Inside of a Dog

by Alexandra Horowitz (Scribner, 2010, 384 pgs., $16.00)

What is it like to be a dog? Well, you see everything from less than two feet from the ground in most cases, and your eyesight isn’t so great for objects right in front of you. Your primary way of sensing the world around you is smell. Odors undetectable by human beings form a rich and fascinating tapestry of data, interest, and delight to a dog. We gaze at a sunset; a dog smells a rock that other dogs have visited.

Dogs are extremely perceptive and can tell from the twitch of a finger that you are about to feed them or take them on a walk. They can smell your moods and ailments; dogs are sometimes used to detect cancer.

This is a remarkable book filled with good advice. For example, do not rush your dog through a walk; allow ample time for sniffing and smelling, because, for a dog, that is what going for a walk is all about: a fascinating olfactory tour of the neighborhood. Not allowing a dog time to smell is like making you go through the walk blindfolded.

If the book has any fault, it is that Horowitz relies too much on “scientific” experiments that are sometimes poorly designed or that do not take important factors into account. She discounts the idea that dogs will respond with helpful actions in case of an emergency because an experiment showed that dogs were unconcerned when emergency situations were simulated (a heart attack, falling shelves). But, after spending many pages explaining how perceptive and tuned in dogs are, it never occurs to her that a dog can tell quite easily that the experimenters are faking. Other than that, Inside of a Dog is a fascinating and informative read.