Seven Essential Books to Better Understanding Your Dog

Jeff Jeff Matt- Potter

By Jeff Jensen – Co-Owner Four Muddy Paws

Dogs and Humans have been on a 10,000-year journey together and we consider ourselves to pretty compatible, yet how much do we really know about our canine companions?

Truly understanding how your dog perceives the world and how they navigate their environment is fascinating and largely unknown until relatively recently. This is actually true for many in the animal kingdom but dogs have been an especially big focus in the scientific community over the past twenty years and huge steps have been achieved in understanding how their specific physiology and how they approach the world affects their behavior.

Having a new perspective on why your dogs do what they do can really help in building the connection between two very different species. Because dogs have assimilated so well into our world we sometimes take for granted their individuality and specific needs. We also believe that our dogs should and do understand what we’re asking of them. Dog training is as much about understanding the emotional and physical needs of our dogs as it is about having them do specific behaviors for us and always under our control.

Getting inside a dog’s mind can let the connection blossom and your partnership turn into an amazingly beautiful relationship.

I love to read and I especially love to read about animals, and most specifically our canine and feline friends. Over the years I’ve read many, many books on the physical and emotional needs of our dogs and cats. This post focuses on the seven books I’ve found to be most profound in helping me better understand what it’s like to be a dog and their relationship with humans. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but it does include those books I’ve found to be the most compelling in my journey.

  1. Animals in Translation – Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behaviorby Temple Grandin with Catherine Johnson.
    This was one of the first books I read on understanding how animals think and it had a profound affect on my perspective. Temple Grandin has lived with Autism her entire life and this, combined with her love of animals, has allowed her to gain some really powerful insights into how animals think, and consequently how to address their needs. She’s a scientist that has devoted her life to better understanding how animals think, act and feel. She was, for instance, instrumental in helping McDonald’s establish higher standards in the care of the animals for their supply of beef. This book is as much about understanding animals as it is in better understanding people living as autistic individuals. Shifting your perspective and seeing things from a new angle is powerful, and this book gave me that insight.
  2. Bones Would Rain From the Sky – Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs” – by Suzanne Clothier.
    Every behavior a dog does tells us something if we’re open to better understanding the dog’s brain, and Suzanne Clothier truly helps us bridge this gap of understanding with deep compassion for dogs. Understanding your dog’s behavior can you help you have more empathy and respect especially when it comes to their “problem behaviors”. Making little changes can sometimes have a profound effect in correcting these “problems”. This book is all about deepening the relationship between our two species. You’ll definitely learn more about how to read your dog and most likely learn a little more about yourself too.
  3.  “What It’s Like to Be a Dog and Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience” – By Gregory Berns.
    This is the book to relish and geek out in the science of an animal’s brain. Gregory Berns was the first to work with dogs to study their brains in an MRI machine to better understand an animal’s internal awareness and perspectives. It’s a powerful book when you begin to realize the complexity of animal brains and it raises all kinds of ethical questions. While not solely a book on dogs it delves into the neurological study of other animals’ brains using MRI studies. Truly a fascinating look into the animal mind and leaves you wanting even more knowledge.
  4.  “The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs” – by Patricia McConnell, PH. D.
    This book is an essential classic that deserves to be in the library of every dog lover. Patricia McConnell spent much of her career at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the Zoology Department and is an Applied Animal Behaviorist. There are few people in the world that can so eloquently explain dogs in such simple ways based on a deep understanding of the science behind dog behavior. This book helps us understand our behavior driven by our primate background versus the canine behavior of our dogs. While we may have grown together over the past 10,000 years there are still distinct differences between how our two species approach the world. This is a book that turns the tables on dog training and focuses on our behavior in relationship to our dog’s behavior. Another profoundly enlightening book in understanding our dogs.
  5. If Only They Could Speak – Stories about Pets and Their People” – by Nicholas H. Dodman
    It might be because of my childhood dream to become a veterinarian that I love the books by Nicholas Dodman so much. This book is from 2002 but it still resonates in its compassion for dogs and building that strong relationship together. Dr. Dodman understands people and he understands animals and he helps us create the bridge between our two species. It’s a wonderful collection of stories with compelling lessons for us.
  6. Inside of a Dog – What Dogs See, Smell and Know” – by Alexandra Horowitz
    Alexandra Horowitz is a scientist specializing in the cognition of dogs but her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science has also helped her understand the cognition of rhinoceroses, bonobos and humans alike. The title couldn’t be more appropriate as she really does get into a dog’s mind and delves into what makes them unique and how they interpret both their world and our world. You’ll be amazed at the science behind understanding body language, emotions and the powerful sensory world they live in. You really do get a great scientific but approachable look into what it’s like to be a dog, and get a little better understanding of why they do what they do.
  7. Being A Dog – Following the Dog Into A World of Smell” – by Alexandra Horowitz
    This is really a bonus book and another by Alexandra Horowitz. This book focuses on the world of smells that your dog is exploring pretty much every waking moment of their life. Your dogs “see” smell like we see a rainbow. If you think of smell in terms of your dog’s access to social media you’ll gain a little better understanding of how powerful smell is to your dog and why your walks can result in very little ground being covered sometimes! The world of smell will come alive for you too if you use some of her tools and suggestions in what can sometimes be a very unfamiliar world for us. Just one more example of how our dogs really do live in a different world than we do and why Nose Work might just be the right sport for your dog.

For more information contact Four Muddy Paws, 314-773-7297. www.fourmuddypaws.com.