The head of Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab, and my favorite writer about dogs, Alexandra Horowitz has a new book out. It’s called Our Dogs, Ourselves. In a series of essays, she explores the nature of the Dog-Human Bond (and yes, that’s actually a scientific term!)
One chapter in this book was excerpted as an opinion piece in the New York Times recently and it caused a bit of a kerfuffle among the dognoscenti. In it Horowitz argues for relaxing the reliance on spay / neuter programs in the United States. It’s a controversial position. I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s safe to say spay / neuter is required by all rescue organizations. And most vets I know advocate for spay / neuter strongly. Horowitz cites some recent studies on procedures’ negative effects on some dogs’ health. She also discusses certain societal changes as reasons to cut back on spay / neuter programs. But most important she says that de-sexing dogs deprives them of some of their essential doggy-ness.
And that’s the overarching theme of the book: let dogs be dogs.
It’s a tricky thing for Horowitz to write about. She admits that the only way to let dogs be true to their animal natures is sever the bond between man and canine. As long as we keep dogs as close companions, we will in some way bend them to our way of life: whether it’s spay / neuter programs; breeding purebreds; dressing them in Halloween costumes; or even just giving them names. But as soon as she says dogs will only be dogs if we don’t keep them as pets, she says that a world where the Dog-Human Bond doesn’t exist is not a world she wants to live in.
And as she has in her previous books, Horowitz writes compellingly about that bond. Chapters include: Does My Dog Love Me? Against Sex; Owning Dogs; The Perfect Name; and The Trouble with Breeds. Some of her stances aren’t popular. As an owner of a show-line Weimaraner, I thought I’d take exception to her position on pure breeds. Instead I found myself agreeing with her nuanced position. But throughout she is thoughtful… and full of love for our canine companions.
And as she has in her previous books, Horowitz brought a tear to my eye. At the end of the book she sums up, in one passage, how important dogs are to humans.
Our mutual gaze—the hyphen in the dog-human bond—has changed us as a species, and changes us as individuals. Indeed, looking at dogs has changed the very way I see the world… My time with dogs has permanently changed my perception, my habits, the way I move through space.
It goes without saying I couldn’t have said it better myself.