Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Book Review: Inside of a Dog
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s been friend,
Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
Those words of wisdom, attributed to Groucho Marx, are quoted by Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog, What Dogs See, Smell and Know (Scribner). The book delves delightfully into the inside workings of a dog. Horowitz often refers to a dog’s umwelt, a German word meaning environment or surrounding world. Through this authoritative and captivating book, we learn what the world looks like from a dog’s point of view.
Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist, explains how dogs perceive their worlds. Dogs are decedents of wolves but through breeding vast differences now exist. The author shows us what the world must look like through a dogs eyes and describes the actual construction of their eyes. She discusses the noise a dog makes and what it might mean. We might think of a dog licking our face as kisses, but what does it mean do a dog? You don’t want to know.
For me, one of the book’s most interesting discussions deals with dogs’ incredible sense of smell. A dog can sort with minute detail the information presented through his nose. Bloodhounds, supersmellers among dogs, can detect small changes in odor, such as a diminishing smell in footsteps over time. The bloodhounds large ears facilitate his sense of smell. By gently shaking his head, he can stir up more scented air for the nose to catch. The medical field recognizes the ability of dogs to detect distinctive smells of various infections, diabetes, cancer or even schizophrenia.
Horowitz backs up her facts with scientific research and presents it in useful context. Inside of a Dog is scholarly, yet a fun, witty read with practical application for dog lovers interested in knowing why their dogs act the way they do.