I just finished reading a delightful book, Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz (2009, Scribner, NY). In this book, Horowitz discusses what the world is like for dogs.
As a scientist with a Ph. D. in animal behavior, Horowitz brings in a considerable amount of information from experiments that have been done with dogs. However, she writes with an engaging, light-hearted style that kept me reading, turning over page after page to see what she would say next.
Many sections start with anecdotes of Horowitz interacting with her dog, Pumpernickel. Each of the anecdotes is short, but illustrates the point that Horowitz brings us in that section.
The anecdotes also show the profound feeling that Horowitz has for dogs. Unlike many animal behaviorists who view their study animals with a dispassionate eye as “subjects,” Horowitz clearly likes dogs and honors dogs for who they are.
Although one would think that dogs have been studied to a great extent by now, the actual fact is that there are relatively few scientific studies of dog behavior, compared to studies of other animals such as rats. Horowitz has contributed to scientific dog knowledge with her studies of dog theory of mind. In case you are not familiar with the concept of theory of mind, it asks the question: does an animal (or a human for that matter) understand that other individuals have minds of their own? In her work, Horowitz found that dogs have what she describes as rudimentary theory of mind, i.e., understanding that there is something going on behind the actions of other dogs and people.
This book provides a very readable entry into what science knows about dog behavior and dog senses. However, rather than presenting the information from a human’s point of view, Horowitz strives to present the information from a dog’s point of view: what is important to a dog, how a dog relates to humans and to other dogs, and how dogs are neither little humans in fur coats nor wolves one step removed from hunting elk on snow-swept plains.
I found this book to be both entertaining and informative, a rarity in most books. I enjoyed the sound of the words in my mind as I read, and I enjoyed the descriptions of experiments boiled down to their essence, free of circumlocutions and mind-numbing jargon. Most of all, I enjoyed the balanced presentation of what we do and do not yet know about dogs.
All told, a great read.