Dogs Don't Bite When a Growl Will Do: a Book Review

This book combines careful observations of dogs with ancient meditations on life

Posted Dec 17, 2013

This book is a delightful series of mini-meditations on life. While most efforts focus on humans teaching dogs, this book focuses on what humans can learn from our dogs. The authors, Weinstein and Barber, combine careful observations of canine behavior with ancient wisdom. Plato is quoted as saying, “I do not live to play, but I play in order that I may live and return with greater zest to the labors of life.” Then, a chapter follows with examples of dogs who remind their owners to play. For example, the author tells us that he will be working at his desk for awhile when his dog, Blue, stretches, shakes and rubs her nose against his arm. He finally gets the idea and takes her out for a walk. When he returns, he feels refreshed, rejuvenated, and better equipped to work.

This is a short book with brief chapters. Each chapter is a lesson which I approach like a daily meditation. Because of the format, the book can be read in short intervals, between classes, at the bus stop, or in the morning before your day. Another favorite meditation is titled, “Dogs are Happy with a Simple Life,” and begins with a quote from Gilda Radner. She says, “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures. For me they are the role model for being alive.” Weinstein explains that santosa is an important spiritual principle meaning contentment regardless of outer circumstances. He says his dog only needs three things: companionship, a place to lie down, and food and water. Weinstein continues to say that we humans complicate our lives unnecessarily. We complicate our lives with technology and then we worry about the technology. It breaks, we are late, it is expensive to repair, etc. We are in a vicious cycle or acomputer loop. From our dogs, we learn simplicity.

Lesson 10 is “Dogs Forgive Easily” and begins with a quote from Steinbeck. Steinbeck says, “I’ve seen the look in a dog’s eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that dogs think humans are nuts.” In this lesson, Weinstein describes a time when his dogs were fighting over food. The humans jumped to intervene but before they even got there, the fight had died down and the dogs were playing. He compares this to himself and how he held a grudge against a colleague for many years. What he learned from his dog was to quickly forgive and spread peace as recommended by a Zen master. The Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh,  says, “find peace and then share it with another person.”

This book is not to be missed. The writing is warm and funny. The format is easy to pick up and put down. The content is full of wisdom. But for me, it is the photographs that pull at my heart strings. Each section begins with a photo of an adorable dog, each in a different pose. There is a photo of three darling puppies in a pot, a boy on a step with an arm around one dog and petting another, and Labradors looking up at you with heart-warming expressions. The photographers deserve just as much credit as the authors. This book is worth it for the dog photos alone and anyone who has every tried to photograph their dog knows it isn’t easy. Don’t miss this simple, delightful book, titled, Dogs Don’t Bite When a Growl Will Do. I am going to give it to all my friends. Both those who have dogs and those who don’t even though I agree with Van Gogh when he says, “ If you don’t have a dog—at least one—there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”