THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas


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 An astonishing work of ethology that asks--and answers clearly--a question about dogs that's so simple that, apparently, no one has ever tackled it before: ``What do dogs want?'' Thomas--a trained scientist and novelist who brings her storytelling skills (The Animal Wife, 1990, etc.) fully to bear in this beautifully written study--explains that, years ago, she realized that ``despite a vast array of publications on dogs, virtually nobody...had ever bothered to ask what dogs do when left to themselves.'' And so she set out to ask just that, first by unobtrusively bicycling along with a two-year-old husky, Misha, as the dog went about its daily roamings in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area. Thomas's findings about Misha and ten other dogs (including a dingo) that followed him into her life-- supplemented by her fieldwork with wolves--cause this report to be about ``dog consciousness'' as, through an elegant recap of her observations, the author convinces us that dogs can, among other skills, create customs; adopt human mannerisms; choose between alternatives; play games; and exhibit a moral sense (this made clear through the amazing incident in which a tiny pug stops a much larger dog from terrorizing some pet parakeets and mice). Just as impressively, Thomas depicts--without anthropomorphizing--a dog world bound by rules like hierarchism but one nonetheless in which each canine is a complex individual. Particularly fascinating is her account of the ``romantic love'' between Misha and his mate, Maria, in which the female remains monogamous even while in heat, as well Thomas's story of how her dogs, left wholly to their own devices, secretly dig a wolflike den behind a woodpile. What, then, do dogs want? ``They want to belong, and they want each other.'' Popular science of the highest order: revelatory, impeccably observed, and a joy to read. A four-woof salute to Thomas and a vigorous tail-wag to boot. (Drawings--not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-66958-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993


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