Sunday, October 16, 2016

Being A Dog

Being A Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell- Alexandra Horowitz
Release Date: October 4, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: To a dog, there is no such thing as “fresh air.” Every breath of air is loaded with information. In fact, what every dog—the tracking dog, of course, but also the dog lying next to you, snoring, on the couch—knows about the world comes mostly through his nose.

In Being a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a research scientist in the field of dog cognition and the author of the runaway bestseller Inside of a Dog, unpacks the mystery of a dog’s worldview as has never been done before. 

With her family dogs, Finnegan and Upton, leading the way, Horowitz sets off on a quest to make sense of scents, combining a personal journey of smelling with a tour through the cutting edge and improbable science behind the olfactory powers of the dog. From revealing the spectacular biology of the dog snout, to speaking to other cognitive researchers and smell experts across the country, to visiting detection-dog training centers and even attempting to smell-train her own nose, Horowitz covers the topic of noses—both canine and human—from surprising, novel, and always fascinating angles. 

Being a Dog is Alexandra Horowitz's search into the mysteries of a dog's sense of smell: what it is, what it tells them, what they learn, what they can do with it, and can people follow their dog's examples? How do dogs experience the world through their noses?  

The book mixes science with the author's personal experiences- both as a dog owner and as a person exploring her own sense of smell.  She describes studies she does that any dog owner can do: what what your dog is interested in sniffing while on a walk, what do you notice other dogs sniffing (and marking) and what might those clues tell you about the information the dogs are receiving? There are also examples of 'smelling tours' or tests that she does to explore what the human sense of smell is like compared to that of a dog, and whether it is possible to improve your senses.  In my opinion, these parts of the book tended to go on longer than they needed to.  There is some rambling (perhaps intentional, to get the reader to consider new ways of looking at the world?) and repetition that made me want to skim sections.  But where the book really shines is in the scientific and investigative explorations into the world of the nose of a dog.  What's happening cognitively in a dog's brain when they smell something? Why do they like scents that humans can't stand (dead fish anyone)?  How is it that a dog's sense of smell is so much better than a human's and what does that mean for both species?  

There are wonderfully written, very interesting sections on different kinds of working dogs and how they are trained: be it bomb detection, search and rescue, or truffle hunting.  Horowitz explores why dogs are able to do these jobs and why some are better at it than others.  One very interesting observation at the end is how as pets, dogs have begun to lose their sense of smell- or at least not rely on it the way they used to.  While no dog owner would believe this, an interesting anecdote about scent classes for pet dogs does certainly seem to show it's true.  

Pet lovers and science fans alike will enjoy this search into the world of scent and come away with a new view of dogs and their world.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review. 

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