Being a Dog
by Alexandra Horowitz
New York, Scribner, 2016
[Challenge # 9: A book with a dog on the cover.]
Since I enjoyed Alexandra Horowitz’s first book, Inside a Dog, for its insights into the canines we share our lives with, I picked up Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell for more of the same. It didn’t disappoint, but I did find it slightly less endearing and more overwritten than the previous book. I still enjoyed it, however. It’s about the physics of how dogs smell, how dogs are trained to use that sense to find or track, and how people — including the author — can also their noses to smell as well, for example as in the perfume and wine industries.
The people/dogs connection didn’t dovetail 100%, but it was fascinating. My favorite parts of the book were when the author visited a training center for sniffing dogs and we got to see how they eased into rescue and detective work starting at puppyhood.
What I did find annoying about the book was the Sunday magazine tone. I don’t think we really needed to know exactly what the various experts were wearing and how they presented themselves to ingest what they were telling us. The focus should have been on the dogs.
For human beings, the book did bring a valid point. We really don’t smell the world as a dog does. Every once in a while during the day a distinctive smell reaches us and we take note: wood burning, fresh baked cinnamon rolls, someone’s bad breath. But most of the time we don’t notice, because it is not necessary for our survival. Our olfactory systems too shut down a smell we are in the constant present of. But when we train ourselves to sniff at random times, it’s surprising how much we can sense. Almost as interesting as the dog training parts were the people training parts. As it turns out humans don’t have a vocabulary to describe smells, partly because, like the description of colors, it’s very subjective.
Now I find myself sniffing at random times throughout the day, just to see what’s out there.