Book review: it’s a dog’s life, by a nose

Canine cognition expert Alexandra Horowitz looks at how a dog’s senses, especially smell, shape its understanding of the world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 12:00pm

Being a Dog

by Alexandra Horowitz


Not long ago it would have been unthinkable to trust a dog to detect cancer in humans. Now, work is under way training them to detect low and high levels of blood glucose in diabetics, and to raise alerts before epileptic seizures. In Being a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz gets up close to canine conks (her anatomical examination explains their temperature gauges and pebbled topography) to show what it means to be a dog. That includes understanding what they glean from scents left on lamp posts by other dogs and what else they can tell about their owners (including whether they are upset). Every inhaled gulp of air, Horowitz writes, is full of information, even allowing dogs to forecast the weather. Her research also leads to scrutiny of the human nose, which proves to be more capable than generally believed, although psychologically we choose to trust our eyes more than our noses. Horowitz – who runs a dog cognition lab at Barnard College, where she teaches – has so much enthusiasm for her subject that readers can’t help but be entranced. They will want to have their noses in this book – literally.