Edited: my first review was harsh. And although I stand by my overall evaluation, I don't really want to slam this little book, a Giller prize winnerEdited: my first review was harsh. And although I stand by my overall evaluation, I don't really want to slam this little book, a Giller prize winner - and recognize that I am decidedly in the minority on it.
This book was disappointing. It failed for me in three main ways:
1) The authorial voice left me uninspired - I found it monotonous and entirely lacking in humour (for a book that seemed tailor-made to be chockablock with whimsy or dark comedy or both). I found that the most dramatic moments were telegraphed a mile in advance and then they were quickly over. I was never fully engaged. In fact, I was often bored.
2) The author doesn't seem to know dogs at all. He seemed to be falling back on the idea of dogs as pack animals who exist entirely on a dominance-submissiveness continuum; a theory long since discredited in doggie circles as a superficial understanding of the complexity of dogs' emotional, social, and behavioural repertoires.
I've read a lot of non-fiction about dogs, and so I pay a lot of attention to how dogs are portrayed and how they are used as devices in literature. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want this book to do a good job on doggie psychology; but I definitely wanted it - and needed it - to do a good job on what that psychology would be like when infused with human consciousness. This was the great potential of the central conceit, but it wasn't done convincingly.
I was looking for anthropomorphism of a specific sort here: not the manipulative kind, but the compelling, thought-experimental kind. There were only small glimmers of it at the end with Majmoun, which was too late and too expositional.
Without this, I had no connection to the dogs. No emotional investment in them. No interest in their characters or their lives and therefore (view spoiler)[no interest in their deaths. My interest waned as the body count climbed, and since that happened really early on, for the most part, my interest was barely sustained for about 3/4s of this book. (hide spoiler)]
I don't think that this was the narrative arc Mr. Alexis was seeking to create, but it was my experience reading.
3) As a result of these two factors, the central question - to explore whether human consciousness and language (as a reflection of that consciousness) brings joy or misery - fell flat. What I was hoping would be an original, creative approach to it (i.e., giving the titular 15 dogs human consciousness and language and seeing what happened) felt muddled, under-explored, off-point, and unfulfilling.
Sorry Mr. Alexis and Giller peeps: not this one, not for me.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Here's what's funny about this book: McConnell believes that 'true' separation anxiety is a more rarerarer less common phenomenon than is believed. AHere's what's funny about this book: McConnell believes that 'true' separation anxiety is a more rarerarer less common phenomenon than is believed. And/but: it behooves all dog owners to do what they can to prevent it in their dogs.
That said, there's some good, common-sense advice in here that my neighbours need to read. (Bubbles, a pekingnese, is so undersocialized as to be painful to watch; and his sep anxiety is so severe that they now have a collar on him that squirts a noxious substance in his face as soon as he barks. Can you say punishment for a symptom, the root cause of which remains untreated? Appalling.)
How obnoxious would I be if I slipped this book under their door? Well, after all, that's why I bought it. ...more
If you are looking for a hippy-dippy, mystical dog training book, then look no further! This book is all about understanding the dog at an emotional aIf you are looking for a hippy-dippy, mystical dog training book, then look no further! This book is all about understanding the dog at an emotional and - yes - spiritual level. Clothier is a disciple of Linda Tellington-Jones, the pioneer in "bodywork" with horses and dogs aka therapeutic massage that treats animals' behavioural and emotional imbalances. Clothier's basic thesis is that dogs have rich emotional lives and that without respecting that enough to build a high-quality, equal, respectful and loving partnership with them, as you would with any being you loved, things will go awry.
Writing in 2001, this book came before the current synthesization of ethological-behavioural-cognitive approaches and the debunking of a lot of the alpha-wolf pack nonsense. Clothier states openly and upfront (and somewhat defensively) that her theories are not founded on that-there school book learnin' or any recognized academic credentials, but come from her own experience and rather eclectic reading which ranges from Lorenz's classic work in ethology through to Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Buscaglia's Love.
Like I said, hippy-dippy.
But I didn't dismiss it outright, as is my wont with bullshit mystic fruitcakes these types of authors, because she issued a challenge, and dammit, she is right. Just what do we have to lose by thinking of and treating animals in a loving, whole and respectful way - and shouldn't the results and the relationship that develops speak for itself? Where's the resistance?
So I let her take me along for the ride, and you know what? There's some great things in here, which - albeit accidentally - reconcile the hardcore, scientific behaviourist data with the more whispery kinda animal training that talks about balance, quality, soul, authenticity.
Among other things to read this for is the clarity of her discussion of alpha/dominance/submission - she dismisses all the terminology as misunderstood and misapplied, and wipes the slate clean to take it back to status-seeking behaviour which expresses itself differently depending on context and is ONLY expressed in relation to another being. She does as good if not a better job on this than even Patricia McConnell in The Other End of the Leash.
Following from this, she discusses "aggression" at length, and provides some beautiful examples and analogies that make it clear how: 1) we miss the early warning signs of aggression; 2) what we call 'aggressive' acts are often anything but; 3) true aggression is a serious issue that is an animal trying to tell us something is very very wrong - don't underestimate or ignore it.
She does a great job with the necessity to exert leadership with animals, much like with children - and takes the entire concept up a notch to avoid the whole "pack leader" mess and instead, nest leadership in the context of setting boundaries, providing structure, having the animal's (or child's) best interests at heart, taking ownership for any bad behaviour as a failure of the leader and not the fault of the dog/child.
She does a beautiful, if hard to read, dismantling of dog training by so-called experts who in fact propose and practice inhumane, cruel and outright sociopathic approaches. She shows these as the end result of a philosophy that starts with alpha and ends in confusion, frustration, pain, harm and even death. She names names. This section will make you angry, angry, angry as it should. There are still practitioners out there - Brad Pattison comes to mind; Milan might also be in this camp - who strenuously defend their practices. She says (I'm paraphrasing): you never have to defend methods that are kind, respectful, compassionate. You only have to defend methods that could be perceived as other than this. If you have to defend your practices, you need to question what you're doing and why you're doing it.
She is steadfast and fully committed to her own philosophy of kindness, respect, empathy and love to build healthy relationships. She is uber-authentic and attentive to her own theories and behaviour being 100 per cent aligned with her underlying philosophy.
At the same time - and this is part of her authenticity - she is open about her past acts that have *not* always been congruent with a loving, respectful, humane approach. She recognizes the baggage she brings and has brought into her relationships with humans and with animals, and she encourages us to do the same if what we seek and value are healthy, happy, loving and genuine relationships. And she delves into the murky, grey area that exists in any relationship where there is a power imbalance, and where one individual must act as leader to ensure the safety of the other. She explores the sometimes-uncomfortable mantle of leadership, the need for a leader to not just persuade but sometimes coerce ... and the thin line between coercion and what might be classed in a different context as cruelty.
She goes on a bit and keeps selling after the sale is made; she sprinkles quotations like confetti seeking to be profound by proxy; her metaphors are sometimes hackneyed; she occasionally strains to make a joke; and she veers into sexist (or at least, stereotyped) analogies a bit too frequently for my own comfort. But, BUT. She redeems herself, she really does.
She writes with an underlying logic and authority that overcomes (despite her own lack of confidence) our doubts and allows us (well, me anyway) to forgive her for her woo-woo metaphysics. She ends up taking you to interesting places and will open your mind and heart to new thoughts and feelings - I had many a-ha moments here. And she is truly funny and also forgiving of herself and others (a lesson she's learned from the doggies).
She may get some of the details wrong (she repeatedly calls "if ... then" scenarios doggy math instead of the more accurate doggy logic; and she muddles up classical and operant conditioning leading her into dangerous baby-bathwater territory), but by the time she's done, she's presented an absolutely coherent philosophy/theory that one can acknowledge as practical, usable, sensible ... and really quite lovely.
The last five or six chapters take you right into the heart of the end of a relationship - i.e., the death of several of her own and others' pets - and will have you weeping and blubbering along with her or at least it did me. And then, she goes out on a couple of chapters that rest on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience," which she extends to the doggies.
Update: I did it. I finished it. I skimmed over some spots, but read it, I did. Right to the end. The ending that I am going to believe was a happy onUpdate: I did it. I finished it. I skimmed over some spots, but read it, I did. Right to the end. The ending that I am going to believe was a happy one. Yes.
This book seethes with brutality - implied, overt - and I turn each page with my heart in my throat, steeling myself for what is to come.
Kids, dogs subject to abuse, trauma, neglect.
Can't do it. It's beautifully written, even poetic in places, but I can't do it. ...more
Beautiful photography and poignant stories that individualize these dogs while also illustrating the too-common cruelties perpetrated on an entire groBeautiful photography and poignant stories that individualize these dogs while also illustrating the too-common cruelties perpetrated on an entire group of dogs who look a certain way, solely because they look a certain way.
The single thing these dogs have in common besides their looks and, among this group, the fact that they are all rescues from pretty horrific circumstances, is that when given safety, security, kindness and love, these dogs *all* have the capacity to overcome their past and become loving family pets.
The text is repetitive in places and could have been organized better (e.g., I would have liked to see dogs in the same home presented together). But as a coffee-table book, a myth-busting conversation starter, and a tool for anti-BSL (breed specific legislation) activists, it can't be beat.
Tells the story of dog rescuer Ken Foster from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina in both a practical and a personal way. Low on sentiment and - remarkably, giTells the story of dog rescuer Ken Foster from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina in both a practical and a personal way. Low on sentiment and - remarkably, given some of the segments - anger. High on responsibility and love for dogs. Would have liked pictures of those he's rescued and his own dogs. ...more
This is animal behavioural science, not dog whispering, and it should be required reading for everyone who has a dog, is thinking of getting a dog, orThis is animal behavioural science, not dog whispering, and it should be required reading for everyone who has a dog, is thinking of getting a dog, or is at all interested in dogs. It's a necessary antidote or at least counterpoint to the "wolf pack/dominance" school of dog training.
The book is structured to compare and contrast primate (including human) behaviours and their underlying meaning with canine (wolf and dog) behaviours. McConnell itemizes and then analyzes the natural behaviours that people, as primates, exhibit and how these are sometimes at odds with those of dogs, sometimes lead to exactly the opposite response one is trying to achieve, and sometimes are downright cruel.
Everything from hugging, to looking at, to talking to your dog -- behavours that are so ubiquitous and natural among humans, but which are often utterly confusing or even off-putting to your canine friend.
Read the book just for this, and you will have many a-ha insights.
But it is the discussion of dominance - status - aggression that I hope people pay most attention to. The theme runs throughout most of the book, and the topic is covered in detail in several chapters. McConnell does a good, diplomatic but thorough, job in dismantling the au courant pack leadership dog training ideology, and explains how its underlying premise is flawed, fundamentally mislabelling dogs as wolves. She then persuades us of the stronger, kinder, evidence-based and more effective value of positive training (reinforcement/reward).
And, she doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater - which is important. Like the behaviourist she is, she gently corrects and provides alternative, well-reasoned approaches that have a better chance at being effective.
The problem with training based on dogs-as-wolves stems from they deeply flawed theory that because dogs are descended directly from wolves (true), they therefore behave like wolves (not true; or at least, not true in some very specific and important ways). The dogs-as-wolves theory goes on make a lot of assumptions about what dominance is, how it is dislayed in wolf packs, how dominance (or rather, status) is achieved in wolf packs and most precisely, how adult wolves correct their pups. The gap between these already erroneous beliefs is then further widened when the assumptions are transposed to dogs, and becomes actually dangerous (McConnell uses the term "violent") when these assumptions are used to derive training practices for dogs.
McConnell does an outstanding job here at peeling back the layers of misconceptions - including the pervasive ones that relate to how wolves discipline their young (fact: by very sharp, quick nips at their muzzles as a last resort after ignoring them hasn't worked; fiction: by pinning them or by shaking them by the scruff of their neck) and how so-called pack leaders behave (even, who pack leaders are and what that really means).
She acknowledges the controversy within the dog training world about these issues, right down to terminology: dominance, aggression, status, discipline -- now an unholy mess of poor and misunderstood definitions and assumptions, no longer having much to do with the evolutionary biological facts and causing not just confusion, but out-and-out harm to animals.
Dominance-aggression? Incredibly rare, she says; a misapplication of two terms that are already poorly defined to a wide range of behaviours that may not be either (i.e., a dominance display or an aggressive one). Not only does she acknowledge the high-profile controversies, but she examines both sides of some of the practices that have emerged, including for example the "dogs shouldn't walk through the door first" principle that many hold as sacrosanct. (On this, she says there is some relevance to dogs of who goes through the door first, but it's not about who is the pack leader.)
The chapters looking at pack leadership versus benevolent leadership are insightful, well-articulated and - I would hope - eye-opening to those whose only frame of reference for the role that humans play in their dogs' lives is shaped by TV celebrities and trainers telling us we must assume the role of pack leader.
She details some truly tragic cases where owners have received training advice, applied it blindly not knowing any better, and ended up with incredibly damaged dogs, some of whom simply could not be rehabilitated. But she also tells heartwarming, beautiful and inspiring stories of where a simple readjustment based on a more complete understanding of the behaviour has resulted in a strengthened human-canine bond and - most importantly - happy, healthy dogs and people.
She talks a lot about her own dogs - Border Collies and Great Pyrenees. You will fall in love with them.
She outlines why behaviour is the primary and most important consideration in selecting a dog that's right for you - and not necessarily breed.
She recognizes individual differences, even - and especially - within breeds. At the same time, she understands the intricate, inextricable link between genetics and environment in creating behaviour. She uses a great simile to explain it that will stick with me: "Asking if the behaviour of either one of us is "genetic" or "environmental" is like asking if bread is formed by the ingredients or by the process by which you put them together."
McConnell is a scientist - rigorous, analytical - and an unabashed dog lover who admits to spending long nights, every night, spooning with her dogs. She loves them unreservedly. That is what leaps off this page, like a Border Collie in a field of sheep: her intellect and her emotion, well-balanced and devoted to supporting the healthy, happy human-canine bond....more
Three-ish - this was a quick and dirty read, and an indulgence. I *loved* Ackerley's deep understanding of the connection between man and dog, and hisThree-ish - this was a quick and dirty read, and an indulgence. I *loved* Ackerley's deep understanding of the connection between man and dog, and his (very progressive, esp. for the time) ability to show that dogs have distinctive personalities - but at the same time, that animal behaviour is a direct result of a dog's treatment at the hands of humans, and not - as still to this day erroneously believed - a product of some kind of higher, "human-like" cognitive processing.
The book's central point, however, was the sublimation of Frank's unrequited passion for his (married) friend, Johnny, into his devotion to Johnny's dog, Evie. There was such a focus on Evie, and Frank's machinations to make her his own, that this second and in some ways equally important plot-line was given short-shrift. Not that I minded - since I'm all about the doggies, and this is a non-sentimental (and not too, too difficult to bear) story about quite a lovely one.
Beautiful book. Surprising in many ways - the poetry of it; the poetry in it (a lot of Emily Dickinson). Wide-ranging, introspective: from the failureBeautiful book. Surprising in many ways - the poetry of it; the poetry in it (a lot of Emily Dickinson). Wide-ranging, introspective: from the failure and futility of language as a way to understand another being (leave it to a poet to point out language's short-comings); to the power of love and art to keep us tethered and grounded and here, and to give us the meaning we need to stick around and to rise above grief and despair - the ever-present human condition.
(view spoiler)[Thus, in the face of all the dangers, in what may seem a godless region, we move forward through the agencies of love and art.(hide spoiler)].
Not a lot of laughs - it's not that kind of book; but the sadness ultimately felt real. Not manipulative. Necessary and cleansing, I'd say. Reconciliatory. Is that a word? It should be.
I love that Doty is unashamedly sentimental, but not saccharine or anthropomorphic as with so many dog stories. I love how tactile he is. I love that he puts his relationships with his dogs on an equal basis with that of his humans. I love how much this book honours them all.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Absolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to arm themselves with facts and evidence-based counter-arguments to overturn BSL. This book is availaAbsolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to arm themselves with facts and evidence-based counter-arguments to overturn BSL. This book is available online as a PDF here, but I'm happy to have bought it and to know that my $24.95 will go to fund ongoing work by Karen Delise and the National Canine Research Council.
What follows is not a book review, but a political rant.
I'm embarrassed to have been an Ontario resident when then-Attorney General Michael Bryant forced through BSL in 2004/5, and not to have paid attention to this issue at the time. The arguments this "Harvard-trained lawyer" used, represented here by Delise in full-frontal stupidity, are absurd. They are blatant, regurgitated, media-spun lies with holes in their logic so vast that a grade school debating student could drive an SUV through them without shifting out of first gear.
Something really doesn't add up here. How, oh how did this legislation ever get passed? Is that the level of fear that Ontarians had then? Based on WHAT? (Delise shows what - she shows the media bias, and how average citizens across North America have been bamboozled by it).
I wonder if, given the circumstances of Bryant's eventual departure from public life and his high-priced job as CEO of Invest Toronto, he's ever reflected on his own ignorant, irresponsible, manipulative use of the media and the fucking awful, awful damage he's done to people in this province? Oh, wait -- why would he, the man walked away scott-free from charges of criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death after killing a cyclist -- a bike courier with a history of psychiatric hospitalization who was blamed as the cause of his own death.
The injustice, corruption and collusion in the current Ontario government make me physically ill.
This man, literally, has blood on his hands - man and beast. And so does the entire McGuinty government. Their heads should be on fucking sticks, and we should be storming the Bastille, err, I mean, Queen's Park.
Well, I have no idea who I just wrote this for, but I sure do feel better. Thanks for reading....more
This is a lovely, unsentimental, fairly thorough, scientifically-grounded look at the dog-human bond: how it evolved, how the canine's sensory equipmeThis is a lovely, unsentimental, fairly thorough, scientifically-grounded look at the dog-human bond: how it evolved, how the canine's sensory equipment shapes his (or her) world and relationship with us, and how a deeper understanding of that world - "the inside of a dog" (yes, from the Groucho Marx quotation) - should shape ours with them. Didn't so much change or illuminate, but anchored what I think I know about my dog and dogs in general in explanations of canine behaviour drawn from the author's own experiences and her background as a comparative psychologist.
The dog-human bond is something very special to me -- having owned dogs all my life, and currently being on a full-on tear to work towards the overturning of BSL (breed specific legislation) in Ontario which is the product of and continues to cause such cruelty to dogs and their families.
It's about more than treating other creatures with the respect they deserve; it's about how human beings can and should respectfully share the planet with other living things. That perspective in microcosm is taught, I believe, through the relationships parents encourage (or deny) when or if they bring that first puppy into the home.
Teaching a child to treat a dog with gentleness, kindness and compassion is teaching a child to love. Teaching that lesson from the deeply-informed perspective that Horowitz provides here can only enrich the both the dog's life and the family's. One of the author's points is that dogs most often give us much more than we give them. Another is that the fundamental quality of the relationship between dogs and humans - that affection, that love - is beyond the reach of science. Maybe so, but anyone who has bonded with a dog knows it to be true.
UPDATED: 03/19/11 Read. Cried. Read some more. Got seriously pissed off. Read some more and finished on a bittersweet note.
The Lost Dogs tells the taUPDATED: 03/19/11 Read. Cried. Read some more. Got seriously pissed off. Read some more and finished on a bittersweet note.
The Lost Dogs tells the tale of a landmark dog-fighting case, the swirl of celebrity politics surrounding it, and the precedent-setting processes and activities that were developed to rescue and rehabilitate the dogs - for the first time viewed as victims, not evidence; saved, not destroyed. The facts it reveals about pit bulls were and still are critical to advancing the anti-cruelty, anti-BSL and animal welfare movements.
Well-told, not flabby like a lot of non-fiction (Gorant's journalistic style is ideal for the material). A hard read, in the emotional sense, but not as hard as you might anticipate or fear. Gorant's scenario-setting from the POV of 'the little red dog' and 'the little brown dog' (who turns out to be cover-dog, Sweet Jasmine) occasionally strays into anthropomorphism, but I think he strikes exactly the right balance for the vast majority of readers and his purpose in telling the story, too. There's enough pathos and sadness to make you feel for and bond with the dogs--the subjects of his tale. This is a better, more ethical and more constructive approach than dredging up anger as the primary emotion, which would be the case had he chosen to focus on the criminal-celebrity on the other side of the case and/or his supporters. I have an immense amount of respect for that strategy, both here in literary terms as well as in the broader context of pit bull advocacy and education.
Gorant is clear, at the outset, that he wanted to write the book to address the main and most frequent argument offered up by Vick defenders: "they're just dogs; why do they matter?" Anyone reading my threads here or on FB knows my response to that so I won't belabour the point. I'll end by saying: this is an important book. Vick's cruelty and celebrity created an alchemy that, ironically, has served this breed well, providing a high-profile focal point that advocacy groups like Best Friends and Bad Rap could use to reach the broader population and dispel the myths, misperceptions and realities of 'pit bulls', human beings' relationships with them and dogs in general, and our responsibilities to them. With this book and their work, the tide may be turning.
Some preliminary thoughts. This topic is weighing on my mind these days as I watch my 14-year-old Wheaten Terrier decline, and think about what's next in terms of dog ownership for me.
I read the Sports Illustrated article upon which this book was based, and almost immediately afterwards, started to follow badrap.org. Bad Rap is the pit bull rescue group out of California which--along with a group of other forward-thinking and rational lawmakers, humane society workers, rescuers and volunteers--turned the atrocity of what Vick brought to light, the horrid underbelly, history and current situation of dogfighting and of this breed, in particular, to something good.
Learned a ton, in the process, about pit bulls, to the point where I now want to adopt one, but can't.
Here in Ontario where I live, there is province-wide, breed-specific legislation that prohibits the breeding and severely restricts the owning of any pit bull or "pit-bull-like" dog (yes, the legislation is that broad). The legislation also requires sterilization of all existing dogs -- pit bull terriers, am. staffordshire terriers and mixes. Any dog that bears even a trace or whiff of pit bull.
The reality of this law in practice is that any pit bull rescued in Ontario is euthanized immediately, if it can't be found an appropriate, out-of-province foster home.
What this means is that rescues of pit bulls in Ontario are dwindling to a trickle. Go on petfinder.org and type in pit bull, Ontario and all you will see are pleas for funds to ship rescued dogs out of province, by a few--very few--non-profits and shelters who continue valiantly to rescue the breed.
Most Ontario pit bull and "pit-bull-like" dogs are euthanized immediately, regardless of temperament, situation or history. The effort and cost is too exorbitant to even attempt rescue, much less rehabilitation.
But worse -- far worse -- dogs are still being fought and bred to fight, with efforts to stop this barbaric and inhumane practice underfunded and unsupported. Whoever is breeding pit bulls in Ontario now is doing so for one purpose--dog fighting--and doing it underground, way beneath the radar. In his review of The Lost Dogs, Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer) quotes Malcolm Gladwell, who says: "Dogs who bite people are vicious because they have owners who want vicious dogs."
The battered and abused dogs that are rescued from dog-fight operations in Ontario, if any are, will have been bred to fight; their rehabilitation that much more problematic and resource-intensive. It would take a Herculean effort -- and a high profile case such as Vick's -- to correct the incorrect assumptions about this breed, replace ignorance with fact, and turn the tide of public opinion. It's pretty much a lost cause. Along with it, we are losing a breed of dog that, WHEN BRED AND OWNED RESPONSIBLY (yes, I'm yelling), are among the most affectionate with humans and the most temperamentally stable -- ironically, specifically because they have been bred to be fight dogs (read the article(s) to learn why that is true). In the American Temperament Test, pit bull terriers score higher than golden retrievers. Of the Vick dogs that were not too far gone, either physically or emotionally, when they were rescued, 48 out of 49 dogs were stable enough temperamentally to either be fostered/adopted out or kept in a sanctuary. Only one -- "a female who had been forcibly bred to the point where she was irredeemably violent" -- note, BRED not FOUGHT -- had to be euthanized for behavioural reasons.