Man Meets Dog


SUMMARY: Auto-biographical account of Lorenz’ life with his pet dogs.

AUDIENCE: As a specialist (ethologist or specialist trainer), it is quoted in so many specialist texts that you owe it to yourself to check what the fuss is about, if only out of historical interest. As an owner, you won’t find much in the way of reliable knowledge about your dog’s behaviour.

REVIEW: His (conjectured) bonds with the Nazi party aside, it is hard not to be charmed by his absent-minded professor persona.

His tales betray a complete lack of common sense which reminded me greatly of… myself! In his mind, the following (and more) seemed like ‘a good idea’:

  • Bringing in yet another “pet” home, including a marmouset monkey,
  • Letting a jackal runt be nursed by his own lactating bitch (a resounding disaster),
  • Entrusting the care of his toddlers to… a dog, on the hunch that “dogs don’t attack infants”,
  • Getting away from urgent essays, instead escaping for entire afternoons, swimming (naked) down the Danube with his dog

As I was reading the book, I kept thinking of his poor long-suffering wife (and my own poor long-suffering husband, by extension).

The book gives a great historical perspective on the body of knowledge and opinions on dog behaviour in the 1940’s. Some have a remarkably modern feel (e.g. reward more than punish, reward within seconds of the dog’s behaviour, dogs have emotions), and some are quite scary (e.g. recounting a man walking down the street with his dog and a … whip, lashing the dog on the nose whenever it would not heel, etc.).

He sometimes makes some surprising (and disturbing at times) assertions with little in the way of supporting evidence, but hey, the guy eventually got a Nobel Prize, so I guess he gets to be a tad sure of himself. In that vein, some of his authoritative remarks on women are particular gems. This book is not to be put in the hands of anyone with the remotest trace of feminist sensibilities.

An added dimension of interest for me was that he was an ethologist (some would say he is the founder of Ethology), and yet he essentially wrote a book about dog training (i.e. the realm of behaviourists, ethologists’ conceptual opposites when it comes to research principles). This gave rise to some very quaint contradictions, but only made the book more charming and quaint to me.

What transpired above all was that, in spite of the ‘human dominion’ mindset of the time (seeing dogs as little more than commodities), he himself was genuinely devoted and attached to his dogs, and truly enjoyed their company.

In this book, you will find his famous assertion that many dogs descend from jackals and various other original, but later widely disproved, theories.

So the book gives great fly-on-the-wall insights into the life of a scientific legend, and into the 1940’s perspectives on dog training. Don’t buy it if you’re after an otherwise educational read, though, because the points it makes are as romanticized, unverifiable, simplified, and embellished as it gets.

More book reviews

Like the main page: If you like what I do, please let me know by clicking ‘like’ on the main page (not on this individual review). Each ‘like’ feels great and makes me want read and review more.

Author: Lorenz Konrad
Genre: autobiography, historical interest
Browse the Book Review archive. Genres: , . Author: . Reading Level: . Star: . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>