As soon as I heard about Cat Warren’s book, What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs, I added it to my reading list. The book combines several of my favorite things: canine science + German shepherds + North Carolina.
And this book certainly did not disappoint! Part history, part scientific narrative, and part memoir, What the Dog Knows delivers a compelling account of working with cadaver dogs — dogs who are trained to work with law enforcement and their handlers to find bodies.
Warren, a German shepherd enthusiast, found a new working-line shepherd puppy after her previous dog passed away, but he came with some reservations. Solo, as he came to be named, was a singleton puppy (aka a solo puppy without any littermates). Warren was well aware of the warnings that come with singleton puppies, from Patricia McConnell and other dog experts, but she and her husband signed up for the challenge.
Solo turned out to be a very driven, stubborn, nose-oriented pup and caused Warren to cry to her husband on the first night that she didn’t like the puppy. But, as you can expect, their relationship grew and strengthened dramatically as Solo grew up and as Warren found the perfect profession for him: cadaver dog. Solo remained a headstrong, determined dog, but Warren quickly learned that he had the ideal personality for this work. As one of her trainers told her, the perfect working dog is one who is basically an asshole.
In cataloging her experiences of training and working with Solo, Warren also provides valuable research about working dogs and their history. Her anecdotes are also humorous, engaging, and thought-provoking. While reading, I was repeatedly recounting stories to Guion from this book, usually followed by the exclamations: Can you believe that?, that’s insane!, and dogs are SO cool!
As an aside, it’s also a pleasure to read a dog book that’s well written. Dog lovers abound, but not many of them are also great writers. Warren is a journalism professor at NC State University, so she certainly knows her way around a sentence. The book was a pleasure to read, and I enjoyed its language and narratives from start to finish.
Warren also maintains a great blog, with more working dog stories and photos of her beautiful shepherds, Solo and Coda.
If you’re interested in working dogs, or even if you just want to know more about how the dog’s nose and brain work, this book comes with our hearty recommendation.
Disclosure: I was kindly provided with a review copy of this book by the author, but she didn’t request a review. I just really liked it! All opinions are my own.