A classic Gary Larson cartoon presents this scenario: Under the caption “What We Say to Dogs,” a man points his finger at a pooch and announces, “Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!” The lower half of the cartoon has the identical drawing, but the caption is “What They Hear,” and the man’s dialogue bubble simply reads, “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah...”
The writers and publishers of today’s dog books would certainly object to Larson’s characterization, however. One of the dominant trends in pet tomes these days is Dog Psych 101—and beyond. “The recent spate of canine psychology titles speaks to the fact that essential aspects of our beloved pets’ personalities remain mysterious to us,” says Jason Gardner, senior editor at New World Library, who worked on last February’s Your Dog Is Your Mirror by Kevin Behan. (The paperback is scheduled for March 2012.)
In May, Basic Books published Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by anthrozoologist John Bradshaw. Says editorial director Lara Heimert, “We don’t normally publish pet books at Basic; we always saw Dog Sense as a science book that happened to be about pets. And it was the science that sold it. The book shows how DNA sequencing and other kinds of new scientific studies have revolutionized our understanding of where dogs came from and how they experience the world—and that we must rethink how we treat them based on this new knowledge.”
According to Heyday Books maketing director Natalie Mulford, “There is a new gravitas to pet love. It’s not just silly dog books anymore.” Heyday just published Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates.
That desire to impute deep thinking to dogs goes hand-in-hand with increasing spending on pets. The American Pet Products Association estimates that in 2011, Americans will spend $50.84 billion on their 377.41 million pets, including birds, cats, dogs, horses, fish, reptiles, and other small animals. As has long been the case, cats are the most common pet (86.4 million in 38.9 million households), followed by dogs (78.2 million in 46.3 households), but dogs account for the vast majority of books about pets and animals.
After spending that kind of doggie dough, today’s pet owners want a window into their dogs’ brains, and possibly their souls. Free Press senior editor Leslie Meredith says, “How can animals and their stories and behavior not appeal to people? We’re animals ourselves, we live with animals, we eat them, we love them, and we want to know what they feel and think.” In August, Free Press published the paperback reprint of Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog, a memoir by Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology and the author of How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication among other titles.
“The books that seem to sell best are the ones that provide insight into the minds of our cherished companions,” says Kristin Sevick, associate editor at Forge, which just published Emory’s Gift—about a bear who helps a boy come of age in Idaho—by W. Bruce Cameron, author of the bestselling 2010 novel A Dog’s Purpose. (See “Why I Write,” p. 27.)
As A Dog’s Purpose and its ilk show, doggie Freudian thought isn’t restricted to nonfiction. Novels such as Alan Lazar’s Roam (Atria, Nov.), which received a boxed review in PW’s September 5 issue, follow in the footsteps of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain—a 2008 novel from Harper that’s spent 106 weeks on PW’s hardcover and trade paper lists—and look at the world through soulful canine eyes. In June 2012 Forge will publish Elsa Watson’s Dog Days, which Sevick describes as “Freaky Friday with a canine twist—a woman and a dog switch bodies.” Erik’s Hope: The Leash That Led Me to Freedom by Andrea Chilcote and Sara Burden (Crimson Oak, Nov.) is fiction, too, but based on Chilcote’s experiences with her own dog. And Ivan!: A Pound Dog’s View on Life, Love, and Leashes (Turner, Oct.) by Tim McHugh is a “memoir” written from the perspective of the author’s adopted pet.
In October, David Godine will publish All My Dogs, an illustrated memoir by Bill Henderson, founder of the Pushcart Press. Marketing director Sue Berger Ramin says, “There are always challenges in living with an animal. They are not toys or slaves; they are individuals in their own right, and the current slate of books focuses on helping to elucidate this.”
Of course, it’s not just dogs who stand to gain from the human-canine bond. The benefits to humans of having a pet are legion. According to WebMD, pet ownership can fight allergies, smooth the aging process, combat depression, and even decrease the risk of heart disease.
That theory is borne out in memoirs such as Bad Dog (A Love Story) by Martin Kihn, which recounts how competitive dog training helped the author recover from alcoholism. Pantheon published the hardcover last April, with the paperback to follow in spring 2012.
Another dogs-as-saviors memoir is Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself (Riverhead, Oct.) by Julie Klam. Coming simultaneously in paperback will be Klam’s 2010 memoir, You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness. Says Riverhead president Geoffrey Kloske, “Humans are animals, but many of the great human stories have been told. Pets are even cuter animals and we’ve just gotten started with the great pet stories.”components/article_pagination.html not found (No such file or directory)