Posts Tagged ‘dog behavior’

Book Reviews

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29th, 2009 by katie – Be the first to comment

A little over a month ago my mom sent me an article from the Chicago Tribune reviewing dog books. I was surprised that the author of the article, Judy Leathers, greatly disliked several books that I have really enjoyed. For example, she said that she didn’t understand all the hype about Marley and Me, and she really hated on The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.

I read The Art of Racing in the Rain and really enjoyed it. It’s not the greatest piece of literary work ever, but it’s a great story and I couldn’t put it down. It’s written from the dog’s “point of view” as though he is speaking as the author. Leathers claims that this is just terrible because no dog would ever wish to be human, or want to have a human soul. I don’t think that was what the main message of the book was, though. I guess I just realize that dogs are not humans, and that we often personify them too much, but at the same time, that is what we, the human race, has selected for over thousands of years of breeding…  This is a story that makes you think and it is an easy read. Yes, it requires some suspension of disbelief, but it is a touching, memorable story.

I didn’t recognize most of the books on her list of favorites, so I thought I’d give them a chance and see what her fuss was all about. I turned out to be very disappointed, which is why I am writing this post!

One of the books she listed was Old Yeller, but I already know the story so I decided to pass. I think she also listed Where the Red Fern Grows and Big Red, both of which I enjoyed reading in middle school but I was hoping for something more at the adult level.

I decided to try three of her recommendations:

Lad: A Dog, by Albert Payson Terhune

A Good Dog: the Story of Orson, Who Changed my Life, by Jon Katz

Izzy and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and me, also by Jon Katz

First I read Lad: A Dog. I don’t really know how else to put it – I was bored. In a way the book is written from the dog’s point of view, but not as narrator, which to me just left out any sort of connection to the story or characters. I saw where the author glorified the dog’s intellectual capacity, and described the majestic beauty and intelligence of Collies, a few times, but that was about all.  The stories were simple, I guess more along the lines of children’s classics in my opinion, although I think most kids today would even more bored by this book than I was. It was written in 1919 so the writing style is very different. I definitely wasn’t wowed, but I chalked it up to this being a “classic” and therefore shifted my expectations a little.

So I gave Jon Katz a try. This was where I was really disappointed. I’m not completely finished with Izzy and Lenore yet but I’m pretty confident in my assessment.  His books are supposed to be about the connection between a man and his dogs, but I found it severely lacking in anything new or exciting, let alone intellectual stimulation. There are some passingly interesting stories in these books, like how he sets up his farm and how he acquires various animals, but the stories fall flat because he doesn’t develop any of theses stories beyond just reporting that they happened. It’s as though he keeps setting us up for something really profound, but all he says is that he felt a connection, the dog meant so much to him, etc. without actually describing his feelings anywhere beyond that. It was very disappointing!

What really bugged me was that in A Good Dog, Orson, the main dog character is too much for Katz to handle and he ends up having him euthanized because of his behavior problems. Katz is convinced that he is a deeply troubled dog, and that there’s nothing he can do to help him. He takes the dog to see holistic vets to do acupuncture and to an animal shaman who tells him that Orson’s soul has broken into pieces and he needs to try to collect all the parts to make him whole again. Katz sort of beats around the bush by saying that he doesn’t really buy into the alternative medicine stuff, but then he doesn’t take it any farther than that. He just continues to pay for the services hoping something will happen, I guess. I’m just frustrated with Katz’s lack of action directly with his own dog. He drives around on his farm in an ATV, but doesn’t really give Orson the mental or physical exercise a border collie really needs.

I kept thinking that we were eventually going to be brought into something exciting, but it never happened. We’re missing any true connection to him and his thoughts, his family is basically absent from the story, and we only hear mundane facts about his hired help. Even the dogs barely get any real character development; it just reads more like a book report.

All I was left with after reading these books was the impression that this is a very troubled man who never quite tapped into or appreciated the true “dog” in his dogs. I’m also not happy about his implied opinion of rescue dogs; that they are second hand and that it’s best to get a good dog from a good breeder.

Katz’s books didn’t hit home with me at all, so I have to say that I’m not a fan. Online reviews at say that A Dog Year is much better, so I may give that one a try if I’m not completely discouraged after finishing Izzy and Lenore. We’ll see.

Another book that’s been recommended elsewhere is Merle’s Door: Lessons From a Freethinking Dog. Maybe I’ll give that one a try as well.

Anyone else have suggestions?