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Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Being a Dog
Following the Dog into a World of Smell
Book Review: Being a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

Back in 2009, Alexandra Horowitz’s first book, Inside of a Dog, made it to the top of every bestseller list. Heralded in this magazine and by others who wanted to learn what it means to be a dog, it delivered on the promise of its subtitle: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. It also introduced many of us to the concept of Umwelt—another’s perception of the world—coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll.

Imagining what it is to be a dog and to enter a dog’s subjective world was, and still is, an entrancing prospect. What better guide to the “inside of a dog” than a comparative cognitive scientist like Horowitz? She writes in a clear vernacular: accessible, erudite, poetic and downright friendly. No wonder her first book became such a sensation.

And now we have her new book, Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell, which not only delves deeper into dogs’ amazing sense of smell, but also considers the human olfactory capacity, even if it is rather paltry compared with that of dogs. Truly understanding another species requires that, as ethologist Frans de Waal has explained, “we need to try to step outside our own narrow Umwelt and apply our imagination to theirs.” That is exactly what Horowitz brings to her books.

Similar to recent books such as Being a Beast by Charles Foster (where the author literally lived underground as a badger), or Thomas Thwaites’ excursion into the Umwelt of goats in GoatMan, in Being a Dog, Horowitz learns to polish her own sense of smell. She undertakes this quest not only to better understand what she might be missing, but also, to get a glimmer of how dogs’ noses help them navigate their world. The book begins with a look at the canine nose, which “is rich in a way we humans once knew about, once acted on, but have since neglected.” Following the lead of her two dogs, she puts her “nose to the places the dog nose goes.”

We all love factoids about dogs, and this book delivers a trove of them: Dogs scratch up the ground after they poop in order to transmit their personal message to other dogs; their paw pads have scent glands and digging spreads their odor, broadcasting their signal far and wide (canine social networking in action).

Wagging tails serve a similar purpose, spreading the scent from their anal sacs. They smell when they dream; watch their nostrils twitch. Dogs rarely mark over their own urine postings. Males like to sniff tail areas first, while females prefer to start with faces.

We learn about the physiognomy of their smelling instrument, from nostrils (nares) to olfactory epithelium and vomeronasal organ, or VNO, and up to the brain’s olfactory bulb. When they sniff, they start with either the right or left nostril, depending on what they’re investigating. Unlike other senses, nostrils are ipsilateral, meaning that an odor entering the right nostril goes to the right side of the brain for processing, and one entering the left goes to the left side.

Horowitz takes us on a grand tour of scent-work professionals, from the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Washington’s scat-detection dogs, with stops along the way to visit other working and detection dogs. At the book’s end, she treats her dog Finnegan to classes in nosework, which quickly become what she calls his “Favorite Place on Earth.” Definitely something in which all our dogs would love to partake.

It seems that for most of us, smelling isn’t something we practice much. One of the most remarkable comparisons she draws is the difference in the endowment of olfactory sensory cells (epithelium) between humans and dogs. As she explains, “If his olfactory epithelium were spread out along the outer surface of the dog’s body, it would completely cover it. In humans, ours would about cover a mole on our left shoulder.”

While we have a long way to go to catch up with our dogs, by the book’s end, the author has us tapping into our puny epithelium, sniffing and snuff ling. We thank Alexandra Horowitz for providing this inspiration.

Culture: Reviews
Dog Reads: 6 Books For Fall
Great Dog Books For Fall

Run, Spot, Run

By Jessica Pierce (U of Chicago Press)

Bioethicist Jessica Pierce, whose book The Last Walk thoughtfully and honestly explored end-of-life care, dying and euthanasia for companion animals through her experience with her own much-loved dog, now takes on another sensitive subject. As in that book, in her new one she also addresses questions we rarely think about—or want to think about. Foremost among them is the morally ambiguous practice of keeping pets in the first place. Writing clearly, and clearly from the heart, she avoids academic jargon and provides us with reasons to really think about what we’re doing when we take animals into our lives.

The Pit Bull Life

By Deirdre Franklin and Linda Lombardi (The Countrymen Press)

A colorfully illustrated and thoughtful consideration of a type of dog who was once considered quintessentially American. Today, however, the words “Pit Bull” have become shorthand for something to be feared. The authors trace that transition and, continuing Franklin’s long-standing advocacy, inject the facts about these cheerful, resilient dogs into the national discussion. In doing so, they also provide a primer for Pit Bull owners, and potential owners.

Just Life

By Neil Abramson (Center Street)

In this novel, the author considers the balance between fear and compassion, and the ways politically expedient solutions threaten everyone. The story centers on a sanctuary for unwanted, abused and abandoned dogs in New York City and the veterinarian who operates it. When a dangerous and unknown virus spreads though their neighborhood, the sanctuary’s dogs are presumed to be the carriers, putting them and the people who protect them in even greater jeopardy. The pace is intense and the characters well drawn.

The Secret Language of Dogs

By Victoria Stilwell (Ten Speed Press)

In her new book, trainer Victoria Stilwell wants to help us understand what our dogs are telling us via their expressions, vocalizations and behaviors. A proponent of positive reinforcement training, Stilwell not only describes these various methods of communication but also, provides tips on ways to respond to them.

Farm Dogs

By Janet Vorwald Dohner (Storey Publishing)

An in-depth and beautifully illustrated breed guide to a hard-working class of dogs, Farm Dogs is hard to resist even if you live in a city apartment only big enough for a Chihuahua. In addition to familiar breeds such as the Jack Russell, German Shepherd and Border Collie, Dohner also discusses a number of more exotic types, including the Berger Picard, Mudi and the wildly dreadlocked Puli. She also offers pointers on puppy selection, adult rescue, socialization and training.

Home Alone—And Happy!

By Kate Mallatratt (Hubble & Hattie)

This highly illustrated book from the UK provides lots of good advice for preventing canine separation anxiety, which is far more challenging to fix than to avoid. The author, compassionately considering the subject through a dog’s eyes, suggests that teaching a dog how to be emotionally stable is more important than teaching him how to sit or heel. In this book, she shows us how to do it.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: What Is a Dog?
What Is a Dog? By Raymond and Lorna Coppinger (University of Chicago Press)

To Raymond and Lorna Coppinger and their chief hagiographer at the New York Times, James Gorman, who wrote a fawning profile of the pair recently, the vast majority of the world’s 1-billion dogs all look alike because they have evolved to fill the ecological niche of village dump-diver or biological garbage disposal. Like all of Raymond Coppinger’s books, many of them co-authored, What Is a Dog? is a reductionist work of illogic that relies on simplistic scientific arguments and pre sent ism, manifest here in the assumption that the present circumstances of street dogs or village dogs have always been thus. The argument is grounded in Ray Coppinger’s belief that dogs cannot possibly have evolved from gray wolves because they look nothing like large northern wolves who feed on caribou, moose and other large animals. Were he to compare those 30-pound street dogs to the small desert wolf, he might find something different.

At the base of this book lies the Coppingers’ notion—wrong in all regards—that dogs are a species unto themselves and began to appear some 7,000 years ago, a time coincident with the first dog burials. The first dog burials in the archaeological record date to 12,000 or more years ago. The Coppingers also misrepresent or ignore evidence that dogs evolved from a gray wolf, most likely a now extinct subspecies, and continued to crossbreed for thousands of years with wolves who arose about the same time dogs did. Genes flowed from wolves to dogs and dogs to wolves. In some parts of the world, the crossbreeding continues. In the Caucasus, for example, wolves and livestock-guarding dogs are still interbreeding.

The Coppingers take what can only be described as an ahistorical view of the dog-human relationship. They seem to believe it has always resembled the current model of the dog occupying the niche of garbage disposal and occasional early warning system for incoming human or nonhuman predators. Some attention is paid to the system of transhumance—the seasonal movement of sheep between mountain and lowland pastures—but nearly nothing is said about other historic and traditional uses of dogs in particular cultures. Having spent most of their book arguing that 85 percent of the world’s 1-billion dogs are street/village dogs—the rest being human-created purebreds or their crosses—that all look the same and occupy the same niche, the Coppingers leave themselves little room for a serious discussion of just who dogs are.

Culture: DogPatch
Book Review: Heal - The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures
 Heal Book Cover by Arlene Weintraub ECW Press

After losing her sister to gastric cancer, Arlene Weintraub—science writer, investigative reporter and lifelong dog lover—embarked on a two-year personal and professional journey, delving deeply into the world of comparative oncology. During that time, she visited eight universities and interviewed scientists, medical doctors, veterinarians, researchers, professors and dog owners.

Comparative oncology is a research initiative that recruits dogs with cancer to generate new and improved treatments for humans and their canine best friends. As Weintraub notes, “Genetically speaking, our canine companions are more closely related to us than we realize.” Comparable to those who take part in human clinical trials, the dogs in these studies have few options; standard treatments are too costly and/or do not work, which ultimately leads their owners to seek out experimental drug trials. Also like humans, the lucky ones have years added to their lives, while others do not fare as well.

Weintraub begins her research with 206 dogs who participated in a 2001 medical trial in search of an approved product to treat cancer in canines. As a result of these trials, Palladia, a groundbreaking first-ever drug, was accepted by the FDA for use in the treatment of canine mast cell tumors. Based upon these successful studies, the drug Sutent was later developed to shrink a broad spectrum of mast cell tumors in humans, with the potential for long-term survival. In subsequent chapters, Weintraub describes other success stories. The efficacy of the trials, the cutting-edge treatments and the people involved are well documented.

Her interviews are up close and personal. We come to understand the struggle involved in getting a drug tested and approved, as well as the personal agony of people who are facing the loss of their much-loved companion animals. Behind the data is a bigger question: how far will we, as pet owners, go to have more time with our dogs and cats? And at what cost emotionally?

At every turn, Weintraub shows us the correlation between human and animal healing, and weaves in the story of her own healing from the loss of her sister. The dogs she encounters during her research become her comfort, restoring her faith in science as they pave the way to unlocking cancer’s mysteries and, ultimately, making it a less frightening diagnosis.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Underdogs and The Dog Merchants
New Points of View of Shelter Dogs
Book Cover for Review of The Underdogs (Greene) and The Dog Merchants (Kavin)

Two new books, both well-investigated works, merit your attention. The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene is a fascinating, absorbing and inspirational read about the power of love to help those in need, while The Dog Merchants by Kim Kavin introduces an out-of-thebox idea involving a rating system that just might change how we get our dogs. Both are out just in time to make it to the top of your summer must-read list.

Greene’s book is an examination of the power of the bond between dogs and children with disabilities, but its purview extends much further. The two-time National Book Award nominee interweaves personal stories of children, their families and a few unforgettable dogs with current research and scientific findings on the cognitive and emotional lives of dogs and the human/ canine bond. The main story revolves around a remarkable woman, Karen Shirk, and the service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, that she founded in 1998. It was the first organization to train skilled service dogs with public access for young children.

We learn how Shirk’s own experience —developing myasthenia gravis as a young adult and being saved by a dog —motivated and inspired her to become a leading advocate for service dogs for young children with disabilities. 4 Paws trains dogs for highly specialized work, including seizure alert, mobility assistance and autism assistance; the goal is to never exclude a child “because a disability did not fit in a box.”

Greene profiles some of the families who have been benefited profoundly by graduates of this program; their compelling and uplifting stories pull on your heartstrings. Just how this connection between a dog and a child is established, and what motivates dogs to bond so deeply to their young charges speaks volumes for the intensity of crossspecies attachment.

Some of these dogs are truly are underdogs, adopted from shelters and trained in a nearby prison-based program. In a chapter called “Prison Dogs,” we have a good example of how adroitly Greene blends congruent storylines— those of the families and their children with, in this case, stories of the importance of the dogs to the inmates, along with overviews of research into “why humans feel happier in the presence of dogs.” Greene is a gifted and caring storyteller, and she gives her subjects the intelligence and warmth they deserve. This all makes for absorbing, pleasurable and inspirational reading.

In Kavin’s Dog Merchants, subtitled Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers, she investigates the various channels through which dogs are purchased—keeping in mind that there are differences of scale between those who broker commercial puppy sales and those who provide shelter/rescue adoptions. Both, however, involve financial transactions. Her basic premise is that we as buyers need to be aware of our marketplace choices. Through crowdsourcing our views, she says, we might be able to make a difference. “We need to be conscious consumers when it comes to our dogs. None of us likes to think of our beloved dog as a product, but legally and financially, that is what dogs are.”

In the first half of the book, she takes us behind the scenes of the commercial dog world, from dog auctions to dog shows like Westminster (of which she is no great fan), breeders and the largescale brokers who provide overpriced puppies to pet stores. The second half focuses on rescuers and shelters, and what makes some of them more successful than others. The book also has a very useful chapter with questions that ought to be asked of breeders or shelters before getting a dog.

Kavin has developed a companion website, dogmerchants.com, that has listings for thousands of breeders and rescuers/shelters, and is now taking reviews and your suggestions. Might this change the way dogs are marketed? Will negative reviews actually expose those breeders or other “dog merchants” and have an impact on the way they do business? Will it hold them to account? Will it promote those who receive positive reviews? Kavin is definitely putting a lot of effort into weeding out the bad and “making the world a better place for dogs.” We can only hope that this works. While we might have questions about how the comments on the site are being vetted, we do applaud her for both it and her book.

See our Q&A with Kavin and read an excerpt from Dog Merchants, plus read an excerpt from The Underdogs.

News: Guest Posts
How Sleepypod Protected My Dog in an Accident
Sponsored by Sleepypod
“I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine the loss I would have suered had I decided not to purchase the Clickit that day”

 

For a while I was contemplating purchasing the Clickit harness from Sleepypod. My dog and I go everywhere together and so she is in the car 40 minutes each day.

I thought, “I’m a safe driver, maybe I’ll hold off until my next paycheck to purchase the Clickit.” Well finally, one day when browsing Sleepypod.com (for the hundredth time), after measuring my dog four different times to be sure, I decided to do it. I purchased the small Clickit harness in orange! Little did I know, this would be the most important purchase of my entire life.

Fast forward about a month, I am driving through the same intersection I drive almost every single day with my dog. This intersection is very busy, and the speed limit is 45 mph, so I’m always very careful. As I’m driving along, going 45 mph, a car suddenly turns in front of me. I didn’t even have time to apply pressure on the breaks before we collided. My car spun wildly, and I ended up crossing three lanes, landing on the opposite side of the median. My car made some funny noises before it died, smoke pouring from the hood. Immediately when my car settles, I look back at my dog. Her doggy bed that she lays on was tossed from the seat. The leashes I keep in the back are strewn about the car. My dog is sitting on the seat, wide-eyed and confused, perfectly unharmed. She was just sitting there. I immediately start crying. I couldn’t believe it … she was actually okay!

My boyfriend came to the scene as the police arrived. He took our dog out of the car, and she hopped right down as if nothing had happened. When the EMT’s strapped me to a board, she came over and jumped up to see if I was okay, whining for me, tail wagging.

I suffered a fractured sternum, and had to be transferred to a special hospital overnight. The first thing I did when I came home from the hospital was bring my dog to my veterinarian. I had to be sure she was definitely okay. My vet checked her over and gave her a clean bill of health.

I seriously owe all of this to my Clickit harness. Without it, my entire world would have been turned upside down. I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine the loss I would have suffered had I decided not to purchase the Clickit that day.

News: Guest Posts
Secret Life of Pets

An ever moving screen, action packed perfect for our video gaming generation, but also very familiar (if you have or have ever had a pet), and completely heart embracing film.  This colorful cartoon, laced with a whimsical score, and wonderfully designed backdrops, stars a little brown and white dog named Max (Louis C.K.) who becomes a lost dog along with his new brother/roommate, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), after they accidentally escape from the sight of their NYC dog walker. On their adventure to find home, Max and Duke come across a dark and comical band of abandoned pets of the underground with Snowball the bunny (Kevin Hart) leading the pack. The cast is exceptional including the likes of Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Albert Brooks, and Dana Carvey.

Max and Duke bring forth our pets’ psyche with such delightful humor and adorable innocence. The directing duo, Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud of Despicable Me, and the actors have brilliantly captured and depicted our very own beloved pets, you can’t help but think of them throughout the film.

Secret Life of Pets is a burst of color and flashy imagery in every moment, if you have a headache skip the movie until it subsides.  It’ll be an easy score with the kids and adults will have a lot to appreciate too.

Driving home, I couldn’t wait to reunite with my pets. My chocolate Lab, Caleb, was right behind my door as I opened it and my Betta fish, Koufax, swimming around in his tank to greet me. As Max says, “It’s the best part of the day.”

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: What Is a Dog?
(University of Chicago Press)
What is A Dog? Book Review Raymond Coppinger (Author), Lorna Coppinger (Author)

To Raymond and Lorna Coppinger and their chief hagiographer at the New York Times, James Gorman, who wrote a fawning profile of the pair recently, the vast majority of the world’s 1-billion dogs all look alike because they have evolved to fill the ecological niche of village dump-diver or biological garbage disposal. Like all of Raymond Coppinger’s books, many of them co-authored, What Is a Dog? is a reductionist work of illogic that relies on simplistic scientific arguments and pre sent ism, manifest here in the assumption that the present circumstances of street dogs or village dogs have always been thus. The argument is grounded in Ray Coppinger’s belief that dogs cannot possibly have evolved from gray wolves because they look nothing like large northern wolves who feed on caribou, moose and other large animals. Were he to compare those 30-pound street dogs to the small desert wolf, he might find something different.

At the base of this book lies the Coppingers’ notion—wrong in all regards—that dogs are a species unto themselves and began to appear some 7,000 years ago, a time coincident with the first dog burials. The first dog burials in the archaeological record date to 12,000 or more years ago. The Coppingers also misrepresent or ignore evidence that dogs evolved from a gray wolf, most likely a now extinct subspecies, and continued to crossbreed for thousands of years with wolves who arose about the same time dogs did. Genes flowed from wolves to dogs and dogs to wolves. In some parts of the world, the crossbreeding continues. In the Caucasus, for example, wolves and livestock-guarding dogs are still interbreeding.

The Coppingers take what can only be described as an ahistorical view of the dog-human relationship. They seem to believe it has always resembled the current model of the dog occupying the niche of garbage disposal and occasional early warning system for incoming human or nonhuman predators. Some attention is paid to the system of transhumance—the seasonal movement of sheep between mountain and lowland pastures—but nearly nothing is said about other historic and traditional uses of dogs in particular cultures. Having spent most of their book arguing that 85 percent of the world’s 1-billion dogs are street/village dogs—the rest being human-created purebreds or their crosses—that all look the same and occupy the same niche, the Coppingers leave themselves little room for a serious discussion of just who dogs are.

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Dog Food Hazards
Quick access to list of foods our pups should avoid.

Although we're inundated with apps these days some information is worth carrying around with us for quick access. The newly released Dog: Food Hazards app (android, free) is a very simple app dedicated to one topic, as you might have guessed, hazardous foods dogs should avoid.

Featuring a simplified layout for quick navigation, one can refresh their knowledge of dangerous foods for dogs and get information on symptoms caused by each featured food type. As a bonus they’ve prominently placed access to ASPCA’s pet poison hotline so it is quickly accessible too.

Unfortunately, the list of food hazards is limited, so it may not be helpful for people looking to delve deeply into the topic. While Dog: Food Hazards is a fairly barebones app, we enjoy the peace of mind that comes with its ease of access to information that every dog owner should know.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Zen and the Art of Dog Walking

A quie t and moving ref lect ion on t he transformative relationship we have with our dogs. A walk around a country lake/ holds our attention/an abandoned pup is found by a young son/a family grows/ adventures begin/walking/reflections. Bo and his man/so much to discover. A delightful “cathartic” experience with photos that draw the reader in, inspiring our thoughts too. This is a special book that dog lovers will appreciate.

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