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The canine mysteries

The canine mysteries
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First Published: Thu, Oct 22 2009. 11 25 PM IST

Pet theory: Paris and her chihuahua. Getty Images
Pet theory: Paris and her chihuahua. Getty Images
Updated: Thu, Oct 22 2009. 11 25 PM IST
He’s a dog not a person. He can sit anywhere. Just leave it!” snapped a friend at a hapless guest trying to make place on the sofa for Mr Peaches. Dog lovers can be hard to please. Where some treat the slightest hint of anthropomorphism as a cardinal sin, others a la Paris Hilton are just as likely to dress their chihuahua in a tutu. As for the dogs themselves, their mind, like that of a baby, remains an enigma. Who the hell knows what they really want.
Pet theory: Paris and her chihuahua. Getty Images
The latest effort to solve the riddle is Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, which aims to help us “see what it is like to be a dog; what the world is like from a dog’s point of view”. In the matter of canine wardrobe, the evidence weighs heavily against the Hilton wannabes. As Horowitz explains, the doggy raincoat, “a close, even pressing, covering of the back, chest, and sometimes the head”, is likely to give your pooch the unhappy sensation of being dominated.
“So the principal experience of wearing a coat is not the experience of feeling protected from wetness; rather, the coat produces the discomfiting feeling that someone higher ranking than you is nearby.” I guess it explains why my English bulldog, Gauss, didn’t much like being turned into a giant bumble bee for Halloween.
Inside of a Dog solves many mysteries about our pooches, including what they see, which is limited to “dog things”, i.e., objects that have specific canine functions: cushions or couches to sprawl on (Mr Peaches does indeed prefer to be on that sofa); balls to chase; grass to roll around in, etc. But others are as good as invisible. “To a dog, a hammer doesn’t exist,” writes Horowitz, “At least, not unless it overlaps with some other, meaningful object: it is wielded by a loved person; it is urinated on by the cute dog down the street; its dense wooden handle can be chewed like a stick.”
As helpful as Horowitz’s book may be, it doesn’t solve the real mysteries that addle my brain. She can’t tell me why Gauss can spot a dog 200 yards away but not a dropped treat on the floor, why he must be personally escorted right up to his bowl at mealtime, or why he inevitably starts licking my feet in the midst of grooming his paws. Surely he can tell the difference or am I just wasting money on my Rs500 pedicures?
That said, as someone owned by both a dog and a baby, I far prefer reading about the mysteries of the doggy brain than that of a child, perhaps because the so-called “science” of parenting is notoriously contradictory, unreliable and prone to scaremongering. Compare the cheery title of Horowitz’s book with that of NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children, which (as with all “new thinking” on child rearing) is designed to assure parents that they’re doing everything wrong. “(M)any of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring—because key twists in the science have been overlooked,” ominously declares the book jacket. Maybe so, but only because we poor sods were slavishly following what other scientists were telling us six months ago.
Perhaps we’d all be better off raising our children as we do our dogs, with love and in blessed ignorance. Though you should probably buy one of them a raincoat.
Write to Lakshmi at postscript@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Oct 22 2009. 11 25 PM IST