Review: Dogs Never Lie about Love

Dogs Never Lie about Love.

In his own good-natured way, my husband, Guion, likes to make fun of my obsession with dogs, including my ferocious appetite for dog books. He especially likes to tease me about the goofy names that dog writers often give their books. Dogs Never Lie about Love is certainly up there as far as cheesy, sappy titles go. (Guion also made a lot of fun of the title Bones Would Rain from the Sky, which is totally fair, but I actually loved that book.) I was reading this book while killing time before a wedding and I made sure to hide the spine and cover from any passersby, to save myself from any outright judgment, looks of concern, and the like.

Goofy title aside, this book reminds me of Stanley Coren’s work and the one Jon Katz book I read, as they can be categorized as “emotional quasi-science” books. Emotional quasi-science books like to sprinkle in lots of little studies and research among the body of heart-grabbing stories of canine wonder and relationships. They can tend to the gimmicky, but I admit that I like them just the same.

I am perfectly content reading a book in which Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson keeps describing the ways his three dogs interact with each other. In this way, I, the dog-less one, can live vicariously through Masson and his furry trio. (I told Guion that I would totally watch a reality TV show that just filmed dogs playing in their living rooms. No drama, no medical emergencies, no training nightmares. Just dogs being dogs. It would be the most boring and unprofitable television show ever, but *I* would watch it. Again, cue loving husband’s teasing laughter.)

That said, I don’t know if many people would actually enjoy this book–that is, people who were lucky enough to already have dogs of their own. I myself had already read about the majority of the research that Masson cites. The book is split into chapters that cover a dog’s basic emotions. And while I enjoyed this overview, I’m not sure if I learned anything new.

However, if you’re like me and you just like reading about the inner world of dogs, even if you’re not learning anything exciting or new, Dogs Never Lie about Love might be the book for you.

Living with a dog

Source: Nelli Palomaki.

“Living with a dog–trying to understand a dog, to read his or her behavior and emotional state–is such a complex blend of reality and imagination, such a daily mix of hard truths and wild stabs in the dark.”

Pack of Two, Caroline Knapp

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Happy Friday, everyone! Stay warm! See you on Monday.

How dogs humble us

Click for source.

I am not one to over-romanticize dogs or think of them as supernatural sages trapped in furry bodies. They are dogs. They are just another Earth-grounded species. But they have a lot to teach us about ourselves. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all of the ways that dogs make us less self-absorbed humans.

Why spending time with dogs makes us more humble and bearable people:

  • Dogs make us exercise servant leadership. We have to stoop down and pick up their poop with our hands. We pull ticks out of their fur. We clean up their vomit on the carpet. We are reminded that we are not so very important.
  • Dogs make us realize how poor our communication skills really are. There is nothing more humbling than trying to train a dog something new and realizing that we are not coming across very clearly.
  • Dogs remind us that they forgive more swiftly and more completely than we do.
  • Dogs have more trust in us than we have in ourselves.
  • Dogs make us realize that all the things we get stressed out about might not actually be life-and-death situations. What is really important right now? In a dog’s eyes: You need to throw that ball for me another 1,500 times. That’s all that really needs to happen today. Just relax.

How does your dog humble you?

One thing I wish all dog owners knew

Excerpt from "Dog Sense," by John Bradshaw.

If there was only one paragraph I could get all dog owners to read about the emotional lives of their dogs, it might just be this one:

There are probably few problems in store for a dog whose owner mistakenly believes it is grieving, since the owner’s reaction will presumably be an affectionate one, but the misattribution of guilt can have serious consequences for the dog. Many dogs upset at being left alone by their owners. As a consequence of the insecurity they feel when alone, they may do things that their owner will disapprove of–for example, chewing the frame of the door that the owner left through or trying to bury themselves under the sofa cushion and damaging them in the process. The returning owner sees the damage and immediately punishes the dog, thinking, almost certainly wrongly, that the dog will associate the punishment with the ‘crime’ and thus not do it again. In fact, quite the opposite will occur: Because the punishment is associated with the owner returning, the anxiety felt during separation intensifies, making it more likely that the dog will be driven by its insecurity to do something the owner disapproves of while the owner is away. More punishment follows, and so a vicious cycle ensues (one that can last for years unless the owner seeks expert help). Indeed, a dog’s life can be ruined by a simple and easily corrected misunderstanding of its emotional intelligence.

From John Bradshaw’s new book, Dog Sense. Highly recommended! (My own review coming soon…)

Pup links!

You've got your Aussie and your Hunters. What more does a girl need? Source: Shirley Bittner

Elli and Forgiveness. A sweet post about how our dogs are often our moral superiors. (Identity: V+E)

Going Home: “The Perfect Day.” Slate published an excerpt this week from Jon Katz’s new book about saying goodbye when dogs die. Prepare to cry! (Slate)

Dealing with Breed Discrimination. Since we’re leaning toward adopting an adult GSD, breed discrimination is something that I occasionally worry about, especially with regard to renting and traveling. Amy writes some thoughtful points on how to be conscientious if you’re traveling with a dog whose breed is often discriminated against. Has anyone experienced this with their dog? If so, how do you handle it? (Take Paws)

2012 Calendar from River Dog Prints. I’m a sucker for cute calendars and these are adorable! (Dog Milk)

Halloween Costume Roundup. Will you dress your dog up for Halloween? What’s this year’s costume of choice? (Rescued Insanity)

Playground Police. You can always trust the dog to keep law and order. (Animals Being Di*ks)

Review: Bones Would Rain from the Sky

Bones Would Rain from the Sky, by Suzanne Clothier

Suzanne Clothier is a dog trainer, but Bones Would Rain from the Sky is not a dog-training manual. Rather, this book is Clothier’s lovely and heartfelt guide about how to have a more intimate relationship with your dog.

The book’s title and premise of “deepening our relationships with dogs” sounds hokey, but Clothier does provide some very practical and hands-on advice about communicating and living with canines. Her stories are insightful and her calm, holistic approach to training is refreshing to read. She doesn’t get hung up on doing the exact right thing; she doesn’t seem to fret about all of the things we might be missing. Instead, the constant mantra of this book is to slow down, listen, and try to understand your dog a little bit better.

I was most struck my Clothier’s gentle and extremely humble tone. I’ve found that dog trainers, like most self-proclaimed “experts,” almost never admit to making mistakes. So many dog trainers would never share their errors with you–or even admit that they were capable of making mistakes (cough, cough, Cesar Millan). It’s easy to think that these great dog trainers don’t ever mess up. Clothier is quick to point out that this is not the case. She graciously shares the times she lost her temper with foster dogs or made a hasty decision based on incorrect information. Rather than diminishing her credibility as a trainer, these disclosures strengthened my trust in Clothier as a wise dog parent.

Overall, I really enjoyed this thorough and philosophical approach to human-canine relationships. I would recommend this book to people who were already solid in their knowledge of positive training techniques and didn’t really need a step-by-step training manual. I think it would be a fantastic addition to the more knowledgeable dog parent’s repertoire of canine reading.

Clothier is a graceful and wise trainer and caretaker and her dogs are very lucky animals. I hope that I will be able to eventually exude the same peace and confidence with my future dogs.

Review: For the Love of a Dog

For the Love of a Dog, by Patricia McConnell

I think Patricia McConnell is my hero. This is only the second book of hers that I have read, but I loved it just as much as The Other End of the Leash and would recommend For the Love of a Dog heartily to all dog owners.

For the Love of a Dog focuses intently on the exchange of emotions between humans and their dogs. It is less of a training book and more of a emotional manual for navigating the feelings of dogs. And I found it to be an indispensable guide to the sentiments and desires of our canine companions.

In my months of reading dog books, one of the big warnings that often comes from trainers is the danger of applying “human” emotions to dogs. While I do think there is a danger in treating our dogs like humans, or believing that they think like humans, the dangers of anthropomorphism are often more subtle than we are cultured to expect. McConnell writes well about this injunction of anthropomorphizing our animals. She points out that we are often quick to assign base emotions to our dogs–feelings like anger, rage, and possessiveness–but we are reluctant to say that dogs can have finer feelings, like devotion, grief, and joy. This is a great loss, McConnell says, and it undermines our emotional intelligence with our dogs.

McConnell demonstrates the fine balance between interpreting canine emotion and falsely applying human feelings. Her expertise as a dog trainer and animal behaviorist is applied to teach her readers how to know the difference. I feel like I have a much deeper appreciation of the emotional complexities of dogs and I am more reluctant to underestimate them after having read this book.

As I’ve mentioned before, McConnell is a great writer and I always enjoy reading her generous stories about the dogs she’s worked with and life with her own dogs on her Wisconsin farm. I think this book should be required reading for anyone who shares their life with a dog and wants to know more about what is going on inside. McConnell’s wisdom and advice have the potential to transform the ways that we interact with our dogs. For the Love of a Dog provides a strong reminder that, when we are interacting with our dogs, rigid training regimens and stubborn mindsets are far less valuable than humility and insight.

Happy weekend!

Review: Animals Make Us Human

Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

I LOVED this book. I was excited to see it on the shelf at my local library and tore through it. I’d heard of Temple Grandin before and some of her pioneering work with livestock, but I had never read any of her work. I found Animals Make Us Human to be a delightful and educational introduction to Dr. Grandin’s mission: Creating the best life for animals.

Although dogs are my primary obsession, I’m enchanted by all animals. As Isabella Rosselini’s film says, “Animals distract me.” I love interacting with animals. I have to point out every living thing I see whenever I’m walking or driving around, much to the chagrin of my patient husband. We don’t have cable, but if we did, Animal Planet is the only channel I’d watch (preferring shows about dogs, wolves, and dolphins).

Grandin’s book spoke to every fiber of my animal-loving soul. The premise of the book is that animals have a series of instinctual drives–seeking, play, fear, rage, to name a few–but that animals also experience emotions in a way that we have not previously thought. The mental health of an animal is often highly dependent on its environment. That’s why we, as humans, have a responsibility to create the best possible environments for animals.

The book spends a chapter on each primary group of animals that humans have domesticated or brought into close human contact. Grandin devotes her time to dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, poultry, wildlife, and animals who live in zoos. I especially learned a lot about horses and livestock and was fascinated to hear Grandin’s intimate accounts of her interactions with and research about these animals that I previously assumed to be dumb or insensitive. Far from it.

Naturally, the most interesting chapter to me was her chapter on dogs. Grandin has a pack of golden retrievers herself and writes with feeling and affection about the canine life. What surprised and disturbed me, though, was Grandin’s implication throughout that 21st-century dogs are more mentally unstable than previous generations of dogs. She attributes this to the fact that dogs today spend almost all of their lives indoors in crates, separated from their humans. Grandin is not surprised by the rising numbers of reported dog bites and dogs with behavioral and psychological issues. In several instances, she almost claims that dogs would be better off being allowed to roam around the neighborhood by themselves, like they did up until about 1980.

My perspective on this is that it is unwise to treat dogs like they’re living in another generation. Like it or not, it’s 2011 and the way we think about dogs in society has changed. Dog owners have to obey leash laws and pick up poop from the sidewalk; dogs have to be vaccinated and spayed and neutered if they are going to live in modern America. And yet, the sad fact of the seemingly eternal work week does mean that many people should not get dogs. If you work 12 hours a day, Grandin will give you a sober reality check of how truly inhumane it would be to adopt a dog. Animals Make Us Human did make me seriously evaluate my priorities and my schedule. It would be wrong to try to care for a dog if I did not think I could devote enough time to him or her.

The main message I received from this book is that we ought to treat all animals with respect, no matter how “dumb” or “unfeeling” we think they may be. People treat chickens like they can’t feel anything at all, like they wouldn’t be mentally and physically affected by living in pitch-black warehouses. Grandin’s compelling research shows otherwise. Cows actually get upset when people yell at them. Horses need to be physically and visually reassured that they are safe. Dogs watch our every move and are incredibly attuned to our emotional registers. So, Grandin implores, treat animals with respect; they depend on us for everything.

Review: The Difficulty of Being a Dog

The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by Roger Grenier.

I’ve always hated sappy stories about dogs. I’ve been this way since I was young. Even though my obsession with dogs began when I was a child, I loathed films about dogs, mainly because they were so cheesy and the dogs always die in the end. I also refused to read all of the classic dog-related books for children. I hated Where the Red Fern Grows when I was young. My mother was reading it aloud and I started yelling in agony when the boy finally gets his long-desired hounds. He finally gets these dogs and then has the idiotic aplomb to name them Big Dan and Little Ann! It was the worst. My eight-year-old self was deeply insulted on behalf of those red hounds.

Memoir-like books about dogs tend to be equally bad. No one really wants to read Marley and Me. No one wants to hear dramatic, hyperbolic stories about your bad dog who tore up your house but eventually stole your heart; I’d much rather get to know a real dog. Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul sounds like a perfect nightmare to me; I wouldn’t read it if you paid me.

All that to say, I was fairly wary about reading The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by French author Roger Grenier, translated by Alice Kaplan. It looked like it might be one of those little books that dripped with overwrought emotion about dogs. Thankfully, Grenier is not one inclined to displays of overwrought emotion. No, he is a proper and meditative Frenchman who loves dogs and old stories about the people who love them.

The book is composed of 43 very small vignettes and reflections about dogs and their place in our lives. And, to my great delight, it is very beautiful and not at all sappy. Grenier walks slowly through centuries-old anecdotes about kings, artists, and ordinary people who are very attached to their canines. He treats his subjects with respect and wry humor and never dips into the fatal charms of hyper-emotionality. Many of his stories and quotes will likely make their way onto this blog at any given point.

Specifically, I liked Grenier’s presentation of the French view of owning a dog. One of the things my sisters told me I’d love about Paris was how many dogs roamed the streets–but roamed politely next to their humans. They often told me about the dogs who would be left, leash-less, outside the door of a cafe and wait patiently for their people to return. You’d be hard-pressed to find any dog in urban America who could do that. I like the French sense of canine companionship. Even though there is the danger of treating your dog like a human, the French seem to get the notion of a dog as a true companion. The dog goes everywhere I go; he sits with me in restaurants, he goes with me to the market, he rides in the basket of my bicycle. Grenier paints a portrait of the dog as a free and welcomed component of city living; it’s an image toward which I happily gravitate.

All in all, I loved this tiny book. I’d give it as a Christmas or birthday gift to someone else in my life who shared my unabashed love of dogs–and I’d give it without any embarrassment.