Book Review: Do Dogs Dream? by Stanley Coren

As a general rule, I love to hate books about dogs.  Surprising, huh?  I enjoy them, but find most of them fall into three categories: (1) Ridiculously oversimplified (2) Mind numbingly complex (3) Just plain wrong.

When I picked up a copy of Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know, I was sceptical.  I mean – who is this guy to tell me what MY dogs wants ME to know, right?  With just a quick flip through the pages, though, I could tell this book would be different.  Instead of long chapters with graphs, diagrams, and lengthy explanations filled with scientific jargon, each chapter started with a question (examples: “What are dogs trying to say when they bark?” “Compared to other animals, how smart are  dogs?” “Why do dogs love bones?“)  and then Stanley Coren answered the question…and, lo and behold, the “conversational Q&A format” actually worked.

The reason this book “works” is because of Coren himself.  I was surprised to learn that while he has published numerous dog books (some of which I’ve heard of but never picked up) he started his career in regular-ol’ people psychology.  All of the information I found on him described him as a “prolific researcher.”  This guy published over 300 works (and we are talking The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature….not Dog Fancy!)  Late in his career, he switched to studying and researching dogs.  So…this is basically some super-smart guy that loves dogs.  I love it!

Coren divided this book of questions into six parts (example: “Part 3 – How do dogs communicate?“) and then managed to thoroughly answer each sub-question in about 3 pages.  That in itself is amazing!  In 3 pages, he explained why we (the reader) would ask that question, sited scientific studies/research relevant to the question, gave his own personal opinion/anecdote, and answered the question.  It was easy and fun to read…and dispite the dozens and dozens of dog books/papers/blogs/research I have read, I found myself learning more than a few new things.

The most amazing part of the book was how Coren manages to explain scientific experiments (not surprising after learning about his first-hand work in psychological research.) Never have I so easily been able to understand the details of psychological experiments/research from start to finish.  (And I’m embarrassed to say I’ve taken many a psychology class over the course of my life.)

My favorite question answered would have to be “What signs indicate that a dog is aggressive?”  The chapter began with explaining the evolutionary process of dogs as hunters to dogs as snuggle buddies, and then (as one would expect) went into a list of signals that indicate you are dealing with an aggressive dog.  Coren doesn’t stop there, though, but makes an easy transition into dog bite stats.  Then he explains how difficult it is to obtain accurate dog bite statistics – and that in today’s media no one wants to publish happy stories.  “Do you think the headline ‘Dog Makes Owner Smile and Feel Good’ would sell papers?”  If you didn’t love this guy by page 62, you do now!

So…if you couldn’t tell…I would highly recommend this book.  It’s a fun read for those who have already read every dog book they can get their hands on (I guarantee you will learn something new) and a great, easy-to-understand book for those who need a beginners course on canines.

Oh, and the drawings are AWESOME.