Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Book review: The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods

Title: The Genius of Dogs

Author: Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods

Price: £8.99

Type: Non-fiction, Pop-Science

Pages: 282

It was while browsing a WH Smith before getting on a long train journey that I picked up my very first pop-science book. I'm usually much more drawn to fiction than to non-fiction, but the title just drew me in somehow. Every dog owner in the world will be able to tell you that dogs are lot more clever than what we give them credit for and I was hoping to gain a better insight into what goes on in my little puppy's mind from reading this book.

From the very first page I was hooked. The book is divided into three parts: The first one explores how dogs evolved from wolves, became domesticated and developed the kind of intelligence they are showing today. The second part shows the findings of some experiments that detail exactly in which ways dogs can be considered to be a genius and in which disciplines they can, let's say, be a little silly. Finally, the third part, labelled "Your Dog" delves into different breeds and how to train your genius dog.

I found the first part to be incredibly fascinating. I always wondered what had happened thousands of years ago, for a wild and pretty aggressive animal like the wolf to slowly but surely become man's best friend. Turns out that it's highly likely that it wasn't us domesticating dogs, but more that dogs domesticated themselves, seeing a chance of obtaining easy food and shelter in return for guarding their shared territory and helping humans in hunts. The book is full of facts and figures, but it is written in such a light and entertaining fashion, that it reads like a breeze without being at all overwhelming.

The second part dragged for me a little bit, as it detailed a ton of experiments which to be honest didn't show anything I didn't already know having owned three dogs already. We know that dogs react to pointing gestures and verbal commands, but I guess if you ever needed scientific proof of that, then that's where you get it.

The final part of the book was where I got quite frustrated. From the titles of the chapters I expected some practical insight into how I can best train my dog by tapping into the particular way her mind works. Turns out, it was nothing like that. The authors basically concluded that all races are equally intelligent and that dogs are really great. They did make a reference to their website, which offers exactly what I'd been hoping from the last chapter of this book... for a small fee of $38 a month. Needless to say, I felt cheated and a little scammed. A terrible end to what had started out as a great book.

Because I enjoyed the first part so much, but was a bit annoyed by the other two parts, it's quite difficult to give this book an overall rating. To be fair, my disappointment stems mainly from going into the book expecting some practical advice. As I mentioned above, this is the first pop-science book I've ever bought or read, so if all books in the genre are like this, then it's my expectations that were wrong. I'd probably say that if you're interested in dogs, then this is a book worth borrowing or renting from the library... but not to spend money on.

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