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
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
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