It seems as if once or twice a week I receive either a book or an essay about some aspect of dog behavior or about the nature of our relationships with these fascinating beings. This week is no different as a book by Gill Garratt [a psychologist and specialist in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)] called Your dog and you...: Understanding the canine psyche arrived in my mailbox. This new book "examines the relationship between people and dogs from a psychological perspective, incorporating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Uniquely, this is the first time that CBT has been used to help owners relate to their dogs. A dog's behavior can be a reflection of the emotions an owner may be experiencing; it follows that insight into our behavior using CBT to reduce emotional unrest will, in turn, be reflected in a dog's behavior. Dogs have had to become experts at reading people in order to live with us. By understanding our dog and how he responds to us, we can comprehend more about our world and how our dog sees us. Dogs are naturally expert psychologists, and have, over centuries, been bred and domesticated to live harmoniously with us. That they have - in the main - achieved this so well reflects this amazing animal's ingenuity." As with other books published by the Hubble and Hattie Imprint, this book is accompanied by wonderful photographs, in this case by Tom Walters (for other examples please see Among the Wolves: Memoirs of a Wolf Handler and The Truth About Wolves and Dogs: Dispelling the Myths of Dog Training).
Dogs are thinking, feeling, and highly sentient beings, and not "unconditional lovers"
The above books and countless others clearly show that dogs are deeply feeling and highly sentient beings, unique individuals with a wide range of personalities who are very much part of our lives, and that it is the shared emotions -- what I like to call "social glue" -- between these amazing nonhuman animals (animals) and humans that are at the root of our close and enduring friendships. Dogs actively make choices about the humans with whom they bond (and many other things), these choices can change over time, they are not unconditional lovers who think and feel all humans can or will be their best friends forever, and they need to feel free to make the choices that best suit them. Thinking of dogs as machines who don't consciously make and refine their choices -- what they want and what they need -- is severely outdated and incredibly unscientific, and those who once favored this reductionist view are in an extremely small and ever dwindling minority given the plethora of data on the cognitive, emotional, and moral lives of dogs and other animals (please see for example "What Do Dogs Know, Think, and Feel? A New Book Tells It All," "Dogs Are People, Too: They Love Us and Miss Us fMRI's Say," The Social Dog: Behavior and Cognition, Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition, "Animal Sentience: Where Are We and Where Are We Heading?," "Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature," "After 2,500 Studies, It's Time to Declare Animal Sentience Proven," and the numerous references therein). Perhaps even René Descartes would consider changing his views on animals given the enormous amount of empirical evidence on sentience.
What I really like about this short "field guide" is the breadth of the topics that are considered (you can see the Table of Contents and Index here and more details here) and how Mr. Garratt stresses how important it is for us to pay very careful attention to how our own behavior influences dogs and how they, in turn, carefully read us and use this information as a guide for assessing the nature of the relationship. For example, he writes about how we must reduce negative emotions in our life and how doing that will benefit the dog and also ourselves (pp. 43ff). He also notes that "Our influence on how our dogs develop is constant and profound; right from birth a dog has to interact with people." (p. 51) Among the other important and essentials lessons are included the importance of a "meeting of human and canine minds" for forming a lasting and close connection (p. 52), the importance of the first few months of a dog's life, and how to know when dogs are distressed (pp. 60ff) and when we are distressed (pp. 67ff), and how our distress influences dogs and theirs influences us. His summary table (p. 72) is an incredibly useful guide. Mr. Garratt concludes his discussion of distress by noting we must show our dogs "that all is well, and they have no reason to worry or to feel under threat." (p. 74) Lastly, his chapter on how dogs can benefit our health and well-being provides very useful information about how "this precious and special bond" can help us along (p. 79).
All in all, I found Your dog and you...: Understanding the canine psyche to be an extremely useful read and highly recommend it to anyone who lives with a dog(s) or is thinking about sharing their home with one or more of these wonderful and sensitive beings. The combination of scientific data, numerous case studies and stories, and exceptional photographs make this book a most valuable addition to one's library. And, because of how it is organized and how the material is carefully presented, it's easy to go back to it time and time again to refresh our own memory about what we need to do to insure that dogs feel comfortable with us and how this feeling of peace and safety helps the beings at both ends of the leash (please also see "Dogs and Underdogs: Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash").
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation, Why dogs hump and bees get depressed, and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence. The Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)