Dec 20, 2010

The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Another book about the relationships we have with dogs. Masson's family adopted Benjy, a labrador who was raised to be a guide for the blind but failed his schooling. As Masson sees it, Benjy is a very lovable dog but simply doesn't want to follow commands, preferring to do his own thing. (In that regard, he was lucky to find a home with the author's family, because Masson doesn't believe in being dominant over dogs but instead treating them as equals.) But the book is not just about Benjy his beloved dog, it's more about why we have closer relationships with our dogs than any other domestic animal.

His book The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving is pretty much a complete opposite of Budiansky's The Truth About Dogs, which asserts that dogs have evolved to take advantage of our species and all their begging and fawning is just to get something out of us. Masson sees it differently. He believes that most dogs have an amazing capacity for unconditional love, and moreover, that we as humans have learned to be more loving, altruistic, kind, etc because we evolved alongside dogs. I thought at first his theory was pretty far-fetched, particularly because there's no way he can look back so far into prehistory to prove any of it, and because I kept thinking: what about dogs that aren't loving? what about people who hate animals, or are afraid of dogs? Masson says near the beginning of the book "There is hardly a human on earth who has not at some point in his or her life felt close to an animal from a different species- and not just a dog. And almost every dog has at some point felt friendly feelings not just for us or for other dogs, but for other animals as well." I'm not sure how much I believe such a blanket statement, but the further I read in his book the more stuff he came up with for his theory. Even things like aggressive dogs, cultures that revile dogs, proof of other animals making friends with different species (how many clips on the internet can you find of a cat snuggling with the family bunny, or something similar?) were all addressed. Masson states that dogs and people have a lot in common that they don't share with any other species- retaining playfulness into adulthood, helping others in need, considering another species to be part of their family- and keeps going back to the idea that this is because we evolved alongside one another for so many thousands of years. He compares the behavior and human-animal connection of dogs to that of wolves, dingoes, horses, pigs, cats and other domestic animals. Dogs always come out on top (although he thinks pigs could be just as close to people, given the chance!)

I did feel a bit annoyed at some of his statements about cats, especially seeing that the author himself lived with five cats at one time and wrote an excellent book about them. So I was a bit surprised when he points out how his dog Benjy always gravitates to people who like dogs. Cats, he says, do the opposite: walking into a room they will pick the person who hates or fears cats and sit on their lap- "Perverse," he says, "and we don't know why they do it." I thought this was simply because of the different way cats communicate- to a cat, a stranger staring at them is a threat, so the person who is giving the cat the least amount of direct attention is the one who will appear most friendly. Masson even talks about how cats and dogs use eye contact differently in another part of the book, so I don't know why he found this so strange.

Well, even if I didn't agree with everything the author said here, the book was a very interesting read. It flows easily and seems to be well-researched; there are extensive notes and references in the back. (Which, incidentally, have added a dozen more titles to my TBR!) Recommended to dog-lovers; even if you don't agree with the author's theory, you will find this interesting reading!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 249 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Animal Person


Lezlie said...

Hi, Jeane!

I just wanted to stop and wish you Happy Holidays and tell you all the bookmarks I've won from you are still my favorites! :-)


Jenny said...

I never know what to make of cats. Some of them do that exact thing of crawling into your lap if you don't make eye contact, but the kitty I live with will come right to you as soon as you look at him. :p

Jeane said...

Lezlie- Thanks! I should do another bookmarks giveaway soon...

Jenny- Well, I think the no-eye contact thing is mostly when cats meet strangers. My two cats make eye contact all the time, even come running when I call their names.