The Story of a Singular Bond
By Alexandra Horowitz (Scribner)
Dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz has a new book, one that has already sparked a lot of interest as well as ruffled a few feathers. In this one, Our Dogs, Ourselves, Horowitz—best known for her first blockbuster, Inside of a Dog —dives into an exploration (and exposé) of how we live with dogs and the contradictions she sees in many of those practices.
Unlike her other work, this book is more philosophical and historical and less specifically scientific. Her spotlight is on us (humans) and the life and culture—and the bond—we have created for ourselves and with our dogs. As Horowitz explains, her intention in writing this book was to explore “the ways we acquire, name, train, raise, treat, talk to, and see our dogs, [which] deserve more attention.”
She is definitely an astute observer, a talent that she puts to perfect use in her Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, where, as she notes, there is a no-petting, no-playing policy. Instead, the researchers “run behavioral experiments,” which, she admits, might seem “inexcusably rude” to the canine participants, who obviously expect something from the humans hanging around, even those wearing lab coats.
She assumes a similar position in this book. She’s a watcher and note-taker, an assembler and fact-finder, but this time, her focus is on us. While she is definitely intrigued by dogs and attempts to understand them, it is the human element that seems at times to be more mystifying to her.
Chapters include lighter topics, such as “Things People Say to Their Dogs” or “The Perfect Name.” She also bravely pulls out all the stops when she takes on tougher topics, particularly “The Trouble with Breeds,” which shines a light on the “serious trouble with dog breeds today.” In the other supercharged chapter, “Against Sex,” she questions the current approach and methodology of “de-sexing” dogs. No matter how you may feel about those more controversial topics, it is good to keep in mind that Horowitz has an intense admiration for and fascination with dogs, and that influences her efforts to persuade us to revisit and, perhaps, re-evaluate our positions.
Shining a light on our end of the leash is a good thing, and I believe that we owe Horowitz a debt of gratitude for doing so, and for writing this thought-provoking and insightful book.