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Review of THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS

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  • BEKOFF MARC
    DEMONIC DOGS: THE WOULD-BE JERKS by Marc Bekoff A review of The Truth about Dogs: An Inquiry into the Ancestry, Social Conventions, Mental Habits, and Moral
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2001
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      DEMONIC DOGS: THE WOULD-BE JERKS
      by Marc Bekoff

      A review of The Truth about Dogs: An Inquiry into the Ancestry, Social
      Conventions, Mental Habits, and Moral Fiber of Canis familiaris, by
      Stephen Budiansky, Viking, New York, $24.95, 263 pages
      by Marc Bekoff

      When I began reading The Truth about Dogs I thought at last that
      someone was going to tell it like it is, that I was going to learn that
      the beliefs people held about "humans best friend" and the feelings people
      have about the nature of the deep and reciprocal interrelationships
      between dogs and humans were going to be shown to be true.
      I was wrong. Rather, I learned through the repeated and tiresome
      use of cute phrases, slippery and slick writing, convoluted arguments,
      uncritical evaluations of available data, the failure to recognize that
      critical studies have not been performed, insulting statements about
      researchers with whom Budiansky disagrees, ignoring the work of numerous
      scientists who have studied many aspects of dog behavior, and sweeping
      over-generalizations, that dogs are social parasites who prey upon human
      frailties and insecurities.
      According to Budiansky, dogs are "biological freeloaders" (page
      6), " . . . have got us exactly where they want us, and we . . . go along
      with it all" (page 7), and " . . . play us like accordions" (page 13).
      Furthermore, he writes "We didn't choose dogs . . . They chose us, and
      we're stuck with them." (page 13)
      Budiansky also claims that dogs are constructed by humans need for
      connection and love and that dogs really don't do much for humans other
      than to create an image that they really care. But he also notes that "No
      one has actually done a study of this . . . " (page 6) It would have
      served Budiansky and his readers well if he'd waited for studies to be
      conducted, for in their absence his claims are thoroughly vacuous. And, in
      fact, there's much scientific evidence that shows that dogs are very
      important to humans as social companions and for helping people heal from
      physical and psychological illnesses (see
      www.vet.purdue.edu/depts/vad/cae/).
      Early in his book Budiansky notes that he will likely engender the
      wrath of many readers. Thus, he writes (Page 4) "So let me hasten to add:
      I am joking. Mostly." Then, why a book at all? It's also clear that
      Budiansky has an agenda that goes well beyond that of writing off dogs as
      social parasites. For example, he wields a sharp scalpel when he writes
      (page 50) about an unnamed pseudo-intellectual feminist social theorist
      who used ethological data to advise an American presidential candidate to
      act like an "alpha male." Why is this pseudo-intellectualism, whereas his
      own guesses, his own pseudo-scientific views about the behavior of dogs,
      are not? There's a disturbing double-standard here.
      Budiansky concludes his book (page 238) by claiming "Lets face it:
      If dogs truly were human they would be jerks. As dogs they are wonderful."
      I wonder why individuals who unconditionally love others would be called
      jerks.
      All in all, Budiansky continually undermines him own credibility
      by using nasty innuendo and arrogance. There's no reason to be insulting
      and nasty especially because no one, including Budiansky, really knows the
      truth about dogs.
      I don't know more about the "truth" about dogs than I did before
      reading Budiansky's book. Dogs are complex beings whose psyches, moral
      fiber, and behavior aren't easily understood. Unfortunately, an uncritical
      reading will lead readers to draw numerous unfounded conclusions that are
      presented as if they're hard-and-fast facts. This slick book, like
      ill-prepared fast-food, is a major disappointment.

      Marc Bekoff (marc.bekoff@...) teaches in EPO Biology at
      CU-Boulder. He has studied dogs and their wild relatives for over 25
      years. He will gladly share a longer criticism of this book with
      interested readers.
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