We crazy dog people are often criticized for “personifying” our canine friends: We give them too much credit, we are told, treating our four-legged creatures with the attention and respect we’d show a family member – if only the family member were as obedient and friendly.
With many naysayers (often those poor souls who have never owned a dog, or worse, have owned many cats), I often have to defend my pooch. Yes, she watches TV while I’m at work. Yes, she knows all her toys by name. Yes, she gets a little jealous when I dance with someone else. And of course, yes, she dreams.
At long last, there’s a handy book to prove we crazy dog people aren’t that crazy. Stanley Coren’s Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know is the Canadian behaviourist’s most recent book, in which he examines many questions even the craziest dog person doesn’t quite know the answers to.
Each of the 72 chapters tackles a question such as Can Dogs See Colours?, Can Dogs Detect Cancer? and Do Dogs Laugh? (the answer to all three is yes, in one way or another).
Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, is no stranger to dogs: While he got his start, nearly 50 years ago, writing about human behaviour, it’s his explorations into the canine-human relationship – especially his 1994 bestseller The Intelligence of Dogs – for which he’s most famous. Coren has pulled together dozens of studies about dogs, and made them easily understandable to even the biggest science newbie, like me.
Some material isn’t new (I recognized the intelligence hierarchy chart of dog breeds from an earlier book of his) but all of it is engaging: Skip immediately to the chapter on how our pooches not only smile, but laugh. It had me mimicking the “hee-haw” noises out loud on the train.
Coren is formulaic but conversational, answering each question in a short, digestible chapter. He usually begins with an interesting history of the subject (on emotions: “Descartes once suggested animals like dogs are simply some kind of machine”). Then he progresses into a study or two on the matter (on dog’s saliva: “The data on wound licking are not all positive”) and then gets anecdotal and, often, hilarious. (On scent: “If a dog wanted to write a message to other dogs, what would he use? In many ways, the canine equivalent of ink is urine.”)
If you’re like me – relatively new to Coren’s work and fascinated by the ability of our four-legged friends – this is a terrific and quick read.
I’m now filled with an arsenal of “did you know” items. For example, I’ve always known dogs have great hearing, but I now know it’s because their ancestors preyed on small, squeaky rodents, so they are quite attuned to high frequencies – if you added 48 notes to the right side of a piano, little Fido could hear them all.
At every turn, I was astounded with Coren’s juicy little tidbits, perfect for dinner-party discussion or, more likely, dog-park chatter. For any animal lover, crazy or otherwise, this book is bound to be your best friend. Okay, maybe second best.
Amberly McAteer is an editor at The Globe and Mail, and a crazy dog lady. She writes frequently about dog matters (inspired by her boxer, Ruby) for Globe Life.