November 30, 2016

Book Review: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Hororwitz

Author: Gail Brasie


Inside of a Dog… Examining Dog Behavior And Communication

In what will be considered a classic if it isn’t already, Barnard College professor Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know seeks to help readers better understand their dogs by taking an in-depth look at how they experience and act on the world. The book examines dog behavior and dog communication, and also how dogs perceive the world they live in, and how this affects the aforementioned behavior and communication.

To really understand dogs, Horowitz posits, folks must stop anthropomorphizing them—mapping very human emotions and motivations onto dogs without truly understanding if their behavior reflects these. Instead, what people should do is begin to think about and observe the dog’s “self-world,” or umwelt, the word Horowitz uses throughout the book. Anyone who has known a dog knows that they think and feel, but Horowitz’s stance is that humans must carefully observe dogs in order to begin to interpret these thoughts and feelings.

Horowitz demonstrates the means to do this. Inside of a Dog includes the history of how dogs became domesticated, as well as biology—how they smell, see, and hear, in short, how they perceive the world. From there Horowitz begins to look at the psychology of dogs, what and how they know. She discusses various forms of communication and behavior. She cites studies done to try to understand how dogs think, solve problems and make decisions. This book is full of science, but Horowitz writes in a way that is very accessible to readers. She punctuates the text with personal anecdotes about her own (late) dog, Pump, whom readers will grow to adore, as she is so lovingly described and beautifully captured in words by Horowitz.

Throughout, Horowitz’s writing is a delight. The book was an absolute joy to read, and just so unflaggingly interesting it was hard to put down. It’s an eye-opening text about the way our dogs perceive and experience the world, how they communicate with us and other dogs, and what they may be thinking. You’ll look at your dog differently after reading it—and you may start really seeing how your dog looks at you.

Bibliographic Information:

Horowitz, Alexandra. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. New York: Scribner, 2009.

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