Sniffing out some good reads.


This post should have come about 6 weeks ago so you could buy one of these as stocking stuffers for the dog lover in your life, or maybe you can kick off your 2012 reading list with one of these books.

The first is a sweeping overview of dogs in the American military obviously written to take advantage of the interest in Military Working Dogs (MWDs) following the announcement that a dog took part in the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs is an interesting book, filled with trivia and stories about dogs in the military. The writer, Lisa Rogak, obviously has a deep-seated interest in the subject. She does a good job of taking the reader through the history of canine soldiers from the U.S. Army program’s very humble beginnings to today’s high-tech super training. It includes some first-hand accounts of life in the combat zone with man’s best friend, some with happy endings, some without.

While The Dogs of War does have many interesting tidbits, as a narrative, it lacks cohesion. There are some stories included that feel out of place, many of the quotes from MWD handlers feel out of context, and the author touches on some subjects, i.e. training, with all the insight of a high school junior’s take on Shakespeare.

Your Dog is Your Mirror by Kevin Behan is another good read. While I think it is an interesting and insightful book, I cannot say that I actually believe everything Behan lays out. There are definitely ideas that I had to take with more than a grain of salt.

The basic premise, if I can be so bold as to reduce it to a few lines, is that in the thousands of years that dogs have lived beside men, they have developed a 6th sense that allows them to understand the needs of their people. That is a very superficial simplification of his ideas, but I believe it will get the point across.

While I have been on the West Coast long enough and am open-minded enough to accept, even if I do not agree with, some pretty out-there ideas, I think Mr. Behan misses the mark in some areas. He has had some great successes and a phenomenal understanding of canines (if you don’t believe me, read his first book, Natural Dog Training), but I think some of his new-agey-ness blurs the real science of dog behavior.  Scientists don’t have all the answers either, but the past 40 years of research has given us amazing glimpses into how dogs think and feel. I think it is a shame to reduce what they can do to metaphysical superpowers.

During those years of research, we have also traced our history with canines back into the mists of prehistory on a long, winding and often contradictory path. That is the subject of the third book I want to talk about, How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends, by Mark Derr.

Dogs, as Man’s constant companion, have walked the trails with us for between 13,000 to 150,000 years depending on whose definition and whose research you want to believe. How the Dog Became the Dog, does a good job of presenting differing opinions on the subject, while laying out the author’s hypothesis about the evolutionary path canis lupus familiarus has taken. Some of it is conjecture. When talking about things thousands of years past, almost everything is. Some of it is hard science; how scientists have mapped the dog’s genome and some of the interesting things they’ve found lurking in our buddy’s basic makeup. One of the things I found most interesting about this particular book, is that in addition to looking at how the dog evolved, it is also the story of us. How we went from a “hairless biped” to homo erectus and the twists, turns, and round-a-bouts we’ve gone through as a species.

Meanwhile, at the homestead, we’re going through a tough time with Pixie Buttercup. A possible reaction to a lepto vaccination(my hypothesis, not our vet’s) has left her with a week-long fever of dangerously high levels, a lack of appetite, and an alarming case of lethargy. She has been in and out of the vet’s office for days, getting IV fluids and antibiotics and near-constant monitoring. She has now developed a large swollen gland under her chin which I am sure will require more vet visits to determine a cause.  For now, she is being force-fed water and cat food- the only thing she will eat.

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