Review: The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2010:

The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Harper (10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10022), 2010. 239 pages,
hardcover. $25.99.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson in The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop
Loving joins a growing pack of authors who in the fall/winter 2010
publishing season attempt to reprise past best-sellers with a volume
focusing on a favorite dog.

Masson, a former psychoanalyst, has somewhat more to say
than Ted Kerasote and Rita Mae Brown, whose dog stories appear
alongside The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving on store shelves, but his
discussion of his dog Benjy likewise disappoints. Simply put, The
Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving is less ambitious and original than the
books that established Masson’s reputation–including Dogs Never Lie
About Love (1997), which covered similar material.
Masson in When Elephants Weep (1995) introduced
readers to serious scientific findings about animal emotion. The Pig
Who Sang To The Moon (2004) explored the emotions of farmed animal
species. The Cat Who Came In From The Cold (2004) was a
fictionalized treatment of how cats joined the human domestic circle.
Raising The Peace-able Kingdom (2005) investigated conflict
resolution among animals. Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras: A
Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals (2006) explored animal personality.
The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving discusses how dogs, Benjy
in particular, win our hearts. Benjy, a guide dog drop out, is
fortunate that Masson adopted him. But Benjy is much like most other
dogs, including my own adopted mutt. Loyal and loving, there isn’t
a dog snack that Benjy doesn’t eat. He is a wonderful pet, but
Masson struggles to derive an entire book from his antics.
The most controversial topics Masson addresses in The Dog Who
Couldn’t Stop Loving are the evolution of domestic dogs from
wolf-like ancestors and dangerous dog behavior. Masson describes his
version of the dog/wolf domestication process, much as he did in
Dogs Never Lie About Love. Theories abound as to how, where, and
when dogs became domesticated. Advances in paleontology and genetic
research may bring us closer to the truth, or may not.
Does it matter? The argument that dog origins have a
practical value tends to center on training methods, but as
behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova pointed out in The 100 Silliest
Things People Say About Dogs (2009), the methods often touted as
based on wolf behavior are mostly based on misunderstandings of wolf
behavior, and don’t work with wolves, who tend to be much more
interested in escaping from humans than in figuring out how to please
Whatever dog ancestors were, dogs as they exist today are
not wolves, and have evolved with human society. Let us appreciate
dogs as they are, and care for the less fortunate among them.
Most dogs will never seriously bite or maul someone, but as
Masson observes, dog bites are a serious problem. Unfortunately
Masson is careless in at least one of his factual contentions. On
page 122 Masson states that most dog bites take place when a dog is
tethered. No source is cited, and no major study says so. It is
correct that chaining makes a dog irritable and more territorially
defensive. Jefferey Sacks found in his 1996 landmark study of dog
bites that 29% of fatal dog attacks on children involved chained
dogs. This trend continues, as documented by the anti-chaining
organization Dogs Deserve Better, and is noteworthy because perhaps
the most common reason for chaining a dog is the presumption that
chaining will prevent the dog from doing anyone harm.
I’m a Western gal and my horse friends would probably throw
hay at Masson for saying that “horses are just not suited, by size,
temperament, evolution, or their emotional constitution to be
playmates for humans.” Masson appears to believe, as many animal
advocates do, that domesticating and using horses is inherently
exploitative and disadvantageous to the interests of horses. But
this is a different argument from contending that humans and horses
are incompatible. The human/horse-and-donkey relationship endures,
while other animals once tried as steeds and work animals have
resisted use and have been abandoned as domesticated
species–including onagers, zebras, and quaggas, all fellow
Horses and donkeys, for whatever reason, accept human use
and often develop emotional bonds to their people. Despite the
frequent mistreatment of horses and donkeys at human hands, they
have prospered in the evolutionary sense from the relationship,
expanding into more habitat niches than almost any other
species–except dogs.
The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving is worth reading, but I
didn’t howl with delight. Among Masson’s 26 books to date, this is
not likely to be remembered as part of his canon.
–Debra J. White

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