Experienced "dog people" have often developed an intuitive ability to read a dog without having to put any thought into the specifics of what they're observing. They simply know what a dog is thinking as clearly as if the dog verbalized it. The same dog people are sometimes dismayed that inexperienced dog owners aren't receiving the same messages that are so evident to themselves. Gwen Bailey's recently published What Am I Thinking speaks to those less experienced people as it attempts to briefly explain and photographically illustrate the fundamentals of canine body language.
Richly illustrated, this book is easily readable in one brief sitting. The text is more akin to thorough captions, each commenting on a photograph which depicts some aspect of canine communication. This delightful book is down-to-earth and never patronizing as it highlights canine body language in a way that anyone can understand. Well organized and indexed, Bailey presents dogs as highly social, hierarchical animals with strong prey drives who clearly telegraph challenges, fear and stress. Along the way, Bailey makes a few gentle husbandry suggestions (e.g., neuter one's pet, channel prey drives into toys, etc.).
A variety of breeds and mixes serve as models, with many of the photos being quite compelling. A dog is seen scaling a tall stockade fence as Bailey comments on an intact animal's drive to reproduce. Fearful and confrontational snarls contrast with a picture of a soft, submissive grin.
Very simply written, the text is nonetheless informative. On a friendly greeting, Bailey comments, "He has a relaxed face, 'kind' eyes, pulled-back mouth and ears, and a wildly beating tail." Later, regarding a photo of an imposing Rottweiler, she remarks, "This dog looks as though he means business with his upright stance and his strong eye contact... it would not be wise to approach him at this time."
Bailey answers many typical pet owner questions - explaining why dogs get upset when left alone, why they destroy their toys, why they dig at their bedding or turn circles before lying down. She explains why it is a good idea to discourage "innocent" watching or chasing, and she points out the importance of being a good leader by recognizing and winning small challenges.
Although it holds no surprises for the experienced dog person, the novice may find this book very useful in broadening their appreciation and understanding of canine body language and social behavior. The book would make a good gift for a new dog owner, a child, or anyone who is forced to come into contact with dogs as part of their workday - someone like a plumber who makes housecalls, for example. The very strength of this book is its simplicity and palatability. The real reason I bought it is because of the goofy boxer on the cover.
Note: This book has a feline counterpart in What Is My Cat Thinking?
Kate Connick |
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