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The Hidden Life of Dogs

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  1,909 Ratings  ·  191 Reviews
Have you ever wondered what the world looks like to your dog? Or what it smells and sounds like? Do dogs have crushes or love affairs? Do they dream, and what about? This book is the result of 30 years of living with dogs, wolves and dingoes. The author visits their minds and provides an insight into a species different from our own, but in many respects surprisingly the s ...more
Paperback, 148 pages
Published August 1st 2003 by Orion Publishing Group (first published August 1st 1993)
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Max Late to the discussion of the book, I note with amusement the outrage by some about how the author ignored what proper Bostonians would consider…moreLate to the discussion of the book, I note with amusement the outrage by some about how the author ignored what proper Bostonians would consider proper use and,display of their pets, as Thorstein Veblen termed "conspicuous consumption."

I once "raised" Newfoundland dogs when they were relatively unknown. I became disgusted by rich people who wanted their males to mate with my bitch (did you react?) because Seraphina had perfect rear hips -- confirmed by X-rays evaluated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an organization created to weed out the freakish large dogs who would die early because of breeding for size only.

After years of breeding for larger size and shorter muzzles (note Thomases' description of breeding Pugs for Gawd's sake) Newfoundlands (and many large breeds) were indeed big and their rear legs suffered from dysphasia.

Now as to behavior, I agree with the author about training. The less the better. I've had many dogs over the decades since Serphina. Well-behaved dogs are reflections of power trippers.

I am delighted to read a sane writer who, in the spirit of Konrad Lorenz, recognizes the ability of smart and compassionate dogs to adapt to Boston or anywhere else. Oh, and my Newfoundland, Esme, does not crap on your yard.
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Community Reviews

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Kelly H. (Maybedog)
Jul 04, 2009 Kelly H. (Maybedog) rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
This woman first let her dogs roam freely across busy streets and highways, even a freeway, watching and observing but not protecting them. She and the dogs are fortunate none were injured or killed.

Secondly, she then let them live outside with almost no human interaction or socialization and watched them devolve into a pack of wild animals. Um, yes, but is that really the hidden life of the dogs we know or just animal mentality, much like humans would do if left to fend for themselves in the w
Jul 28, 2007 sarafem rated it it was ok
Somewhere in this book I recall the author calling herself a dog anthropologist. This egotistical idiocy completely blew my circuits. Call yourself a dog lover or a dog observer or a dog whatever that makes sense, but do not lump together the study of humankind with watching dogs copulate and take walks and form packs. I am not saying that the study of humans is necessarily more important than the study of animals but they are very different, in that we can relate to the humans we study because ...more
Jan 17, 2008 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't get all the way through this. The author states that it's okay to anthropomorphize dogs, since they do the same with us. I'm fine with that. What I couldn't get past was the fact that the author apparently doesn't understand the physiology of dogs.

For instance, she speaks about a male dog meeting his mate after she has had a litter of puppies. The male dog, not being able to see the puppies (who are under their mom's thigh), still seems to know that the puppies are there. The author
Feb 19, 2011 Laura rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2005
Excited though I was about reading this book, I almost didn't finish it as I was constantly appalled at the the author's irresponsible behaviour.

Right off the bat we meet Misha, a friend's intact male husky whom the author allows to roam his self-determined 130 square mile "territory". She seems to try and defend this inexcusable behaviour by bragging about the dog's ability to avoid being struck by a car and by stating that she never observed him mating with any female dogs. There is no doubt i
Feb 15, 2008 Amanda rated it did not like it
I added this book to my list just so I could state, for the record, that I hate this book and the author is the devil.
Sep 10, 2009 Brittany rated it really liked it
This was an extremely quick, but extremely absorbing, read. Elizabeth Thomas asks the question that we should be appalled more science-minded people don't ask: What do dogs do when they're not with their people? She answers the question by following a husky, Misha, as he roamed around the city. (This did bother me a bit, but she assures us that he was very canny about cars. However, that doesn't help the fact that leashless dogs alarm some people, violate most laws and ordinances, and can turn p ...more
Hákon Gunnarsson
As a longtime dog owner I find this book facinating. I have had dogs for more than thirty years now, most of my life so far, and I know very well that they have private lives, but I don't think I have always understood, or perhaps more to the point, I have often misunderstood, what was going on in their lives. This book doesn't explain it completely, but goes some way towards clearing part of it up. The author, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas let her dogs loose to a certain point to try to see what dr ...more
Feb 09, 2012 Stephanie rated it liked it
Some parts of this book are fascinating, others are a little bizarre. On the one hand, the author has some interesting insights on animal cognition as a lay person. Her stories about her dogs and their lives, loves, and emotional connections give some powerful credence to the current arguments in the scientific community that mammals have a greater capacity for cognition and emotional complexity than what previous generations were willing to admit. And her lovely descriptions of her dogs made me ...more
Joey Alison Sayers
Somehow - and I thought it was impossible - this book made me love dogs even more. Thomas really gets to the heart of so much dog behavior without over-anthropomorphizing.

She lived with a bajillion dogs. And for a while she lived in the snow and observed (and sorta lived with) a bunch of wolves in Northern Canada. And she explains the "whys" of so much of what dogs do - their relationships with each other and their relationships with humans. She love dogs even more than me and it feels like she
Apr 22, 2012 Amelia rated it it was ok
In this book, Thomas chronicles a few years spent watching her dogs while minimizing her interaction with them. This included allowing them to roam loose in urban areas, breed pretty freely, and harass each other and other neighborhood animals. While there's something to be said for watching dogs and observing their behavior in detail, responsible dog owners will grind their teeth.

Thomas' stated goal is to find out what really matters to dogs by removing humans from the equation. The problem wit
Nov 09, 2010 Deborah rated it it was ok
Although I found some of this book interesting (being a dog lover) most of it had me horrified and pissed off.
She let her dogs run loose through busy streets and highways, let them breed indiscriminately (including letting one of her dogs kill another dogs puppies) and threw them all in a outdoor pen when they became inconvenient to her lifestyle.
I don't agree with most of the ways she treated and raised her dogs either.
I don't recommend this book.
Apr 12, 2012 Cathy rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, kindle
Because I'm the kind of person who can't contemplating adopting a dog without reading a ton of books about them. Overthinkers r us.

This seemed very slight to me -- I suppose I thought it would be more like her Tribe of Tiger, about cats and why they are the way they are (because yes, I overthink my kitties too!). Hidden Life of Dogs is more Thomas just watching her own dogs. And she's rather disingenuous about it -- "Oh, I just wanted to see what they did if they got to choose for themselves wi
Jan 11, 2011 Lize rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dogs, 2011
This was the first book I read of hers since meeting her in person last year and finding her a ferocious force of nature (as expected), but maybe less...warm than I expected. (She's very 'New England-y'.) It did color my perception of the book, but only just a bit. (Like when she mentions the nasty neighbors in Cambridge who complained about the dogs, I shuddered a little. For the nasty neighbors. Who had more balls than brains and are hopefully all okay--her I would not mess with.)

The book tell
I think my expectations of this book were that it would be a tad bit more scientific, perhaps with some reference materials accessed, some explanation (or deeper theories) of dog behavior. Alas, it was all anecdotes about the author's experiences with her own rather wild dogs, much of which bordered on the anthropomorphic. Still, the read (well, the listen, since I was listening to an audio version) was somewhat entertaining, and each time a dog passed, I felt sad. (Note: I listened to an abridg ...more
Mary Helene
Nov 24, 2009 Mary Helene rated it really liked it
I liked it for the way it helped my thinking pivot in relationship to dogs. That insight alone - that dogs are worthy of respect in and of themselves, that we can be still and listen to them - that merits 4 stars. I think this book had an artful editor; it could have easily been over the top in one way or another and instead it is measured, while being engaging and proposing by the very process that we look at the world from a dog's point of view.

Given to me by Susan Cooper and passed on to my
Jan 05, 2009 Andy rated it it was ok
Shelves: borrowed
The author never managed to find a consistent tone. She observed her dogs for a while, and wrote what amounts to a journal and how she saw their behavior. This wouldn't be a problem, but she keeps touting her approach as having some scientific bearing, when there's no strong methodology.

It does have some interesting information on behavior, particularly of pack dynamics, but there are probably better ways to get the same information.
May 08, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is the antithesis of the Cesar Milan philosophy; Thomas documents the lives of her pack of dogs as an observer and not "pack leader" or owner. Her observations are heartwarming and heartbreaking, and so very interesting. It was the first book I picked up when I knew that I always wanted to have dogs in my life.
Feb 07, 2012 Chris rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010s
I don't even know where to start with this one. Many of the comments on other reviews of this book were spot on.

The author is one of the most irresponsible pet owners I've ever seen. She talks of letting her dog Misha roam where he wants while she follows and records his movements. She lets him cross busy highways, even.

Often she writes of the dogs very anthropomorphically. She speaks of dogs who are "married" because they mated and of their love. She even describes two dogs sexual encounter alm
Kristen Nace
Aug 21, 2012 Kristen Nace rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, but at the same time I can understand why this book has generated a lot of unfavorable reviews. The author has some very unconventional ways of being with her dogs which upset people. Following the Husky named Misha for hours around Cambridge, Mass., as he braved traffic and other hazards is a biggie. But still, I found this book fascinating and very moving as she recounts the lives of numerous dogs in her family. Her love and deep respect for them is indisputable. Beth ...more
Deborah Pickstone
4.5 stars

Always a delight to read, this memoir of her 'research' through her own dogs is well worth reading for anyone who loves dogs. I learned a lot and met some wonderful canine characters. I wanted to take poor Vera home.
Jul 24, 2011 Cherie rated it it was ok
This is an older book (1993) and with the prevalence of documentaries about dogs on cable television these days, it was not that revelatory to me (though of course at the time, it probably was. I think it is now regarded as a classic)Her body of work has no doubt been influential on many of the dog expert shows that train owners how to behave with dogs.

I own two dogs and enjoy the personal observations and accounts the author related about her pack. Her tone and writing was a bit stiff or odd to
Nov 17, 2014 Chana rated it liked it
A woman tells us her observations and experiences raising 10 dogs; 2 pugs, a dingo, 2 dingo mixes and some huskies.
I was reminded of Farley Mowatt's writing, but maybe that is just because they both write of wolves. Certainly she doesn't have his sense of humor. This is more woman with dogs observes and records. She particularly wants to see how they interact on their own with other dogs, how they organize themselves in rank and act as a pack compared to how wolves organize themselves in the wil
Kourteney Clark
Nov 20, 2013 Kourteney Clark rated it liked it
The Hidden Life Of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Thomas created a very interesting book that shows the life of dogs in a whole new perspective. The Hidden Life of Dogs is about the author, Elizabeth's, life as she raises, breeds, and studies her own dogs in her own home in the city.

This book was all about the author's studies on how dogs interact and understand the world around them. Do dogs understand what we do? Do they love their owners? These are a few questions that Thomas asks and then
Jul 21, 2014 Kirsti rated it did not like it
I've always heard this book described as a classic, but I seriously contest that. That the author loved her dogs I have no doubt, but her treatment and methods of care for them was totally different from mine. I include myself in my animals lives, keeping two cats indoors because we live on a busy highway. They get taken outside in harnesses, or placed in a chook pen on warm days. My three dogs are primarily outdoor animals, but not a day passes without pats, games and treats. All animals are de ...more
Nov 04, 2009 Gwen rated it liked it
Okay, I think it is possible that if I had read this back in 1993 or a time known as before Cesar Milan, I would have rated this book higher. That said...The writing style of E.M. Thomas is like a memoir but about her dogs, recalling events during their life-times, aligning them with humanistic emotion. The tale of a the dogs were very moving. I think even more so for someone who has loved and lost a dog. (Regarding this cover, I don't understand why there's a dalmation on the cover when she had ...more
Mar 10, 2011 Stacy rated it liked it
The observations of dogs in this book were interesting, but the author's voice was annoying. She begins with the argument that dogs have consciousness and emotions and that framing her observations anthropomorphically is useful and probably unavoidable. I actually don't take issue with her argument, but the way she presents it makes me want to. At one point she describes an action she takes as shameful, yet the tone of voice sounded smug. And one description that really grated - saying certain p ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Christine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, dogs
Her observations were kind of creepy and her lack of care for her dogs was appalling. I was hoping to get some insight into my own dog's behavior. My dogs are part of my family/pack and no way would I allow them to roam free like she did. I found it irresponsible on her part. It was not safe for the dogs on so many levels. I understand her wanting to understand the lives of dogs but in today's world, a roaming dog can be hit by a car, attacked by other dogs, caught by city officials and euthaniz ...more
Sep 18, 2010 ML rated it liked it
Thomas opened a whole new world to me with her explanation of what dogs want and the rationales for behavior that we humans often find puzzling. Her family of dogs reverted to more wild-wolf type behavior when she gave them lots of space in the country - but once again became urbanized upon returning to city living in the house with humans. What dogs want most is other dogs, she says. Relations with humans are a substitute for that primal wish. Yet her dogs seem to have been the central focus of ...more
Feb 04, 2011 Mortalform rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dog lovers and the canine curious
Recommended to Mortalform by: insightful friends
Nothing more than what it presented itself as; a series of observations. The value and importance of the book likes in the acuity of observation of canine behaviour and the accessible text that reads like a series of short stories. For me brought about some startling reflections on my own dogs and past behaviours that had confused me. Made me realize how much we overlook of our pets lives, much like the lives of furniture, rarely noting what daily events are of import to them.
Jun 11, 2011 Mary rated it liked it
Shelves: reference-books
A must read for anyone interested in animal behavior, especially canine behavior. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas brings her 30 plus years of experience to this work and elevates it from an anecdotal read to accessible sociobiology for the public. Very interesting and extremely challenging to the reader as Thomas describes some of her decisions and reactions. The dog as a pack animal is a familiar concept now with the popularity of Cesar Milan but Thomas paved the way for him, I believe.
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Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is the author of The Harmless People, a non fiction work about the Kung Bushmen of southwestern Africa, and of Reindeer Moon, a novel about the paleolithic hunter gatherers of Siberia, both of which were tremendous international successes. She lives in New Hampshire.
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