Home
book reviews
Culture: Reviews
Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?

“Border Collies,” as a Scottish shepherd once told me, “have been bred for 300 years to work with us.” Bred to work sheep over difficult terrain to their humans’ faint whistled commands, Border Collies’ strong work ethic and trainability have made them excel in work shepherds could never have imagined. Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? tells of two littermates with important but very different responsibilities.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a native New York dog trainer who wrote the bestselling Mother Knows Best. Denise Wall breeds, trains and trials sheepdogs, and fondly recalls her grandmother’s farm, where every new stockdog was “Dolly.”

Two years ago, Carol took puppy Sky home to train as a service dog while Sky’s littermate, May, remained on Denise’s farm to learn the sheepdog’s traditional trade. In alternating chapters, each author shows us how her pup matured and learned its life work.

Taxis, buses, restaurants, gyms, street people, jampacked sidewalks, frantic dog parks, MANY odors, hooting horns, police strobes: that’s Sky’s Manhattan, where the young dog learns to anticipate and relieve his owner’s sudden, debilitating pain. Since Carol’s Crohn’s disease can flare up any time, Sky never leaves Carol’s side. Carol describes their connection: “The intimate relationship between me and my dog gave me back what having a disability took away.… Instead of feeling alone, with Sky at my side, I felt part of the human race, ready to face anything even when I was ill. There’s no prescription, no man-made pill that can do what a dog can do.”

From her Tennessee sheep farm, Denise writes: “It was important that I recognized that she [May] was trying to do the right thing, even when things didn’t go exactly right … the young sheepdog needs time to develop all her instincts and learn how to balance them with self-control in order to become a good worker.” May made the grade; at two years old, she qualified for the National Finals Sheepdog Trials.

After Sky was fully trained as a service dog, the littermates had a glad reunion on the farm where, for the first time, Sky worked sheep.

Carol and Denise have spent their lives training dogs, and Sky and May’s stories are lucid, insightful and sometimes surprising. The reader will discover two wonderful dogs.

As a child, I was enthralled by Jack London, Eric Knight and Albert Payson Terhune. Somehow, magically, the stray mutts my family took in became like White Fang, Lassie and Lad of Sunnybrook Farm. Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep? stands comparison with those classics. 

Culture: Reviews
Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had

If you haven’t read Colter, you’re in luck, because you still have it to look forward to. Written by Rick Bass, Colter is the “true story of the best dog” he ever had, a German Shorthaired Pointer, the runt of the litter who blooms into a genius of a hunting dog.

When Bass adopts Colter, the dog is “bony, cross-legged, pointy-headed, goofy-looking.” But the ungainly young dog shows surprising potential. Bass engages a field trainer, who molds him into the great hunting dog he was born to be.

The “brown bomber” becomes a topnotch pointing dog, and Bass marvels in his flawless execution as he goes “on lock-solid, drop-dead point … head and shoulders hunched and crouched, bony ass stuck way up in the air, body halftwisted, frozen, as if cautioning us of some hidden deadly betrayal: and green eyes afire, stub tail motionless.”

However, Bass can’t hit a bird, which frustrates Colter excessively. He takes to shrieking when the shotgun fires and no bird falls. Bass can live with his poor aim: “In bird hunting … one little window of dog perfection, one wedge of success, thirty seconds of grace, is enough to obliterate al l the errors of a lifetime.” However, he hates his ineptitude for his dog’s sake. Occasionally—by accident, he says—he hits one; he finally enrolls in a shooting school in hopes of improving his aim. He does, much to Colter’s joy.

As all dog stories ultimately do, this one ends sadly. To love a dog entails the risk of loss. We pay this price, and dearly. However, anyone who has ever loved a dog will agree that the risk is worth taking, for the love of a dog is priceless. The same can be said of Colter: it may make us sad but is well worth the reading.

Culture: Reviews
Tea and Dog Biscuits

“You take in dogs?” Lonely after the loss of their 14-year-old German Shepherd, Barrie Hawkins and his wife embarked on rescue work, starting GSD Homefinders (gsdhomefinders.org.uk) in their rural English village with only the most general idea of what it would involve. Word spread quickly, and in no time, all manner of Shepherds in need of homes turned up on their doorstep. In Tea and Dog Biscuits, Hawkins chronicles the couple’s first year of rescue and fostering. He does a lovely job describing each dog and is candid about his general ineptitude, especially in the early days. This is a story of hope and healing, both of the dogs and of the couple who took them in.

News: Guest Posts
State of Wonder and Bookstores
Beth Finke meets Bark contributor and fan, Ann Patchett

Harper and I made sure to hobble in early. I alerted the strangers who joined us at our table that there was a dog underneath, and when one of them lifted the tablecloth to have a look, she said, “Oh, a black Lab. How sweet!” My Seeing Eye dog is a male yellow Labrador Retriever. She’d mistaken the behemoth black cast on my foot for Harper.

We were at the Women’s Athletic Club on Michigan Avenue to hear my fellow Bark contributor Ann Patchett (best-selling author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty) talk about her highly anticipated new novel State of Wonder. As her talk came to a close, she let us in on her next project: opening an independent bookstore.

“I live in Nashville, and we don’t have any bookstores,” she said, lamenting that the city’s independent bookstore, Davis-Kidd, went under last December. The Borders store in Nashville closed a few months later. “It’s weird to have a book and not have a place to sell it in your hometown.”

The author paired up with former Random House sales rep Karen Hayes in January, and the two of them hope to open Parnassus Books in Nashville before Christmas. Karen will be doing most of the work putting the store together. (“She knows which cash registers to buy, stuff like that.”) Ann plans to use her author cred to bring attention to her new store, and, in turn, to independent bookstores everywhere. “I heard you all sigh when I said we didn’t have a bookstore in Nashville,” she told us. “And you cheered when I said we were going to open one of our own.” She challenged us all to do our part, too. “Now, get out there to your own independent bookstore and buy a book!”

We all had a chance to meet her challenge right away: The Book Stall, an independent bookstore in Winnetka, Ill., had copies of State of Wonder for sale at the presentation. Ann Patchett couldn’t help but admire Harper as he guided me to the table to have her sign a copy for us. The future bookstore owner and I chatted about our work for The Bark as she signed. (Among other contributions, Ms. Patchett wrote the introduction to Dog Joy: The Happiest Dogs in the Universe.) “I love that magazine!” she proclaimed loudly enough for other fans in line to hear. “And I don’t just write for The Bark, I read it, too!”

Before picking up Harper’s harness to have him guide me away from the table, I told Ann Patchett how much I enjoyed the audio version of Truth and Beauty—she recorded it herself. She poo-pooed the compliment, “Hope Davis, you know, the actress? She reads this one,” she said, drumming her fingers on the signed hardcover in my hand. “She’s really good.”

Guess I’ll have to buy the audio version once it comes out. I know where I'll order it from, too: Our local independent bookstore!  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Theo Is The Cover Dog!
“Love Has No Age Limit”

Chosen from over 700 photos, this picture of Theo will be on the cover of “Love Has No Age Limit,” the new booklet that Patricia McConnell and I are writing about adopting adult and adolescent dogs.

  Theo is a rescue dog who was found as a stray on a highway in New Jersey. He then spent three months in a shelter before being adopted by Kimberly Wang of Eardog Productions in New York. She saw a picture of him on Petfinder, and the rest, as they say, is history.   Now, Theo is a licensed service and therapy dog, a cover model, and a delight to all who know him. It’s hard to imagine a better story to go with that lovely face. He is named after Theo Van Gogh (the brother of Vincent), who was such a source of support to the artist during his tortured life.   Looking through the more than 700 photos of rescue dogs that were submitted was wonderful. There were so many amazing photos, and lots and lots of them were considered and put on short lists, and then shorter lists, and then still shorter lists, until finally, we decided on Theo, who we both adored.   Later on in the process of creating the booklet, we will be choosing another photo to go on the back cover, and we’ll also be putting a photo at the start of every section of the booklet. So many great photos came in that we are thrilled to be able to use more than just one. And Trisha’s blog will be featuring a small selection of the many stories and photos that we loved so much they deserve to be shared. (Look for them in a couple of weeks because it takes time to get approval from each dog’s family.)   I’m thrilled that Theo is a mutt through and through, and that his face is so endearing and sweet. It’s an honor to have him on the cover of our booklet.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Book Recommendations For All
What titles do you pass on to friends?

My sister recently requested a few suggestions for dog books to read because this month, the theme for her book club is pets.

  Her book club has the world’s coolest system for choosing what to read. You can sum up their strategy with the phrase, “Every woman for herself!” because each member chooses a different book to read. Choices are organized around themes, such as banned books, band books, magic, rituals, comics, award-winning books, oceans, travel, vampire sex, holidays, movies and books with red covers. Occasionally, more than one person reads the same book, but that is only if they happen to choose the same one by accident.   This book club has been running for years, with part of that staying power likely stemming from their unusual system of book selection. With my sister’s taste in mind, I recommended three books to consider for “pet month.”  
  • All My Patients Have Tales: Favorite Stories from a Vet’s Practice by Jeff Wells
  • Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog by Susannah Charleson
  • Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp (You can read an excerpt published in Bark, summer 1998)
These books were the first ones I thought of, so this is not by any means a comprehensive list. These three came to mind because they are great books whether you are an animal lover or not. My sister likes dogs, but she is not a “dog person” the way you and I are. These books are great for dog lovers, but their appeal extends far beyond people like us. They are great stories and beautifully written.   What books would you recommend from the dog world to people who may not be as immersed in it as we are?
News: Guest Posts
Strike this Book from your Gift List
Smooch Your Pooch—adorable story with dangerous advice

Every Christmas it seems like some child-safety watch group finds at least one or two toys that are dangerous for kids. This Christmas there is one gift that’s actually dangerous for both kids and pets. It’s an adorable book called Smooch Your Pooch, and its message is so dangerous that even the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is taking a stand against it. In a press release, they state, “[AVSAB] strongly advises that parents avoid purchasing the recently released children’s book Smooch Your Pooch for their kids. The book recommends that children ‘Smooch your pooch to show that you care. Give him a hug anytime, anywhere.’ This information can cause children to be bitten.

 

What’s the Problem? While this adorably illustrated book, with its sweet, catchy rhymes, is meant to foster affection for pets, the contents, as well as the cover illustration, teach kids to hug and kiss dogs; this can cause dogs to react aggressively. No one knows that better than Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Reisner and her colleagues published a study examining why children get bitten by dogs. Says Reisner, “The recommendations in this children’s book—and even the title of the book—are potentially dangerous.”   That’s because many dogs do not like being petted or hugged. They just tolerate it—at least temporarily.   Reisner elaborates, “Although some dogs are not reactive about being kissed and hugged, these types of interactions are potentially provocative, leading to bites. In a study we published in a journal called Injury Prevention, we looked at dogs that had bitten children and found that most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting. Most important here, familiar children were bitten most often in the contexts of ‘nice’ interactions—such as kissing and hugging—with their own dogs or dogs that they knew.”   Because children are shorter than adults, the bites can be severe. “Sadly, small children are most often bitten in the face and head,” Reisner says.  “We assume this is because they are bringing their faces close to the dogs.”   Given this information, teaching kids to kiss and hug pooches is clearly not safe. But Smooch Your Pooch goes a step beyond and recommends, “Give him a hug, anytime, anywhere.”   While some dogs may tolerate or even enjoy an occasional kiss or hug, they may not tolerate incessant kissing or hugging indefinitely. To the dog who needs a break from kids or needs to know he has a safe location where he can choose to be free of constant attention and pestering, these unsolicited hugs can take him to the breaking point—the same way incessant pestering does for human adults and sibling. The difference is that a human sibling might get angry and hit or scream. Dogs growl, snarl and bite.   So, even dogs who are perfect most of the time can bite seemingly out of the blue.   Of course, to the skilled eye these bites are not random or even unexpected. Reisner’s study found, that in addition to biting when they are hugged, kissed, bent over or sometimes simply petted, dogs are reactive when they are approached/touched while resting, when they have anything they consider “high value” (food, toys, a favorite blanket or even the parent), and when they are hurt or frightened.   Based on these research findings, Reisner states emphatically, “I would not recommend that children take this book’s advice to kiss and hug their dogs. After all, dogs do not hug or kiss each other, and it is understandable that they might feel uncomfortable with such displays by children. In fact, bending over a dog and looking directly into its eyes can be seen as a ‘threat’ in dog language.”   Instead, she recommends more appropriate games and displays of affection, such as fetch, going for a walk together (with adult supervision), and even training new tricks. “Training simple tricks can be very rewarding for both the dog and for its young companion,” Reisner says. “Dogs like to be warm and comfortable and well fed, and most of all to be near us rather than isolated.”   Does this mean you should never hug your dog? Reisner suggests, “If a family dog is clearly unconcerned about being hugged and kissed, showing affection that way is probably fine.”   You can tell when a dog enjoys being hugged because he leans or rubs against you the way a human enjoying a hug would. Dogs who don’t enjoy hugs act aloof and may lean or look away, similar to the way a child reacts when you pinch their cheeks affectionately. Dogs who are not enjoying this kind of attention may also show other signs of anxiety, such as yawning, licking their lips, tensing up, or dropping their tail low or between their legs. When we ignore these signals of discomfort, they may try to warn us with a raised lip or a low growl.   Reisner does stress that children should never approach or interact with dogs who are lying down, resting or asleep. Instead, she recommends that children only pet the dog if the dog chooses to come to them. “Pick up a leash and a box of treats, and call the dog to you,” she says.   So the rule for kids is: Interact with the dog when the dog approaches willingly. Otherwise, kids should give the dog his own space.
News: Editors
Dog Books Galore
What’s worth reading?

As was noted in Sunday’s Denver Post article, dog books are being published in record numbers. The success of more recent books like Marley and Me (2005), along with worthy “classics” like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ Hidden Life of Dogs (on the bestseller list for 28 weeks in ’95), convinced publishers there certainly is a great interest in this genre. People love their dogs and love reading about them.

  Bark receives, on average, 8 to 12 new books a week, most of them heartfelt, a few opportunistic, and a scant few really good. But this year was a stellar one for canine-centric titles. Here’s our top 10 list for 2010 (plus four noteworthy memoirs).   Do you have a favorite book from 2010 you want to share with us?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook
The pictures are fantastic!

I wrote a book review for The Bark about the book "Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook" by Barbara Handelman. I liked the book very much but my main criticism of it was that the quality of the reproduction of the photos was poor. I thought it was just a result of color photos being printed in black and white leading to low contrast. Apparently, the issue was that the first printing didn't go right. However, the problem has been fixed so that the second printing is gorgeous with the photos showed off to full glory.

  The author arranged to send me a second printing copy from Dogwise. This book is really lovely now that the photo issue has been fixed. It has the largest collection of photos I know of illustrating aspects of dog behavior and merits a place on the bookshelf of everyone interested in dogs.

 

News: Guest Posts
Bonnie Hunt Loves DogJoy
Plus enter to win a copy of DogJoy

Tune in today to see Bonnie Hunt talk about our new book DogJoy—The Happiest Dogs in the Universe. The hostess of the daytime hit “The Bonnie Hunt Show” is a confirmed dog lover and companion to Charlie, a Pit Bull mix, who often appears on her show. In today’s segment, Hunt talks about the joy dogs exude—perfectly captured in the smiling canine faces found in DogJoy. The book was assembled by the editors of The Bark from submissions to the magazine’s infamous “Smiling Dog” contest. For the past eight years, enthusiastic readers have been sending in photographs of their smiling pups, DogJoy assembles the best of the pack. Hunt clearly connected to the charm and infectious happiness a smiling dog can provide.

DogJoy is featured on Hunt’s popular “Saw it? Want it? Win it?” web page—where you can enter to win a copy of DogJoy.

Check here for airing times in your area.

Pages