If there is one book you read as a dog lover, dog owner, dog handler, or dog professional, let it be Alexandra Horowitz‘s 2010 book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. The only fault I find with this book is actually a fault of my own: that I didn’t find and read it sooner. In the Q&A section beyond the book’s main chapters, readers encounter this question: “How is your book different than other dog books? Does the world need another book on dogs?” Before reading Horowitz’s answer, I knew mine: Yes. If it’s this one, definitely. Yes, it does.
Inside of a Dog is different from any other dog book you have ever read. Rife with short, heartfelt narratives about Horowitz’s own experiences with her beloved dog, Pumpernickel, affectionately called Pump, this scientific and informative piece is relatable and human.
Though Horowitz herself says this “is not a sentimental book,” I would describe it as an effortless mix of sentiment and science, though I admit the likelihood that that perception stems largely from my own sentimentality. I have always loved books that make me cry. Perhaps I was foolish not to think this book would be one of them. The idea that a scientific, informative book of interest to me for practical purposes and general curiosity would make me cry, never crossed my mind. I expected to learn, to be intrigued. I didn’t expect poetry. I didn’t expect to smile so often or cry so much. I never expected so informative a book to also be so emotional.
Human beings act on emotion as much as, if not more than, on reason, so Horowitz’s ability to make sensitive the science, or to make readers sensitive to the science’s ramifications for our own dogs and the quality of the relationships we have with them, not to mention their quality of life, is only appropriate, to say the least.
Her writing utilizes an extensive vocabulary I admire, and is poetic, eloquent, and even tender. The way Horowitz manages to make so educational a book so personal is impressive. Despite its informative nature, the book successfully avoids a didactic tone, and opts instead for a relatable one that is engaging, illuminating, and perspective-changing.
Human beings act on emotion as much as, if not more than, on reason. Horowitz’s ability to make sensitive the science is appropriate, to say the least.
The biggest disappointment about this book is actually the biggest disappointment about humans’ relationship with dogs: that despite so much science, so little has changed in the last 11 years regarding our relationships with our dogs. People are still uninformed or misinformed, and their dogs–and their relationships with them–pay the price.
One of my favorite literary characters, Anne Shirley, often discusses kindred spirits. Ever since I met her on the page, Anne felt like an old friend to me. She is the reason I savor sunsets and sunrises, can’t keep myself indoors on a beautiful day, and shamelessly used the phrase “alabaster brow” in much of my pre-teen ramblings.
When I read Mary Oliver’s book of poetry, Dog Songs, recently, I found a second kindred spirit on the page. Here is a woman who writes about cancelling a trip because she feels her dog does not want her to go, who says one of the most beautiful sights is a dog running unleashed on a beach, who relishes waking at night to snuggle her dog.
Now, I feel as though I have found a third: Alexandra Horowitz, an advocate of sharing our beds with our dogs, of reveling in the joyful greetings we share upon reuniting after a day apart, of not bathing our dogs or cleaning our homes as frequently as society would have us believe we should, and of allowing a dog to be a dog–and understanding what that means.
One of the biggest ideas in the book is “Umwelt,” a German word describing the way a particular being experiences existence and the world. By understanding that our dogs’ Umwelt is not the same as ours–in large part because their sense of smell is primary, where our sense of sight is; because their eyeline is far lower than ours; because of a whole slew of other often overlooked facts–we can better understand their needs, desires, behaviors, etc..
If you want a more informed, fulfilling relationship with your dog, do yourself–and your dog–a favor: Read this book. Learn its lessons. Take them to heart. It will change your life, and your dog’s, for the better.
© Amanda Sue Creasey