Aug 11, 2014

The Nature of Dogs

by Mary Ludington

Another oversized book I borrowed from the public library to enjoy its pictures for a while. Begins with the author's notes about why she took up photography, her goal to photograph every dog breed, and her reasons for taking pictures of the dogs outdoors, letting them just do their thing while she recorded them with the camera.

The results are some striking images. They are all black-and-white, some with timeless look of sepia tone. I did not care for the many blurred images, which really do nothing to give you an idea of the breed's conformation or appearance. Each breed page has a bit of its history (quite interesting) and characteristics, especially in regards to how the physical traits were developed to specialize the dog in its job. For example, she says that the long loose skin folds on a basset or bloodhound's face "stir up scent" from the ground, "swishing scent particles into the oversized nostrils" to help them follow a trail. I was surprised to read that the wrinkles on a bulldog's head "functioned as gutters to divert the bull's blood" when it was historically used in bull baiting. Also interesting to read that the bull terrier was bred to have naturally upright ears when cropping was banned, and that doberman pinschers descend from a dog owned by a tax collector, Karl Friedrich Louis Doberman, who wanted a dog that would "offer protection from thieves and encourage reluctant taxpayers to pay their dues." When I read of the endearingly catlike traits of the shiba inu, including its habit of purring, yodeling and screeching instead of barking, I thought of the basenji dog (which wasn't featured). There are many other intriguing facts about sixty various dog breeds in here.

Also included are brief essays by Temple Grandin, Kevin Kling, Winona LaDuke, James Hillman and Mary Gaitskill with Peter Trachtenberg, written specifically for this book. On various things such as the keen senses dogs use, and the nature of their relationship with humans. I especially liked Winona's essay about reservation dogs, which included a native american legend about how dogs became human companions. And the final essay by Gaitskill and Trachtenberg, which imagines the marriage of a cat and dog and is formatted as an interview with each species (about the traits of the other, and what it is like to live with them) was very amusing.
You can see many more of Ludington's photographs here.

Rating: 3/5       176 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Dog Art Today
Humor Books

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