damage, such as heart disease and cancer.

When we worry or experience stress, our body turns on the same physiological responses that an animal’s does, but we do not resolve conflict in the same way, through fighting or fleeing. Over time, this activation of a stress response makes us sick.

Your body is a sophisticated machine there’s just one problem: Your body was designed for the savannas of Africa, not the streets and sidewalks of some urban metropolis. This is a major issue due to one of your body’s great fail-safe systems: the stress-response mechanism, also called the “fight-or-flight syndrome.”

Unfortunately, this same stress-response also kicks in during psychological stress. In much of modern city life, such stress is often chronic, making your stress-response mechanism work dangerously overtime, and putting your body at risk of numerous stress-related disorders and diseases.

“Mild transient stress enhances declarative learning, where as prolonged or severe stress disrupts it”

Aggressive Behavior in Dogs, a comprehensive technical manual for professionals by James O’Hare

 A very technical, in-depth book covering subjects such as categorical, anatomical and physiological aggression, biology of stress, neuropsychology and genetic influences. It would be of most use for more advanced studies.

How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren

A great book on body language with some helpful diagrams. This book not only explains the sounds, actions and movements which will help owners to communicate most effectively with their dogs; it also deciphers the signs and signals our dogs are giving to us.

In Defense of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding by John Bradshaw.

 This was one of the first books I read which closely reflected my own views on dogs as domestic companions. This is another book new or would be dog owners should read as it provides a comprehensive and realistic overview of how the domestic dog perceives us and how we, in turn, should perceive and interpret the dog.

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

This book describes in a realistic way how dogs perceive their interactions and lives with us making working with our dog much clearer. She explains how modern thinking makes much more sense than the old style bully type training.

Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor

This book covers reinforcement and clicker training better than any other book I’ve read. Karen is the go-to person for clicker training!

Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide: Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog by Brenda Aloff

A really good guide to body language, plenty of photos, (in black and white, but they still get the point across). It’s a bit pricey though, so maybe check out eBay or Amazon pre-owned.

The Natural & Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Milan with Melissa Jo Peltier

 Whatever you think of him, this book explains in an easy to read format what it is to own a dog, from the dog’s point of view. It offers a good perspective for first time dog owners (just ignore any ‘being the Alpha’ ideas or domination/submission theory).

Barking, the sound of language by Turid Rugaas

Turid Rugaas is well known for her work on identifying and utilising canine calming signals here she offers understanding and managing barking behaviour.

The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression, by Karen Delise

This is a fantastic piece of comprehensive research covering dog attacks on people from the end of the 19th century to the present day.

The basic conclusion reached is there always have been attacks on people by dogs, but how the modern sensationalist media presents (or doesn’t) the stories can lead certain breeds to become vilified.

No longer are the actual or probable reason for the attack considered but only the headline grabbing myths and assumptions are presented.

Pitbulls are just the latest dog in a long line of media stories selling ‘devil dogs’. Bloodhounds were the first and even Newfoundlands fell foul of the media treatment early on!

The Way of the Wolf by L.David Mech

 A noted wolf research biologist, ‘wolfman’ Dr L David Mech has studied wolves and their prey full-time since 1958.

In this book Mech focuses on wolf behaviour and biology, offering an overview of the animals’ social hierarchy, communication methods, feeding habits, courtship, and reproduction.

Canine True Stories

The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant

The Wolf Talk by Shaun Ellis

Dogtown: Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Redemption by Stefan Bechtel

One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Helmand by Pen Farthing

Cassius, the True Story of a Courageous Police Dog by Gordon Thorburn

Buster’s Diaries as Told to Roy Hattersley by Roy Hattersley.

Canine Fiction

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein