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Book Review: Inside of a Dog

Friday’s eureka-moment post about Lilly’s summertime fears of the house comes from something I read in Alexandra Horowitz’s book “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know”. Today, a few other items of note from the book.

best dog blog champion of my heart inside of a dog

Dog Pack, Pack Leader Baloney

Longtime dog blog readers will NOT be surprised to know I was thrilled to see Horowitz discuss where the dog dominance and dog pack concepts fall down.

She says by way of introduction, “For instance, it’s high time we revamp the false notion that our dogs view us as their ‘pack.'”

YES!

She goes on to say later: “Unfortunately, it not only limits the kind of understanding and interaction we can have with our dogs, it also relies on a faulty premise. The ‘pack’ evoked in this way bears little resemblance to actual wolf packs.”

Sure, we CAN make dogs submissive to us, but Horowitz calls that, “neither biologically necessary nor particularly enriching for either of us.”

What word, phrase, or description works better? Horowtiz suggests, “benign gang” or simply “family.”

How Dogs Eyes See

The section in the book on the anatomy and functionality of dogs’ eyes is fascinating. It turns out dogs have a “higher flicker-fusion rate” than we do (70-80 cycles per second). So, for example, dogs see the individual image frames and the gaps in the stream of images on a TV screen.

Interestingly, new digital TVs don’t have the same flicker-fusion issues, so dogs might actually be able to see and watch newer TVs better than old ones.

Neat, huh?

Hororwitz explains, “One could say that dogs see the world faster than we do, but what they really do is just see a bit more world in every second.”

That’s how they can play fetch at such speed and with such skill.

I forgot to mark the page, but Horowitz also talked about how dogs do NOT habituate to the sights on their walks, even if they walk the same routes often. Because of how dogs process everything they see, hear, smell, etc., they don’t ignore things the way we do.

While it might be familiar, it’s always new to them.

Knowing that makes me feel less lame for taking Lilly to the same spots to walk so often.

Dogs Looking @ Us, Into Us

I loved this passage from the Dog-Eyed section of Inside of a Dog:

“Given how dogs see, how do they apply their visual ability? Cleverly, they look at us. Once a dog has opened up his eyes to us, a remarkable thing happens. He starts gazing at us. Dogs see us, but the differences in their vision also seem to allow them to see things about us that even we do not see. Soon it seems they are looking straight into our minds.”

Final Word: Inside of a Dog

I truly enjoyed this book and learning about the canine “umwelt” with the science and real-world indications of how our dogs make their way in the world. The book has been out a couple years now, and I’m a big dork for just now getting around to reading it.

[Gee … I wonder why.]

Have you read Inside of a Dog? What did you learn? What did you take away from the research and narrative?

***

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Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

JJ - July 19, 2011

I have Inside of a Dog on audiobook. It is truly fascinating, and I overly appreciated how scientific she was…especially when the text was riddled with such personality. Horowitz makes for a great read…and despite how overly objective (I actually like that) she is, she’s clearly just another dog lover fascinated and addicted to the canine just like we are. =B

I learned quite a bit from the book about things that have nothing to do with dog behavior. (Well, not in the I-am-a-dog-behaviorist way.) And I enjoyed every bit of it.

Another note when it comes to “pack” and dogs…I recently read a tidbit that said something along the lines of Americans (of course, silly us, we assume everything is centered around and always about us) assuming that “related to wolves” means “related to the timber wolf” (our wolf). The author went on to suggest that dogs would most likely have their roots in the European wolves – not timer wolves at all – and suggested that the Euro wolves do not have a pack structure like the american version.

(I always wonder why it is that Americans always assume everything has to be centered here… I once made a comment about the kind of training that military and service dogs undergo – more traditional/whack’em than anything – and was immediately attacked by Americans, saying, “That’s not how we do it *here* anymore.” Well, regardless of the validity of that claim, there are other countries in this world that use military and service dogs, and more often than not are not positive trainers. But of course it had to be about Americans; no one else exists, right?)

Anyway, the book that talks about the european wolf structure and relation to dogs is here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jul/17/dog-training-john-bradshaw-animal-behaviour

    Roxanne Hawn - July 19, 2011

    Thanks for that North American vs European wolf link. I did see that online recently, and it made so much sense to me.

merr - July 19, 2011

Okay – but that photo of Lilly with the book = priceless!

Kristine - July 18, 2011

That’s really interesting. All my life I had assumed dogs couldn’t watch television. But when I saw my dog repeatedly walk up to my tv and lick where a dog in a commercial was chewing a bone, it made me think otherwise. That explains it completely!

Not that I need yet one more dog book on my reading list, but I appreciate the recommendation! I’ll have to hide it behind a trashy romance novel so my husband won’t make fun of me.

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