Book Review: Dogs by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger

Enter any book store or library, and you are sure to find no shortage of dog books. My problem with many of these books is that they are long, drawn out, and extremely oversimplified. They spend page after page spelling out information that you could have just as easily gotten from a 5 minute Google session. Look for something more in depth, though, and you might soon find yourself reading behavioral or biological studies on the present day dog…using vocabulary that has you frustrated, confused, and reaching for that Cutest Puppies picture book instead.

Dogs, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, is the perfect middle ground. This book had me hooked by the time I finished the introduction. By using scientific terminology and referencing evolutionary theories, I felt like I was actually learning something. The authors’ casual writing style and simple explanations kept me from getting confused. Raymond and Lorna go into details about how a dog’s brain works – how it grows, how it learns, how it is wired. They also spend many pages analyzing exactly what kind of relationships we have with dogs. Who is benefiting who….and why we probably should not consider ourselves dog’s best friend.

In the book, dogs are broken into five different categories – modern household dogs, village dogs, livestock-guarding dogs, sled dogs, and herding dogs. The reader is then given a comprehensive look on the physical and mental aspects of each of these categories. As someone who deals exclusively with household dogs, I have somewhat limited knowledge of “working” dogs…and virtually no knowledge at all of sled dogs.  I was blown away at the details given – everything from how sled dogs are raised, to why certain breeds do (or don’t) make good sled dogs, to the physics of how dogs are harnessed to maximize their speed.  It was truly fascinating while not being so detailed that I lost interest.

Ray & Lorna Coppinger

The Coppingers also have strong feelings about purebred dogs – feelings that I completely agree with.  “I believe the modern household dog is bred to satisfy human psychological needs, with little or not consideration of the consequence for the dog.”  Some modern household dog breeds, they explain, have been bred for their aesthetic looks alone – and have become unhealthy, almost cartoonish versions of their ancestors.  (They – like many people today – cite the bulldog as the number one example of this.) I also agree with the authors in their opinion that working dogs should never be pets.  People love the way these dogs look…but have no idea how ingrained these dogs’ “working” behavior actually is.

The most fascinating part of this book, though, is the chapter devoted to the dogs of Pemba.  In a quest to discover just how wolves evolved into dogs…and the relationship humans and dogs had during this evolution, the authors studied the people and pups on this fairly primitive island.  The island’s residents live in villages and are hunters and gatherers.  The dogs are isolated enough so that there aren’t  new genes being introduced each generation.  This chapter was AMAZING.  Reading about how people benefit dogs (living with dogs in their midst, but not as pets) and how the dogs live as “wild” animals….it was just an incredibly captivating read.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I loved the book and highly recommend it to every dog lover – whether you are looking for something to help you better understand your own pooches origin and thought process or you have a more scientific brain and really want some detailed biological research.

And don’t worry….scattered amid the science mumbo-jumbo are the quite a few of those cute puppy pics!

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