Winter Reading: Animal Books

The animal books I’m reading this Fall and Winter (non-fiction and fiction).

The latest books about dogs, dog training, cats, and wolves
Photo: Ayla Vershueren/Unsplash

By Zazie Todd, PhD

If you're looking for something to read, or a last-minute gift idea for an animal lover, check out these books about dogs, cats, wolves, and animals in general that I've been reading lately.

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What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World by Cat Warren
Like the NYT-bestselling original version, this book tells the story of Cat Warren’s dog Solo, how she trained him to be a cadaver dog, and the searches they went on together to find the bodies of the missing. Along the way we learn how cadaver dogs are trained, the importance of accuracy, and the many kinds of searches working dogs can do – for missing people, in criminal cases, to find lost military personnel, and even to find historical graves. The book is suitable for young readers but does not shy away from difficult topics. The narrative is engaging and tightly paced, with lots of photos and text boxes full of fascinating facts. I loved it. This book is a great gift for any 8-12 year olds in your life.

Check out my interview with Cat Warren about the adult version of the book.

Tricks in the City: For Daring Dogs and the Humans that Love Them by Sassafras Lowrey
Sassafras Lowrey is a certified Trick Dog Instructor, and in this delightful book, which has a foreword by Kyra Sundance, ze shows you how to teach your dog lots of tricks. Ze begins by explaining that trick training is fun for you and your dog, will help improve your relationship with the dog, and is even good for the more sensitive or reactive dogs. Almost all of the tricks are low impact, and the few that might not be suitable for very young, very old, or dogs in poor health, are clearly labelled. The tricks start easy with sit, include ‘splat’ (a nice variant on ‘play dead’), peek-a-boo, a hoop jump, skateboarding, and many more. The book ends with a section on how to take things to the next level if you’ve got the tricks bug, which seems likely once you finish this book!

The Cat Personality Test: How well do you really know your cat? by Dr. Lauren Finka
Take the quizzes in this book to find out more about your cat – and how you can improve their life and your relationship with them. This fun book will help you discover whether your cat would like more play or petting, whether they are likely to want another feline friend in the house, and whether they are happy. The results of each quiz explain the likely reasons why your cat is the way they are, and give advice on how best to care for them, while ‘science corner’ sections give up-to-the-minute information about cat behaviour. The final quizzes help you find out if you are ready to be a cat parent, and what kind of cat parent you will be. A lot of good information is packed into this book.

Life on the Leash by Victoria Schade
Cora Bellamy is a positive reinforcement dog trainer who is just about getting over her ex, and has an anonymous blog where she writes about the problems with a TV dog trainer. When a new client hires her to help with a puppy, it turns out she has a very dishy boyfriend, Charlie, who makes Cora wonder about her own ethics. Meanwhile, new friend Eli is a geek who is always there when she needs someone to foster a dog or help her drive stray dogs to a safe place. And Cora is persuaded to audition for a TV show in order to get the word out about positive reinforcement. This fun romance is on-the-money when it comes to dogs and dog training.

The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Puppy: How to Train and Care for Your New Dog by Victoria Stilwell
In this easy-to-read book, Victoria Stilwell takes you through the things you need to know before you get a puppy, as well as how best to welcome your new friend into your home. She explains why pet store puppies are more likely to have behaviour problems, why you should use a harness rather than a prong or shock collar, and how to feed your pup. The main focus is on teaching life skills, with an emphasis on using positive reinforcement and giving your puppy choices. The book also covers common adolescent dog problems such as jumping up, begging for food, and reactivity.

The latest books about dogs, dog training, cats, and wolves
MindSpace Studios/Unsplash

Book club books

These are the books I’ve been reading with the Animal Book Club over the last few months.

Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You by Clive Wynne
In Dog is Love, Clive Wynne explains how, despite being a sceptical behaviourist, he came to realize that what’s special about dogs is not their intelligence, but their capacity for love. Wynne talks us through some fascinating research, including his own, which involved visiting Wolf Park, going to see the Fox Farm where Belyaev began the experiments in domestication that continue to this day, and to see hunting dogs in action with the Mayangna people in a remote part of Nicaragua. He even visits with some cloned dogs. At the end, he considers the ways in which dogs deserve better from their humans. This is an engaging, intriguing book. Look out for my interview with Prof. Clive Wynne in January.

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett
Beyond the Brain looks at how the brain, body, and environment are all connected together. It’s full of fascinating facts about all kinds of animals as well as things we’ve learned from experiments with robots. Barrett begins by explaining how our tendency to anthropomorphize can be a hindrance as well as a help. She then takes us on a tour of ecological psychology, metaphor, and dynamic approaches to cognition and behaviour. If this sounds a bit academic, it is, but the examples from species such as Portia spiders, scrub jays, and human babies help keep it concrete and engaging.

The Rise of Wolf 8: Witnessing the Triumph of Yellowstone's Underdog by Rick McIntyre
As a biologist at Yellowstone National Park, Rich McIntyre has had more wolf sightings than anyone else. In this book, he describes the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, and tells the stories of individual wolves and their families. Rising before dawn, he would trek out to see if he could see the wolves, then spend the rest of the day telling the public about the importance of wolves in Yellowstone. Some encounters – such as wolf pups playing – are delightful, but with the struggle to find food, and grizzly bears, vehicles, and hunting humans to contend with, life as a wolf is hard. This book, focusing on Wolf 8, is the first in a trilogy.

If you’re looking for more book suggestions, check out my summer reading list, the books animal lovers enjoyed in 2019, or see what else the book club is reading. And my own book, Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, with a foreword by Dr. Marty Becker, is available for pre-order now.

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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