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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know - Alexandra Horowitz, Karen  White, Karen White Haven't we all wondered what our dogs think of us? This is the next best thing to reading a book written by a dog. I am not a current dog owner, but I grew up on a farm with multiple dogs. Over the years I had read that those dogs of my youth saw me as the leader of their pack. This book debunks that myth. This book says they considered me to be be their a meal ticket. What a come down! All these years I thought I was the "Alpha Dog."

The purpose of the book is to help people to understand what's it's like to be a dog. The main difficulty for humans trying to understand dogs is to imagine life with the ability to smell and interpret odors that's about one-hundred times better than the human nose. It's an ability to smell the world in multiple dimensions; in past, present and future tenses; distinguishing between animal, vegetable, and mineral; and do so continually, even when not inhaling. It's a concept almost unimaginable for humans.

A burning question I've had all my life was not answered by this book as explicitly as I wished. The question is: When a dog howls in accompaniment to a musical instrument such as a harmonica, is it enjoying the music or is it an indication that it hurts their ears? I have wondered about this all my life, and I know others have too. She does offer the following observation: "Adult wolves howl daily: among packs, a chorus of howling may help coordinate their travels and strengthens their attachment." From this I infer that when a dog hears me play a harmonica, it perceives that I am howling, and it is instinctual for dogs to join in with others when they hear howling taking place. So perhaps it's a dog's way of saying, "We are family!" In other words, it's a positive experience for the dog, and it's not hurting their ears.

The author discusses the propensity of dogs to roll around on dead and rotting carcasses, a behavior I always found particularly disgusting. She doesn't explain the dog's motivation as explicitly as I had wished. However, from other things said in the book I understand the dog to be using their primary sensory experience (olfactory) to say, "My what a wonderful bouquet of odors, I think I'll take some of it with me." It would be the human equivalent of using their primary sensory experience (visual) to sigh in pleasure at viewing a beautiful vista and then taking a photograph to keep with them.

Another question I have that was not addressed by the book: How do some dogs find their way home over long distances? I know a person who tried to get rid of a dog by driving 15 miles away from home, dumping the dog there and driving off in direction away from home. (I know this is a terrible thing to do to any dog.) The dog found its way home after a couple days. How did it do that? Was it by scent, or by internal sense of direction? Has anybody researched this ability?

The author advises dog owners not to give their dogs frequent baths. She says,"And no dog wants to smell like a bathtub that has a dog in it." Now I realize that the dogs of my youth were living in a paradise for dogs. The rural farm setting provided plenty of room for them to roam and smell. And more importantly, we never gave our dogs baths. The only time they got baths was when they jumped into creeks or mud puddles on there own initiative, usually to cool off.