What Dogs Think and Know
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Umwelt: From the Dog's Point of Nose
This morning I was awakened by Pump coming over to the bed
and sniffing emphatically at me, millimeters away, her whiskers
grazing my lips, to see if I was awake or alive or me. She punctuates her
rousing with an exclamatory sneeze directly in my
face. I open my eyes and she is gazing at me, smiling, panting a
Go look at a dog. Go on, look maybe at one lying near you
right now, curled around his folded legs on a dog bed, or
sprawled on his side on the tile floor, paws flitting through the pasture of
a dream. Take a good look and now forget everything you know about this or
This is admittedly a ridiculous exhortation: I don't really
expect that you could easily forget even the name or favored
food or unique profile of your dog, let alone everything about
him. I think of the exercise as analogous to asking a newcomer
to meditation to enter into satori, the highest state, on the first go: aim
for it, and see how far you get. Science, aiming for objectivity, requires
that one becomes aware of prior prejudices and personal perspective. What
we'll find, in looking at dogs through a scientific lens, is that some of
what we think we know about dogs is entirely borne out; other things that
appear patently true are, on closer examination, more doubtful than we
thought. And by looking at our dogs from another perspective (from the
perspective of the dog) we can see new things that don't naturally occur to
those of us encumbered with human brains. So the best way to begin
understanding dogs is by forgetting what we think we know.
The first things to forget are anthropomorphisms. We see,
talk about, and imagine dogs' behavior from a human-biased
perspective, imposing our own emotions and thoughts on these
furred creatures. Of course, we¹ll say, dogs love and desire; of
course they dream and think; they also know and understand us,
feel bored, get jealous, and get depressed. What could be a more
natural explanation of a dog staring dolefully at you as you leave the house
for the day than that he is depressed that you're going?
The answer is: an explanation based in what dogs actually
have the capacity to feel, know, and understand. We use these
words, these anthropomorphisms, to help us make sense of
dogs' behavior. Naturally, we are intrinsically prejudiced toward human
experiences, which leads us to understand animals' experiences only to the
extent that they match our own. We remember stories that confirm our
descriptions of animals and conveniently forget those that do not. And we do
not hesitate to assert "facts" about apes or dogs or elephants or any animal
without proper evidence. For many of us, our interaction with
non-pet animals begins and ends with our staring at them at
zoos or watching shows on cable TV. The amount of useful
information we can get from this kind of eavesdropping is limited: such a
passive encounter reveals even less than we get from glancing in a
neighbor's window as we walk by. At least the neighbor is of our own
What do dogs know? How do they think? The answers in Inside of a Dog will surprise you as Alexandra Horowitz explains how dogs perceive the world, each other and that other quirky animal, the human.
Alexandra draws a picture of what it’s like to be a dog—to be able to detect every bit of open food in the house—even human sadness and the passage of time. How does a tiny dog play with a Great Dane? What’s it like to use your mouth as a hand? What’s it like to experience life from two feet off the ground, amidst the smells of the sidewalk, gazing at our ankles or knees?
Inside of a Dog examines the animal we think we know best but may understand the least. It’s as close as you can get to knowing about dogs without being one yourself.
Softcover Book : 368 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster ( September 15, 2009 )
Item #: 13-109914
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 x 0.83inches
Product Weight: 12.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
This book was a huge let down. I was really hoping to get some insight into the minds of dogs, but I found this book to be full of sweeping generalizations based on questionable science based on the author's own dog. The author claims we (humans) tend to anthropomorphize dogs and that to truly understand them we should imagine ourselves in their world/bodies, instead of analyzing them from ours. I think she goes too far though, making assumptions about how all dogs think and perceive everything. Obviously dogs process information differently than we do (with heightened senses of smell and vision, among other things), but they are also individuals with different abilities, behaviors and thoughts, and this book does nothing to recognize that. As a dog owner, I know first hand that many of the claims she made in this book are way off. For instance, nothing in this book helps to explain how or why my female dog constantly plots and plays tricks on my other, less intelligent, male dog. I guess she just has a better sense of smell! This book just perpetuates the idea that dogs are incapable of seeing or understanding things the way humans do, but didn't back it up. Dogs are not that simple. Frankly, I felt insulted reading this fluff.
I admit selecting this book as the last of my free join-up selections, but after reading it I'm ashamed I didn't pay full price for one of the best books about dogs I've ever read. If anything, there is almost too much information and insight into what my two German Shepherds are really thinking. If you want to know why your dog looks at you wth such loving eyes, pay full price and learn the wonderful (and well-researched) truth.
Reviewer: John R