“The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving”

By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.

Let me get this out of way right now: Anyone who has ever owned a dog needs to read this compelling work.

An American, living in New Zealand and author of 24 books, Masson beautifully dissects the heart and soul of possibly the most important influence on man over the past 15,000 or 100,000 years, depending on which historian you choose to believe.

Have dogs helped make us human? There is a solid argument for that, Masson argues. They are the No. 1 ingredient in the recipe that coaxes such behavioral manifestations as sympathy, feeling, empathy and compassion.

“No other animal behaves like a dog,” says Masson, who contends that both man and dog have prompted a mutual domestication of each other, noting that “we are also the only two species who readily become friendly with other species.”

Throughout this fast-paced, engrossing narrative Masson examines why our relationship with the dog is unique and the grip that bond has on  us.

The personal axis for Masson and his family is Benjy, a failed guide dog who cannot stop loving. The 80-pound Labrador retriever flunks his initial calling because he tunes out trainers’ commands and views everyone as part of his personal pack. He is later shuttled between four other family homes, too.

Hence 2-yearold Benjy comes to the Masson household understandably wondering what longevity this stop will produce. Gradually, a strong bond is constructed between the four-legged love bug and the Massons — Jeffrey, his wife Leila and two sons Ilan and Manu.

Continually referencing to the works of highly regarded authorities, from historians to animal behaviorists, Masson probes the domesticated gray wolf’s nature and tells why it has become the perfect partner for man through thousands of years.

In case there is any doubt that today’s dog is a descendant of the wolf, Masson puts that to rest, noting that the dog and gray have a genetic difference of only two-tenths of 1 percent.  Yet with this genetic near replication, wolves do not have the same capacity for love as dogs.

While most speculation center around dogs’ hunting prowess as the main attraction for early day man, Masson suggests it was love, affection and friendship, which hasn’t changed today.

Admittedly not a great fan of hierarchy or alpha roles, the author preaches equality. Hence Benjy sleeps on the bed, runs about unleashed and doesn’t always respond to commands, but remains the love of every family member.

Masson examines the breadth of the dog’s psyche, from the defeatist feel of shelter residents (“they give every indication that they understand what is about to happen to them”) to their brilliant counterparts (like Betsy, a border collie with a vocabulary of more than 300 words), noting they do not apologize (like us) or bear grudges (like us).

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson - photo courtesy of Corina Koning

The author also compares dogs to other domesticated animals; discusses if they are really wolf cubs; justifiably berates how man, placing a priority on appearance, has created ticking genetic time bombs out of several breeds; probes the 40,000-year romance between humans and dogs; and addresses man-made trigger mechanisms for biting and fighting dogs.

Genetics aside, Masson builds a strong case that every dog is a unique individual with its temperament carved from its surroundings, particularly the interaction with its human family.

Accented persuasively with Benjy anecdotes and professional input from a wide range of scholars, “The Dog Who Couldn’t  Stop Loving” is fashioned in the same resilient, can-do spirit our four-legged friends live their lives.