The Truth About Wolves & Dogs: Dispelling the Myths of Dog Training

By Toni Shelbourne. Hubble & Hattie. $24.95.

When I saw this upcoming title months ago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It didn’t disappoint.

True to its namesake, it convincingly dispels myths linking canine and wolf behavior with text and superb complementary photos, a staple of Hubble & Hattie offerings.

Shelbourne began work with the UK Wolf Conservation Trust in 2001, where she was introduced to a pack of socialized wolves. She became senior wolf handler and education officer and developed a unique working relationship with the animals for a decade. What she observed eventually prompted her to question the highly publicized dominance behavior and alpha theory associated with the species and consequently how they segued into dog training.

In this thought-provoking examination, Shelbourne challenges readers to throw the old ‘rule book’ out the window and start afresh, based on her keen observations of wolves which she presents in a simplistic context with dog training.

This not a how-to manual. Conversely, “its intention is to get readers to think outside the box.” The author eschews dominance dog training, noting “owners and dog-training professionals alike have long accepted outdated myths and are still treating dogs as if they are wolves.”

Shelbourne’s thesis is basically your dog is not a wolf and many ideas behind dominance training attributed to wolf behavior are incorrect.

Society and evolution have combined to alter the once working-dog’s lifestyle to a cushy family pet environment. Even with the accompanying love and adoration of its owners, the dog finds itself bored and isolated, often triggering behavior problems. The end result: a frustrated owner who seeks out help from a nearby trainer or animal behaviorist or gives up altogether and releases the animal to a nearby shelter.

Dog training, Shelbourne argues, is not and will never be an exact science, since those involved have different temperaments, experiences and job roles. In other words, one size does not fit all when it comes to trainer and owner.

Shelbourne argues that the term “alpha” is an “outdated concept” relative to wolf packs and dog training. In a chapter entitled, Is My Dog a Wolf?, she says the genetic difference between the two is just .04 percent. While your dog and wolf share 99.96 of their genes, that small difference is enough to place the two species “worlds apart,” the author contends.

“The behavior and body language that dogs display is bigger, bolder and easier to read in wolves,” she emphasizes. But as we have domesticated dogs and shaped them to our lifestyles over thousands of years, they have become increasingly separate and different from wolves. “We must afford our dogs the same courtesy of treating them as the species they are, and not as wolves in dogs’ clothing,” Shelburne says.

To maintain a strong bond with your dog, the author urges that you continually motivate and stimulate it through training, working and daily outings, and when selecting a breed rely on your gut instinct and a laser-like research to assure you are selecting one that is totally compatible with your lifestyle.

“The Truth About Wolves and Dogs” carefully connects the historical and behavioral dots of the two species while not undermining the flow of their parallels moving forward. The result is a philosophical wakeup call framed in a rich portrait of spirit and soul.