2013 was a good year for books that helped us to better understand our dogs and unravel the mysteries of what this unique friendship is all about. Here are the notable books of 2013 that have topped our must-read list.
Neuroscientist Gregory Berns does groundbreaking research with the help of MRI brain imagery of his dog, Callie—along with many other dogs from the Dog Project at Emory University. The goal is to decode the canine brain, and, yes, understand what makes dogs’ tick—do dogs empathize with humans, and have a theory of mind? His findings, chronicled in How Dogs Love Us, make a very engrossing and enlightening read.
Cat Warren never thought that she would become cadaver dog handler, but then she got Solo, a German Shepherd pup whose “single pup in the litter” status lent him a singular “I am the master of the universe” mindset. So she took the advice of a trusted trainer on how best to channel his singleton’s “energy” and plunged into cadaver fieldwork. What the Dogs Knows is actually about her discovery of what a dog’s worldview really is, and how she and Solo, not only learned how to navigate it but also to excel at it. This makes for a compelling read.
In Chaser, John Pilley writes about how he and one very smart, committed Border Collie went on to win what amounts to the grand “spelling bee” in the canine world, when Chaser, the dog, learned to differentiate over 1022 words. Theirs is an extraordinary story, made especially more so because Pilley was pushing 80 when he began Chaser’s lessons, and spent four to five hours a day enriching his new dog’s social and learning experiences. There is much to glean in this book, including tips on how you might be able to tap into the genius of your dog.
Susannah Charleson’s second book about dogs, The Possibility Dogs is every bit as enthralling as her first, Scent of the Missing. In this new book she refocuses her work from search-and-rescue to training rescue dogs for psychiatric service and therapy duty. She becomes an expert on evaluating shelter dogs to find those who might have the right personality and drive for this work. This book is an informative training guide but also a truly inspiring personal story.
E.B. White on Dogs, edited by his granddaughter Martha White, is a marvelous collection of classic essays, letters and assorted writing, by a master wordsmith and avowed dog enthusiast. His personable storytelling retains its freshness and immediacy and will charm a new generation of dog-lovers.
Donald McCaig, one our favorite authors, is back in good form again with his engaging Mr. and Mrs. Dog a tale on how McCaig and his Border Collies, Luke and June, were able to compete in the Olympics of the herding-dog world, the World Sheepdog Trials. McCaig’s work spans 25 years of raising and training sheepdogs, and also includes his stalwart championing of the working status of these amazing dogs, quite apart from their recent “inclusion” into AKC’s show-ring standards. He, as always, provides a valuable commentary on living and loving dogs.
Dog Songs by the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver, is the perfect volume to round off our reading list. Oliver is certainly, according to the New York Times, “America’s best-selling poet,” and the reasons for that are numerous. For us it is for her love and respect of nature following a pastoral tradition in poetry, and, her fondness and keen “eye” for dogs. In her latest collection, Bark readers will revisit some works that Bark was honored to first publish, as well as be treated to memorable new material. As she has said of dogs, “I think they are companions in a way that people aren’t. They’ll lie next to you when you’re sad. And they remind us that we’re animals, too.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The start of a new year is a moment to reflect on the changes we want to make with the goal of self-improvement or, even better, doing good for others. We’ve put together some suggestions of our own that you may want to incorporate into your list of resolutions—most are quite easy and offer great rewards in return—for both you and your dog.
Know Your Dog In and Out
Get caught up on learning more about dogs—who they are, why they do what they do and why they are our oldest friends—books like Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash, Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog and Gregory Berns’ How Dogs Love Us are stand outs.
Exercise Mind and Body
Enroll your dog in an activity class, agility, flyball, rally-o, nosework—there are many to consider.
Do short enrichment episodes with your dog throughout the day such as hiding treats or pieces of kibble.
Take long walks with your dog, but use that as an occasion to also extend training by calling to her often, rewarding spot-on recalls. Short re-enforcement sessions are key.
All dogs love play and as Patricia McConnell reminds us “just because a dog doesn’t play fetch doesn’t mean you can’t play together.” Start off by mimicking your dog’s play bow, and the fun will follow.
Make New Friends
When it comes to gifts, many of us struggle to find something for loved ones who have everything. When the loved one is a dog, selecting presents is way easier—as far as dogs are concerned, there’s no such thing as enough of everything, especially things to eat and play with.
On the edible A List: antlers (so holiday-appropriate!), yak milk chews, dried fish skins or high-quality, nutritious treats (choose smaller-sized goodies to offset potential overindulgence). And don’t forget that treats are among the easiest things to make at home. There are lots of great dogcentric cookbooks, and the Bark website also has an eclectic collection of recipes (at thebark.com/recipes). If you have a dehydrator, put it to use by making jerky treats—we also happen to have an excellent recipe for chicken jerky sweet potato chews on our site; find it at thebark.com/jerky.
When it comes to toys, those that the two of you can play with together are reliable faves—especially tug toys, especially if you let the dog win occasionally. These are also easy to DIY, and give you an excellent way to finally use those old tube socks cluttering your sock drawer: tie a few knots in them and you have a toy with a scent only a dog can appreciate. Find more possibilities at thebark.com/diy. Or, for a two-fer, choose a Kong-like toy that can be stuffed with treats or more complex puzzle “enrichment” toys that entice your dog to find hidden rewards.
If you’re purchasing a toy, avoid those made from hard plastic (or packaged that way), and remove all tags, fabric hanger loops and plastic bits, especially from soft toys, before handing them to the canine giftee. It’s also a good idea to inspect the toy carefully and consider removing anything that a dog might be able to pull off and swallow (“eyes” or other nonessential elements, for example). If you’re sharing the holiday with friends or relatives, save everyone’s sanity by going the no-squeaker route.
Of less interest to dogs but very appealing to their people are accouterments such as new beds, warm sweaters and jackets, sturdy leashes, decorative collar tags, or other little luxuries. For a handy multitasker, check out dehydrators, which can be used to make delectables, like fruit chews, for everyone. Dogs won’t enjoy unwrapping this stuff quite as much, but their people will appreciate them.
Speaking of unwrapping … some dogs like to open their own gifts, so choose wrappings that are safe for them. Any kind of paper—even newspaper—lightly taped, works best. Ditch the ribbon or string, which can cause big problems if swallowed. If your dog’s an “unwrapper,” it’s probably best not to leave gifts on the floor around the tree unless a spot-on “leave it” cue is in place.
And, of course, there’s a No List: No surprise live animals (like a new dog friend); holidays are the worst time to introduce a new dog into a family. No China-made toys or treats (especially treats). No chocolate or other dicey-for-dogs ingredients; check the ASPCA’s poison control pages for details: aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.
Now, what are you waiting for? Make a list, check it twice and reward both naughty and nice with a present that’s sure to be well received.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we’re taking a moment to make a list of what we are thankful for this year. Working on The Bark for the past 16 years, we’ve been afforded a unique view into the world of dogs, and the people who care for them. A lot has changed, but some of the best things about dogs never seems to.
1. The spirit of volunteerism. The dog community is a compassionate, supportive network of people who foster, donate, fundraise, advocate and share their love with animals who need it. Through a million small and large acts of kindness and with a sense of responsibility—they make a difference.
2. Dog-friendliness is being embraced. A generation ago, dogs’ access to public and shared spaces was very limited. “No dogs allowed” signs were the norm. Thankfully, these are fewer today, and a conscious effort to welcome dogs in parks, businesses and at social events is growing in popularity.
3. Government oversight of pet food. After hundreds of deaths from tainted pet food and treats, and countless recalls of foreign-source and domestically-produced product—we can look forward to new regulations that will impose safety and health requirements to the $21 billion pet food industry. Our pets deserve nothing less.
4. Science is offering new insights. The number of important studies and research that impact our understanding of dogs is at an all-time high. From the dog genome project to studies of the canine mind and senses, these creative investigations into what makes dogs tick is contributing to real, practical improvements in how dogs live in our society.
5. The inspiration of fine writing and art. Some of today’s best writers and thinkers are exploring the rich subject of dogs—from poet Mary Oliver to psychologist Alexandra Horowitz and novelist Ann Patchett—the wealth of words expressing life with dogs is our good fortune. Visual artists like Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Elliot Erwitt contribute their own language.
6. More choice than ever. Gone are the days when Ken-L-Ration and Milkbones ruled supreme. Today, dogs have their choice of organic, wheat-free, freeze-dried, reconstituted, bison, duck, raw, home-cooked and every combination imaginable. The expansion of selection has touched every corner of pet products … there are more dog beds, more toys, more everything to address every need and fancy.
7. Health options are evolving. A similar broadening of veterinary care is occurring, new techniques and medical innovations provide us with more options … holistic treatments, non-invasive procedures and, often, a level of care that can rival our own. The growth of pet health insurance is an idea whose time may have arrived.
8. The impact of canine behavior on everything—from training to unwanted pets. Understanding how dogs think and feel is key to living with them in harmony. It’s such a simple premise, but the plethora of misguided theories can do more harm than good. Fortunately, the truth has a way of rising to the top, and our understanding of canine cognition and behavior will help us solve some of the biggest challenges we face in the pet community.
9. Dogs’ roles in society are growing. Dogs love it when they have a job to do. For many, that means a real task to perform, and as a society, we’re expanding the job pool—assistance and therapy dogs, tracking and law enforcement, conservation and wildlife control, plus traditional duties of herding, hunting and companionship. The value of doing good work is immeasurable.
10. The essence of dogs. Whether it’s their never-ending enthusiasm to embrace a walk or their attentive demeanor as they accompany us through our day—dogs are great company. The bond is unique, and at its best, brings out something special in both of us, encouraging a fresh view of the world.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver is arguably one of the most beloved living poets in the English language. She is certainly, according to the New York Times, “America’s best-selling poet,” and the reasons for that are numerable. Renowned for her love of nature, Ms. Oliver writes exquisite, lyrical poems that not only capture the beauty of, say, a rushing waterfall or a blade of grass or a flock of wild geese; her poems also transform those moments of witness into something magical, even spiritual. Oliver’s poems, in other words, remind the reader of how much there is to love in this world.
Nowhere is this love more evident than in Oliver’s latest collection, Dog Songs, which includes new material as well as some of her most famous poems about her many beloved dogs. We meet Bear, who, running through the snow, writes “in large, exuberant letters/a long sentence/expressing the pleasures of the body in this world.” And Luke, a former junkyard dog who came to love flowers: “Briskly she went through the fields,/ yet paused/for the honeysuckle/or the rose/her dark head/and her wet nose/ touching/the face/ of every one.” And Benjamin, a formerly abused dog who was afraid of many things. To comfort the dog, Oliver “fondles his long hound ears” and tells him, “Don’t worry. I also know the way/the old life haunts the new.” We also meet Sammy, infamous in Oliver’s hometown for roaming, and Ricky, a rescue from Cuba with lots of attitude.
And of course we meet Percy, a rescue whom Oliver immortalized in her celebrated “Percy” poems (in 2008, 2,500 people gave Oliver a standing ovation when she read some of these poems). Oliver, who described Percy as “a mixture of gravity and waggery,” often wrote from his point of view.
This excerpt from the Percy poem “The Sweetness of Dogs” made me cry:
… Thus, we sit, myself
There isn’t room in this review to quote every remarkable poem. All I can do is encourage you to buy this book and savor it. Who else but Mary Oliver can bring dogs to life with such tender, touching imagery? These poems will make you smile, laugh, cry and nod your head in delighted agreement.
This exquisite collection closes with an essay entitled “The Summer Beach.” Here, Oliver summarizes the many reasons to love dogs. “The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, of the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of the forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him … Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased.”
Oliver—who, I should add, is a fan of The Bark and has been published here many times—concludes with: “What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be without dogs?”
I would add: What would the world be like without Mary Oliver’s poetry?
If You Are Holding This Book
Highlights and trends from pet trade shows
Our highlights from recent pet trade shows—the big takeaway? They’re starting to listen to consumers.
Keep it simple: food and treats are being made with fewer ingredients. Popular words “pure,” “grain-free” and “gluten-free” abound.
Whole grains and veggies: chia seeds, quinoa, kelp, squashes, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, nutritious carbs and good roughage prevail.
USA made: ingredients being sourced here, as is manufacturing; a good sign, but oversight is still needed.
Alt proteins: pork, duck, venison, bison, fi sh are the new chicken.
Dental: aids, chews, finger “brushes” and herbal mixes to stem plaque.
Gut’s big: probiotics in everything from treats, foods and supplements.
Calories count: more companies include Kcals on packaging— all companies should be doing it.
Healthier treats: they’re smaller, chewier, more nutritious and aimed at training, not just snacking.
Freeze dried: no longer just from small companies; larger ones are doing it too (remember, smaller is usually best).
Oh deer: alternative chews (moose, yak and deer) and antlers in all sizes.
Green: hemp, bamboo and biodegradables, and poop bags that decompose in landfills.
Keeping watch: pet cams and apps allow you to peek in at your dog.
Holding the bag: cool ideas to attach poop bags to a leash or collar; also, products for toting full bags.
Enrichment toys: more are probing the canine mind, inventing toys to promote dog learning.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Our canine pals do plenty of great things — provide love, guard our homes, save Timmy from mine shafts — but they’re not too concerned about domestic tidiness. However, there are smart, easy ways to collar canine clutter and keep your dog safer.
1. Store everything you need for outings — leash, pick-up bags, paw wipes — near the door. Speaking of pick-up bags, reuse plastic shopping bags or the plastic bags your newspapers come in; store them in an empty tissue box for one-at-a-time dispensing.
2. Make it easier to hook up for walks by attaching a large carabiner to the clip on your dog’s leash.
3. Instead of wrestling with that humungous bag of dog food, divvy it up into smaller, sealable containers for storage. This keeps pests out, too.
4. Assign baskets or bins into which you can quickly toss those well-chewed balls, bones and other assorted playthings; for extra points, teach your dog to put them away herself.
5. To keep food and water bowls from sliding, place them on a rubber-backed mat or piece of rubberized mesh.
6. Use a self-refilling water bowl to cut down on your trips to the sink. Recirculating fountains are a nice option; many dogs like to drink running water, and the aeration and filter keep the water fresh. Find them at pet supply stores.
7. To neutralize the gamey aroma wafting from full pick-up bags in your garbage bin, toss in a few handfuls of cat litter.
8. Position the dog bed away from your home’s main traffic flow and cover it with an easily removable “doggy duvet” that you wash regularly.
9. Create a file folder or binder dedicated to your dog’s paperwork: vet visits, vaccination records, medication lists, insurance info, license receipts, microchip code number.
10. Scan all these important records — plus photos of your dog — and store them on your PDA or a small flash drive so you have this vital info at hand while traveling.
TV’s baddest dog gets philosophical
The dog days of summer officially begin June 20 with the third season premier of Wilfred, television's cult hit on FX. Aussie Jason Gann is the show’s originator/writer/lead actor who embodies Wilfred, a cantankerous lug in a dog suit who drinks beer, smokes pot and humps a giant teddy bear. The show ran for 16 episodes in Australia before jumping stateside. We spoke to Wilfred’s alter ego between takes recently.
How are you?
Have a dog?
Is it tough getting into character?
Where’d the idea for Wilfred come from?
Surprised by the show’s success?
Do you have many doggy encounters?
How would you sum up Wilfred’s philosophy on life?
Look for the new season of Wilfred on FX June 20.
From the classics to entertaining beach books
Now that summer and its long, warm days have arrived, we hope you find time to catch up on your reading. We would like to suggest our picks for a well-versed “dog culture” reading roster. These 25 books will enhance your understanding of your dog, along with entertaining and inspiring you. Enjoy!Non-fiction/Memoir
Colter by Rick Bass A beautifully written elegy about “the best dog” ever, Bass captures the essence of this unforgettable dog’s intense drive.
Dog Walks Man, a collection of humorous and absorbing essays by John Zeaman, conveys how the routine act of dog-walking can connect us to the joys of the natural world.
Dog Years, by Mark Doty. A prize-winning poet and memoirist, Doty explores the complicated landscape of love and loss.
Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men by Donald McCaig. You don’t need to be a Border Collie admirer to be enthralled by McCaig’s storytelling of his journey to Scotland to explore what is behind the mystery of these hardworking dogs and their human handlers.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home, a memorable memoir by Gail Caldwell about her friendship with the late Caroline Knapp (Pack of Two); their dogs brought these two writers together, and a devoted friendship followed.
Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp. Written 15 years ago, this was one of the first, and still the best, explorations of the dog/human intricate bond in modern life.
Rex and the City, by Lee Harrington. A “behaviorally-challenged” rescue dog might be more than a NYC couple can handle. But when it comes to exploring what it takes for “newbies” to learn about co-existing with a canine (and with each other), this is one of the funniest accounts of the journey.
Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson. A fascinating memoir of the adventures of a Search and Rescue pup and how both she and her human partner mastered the course together.
A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler is part Hunter Thompson part Carlos Castaneda but mostly so original that it’s difficult to peg. A fascinating examination of the “cult and culture” of dog rescue.Dog Studies
Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzaznne Clothier. An analysis of the mind and motives of dogs, and a lesson in how to speak their language.
In Dog Sense, animal behaviorist John Bradshaw outlines what we can expect from our co-pilots as well as what they need to live harmoniously with us.
Dog’s Best Friend. Mark Derr writes about the “culture of the dog” like no one else. He goes well beyond the in’s and out’s of breeding and training examining all aspects about what makes our friendship with dogs tick.
The Hidden Life of Dogs: a book made famous for the number of miles that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas clocked while tracking a Husky on his daily forays in her anthropological quest to answer “What do dogs really want?”
Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz is a fascinating journey into the dog’s rich sensory world, providing valuable insights into what it’s like to be a dog.
Man Meets Dog was first published over fifty years ago, becoming a classic that every dog lover should read by the Nobel Prize-winner, Konrad Lorenz.
Patricia McConnell, has written many books decoding the mysteries of canine behavior, including The Other End of the Leash, on why we behave as we do around our dogs and how it affects them, and, Tales of Two Species, a collection of her Bark columns.
Speaking for Spot, by Nancy Kay, DVM. Direct, empathetic and absolutely invaluable advice on how to successfully advocate for your dog.Novels
Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a beautifully crafted tale of the wonders and absurdities of human life as only a dog could describe them
My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley This unforgettable memoir of a much-loved dog has no equal—be sure to read the edition with the insightful introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine. Set in the microcosmic world of a New York neighborhood—dogs are the stars of this show.
The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout, DVM. A small-town vet comes to terms with his career change and the importance of friendship and community.
Timbuktu by Paul Auster. Mr. Bones, “a mutt of no particular worth or distinction,” narrates this unforgettable and poignant tale.Dog-Flavored Mystery Series
David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter is a reluctant attorney whose real passions are dog rescue and his Golden Retriever, Tara. Unleashed is the most recent entry.
In Spencer Quinn’s “Chet and Bernie” mysteries, narrated by Chet the dog, comments on the way dogs see the world ring true (and will make you smile). The fifth book, A Fist Full of Collars, is his most recent.
Our long-time favorite, Susan Conant, released a new “Holly Winter” thank goodness; A Brute Strength is number 19 in the series featuring the Malamute-loving dog writer and, of course, her favorite dogs.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What’s new with the dog pros
Dog training is a dynamic field (although probably not as dynamic as dogs themselves), and at the annual national conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) in Louisville, Ky., in mid-October ’08, it was fascinating to witness the ways in which the field continues to evolve. Following are, in my opinion, some of the most notable trends in dog training, all of which figured prominently in conference talks, workshops and dinner conversations.
1. An emphasis on people. Historically, dog trainers have paid more attention to canine ethology than to the behavior of their clients, but now, these instructors are also looking at how people learn, how to encourage them to practice at home, and how to most effectively communicate what they need to do to accomplish their dog-training goals.
2. An intense interest in play behavior. For years, play has been considered a fun topic and very enjoyable for dogs, but with the exception of its relevance to socializing puppies, it has not been widely considered to be worthy of serious attention. Now, canine play is a hot topic in dog training on several levels: establishing and maintaining the relationship between people and dogs, maintaining a high quality of life, and even solving serious behavioral problems. This year’s conference devoted an entire day to a play symposium, during which all of these topics were explored.
3. Fewer crossover trainers. The change from coercion training to positive reinforcement is not new, but what is new is that now, most positive trainers have always trained that way. Fewer people are learning coercive techniques in the first place and therefore, there are fewer trainers to cross over.
4. An emphasis on science. For years, scientifically based training principles have been gaining ground in the dog-training world. This trend continues, with more trainers than ever coming from a scientific background or pursuing continuing education with a scientific basis and an emphasis on the critical thinking skills that allow trainers to distinguish anecdotes and opinions from facts based on scientific evidence.
5. Training as a profession. Many trainers have left careers in business or other professional fields and brought that professionalism to dog training. As a result, more people are training full time rather than doing it part time as a second job or as a hobby.
6. A broader range of information to offer. Instead of focusing narrowly on dogs’ responses to cues such as sit, heel and come, dog trainers now consider what is necessary for dogs’ overall well-being and to improve their quality of life. As a result, most trainers are able to help clients directly (or indirectly, through referrals) in the areas of canine massage, nutrition, exercise and enrichment activities.
7. A focus on family dogs. Dog training used to be directed toward competitive events, primarily obedience and dog shows. Now,many dog-training schools are focusing on teaching pet dogs the skills necessary to be mannerly members of society—walking nicely on leash, greeting others politely and coming when called. These skills are different from competition skills such as a perfect heel, a formal recall and a long sit-stay.
8. Relationships as a top priority. Training is universally considered to be more effective and more quickly accomplished when a strong relationship exists between the person and the dog. As a result, that relationship has become a bigger part of the equation. This recognition means dog trainers are emphasizing ways to develop and strengthen those relationships in connection with the way people train, play and interact with their dogs. Along with that understanding comes the idea that dogs are members of our families. This view, which used to be expressed timidly, almost apologetically, is not only widely accepted now, but unquestionably mainstream.
So, what’s the take-away message? Here it is: It has never been easier for you and your dog to get quality training from a highly skilled, educated professional who focuses on your needs as well as those of your canine companion. And what a great combination that is.
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