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? 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. 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?