Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Canophile Inside

Nearly two years ago I happened upon an advanced reader's copy of a book titled Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. I loved it, scribbling out a quick recommendation card to attend the book on our New Non-Fiction shelf:

"Many things a lover/observer of dogs has long known are now being confirmed by scientific research into the fascinating, no longer entirely unknowable, minds of dogs."

It landed, the New York Times gave it a great review and people started coming in asking for it. Then NPR did a story. Sales shot up again and it eventually became a #1 New York Times bestseller. It's a book that has deserved all the press it has been getting. It isn't the first book to really explore life from a dog's senses, backed up by the most current research into canine biology, ethology and evolution but it is certainly the most readable survey of the topic. Did you know that a dog can follow a human's point but our closest relative, the chimp, cannot? Or that a Siberian Husky develops, in some areas, at a rate even faster than wolves? Do you know why your dog is so eager to taste everything? Any guesses as to the true motivations of a dog who saves someone's life? This one is truly for the intellectual canophile.

Just a few months ago, a second book came nipping at the heels of Horowitz's science and cognition narrative: Dog Sense by John Bradshaw. Most notably, Bradshaw is Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the Univ. of Bristol, before which he founded the Anthrozoology Institute at the Univ. of Southampton. Dog Sense differs from Inside of a Dog in that it provides a brief history of the domestic dog based on recent research, then takes the (relatively) new behavioral and cognition science and puts it all together in a practically applicable way. He debunks Cesar Millan's infamous resurgence of alpha and domination theories and also explores the changing demands of companion animals' lifestyles.

To capitalize on the recent success of the Bradshaw and Horowitz books, I'd like to share, in no particular order, some of my favorite nonfiction dog books.

{ I'd like to preface this list by sharing my canine CV: I grew up with a Tibetan Mastiff and then a pound mutt. An avid reader of all things dealing with canine including biology and ethology, I also worked for nearly 3 years at a rural animal shelter & humane society and with canine rescue groups. As an adult, I've lived with/raised a Rottweiler, a Border Collie, a Mal/Sibe mix and a Siberian Husky. Currently I live with an Alaskan Malamute and a 2nd Siberian Husky. }

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

A must-have for anyone who really wants to understand the domestic dog. The definitive guide to canine body language, this book breaks down every eye expression, tail wag, ear position and their relative relationships to each other. An intelligent observer can then follow the basics, connect the dots and begin interpreting more complex dog-speak. I firmly believe that knowing this information is a brilliant base to be able to address behavioral issues and begin problem-solving, as well as facilitate understanding of dog-dog interactions (esp. with the abundance of dog parks). One read of this book with careful examination of the hundreds of corresponding photos and you will never watch or interact with dogs the same ever again.

This is my go-to book as gift for all new dog owners. There is also an edition geared specifically for puppies (The Puppy Whisperer) but this one is good for those bringing home a squiggly, wiggly bundle of furry love as well as for adult adoptees. Using a non-violent approach rooted in natural domestic canine behavior, Owens walks the new dog owner not only through what to do but why to do it.

For the Love of a Dog
and The Other End of the Leash
by Patricia McConnell

McConnell is adjunct associate professor of zoology at UW-Madison, a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, runs a nationally respected training company, is co-host of Wisconsin Public Radio's nationally syndicated Calling All Pets, and was the animal behavior specialist for Animal Planet's Petline. This woman knows her animals, but her books turn the focus onto the humans. She takes basic biology and illustrates, using real life examples from her vast experience, how people can better understand their dogs simply by understanding their own selves. For the Love of a Dog keeps its focus on emotions - ours and theirs. The Other End of the Leash does the same with behavior - the physical and practical application and effects of actual actions.

A very personal, intimate portrait of one woman's life with her dog - a small Shepherd mix puppy ('Lucille') who changes her messed-up life for the better. Freshly out of life as an alcoholic and freshly addicted to a very unhealthy relationship, Caroline Knapp invests herself fully into life with Lucille. As a journalist and writer, she approaches this canine memoir with a keen eye to the rest of doggy journalism and science (as it existed in the 1990s), plus first-person stories from other dog owners. This one hits closest to the heart strings.

Shaggy Muses
by Maureen Adams

This splendid literary foray peers into the lives of five women writers and their dogs: Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte. Equally a biography of writer as that of canine, these beautiful relationships are inspiring to the reader in a way that can really offer only a glimpse into what a connection like this must have provided for each lady author.

A Good Dog
by Jon Katz

Nobody captures dog-life in the poetic images, words, and heartrending honesty that accompanies the human-canine bond, as Jon Katz*. And this title is absolutely his most heartbreaking for anyone who's ever tried (and "failed") to save a dog

Katz Tells the story of his rescue of, and significant relationship with, a desperately neglected Border Collie named Orson. "Failed" is not, of course, the right word. It's simply what it feels like, to work very hard at helping a dog who may be beyond salvaging because of a life that existed before you. It's a feeling, and experience, most commonly known by those in rescues, veterinary or humane animal work. There are many everyday dog owners who have gone through this as well, but it's a difficult thing to share with others, because no matter what wonderful life you gave a dog, if even for a shorter time than deserved, having to choose to end it prematurely is a devastating choice that never leaves you. Katz tells this story while baring his soul - a story that is mine, too.

*More of Jon Katz's books that I love and recommend: A Dog Year, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, and Izzy & Lenore

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