“Your Dog and You: Understanding the Canine Psyche,” by Gill Garratt. Hubble & Hattie. $19.99.
Each of us could probably write a chapter here on our dogs’ grasp of their surroundings, word recognition and interaction with others – both two-legged and four-legged.
Garratt is a British psychologist and specialist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a popular and practical approach in psychological therapy, which is the major focus of this colorful 96-page volume.
Her work examines the psyche of the owner as well as the dog, noting throughout research findings of that special relationship. While we often equate a dog’s mood by its tail carriage, she writes that behavior specialists have found that dog emotions are more readily reflected in their faces.
“Colored tags were used to help track movement, and attention focused on eyebrows, ear movement, and movement on the side of the face,” she says of one study.
“What they discovered was that dogs tended to raise their eyebrows for about half a second after meeting up with their owner, but if it was someone they didn’t know, they would move their left ear back a little. If the dogs were shown an object that they didn’t like they would move their right ear in the same way.”
Garratt argues the better you know and understand yourself the stronger you can forge a relationship with your dog, which is constantly eying your body language and reacting to your emotions.
“Our dogs watch our behavior – what we do – and, based on past experiences, decide what is happening. For example, packing a bag, putting on a coat, picking up keys, usually mean we are leaving the house,” she explains.
“Our dogs don’t know what our thoughts are when this is going on – how could they? – but they make deductions based on our behavior and whether or not they have seen it before.”
In a chapter entitled, “CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) – The Basics,” the author suggests daily exercises for identifying our feelings in context to our dogs’ recognizing and reacting to these.
Garratt compares the many factors that influence owner and canine development – physical, emotional, intellectual and social. In respect to the dog, key elements are early weeks in the breeding kennel; for rescue animals, getting a handle on what transpired in its previous household (not always easy to uncover); and finally genetics.
“What are important things to consider when looking at the world our dogs live in and share with us,” she asks. And then answers, “The basics are, our dogs need to know that we are in control and will take care of them, and they that can rely on us for food, shelter and survival.”
Garratt’s sharply etched guidebook is beautifully complemented by Tom Walters’ photos, each of which captures the engaging texture of the subject. “Your Dog and You” is a philosophical wake-up call that should prompt the owner to slowly cement strong, cohesive building blocks with Fido even in a dizzying and demanding lifestyle to which most of us are accustomed.