Who’s a good dog?

TLS reviews a number of recent books on our best friends.

The ways of dog to Mann: Various responses to canine companionsTLS
For several of the contributors, the most prominent thread that runs through the book is love – both the love dogs have for people and the love that people return. Our love of dogs is in part a response to their happiness but also, as the legendary French actor and animal welfare activist Brigitte Bardot observes, to their wanting us to be happy. Our love, in effect, responds to their love. “Response”, perhaps, is not the ideal word. Certainly, love for a dog need not be an unconsidered, mechanical reaction to their affection. As Monty Don pointed out in his book on his golden retriever Nigel, a dog is an “opportunity” for a person to develop, shape and manifest love for a being that is not going to reject or betray this love. […]

Powerful stuff.

For other contributors, admiration stems less from canine virtue than canine wisdom – what, in other words, do dogs teach us? Alice Walker learns from the ease with which Marley bounces back after a telling-off that, when we behave badly, it is “because we are temporarily not ourselves”. Several other writers express admiration for the dog’s ability to “live in the moment”.

That reminded me of that line by Iris Murdoch about paying attention, to watch “as a dog watches”. The review continues:

This is an element perhaps in the wisdom that Mark Alizart attributes to dogs in Dogs: A philosophical guide to our best friends. It is an ability, identified by Stoics, Buddhists and Spinozans alike, of “accommodating oneself, with simplicity and gratitude, to what life has to offer”. “The dog is joyous because it made man”, he concludes, and since “the human descends from the dog”, its joy is like that which parents take in their offspring. Alizart makes no attempt to elaborate, or even to state in less paradoxical terms, what I take to be the familiar truth behind this rhetoric: namely, that dogs played a significant role in the origins and development of human society. Indeed, the book is certainly not the guide to understanding our best friend that its sub-title promises.

Here’s a look at a new photography book from Martin Usborne, The Silence of Dogs in Cars. They’re not the only ones who can feel a little sad and dejected sometimes.

Martin Usborne’s heartbreaking photos of dogs in cars speak to humans’ fear of abandonmentIt’s Nice That
Featuring rejected, lonely and expectant pups, often meeting the lens of the camera with unbearable sadness, the series extrapolates from his very personal experience while commenting on the way humans treat voiceless animals more widely. “The dog in the car is a metaphor, I suppose, not just for the way that animals (domestic and wild) are so often silenced and controlled by humans but for the way that we so often silence and control the darker parts of ourselves: the fear, the loneliness that we all feel at times,” Martin explains.

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It’s described as a new book, but this 2013 article from The Independent suggests otherwise. Not that it matters. Perhaps just a new edition.

The silence of dogs in carsThe Independent
Usborne didn’t frequent supermarket car parks in order to photograph dogs left in cars. He set everything up in a studio with careful planning. He says he even chose cars which “matched the dog”, for maximum impact.

“The camera is the perfect tool for capturing a sense of silence and longing,” Usborne says. “The silence freezes the shutter forever and two layers of glass are placed between the viewer and the viewed: the glass of the lens, the glass of the picture frame and, in this instance, the glass of the car window further isolates the animal. The dog is truly trapped.”

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Walking the dog

Who’s a good dog (owner)?

Yes, our little cocker spaniel puppy brings us lots of joy. But plenty of stress, too, it has to be said. “She’s just a puppy, she’ll grow out of that”, I’m forever being told… Some people seem to take to dog ownership easier than others. But why? Here’s something to add to the on-going nature/nurture debate.

Our love for dogs may be coded in our DNA
While this kind of twin study can’t tell us exactly which genes are involved, they do demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership. The lead author Tove Fall commented, “We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic makeup appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog.” She then went on to suggest that some genetically determined personality factors might underlie this when she speculated, “Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others.”

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Woof woof

After many years of cajoling and persuading from the family, I’ve relented: we’ll soon be joined by a puppy, sweet little cocker spaniel. Not a glasses wearer, though.

Uncanny resemblances between classic dog breeds and humans captured by Gerrard Gethings
For the memory game Do You Look Like Your Dog? Gethings spent a year creating images that examine the classic trope of owners looking just like their canine friends. The new game presents 25 matches, which include a long-haired Afghan and equally silky-haired owner, a messy-haired kid and his scruffy puppy, and Schnauzer with a matching beard to his leather jacket-clad owner.

Bought!

The breeds, personalities, temperaments and physical traits of the beloved pet dogs of Ancient Rome
In a tail-wagging video essay, Julien Blarel of Invicta History takes a look at an often ignored facet of daily ancient Roman life – their pet dogs. Blarel explains the type of breeds available along with their physical traits, personality and temperament with the help of wonderful illustrations by Beverly Johnson.

How They Did It – Pet Dogs in Ancient Rome