Saturday, December 21, 2013

General info on dogs with only minimal complete bullshit

Secret Lives of Dogs and Puzzles under the couch. Photo by Alli.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, and I especially don't read a lot of project-based books; the Dummies books don't appeal to me at all, anything with "Beginner's Guide" that's longer than 10 pages probably isn't worth the effort, and how-to especially aggravate the hell out of me.

The Secret Lives of Dogs isn't as bad as most self-help, how-to, factoid heavy books as I've seen in the past; there is a lot of good, factual information about dogs and how to care for them and why they act the way they do. In spite of that, two things really, really stood out to me as a reason not to recommend this book.

The first one is based on a purely personal preference - scattered through the book are "Puppy Dog Tales," heralded by an orange side bar and a twee cartoon of a dog reading a book. They're cute little stories about individual dogs and their problems with the issues addressed in the book. They remind me of the Dog-Gone Funny stories that run alongside Sunday issues of Marmaduke in large newspapers, almost offensively banal and degrading to good content that surrounds the insipid little commentary. Please, please, if you're considering writing any kind of informative book, don't include adorable little anecdotes with pun-based sidebars. It makes me so angry because it's like the author is admitting that the don't have enough faith in their audience to read an entire book full of words and facts without a story about a goofy dog or a crazy cat. Really, it's insane how much this makes me want to set this mostly inoffensive little book on fire.

The second problem that I had is the occasional bizarre references to acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal medicine. Acupuncture doesn't work for people. It doesn't work for dogs. Acupressure is nothing more than massage, which is pleasant primarily because of physical contact - something which humans and dogs both enjoy even without vague mystical trappings. Herbal medicines are questionable at best for humans (though you are welcome to your camomile if you think it helps you go to sleep) but dogs aren't humans and feeding them some of the nostrums that humans use to ease their aches and pains will kill them. You should NEVER use anything to medicate your dog that has not been specifically recommended by your vet, and you shouldn't use herbal remedies over medical remedies if only because drugs are regulated and herbs are not. You are going to feel AWFUL if you accidentally give your dog liver damage instead of calming him down during a thunderstorm. Please, please, please, please talk to your family vet before you try to give your dog any treatment, "natural" or otherwise.

If you already know a fair amount about dogs and are able to accurately parse fact from bullshit, this book has some interesting information and is probably harmless. If you are unfamiliar with dogs and dealing with a new puppy, go to reliable sources like the ASPCA to learn about you pet, and make sure you vaccinate and spay or neuter your dog to prevent disease and overpopulation.

I didn't mean to go into a screed against pseudoscientific tripe in this blog, but then I didn't expect to find several references to potentially dangerous practices in a little book about the silly things that dogs do.

Murphy, Jana. The Secret Lives of Dogs: The real Reasons Behind 52 Mysterious 
     Canine Behaviors. MJF Books. New York: New York. 2000.

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