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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

SMLI Book Report: Being a Dog

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Our next installment in the SMLI Book Report is the 2016 book titled, "Being a Dog" by Ms. Alexandra Horowitz of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab located on the campus of Barnard College in New York City.

Geist, the standard Poodle belonging to the author's mother

I've honestly forgotten how it was I came across this book but that's not the point here. The point is that we have all had encounters with a domestic dog (Canis familiaris) and their... appreciation... for things that smell. Most of the time the things they take a good, deep sniff of are the things that make us recoil in disgust. And while I'm not above giving any of the dogs in my life a good sniff (of their fur when I'm playing with them), I CERTAINLY do not have the interest in all things "gross" and "foul" that they do. Good thing too because your (and my) nose isn't nearly as gifted in the olfactory system as that wolf-in-dog's-clothing that might be laying in the room next to you.

According to her website, Horowitz is a professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, where she teaches seminars in canine cognition, creative nonfiction writing, and audio storytelling. As Senior Research Fellow, she heads the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard. Horowitz beings the first chapter: I am besotted with dogs, and to know a dog is to be interested in what it's like to be a dog. And that all begins with the nose.

If you've ever had ANY encounter with a dog, you know that literally and figuratively, it does start with the nose. Want to stop a dog from shaking all the water off of it? Grab the nose and the shaking stops. Want to get into them mind of a dog, start with the nose, just as Horowitz suggests.

The author's copy of Being a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz

While this is not the time or location to discuss how dogs' sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it's 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute. This is the place to discuss how Horowitz delves deeply in what it means to be a dog, following its nose and what the allure of "Rolling In It" as she discusses, starting on page 19.

Throughout this easy to read, highly informative and insightful book, Horowitz invites you along her journey as she looks at the world through a dog's nose. She explains why her "dog made her smell it" or what her experiences was like in human remains detection (153-155). She delves into human remains detection and drug-sniffing abilities, why she lets her dogs, Finnegan and Upton, take her on a dog-lead smell-walk and how humans have lost their reliance on their noses in the way our ancestors used to. Horowitz also gets into her visit to the Working Dog Center on the campus of University of Pennsylvania and their School of Veterinary Medicine and what they do with the variety of canines passing through their doors.

An up close photo of the nose of Decaf, the author's mother-in-law's chocolate Labrador

If you like dogs or simply want to know more about what it's like to be part canine, I cannot suggest and recommend this book enough!! She is an expert in her field and has written a book that any person can read, comprehend and understand. At only 273 pages, this is another quick and informative read and, after reading this book, I found I had an appreciation for the noses of the dogs in my life that I didn't have before I read this! I find I now have an equally fascinated and interested appreciation with a dog's nose-lead world as Horowitz so clearly has had for many years. Just don't expect me to bend down when walking down New York City streets the way she is known to do!

If you want to know more about anything you've read, please check out the links within this post or check out the following links.

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1 Comment

Billi Jean
Billi Jean
May 25, 2023

Hello! Not a bad article. I like it. Once I tried to write a similar report about one book for a literature class. But to be honest, I have nothing to brag about. It turned out to be a pretty mediocre job. I understand that doing this kind of homework requires certain skills and talent, which I obviously don’t have. Therefore, I stopped testing myself and started ordering similar academic content from sop writers online service where a team of qualified specialists can write an original essay of any complexity. I believe that online writing services and educational platforms have changed the educational landscape by providing accessibility, convenience and a wealth of resources. When used responsibly, these platforms can greatly…

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