Home
book reviews
Culture: Stories & Lit
Anthrozoology Books Explore the Science and History of Dog-Human Bond

Scientists have only recently caught on that canines are not just a fertile subject for their particular specialties — psychology, anthropology, zoology, ethology and more — but also a topic that the publishing world seems eager to promote.

This trend has been a long time developing. Nobel Prize–winner and ethology’s co-founder, Konrad Lorenz, wrote Man Meets Dog (1950), breaking ground that lay dormant until anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s bestseller, The Hidden Life of Dogs (1993), reintroduced the genre of dog studies to the non-scientist reader. A few years later, journalist Mark Derr followed up with Dog’s Best Friend (1997), a book that grew out of his Atlantic Monthly investigative piece about the AKC and the dog-show world. Another dry spell was finally broken by psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog (2009), which garnered an extraordinary amount of well-earned praise. At long last, it seems that the (overly) popular dog-memoir craze has given way to illuminating and well-researched books that explore the science behind our favorite species, written for the general public.

For example, in the May issue of Bark, we reviewed Dog Sense, a fascinating book by British anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, in which the author provides a compendium of current research (both his own and others’) into dogs’ origins and behavior. More specifically, he details their evolution from a wolf-like ancestor into proto-dogs and then the first domesticated species; he also investigates how this very long-term relationship has affected both canines and humans. He goes on to clearly explain how today’s dogs differ behaviorally and culturally from wolves, and why the dominance/ pack paradigm put forth by many trainers (including Cesar Millan) is not only the wrong way to understand dogs but has also done them a great disservice. It makes for engrossing and thought-provoking reading.

Paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman takes a similar synoptic approach in her engaging new book, The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human, and adds valuable insights into the dog’s evolutionary story. She combs through research in her own field as well as in archeology to test her hypothesis that animals (dogs among them) have shaped our species’ evolution. As she says, “I believe that a defining trait of the human species has been a connection with animals…. Defining traits are what make humans human … and they are partially or wholly encoded in our genes.” She does a rigorous investigation — every bit as compelling as a forensic TV drama — into the three big advances that contributed to our modernity: tool-making, language and symbolic behavior, and the domestication of other species to support this position.

In the chapter, “The Wolf at the Door,” Shipman suggests how domestication might have happened. As importantly, she refutes other theorists, such as Raymond Coppinger and his “protodog- as-village-pests” model. She writes about Belgian researcher Mietje Germonpré, whose work recently dated a proto-dog fossil skull to 31,680 BP — proving that dogs were domesticated long before humans congregated in settlements. (It was an amazing 20,000 years before the next species, the goat, was domesticated.) Shipman questions why so few representations of wolves/dogs (as well as human figures) appear in prehistoric art, and incorporates anthropologist Anne Pike-Tay’s suggestion that if domesticated dogs were helping us hunt, they were “perhaps placed in a completely different symbolic category from other animals,” adding, “dogs might have been put into the human family category as an extension of the hunter.” All of which attests to the fact that dogs have been a part of the human family since our own prehistory — an extremely long time.

All of these books, the classics and the current crop, should be read by dog lovers. Not only do they contribute to our understanding of our first friends, they also have the potential to improve dogs’ welfare by educating us as to what we can and can’t expect from them. We owe it to dogs to learn more so this age-old relationship can grow even stronger. Here’s hoping this trend continues and more groundbreaking books are on the way.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Chase! Managing Your Dog’s Predatory Instincts
Dogwise Publishing, 136 pp., 2010; $16.95

As human to a couple of large, highly prey-driven dogs, I was thrilled and relieved to learn of Clarissa von Reinhardt’s book, Chase! I had done a fair amount of research over the years on the topic but hadn’t learned much beyond the fact that good management and a fail-proof recall were in order. Until I read Chase!, that is.

Every good training program begins with a solid foundation, and Reinhardt’s is no exception. The fundamental element of the program is what Reinhardt calls “communicative walks,” which she defines as “using the walk as an opportunity to build a strong bond between you and your dog through interaction and communication,” including discovering “sausage trees” together, among other activities. (The sausage tree is one of several unique and creative training ideas.)

Reinhardt provides instructions for humanely and effectively training behaviors ranging from basic to the more unusual. She also includes a chapter on mental stimulation, in which she emphasizes the importance of play and outlines games that are appropriate and inappropriate for prey-driven dogs.

While I found everything in the book to be of use, I did not find everything of use to be in the book. Two things in particular were conspicuous in their absence: instructions for training a fail-proof recall and a serious discussion on working with dogs who have killed prey animals.

Regardless, Chase! is definitely worthwhile if you’d like to be able to allow your prey-driven dog off leash. Reinhardt’s training philosophy is right on: “The success of anti-predation training doesn’t just depend on how well you train your dog to steer his natural tendencies in an alternative direction— toward you—but also how well you concentrate on the dog as your partner.”

Culture: Reviews
Dog Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend
Avery Publishing, 320 pp., 2010; $26.00

After the birth of Snuppy, the world’s first cloned dog, a handful of biotech entrepreneurs envisioned a thriving business that would provide grieving dog lovers with genetically identical clones of their deceased pets. In Dog Inc., Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist John Woestendiek exposes the grave folly behind those science-fiction dreams.

Woestendiek travels between the United States and South Korea, following the companies looking to cash in on cloning technology, and their clients, who hope cloning really will approximate resurrection.

Although much of the book focuses on the salacious story of Bernann McKinney, a woman obsessed with cloning her Pit Bull, the strength of Dog Inc. is in Woestendiek’s ability to lay out the science and laboratory politics in a way that’s both accessible and engaging. Readers will understand the X-inactivation process that made the first cloned cat so physically distinct from her progenitor — and, consequently, such a public relations failure — as well as the allegations of scientific fraud levied against Woo Suk Hwang, one of the pioneers of canine cloning.

Woestendiek never outright condemns canine cloning, but the details leave little question as to where he falls in the debate. He shines light on the poor treatment of the laboratory dogs used in cloning, the cloned puppies who do not survive the process and the heartbreaking fate of Snuppy himself. As for the actual clones, Dog Inc. tracks kittens, puppies and even a bull cloned at great financial and biological cost, only to prove physically and behaviorally distinct from their genetic parents.

The book serves as a valuable reminder that, like people, our pets are far more than the sum of their DNA.

News: Guest Posts
Animal Joy
Jonathan Balcombe studies the animal pleasure principle

In our house, we call it sun-dogging: When Lulu and Renzo stretch out on the hot slate of the porch or cool grass and heat up in the sun. Their black fur gets pretty hot to the touch, but still they soak it all in, moving to shade long after it seemed like a good idea. We love watching them sun-dog because they seem to be enjoying themselves so much.

Apparently, there is a scientific term for the habit, “behavioral thermoregulation.” But it just doesn’t capture the pleasure of the moment. “Oh, honey, look at Lulu behaviorially thermoregulating.”

Based on recent reviews and preview materials, I’m thinking animal behaviorist Jonathan Balcombe would understand “sun-dogging.” In his new book, The Exultant Ark, he doesn’t mince words about animals experiencing pleasure—the study of which he calls, hedonic ethology. Yum.

Of course, you can’t really get away with saying animals experience pleasure (a little too anthropomorphic), so in amongst the photos he makes his case for the biological imperative of pleasure, but I’m happy to let the photos do the work. I mean, look at that cover!

More about The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure.

Watch an interview with Jonathan Balcombe (in parts on YouTube):

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Adventures of Salt & Soap at Grand Canyon
It’s a great kids book!

Like most people who live where I do (an hour from Grand Canyon), I consider it part of my backyard and I love stories and art inspired by and about this wonder of the world.

In The Adventures of Salt & Soap at Grand Canyon, Park Ranger Lori April Rome narrates the true story describing how two lost puppies became her own dogs. Salt and Soap were just three months old when they were found wandering together in a remote area of Grand Canyon National Park. These puppies had a variety of adventures, including capsizing during a ride on the river, lots of hiking, a thunderstorm, and finally a helicopter ride out of the canyon. Though written for kids ages 4 to 8, this story appeals to a much broader age range.

Tanja Bauerle’s illustrations capture the wildlife in the area, the facial expressions and body language of these two exuberant puppies and the grandeur and beauty of Grand Canyon. The puppies take their names from Salt Water Wash and Soap Canyon, which are features of Grand Canyon near where they were first found. Their permanent home in Grand Canyon Village near the rim of the canyon is also beautifully depicted.

Among the many reasons I adore this engaging book are the fact that the puppies are mixed breeds, that it was a cooperative effort by many people to help the puppies survive in this harsh, unforgiving habitat, and that there are other animals in this outdoor adventure tale. The puppies see a variety of wildlife while they interact with rangers, hikers and river runners. It’s refreshing to read a children’s book in which dogs are one of many species inhabiting our planet.

The story is told with that sense of wonder that is so captivating to children. The emphasis is on positive aspects of life: the friendliness and trust of the puppies, the compassion of strangers, the majesty and vastness of Grand Canyon and the contagious happiness that dogs bring to us all.

Culture: Reviews
The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

In 1960, a young Maltese made his way from England to America, stopping along the way in Hollywood at the astoundingly dysfunctional home of actress Natalie Woods’ mother. From there, he landed in the lovely lap of Marilyn Monroe, a gift from Frank Sinatra, and lived with her until she died in 1962. As Maf (short for “Mafia Honey”) observes, “A dog’s biggest talent is for absorbing everything of interest,” and here, he not only absorbs it, he recounts it. Telling a story in the voice of a dog is a risky business, but O’Hagan pulls it off in this entertaining novel, which looks at the life and times of an iconic and much-mythologized woman through the eyes of a dog who loved her.

Culture: Reviews
Do Over Dogs

“It’s never too late to begin again,” says veteran trainer Pat Miller, and in her new book, she shows us how to do just that. Whether you have a newly rescued pooch or a long-time canine companion with lingering “issues,” Miller offers guidance and insights that are both practical and inspiring. Her discussions of the shelter world, adopting a do-over dog, and the science behind training and behavior provide valuable context in which to understand and apply her advice.

Culture: Reviews
Dogs Can Sign, Too
A Breakthrough Method for Teaching Your Dog to Communicate

All of us talk to our dogs, but with this book, we’re given a way to teach them to talk back. Adding to dogs’ innate repertoire of communication signals, the author shows us in step-by-step fashion how to help our pups develop a vocabulary of gestures that convey both basic ideas and more complicated concepts, including answering questions. While many experts feel that dogs lack the capacity to learn a non-natural language, Senechal disagrees, and created K9 Sign Language to prove it. The basis of this approach is that “anything a dog can identify can be linked to a word and a corresponding body gesture.” From that perspective, dogs using sign language may not be such a far-fetched idea after all.

Culture: Reviews
Mini Encyclopedia of Dog Health

This compact book is indeed encyclopedic in its coverage of the common and not-so-common pitfalls of canine health. Beginning with an overview of how to have a healthy dog, it then segues into specifics of first aid and emergency care and the more complicated issues of system-based ailments. Neurological, circulatory, respiratory and more are covered. It is also fully illustrated; the diagrams showing how the various systems work are particularly informative. While no book can substitute for a vet’s attention, this one goes a long way toward helping us know when it’s time to seek that attention.

Culture: Reviews
Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog

Well-educated dog owners and dog professionals worldwide continue to be dismayed by the ongoing presentation of Cesar Millan’s inappropriate, sometimes dangerous approach to dog behavior modification or, as Millan likes to call it, “dog psychology.” This new book may be an attempt to quell some of the ever-growing opposition to Millan’s less-than-scientifically supported dog-handling techniques.

Though Millan acknowledges that he disagrees with many highly regarded, experienced and educated professionals in the field of dog training and behavior, he includes some of their perspectives here. From the “positive” side of the trainer world, he invites comments from the notable Bob Bailey, guru to thousands of educated dog trainers, and Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), author and early advocate of rewardbased training. Among the professionals included are Bonnie Brown-Cali, Patrick Burns, Barbara DeGroodt, Mark Harden, Katenna Jones, Joel Silverman, K irk Turner a nd G ary Wilkes. If you think this creates a confusing end product, you’re right.

There is more actual substance in this book t han i n p rior M illan e fforts, thanks in large part to the contributions of his visiting trainers. Information on Millan’s own approach to modifying the behavior of the dogs he works with, while somewhat more fleshed-out than in prior books, is not a comprehensive description of his methods. Although— for the first time—he attempts to define some of his non-scientific terms such as “balanced,” the results are less than satisfying.

In the end, while the book appears to be an attempt at an historical and current overview of a wide spectrum of training philosophies and methods, it falls short of being a usable guide to dog behavior and training.

Pages