Ellie’s Book Review – Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

Ellie’s Book Review – Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

A Perfect Marriage

I am an avid reader of non-fiction studies about dogs, and about the relationship between dogs and people. Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz has been for me, the most rewarding and enjoyable such book I’ve read, because of the way it spans the divide between the lyric and anecdotal love story (like Merle’s Door) and the scientific treatise (say, anything by Konrad Lorenz).

Horowitz teaches psychology at Barnard College. She earned her PhD in cognitive science and has studied the cognition of humans, rhinoceroses, bonobos and dogs. So she has the scientific licks (so to speak) to support the creative but rigorous experimentation and observation she details so well in this book. She does so with great courage, appearing to feel no need to restrain or obfuscate her love for her subjects, for fear that it might endanger her objectivity. Her descriptions of the canine behaviours she observes are intense and animated: “What is called, appropriately “rough-and-tumble” play between two competent athletic dogs is a gymnastic marvel to witness. The playing dogs seem to give a perfunctory greeting to each other before they suddenly mutually attack, teeth bared; tumbling together in precarious free fall; jumping on and over each other; bodies bent and tangled.” The underlying affection apparent in her scientific descriptions blossoms into overt love in the italicized passages she injects about her own dog: “Thunder outside. Pump’s ears, velvet equilateral triangles that fold perfectly along the side of her head, prick into long isosceles. Head up, eyes to the window, she identifies the sound: a storm, a frightful thing…..I coo to her consolingly and watch her ears for feedback.”

So – does this emotional backdrop weaken her scholarly findings? Not if you believe that fascination, awe, and wonder intensifies the drive to discover more than simple intellectual curiousity would. That’s what I believe. I think it is because of, not despite her emotional investment, that Horowitz has helped clarify some discomforts I’ve long entertained about the prevailing paradigms about the dog-human relationship.

Like, let’s say – the concepts of anti-anthropomorphism, and of pack dominance: “To evoke the outdated, simplistic model of packs glosses over real differences between dog and wolf behaviour and misses some of the most interesting features of packs in wolves. We do better to explain dogs’ taking commands from us, deferring to us, and indulging us by the fact that we are their source of food than by reasoning that we are alpha. We can certainly make dogs totally submissive to us, but that is neither biologically necessary nor particularly enriching for either of us. The pack analogy does nothing but replace our anthropomorphisms with a kind of “beastomorphism” whose crazy philosophy seems to be something like “dogs aren’t human, so we must see them as precisely un-human in every way”.

So, conceptually – Inside of a A Dog was a rich and interesting read. It also provided practical insights than I can and will incorporate into my training and handling. I have long-wondered about a particular kind of chuffing-huffing breathing that my young male partner characteristically displays when in the ring. I feared it was stress-related though he generally does not seem a stressed-out guy in the ring. Horowitz presents exactly this behaviour as a canine equivalent of excited laughter. How incredibly reassuring it is to think that you are going into the ring with a guy who is laughing in delight!

Horowitz also spends more time on the intricacies and wonder of dog attention and eye-contact than any writer I’ve read previously. I can’t help but feel that my enhanced understanding of both is likely to improve my own creativity and effectiveness as I strive to create and enhance that bond of attention between me and my boy.

This book delivers as both science and celebration. I see Inside of a Dog as the perfect marriage of scientific study and love story, and recommend it highly to anyone interested in either or both genres.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *