Go. Read. Now.

I just finished reading Alexandra Horowitz’s book Inside of a Dog and my mind is zooming like a Shiva on an agility course. Literally just finished. I read the last words as I rang the bell to get off the bus on my way home from work. It took me a long time to get to reading it. Now I finally understand what all the fuss was about.

Not that the book was perfect. There are a few caveats I feel the need to offer as it is not a training manual by any stretch. The author says this herself many times. At the end of the book there were some suggestions that made me raise my eyebrow, but only as they may relate to dogs with reactivity. There were also a few cracks about the inferiority of cats that bothered me. However, I acknowledge I may be over-sensitive in that regard.

But I digress. The book, in a word, was captivating. The type of experiments and research outlined by Horowitz are of the variety never before performed. Her in depth look at the worldview of a dog, or umwelt as she called it, forced me to give myself a good shake. I like to pretend I am fairly dog savvy. With all the reading and observing I have done, I consider myself pretty aware of the basics of what it is to be with a dog. After reading this book, I realize I was fooling myself.

Like so many others, I wish this book had existed in the days prior to our adopting Shiva. If you haven’t read it, you should. Now.

Here are some of the passages that stick with me the most:

Why does he do that?Β I am asked almost daily. Many times my only answer can be that not every behavior a dog does has an explanation. Sometimes when a dog suddenly flops on the ground and looks at you, he is just lying down and looking – nothing more.”

“Our frustrations with dogs often arise from our extreme anthropomorphizing, which neglects the very animalness of dogs. A complex animal cannot be explained simply.”

“Dogs are ingenuous. Their bodies do not deceive even if they sometimes trick or cajole us.Β  Instead the dog’s body seems to map straight to his internal state.”

“Few celebrate a dog who jumps at people as they approach – but start with the premise that it is we who keep ourselves (and our faces) unbearably far away, and we can come to a mutual understanding.”

I see a lot more “smell walks” in Shiva’s and my futures. It’s something I’ve done in the past, though I felt guilty about it, like I was being a bad or lazy trainer by letting her roam from left to right as she saw fit. Now that I know better, when it is appropriate and safe, my guilt will fade.

Have you read Inside of a Dog yet? What did you think? Have you read any other books that have made you reconsider your relationship with your dog?

17 thoughts on “Go. Read. Now.

  1. I’ve been wanting to read this one too. Now you’ve got me thinking I need to read it now. I loved the passages you included above. I agree. we anthropomorphize way to much when it comes to dogs. I think that’s why we see so many issues with dogs – separation anxiety, obsessive behaviors, etc. Although I know some can be genetic, I think many are behavioral too.

    Thanks for sharing Kristine.

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  2. That’s so weird, I finished that book last week! We were reading the same book, at the same time!

    Did you find it hard to absorb more than 20 pages in a sitting? I really liked the material, and I found it very interesting, but I would quickly hit an absorption block. CAN NOT THINK ABOUT MORE TESTS. I think the thing I did like about the book is it helped me think about Stella and her anxiety. To try to let go of my human emotions regarding her fear of the hardwood floors, and to think about her fear in a DOG sense. Now that I’ve been trying to remove my human emotions to her issues I can see myself actually understanding her better, and better able to create environments where she’s happy. Amazing.

    Definitely agree if you have a dog it’s worth a read. Especially to those who keep their tiny dogs in their purses… πŸ™‚

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  3. Yeah, I’ve relaxed a lot with my training. Not to the point of B being out of control. More like me just letting her be a dog when we are out. The walk or hike is about her having fun and exploring. She explores with her nose – so if she needs more time to sniff something, so be it. I try not to let the disapproving stares of people get to me if she wanders from side to side. As long as she doesn’t get in anyone’s way – I’m ok with it. So many people think you need a dog to heel at all times. Where’s the fun in that unless you have a service dog that has to do that when working? I think I may have read that – but I’ve read so many dog books the titles are a blur. πŸ˜‰

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  4. Yes, I too think this is an excellent book. I’m always striving to understand my dogs better, and I think her response of “sometimes dogs just do that” is a good one for certain instances. I can tell one thing for certain–my dogs LOVE the sniffy walks. Our city neighborhood must have great smells.

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  5. I haven’t read the book, but I like what I read of the excerpts you provided. I try not to over analyse dogs and what they do. They have to learn human tricks so they can live comfortably and safely with us, but it doesn’t make them any less of a different species. They are what they are πŸ™‚

    I’m impressed you had time to read a whole book AND post every day. Superwoman! Have a great weekend X

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  6. I heard about Alexandra Horowitz when I was in graduate school learning about “Theory of Mind” in Animal Psychology class. I think she did her dissertation on how play bows demonstrate that dogs have a theory of mind–a sense that other beings besides themselves have consciousness ….with the play bow, the dog is demonstrating that he knows there is another consciousness to act upon with his own appeal to play. Or something like that πŸ™‚

    This sounds like a fascinating book! Reading a really good dog behavior book is so relaxing πŸ™‚

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  7. I loved that book! It was a fascinating read, and I feel like it gave me a new perspective when I look at my guys. I only wish I lived in NY and could enroll them in some of her studies!

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  8. I read this book a while ago and also loved it. I think the fact that she tied things in to real life made it easier to get through than some of the similar books that focus on science. That being said, I still say my favorite book of this sort is John Bradshaw’s Dog Sense. Not sure if you’ve checked that one out yet. I think I once wrote a post about these two books being awesome. Feels like a million years ago. πŸ™‚

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    • I didn’t know that, thank you so much for sharing and for working so hard to make such a difference! I will be sure to check it out and spread the word!

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