Review: Why Does My Dog Act That Way?

Why Does My Dog Act That Way?

I don’t know why I keep going back to read more Stanley Coren; I never really enjoy his books. But they always sound so interesting! I think I keep telling myself, “Maybe this one will have some pertinent and useful information…” Sigh. Nope.

Why Does My Dog Act That Way? is just more of the same, standard Coren fare: Breed discrimination based only on limiting stereotypes. Like every Coren book I’ve read so far, this one also has a considerable lack of plausible scientific support for his “research,” which presumably backs up his stereotypes. This book is basically an introduction to how Coren judges dogs based on their breed.

While the beginning of the book covers some fundamental material, like how dogs’ personalities are modified by internal or external factors, the rest of the book is haphazardly organized and contains a lot of irrelevant chapters, in my opinion. For example, Coren spends a whole chapter talking about his visit to a dog fight and how it is mostly impossible to trust any pit bull–even a pit bull not bred for fighting–with people, especially children.

As he is wont to do, he then splits up dog breeds into his own categories and then classifies them according to their personalities. The results just give these broad over-generalizations, sweeping across entire breeds: Expect border collies to be high-strung, German shepherds to have fear-based aggression, poodles to be finicky, sight hounds to be virtually untrainable, and so on.

I understand that it’s tempting to do this. We all like to read lists and we all like to read stereotypes, especially when they confirm what we already believe about someone or some dog. I for one, however, want to strive to see dogs as individuals and not make generic assumptions about them based on their breed or breed mix. I’ve met lazy border collies. I’ve met rough-and-tumble poodles. I’ve met very well-trained greyhounds. Every dog is different. I know that there are things you can expect and even predict from certain breeds, but to classify them in such a hard-lined way? No thanks, Stan.

Review: The Well Dog Book

The Well Dog Book, by Terri McGinnis

Continuing in my vein of reading dog health books, I found a copy of the second edition (1992) of The Well Dog Book, by Terri McGinnis, DVM. It’s a bit old, but I reasoned that the field of caring for dogs hasn’t changed all that much.

I think I was wrong.

While the book is primarily about canine medicine and preventative care, I was utterly appalled at Dr. McGinnis’ recommended training techniques. Since the book was initially written in the 1980s, it is not surprising that she follows the now outdated dominance philosophy with regard to dog psychology. What was surprising to me is her strong statements that physical punishment is always necessary to establish “dominance” and “pack leadership.” The book even includes these horrible diagrams about how to push a dog’s head to the ground when it disobeys and how to pick you dog up by the scruff of its neck and give it a good shake. I was, clearly, mortified.

After reading that chapter, I’ll admit that it was difficult to take the rest of the book seriously. I don’t doubt that Dr. McGinnis is probably a reliable veterinarian. I imagine I’ll be returning to this book if I have any basic medical questions about our future dog, but I certainly won’t be looking to it for any behavioral advice.

Review: Why We Love the Dogs We Do

Why We Love the Dogs We Do, by Stanley Coren

Another book from the dog pop psychologist Stanley Coren! And this book is especially “pop-py.” I read this one because I’ve owned it since I was about 12 and I found it while rummaging through my parent’s attic on a recent visit home. I thought I’d try it out again and see if I learned anything new.

Verdict: Not really. It’s a cute book, especially if you like stories about celebrities and their dogs. Coren certainly did a lot of research on that. But I’m not sure how valid the rest of his “science” is. In Why We Love the Dogs We Do, Coren attempts to provide readers with a personality test that will tell you what type of dog you should get.

He rejects the AKC categories of dogs and instead creates seven new groups of breeds based on the breeds’ typical temperaments:

  1. Friendly (e.g., golden retrievers, labs)
  2. Protective (e.g., akitas, rottweilers)
  3. Independent (e.g., greyhounds, huskies)
  4. Self-assured (e.g., all terriers)
  5. Consistent (e.g., most toy breeds, weirdly)
  6. Steady (e.g., scent hounds, newfoundlands)
  7. Clever (e.g., herding breeds)

Coren then creates a little quiz for his readers to take. After you score your results, you can group yourself into ranges (high, medium, low) on scales of extroversion, dominance, and warmth. From these “scores,” Coren will tell you which of his new breed groups you’ll be most likely to fall in love with. Throughout the book, he gives examples of celebrities and tries to decipher their personalities and evaluate why they loved the dogs they did. For example, Queen Elizabeth II, like myself apparently, scored medium on all of the ranges, which means that she’ll prefer dogs from the Clever group. Her beloved corgis just happen to fall in that group.

I took the quiz and my results recommended that I will love breeds from the Clever group. This turns out to be true for me: Australian shepherds, German shepherds, and border collies are members of this category. I love almost all of the dogs in the Clever or herding group. However, Coren’s quiz also told me that I would like dogs from the Consistent group. In Coren’s schema, Consistent dogs are almost exclusively toy breeds. I turned up my nose at this. I know I wouldn’t enjoy life with a chihuahua or a dachshund.

So, take it with a grain of salt. I don’t think it’s scientific at all, but it is a fun diversion. Kind of like the personality quizzes you’d take in Cosmo or something. If you are absolutely clueless about what type of dog you might like, Coren’s book may be helpful to you. But if you’re already pretty sure what you want, Why We Love the Dogs We Do might just tell you a lot of stuff that you already know.

Review: How to Speak Dog

How to Speak Dog

Stanley Coren has written a handful of popular books about dogs. He is probably most well known for his famous (and occasionally controversial) ranking of dog breeds according to intelligence. Coren is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia but he seems to prefer the psychology of dogs to the psychology of people. One can’t blame him.

I started reading Coren’s books when I was in late middle school, right before we got our first family dog, but I had never read this particular title before. How to Speak Dog fit well with my current interest in dog behavior and animal psychology.

Coren is first and foremost a psychologist and this background plays heavily into this book. I appreciated his generous explanations of science and scientific history and his various chapters on the messages dogs convey in each of their primary appendages (signals through ears, tails, eyes, mouth, tongue, etc.). Overall, I do find myself watching dogs a bit more closely to try to read the signals they’re sending.

The book is a helpful primer for anyone who is generally unfamiliar with dogs and canine body language. I won’t say that I learned a ton of new information, since I felt like I was already pretty adept at distinguishing between an anxious, shy dog and a friendly, attentive one. I’m also not hugely impressed with Coren’s skill as a writer; the book does seem to jump around in places and provide occasionally unhelpful or superfluous information.

All that said, I’d recommend this book to anyone who was having trouble reading his or her dog. Coren’s thorough chapters would give you plenty of fodder to re-energize your canine conversations.