by Jeff Jensen – CPDT and Co-Owner Four Muddy Paws – The Healthy Pet Market   

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 was 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 ten 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 our 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 than it is about having them do specific behaviors for us and always under our control. Getting inside a dog’s mind can let our connection blossom and your partnership turn into an amazingly beautiful relationship.   

I love to read and I especially love to read about animals and more specifically learning more about our canine and feline companions. Over the years I’ve read many, many books on the physical and emotional needs of our dogs and cats. This blog 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 not meant to be an exhaustive list but it includes those books I’ve found to be most compelling in my own journey. In future posts I’ll address great resources on the nutritional needs of dogs and cats as well as some of our favorite training resources.   

Here are seven of my favorite books which have helped me better understand what it’s like to be a dog!   

Animals in Translation – Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior – by 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 who 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   

Bones Would Rain From the Sky – Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs – by Suzanne Clothier   

Every behavior a dog is an important message to us 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 build empathy and respect especially when it comes to their “problem behaviors”. Making little changes in your behavior can oftentimes 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.   

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 learning more about the animal 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 animal’s brains using MRI studies. Truly a fascinating look into the animal mind and leaves you wanting even more knowledge.   

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 McConnel 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 specifies approach the world. This is a book that turned the table on dog training and focuses on our behavior in relationship to our dog’s behavior. Another profoundly enlightening book in understanding our dogs.  Her blog is a favorite among many dog lovers.    

If Only They Could Speak – Stories about Pets and Their People – by Nicholas H. Dodman   

It might be because one of my childhood dream of becoming 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.   

Inside of a Dog – What Dogs See, Smell and Know – by Alexandra Horowitz   

Alexandra Horowitz is a scientist specializing in the cognition of dogs and her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science has helped her understand the cognition of not just dogs but also rhinoceroses, bonobos and humans alike. The title couldn’t be more appropriate as she really does get into a dogs mind and delves into what makes them unique and how they interpret 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.   

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 dog “sees” 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! She also offers suggestions and exercises we can do to be more focused on the smells around us.  Just one more example of how our dogs really do live in a different world than we do.