Monday, May 28, 2012

Dog book review: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

Liam the pug resting in his dog bed
Liam demonstrating his remarkable ability to watch and wait.

This week, I'm reading "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz. Unlike some other dog books of the my-dog-is-cool variety, this book attempts to outline how dogs experience the world. While much of the information provided isn't exactly Earth shattering, especially for people who know about dogs and who have read dogs books before, there are some little hidden gems scattered about that make the book worth reading.

For example, Ms. Horowitz points out that dogs have evolved to use humans as tools. When presented with a problem, such as a missing cookie, a dog will often look to the human in the room for direction. Dogs look us in the eyes, and they believe we hold the answers to most problems they cannot solve on their own.

This might be why dogs seem to "fail" intelligence tests. When they're presented with a tough problem, they look to the test giver for assistance. This isn't a failure of intelligence, Ms. Horowitz says, as much as an adaptation. They look to the tool they know has been helpful in the past, rather than expending energy on making tools of their own. In a way, it's really quite smart.

While I might resent being thought of as a tool, I can understand why Liam might see me as a very useful creation. I'm taller, more powerful, more agile and more likely to solve a problem without breaking anything than he might be if left to his own devices. And, I do reward him with pets and cooing noises as he watches me walk from place to place or sits at my feet, asking for help with a misplaced toy or a cookie he can't reach. Knowing why he does these things doesn't make them less charming to watch. It does make them easier to understand, however, and increased understanding is always a good thing.

I quite enjoyed this book, and I'm hoping it will make working with Liam a little easier in the future. When I know what he's thinking, his behaviors might be a little less exasperating and a little more modifiable. If you need the same kind of help, consider giving this book a try. You might like it!