Hyperlove from hounds of heaven

Roger Clarke discovers that Americans, as well as Brits, often spell `God' backwards

Dogs Never Lie About Love by Jeffrey Masson, Jonathan Cape, pounds 15.99 Dog Love by Marjorie Garber, Hamish Hamilton, pounds 20

A dewy-eyed dog expert once confided to Jeffrey Masson that "dogs never lie about love". This sentiment impressed him so greatly that he has written a book on the subject. Not since JR Ackerley wrote his notorious love letter to his Alsatian bitch Queenie in My Dog Tulip has there been such a paean to pet-love.

Dog lovers tend to love their pooches precisely because they don't lie, cheat or dissemble. Yet owners spout endless rubbish on the subject of their dogs: they imbue them with either incredible, Lassie-like altruism or simply repulsive forms of anthropomorphism (as if it isn't in fact the doggishness of the dog that they like). Their "love" can also encompass a kind of Swiftian disgust with humanity, of a type warned about by Konrad Lorenz. "The feeling world of dogs is suffused with innocence, purity and lack of self-deception," enthuses Masson with worrying ardour, as he regales us with countless anecdotes about the three bitches in his California home.

If you fancy a stroll along the island of the Houyhnhnms, this is the book for you, though personally I always was troubled when, in Gulliver's Travels, Swift's dyspeptic alter ego finally found a race that he could live with in "perfect amity". Dogs give Masson a good foil by which to judge us Yahoos. "No animals slaughter each other the way that people do," he observes sourly. No, dogs are different - better, even. "Dogs love us and are faithful and loyal to us," he insists. He loves how "directly and intensely they express their emotions", and how like four-footed seraphim they seek "after the invisible scent of another being's authentic love".

"Love is a term that is often used by children, and occasionally by adults, to describe their relationship with beloved pets," says Marjorie Garber, more ironic and urbane in her delivery, in Dog Love. She goes on to say that "when adults say they love their dogs ... an alarm bell can go off". Quite so. Though Masson had read these words when compiling his own book, he was not put off from straining his notion of love to its limits. Dogs don't just love; they are capable of "hyperlove". So remember that, next time a dachshund makes love to your leg.

Masson is a former director of the Freud Archives, whose books "against therapy" have been US best-sellers. Garber is chiefly known for her majestic work on bisexuality, which was published here last year. While Masson manages to complete a whole book on dogs without mentioning their sexuality (his greatest possible compliment is "dogs do not require psychoanalysis"), Garber has no such scruple. As a writer and thinker she has always proved herself to be radically all-inclusive on the subject of sexuality. Like Midas Dekkers, "the Dutch Desmond Morris", Garber is fascinated by the dangerous area of sexual bonds between dog and human. Masson's prim assertion that "a dog never lusts for us" (thereby demonstrating its purity) turns out to be a hopelessly inadequate description of the complexities involved.

Garber's willingness to see the darker side of things is evident in an anecdote also used by Masson, about a 10-year-old boy with Down's syndrome who was kept alive in some snowy woods for three days by a couple of stray dogs. Masson describes this charmingly - how the dogs cuddled up to the boy, tried to jump in the ambulance with him, and finally got adopted by the boy's grateful family. Garber adds a couple of key details to this Disney-like tale, which reveal the writer's different approaches. The detail about the dogs curling up round the boy turns out to have been speculation by the sheriff. In the Garber version, the parents are only "planning" to take in the dogs. Two months after the incident, the County Prosecutor hints that there "may have been criminal activity involved" in the boy's disappearance. As a final spoiler, Garber also notes the family have sold their story to Hollywood.

Masson's book is far more personal and dynamic than Garber's urbane ramble through the popular culture of a race's dog-fixation. Quirky, amusing and full of ephemera, Garber's approach has many things to recommend it. It is fascinating (especially after Labour's bulldog Fitz) to discover how Roosevelt and Nixon used their pet dogs to save their political skins, and to hear of the role of a dog in the OJ Simpson case, and the Geneti- pet DNA bank in Washington. Bow-wow is "ouah-ouah" in French, "wung-wung" in Chinese and "hav-hav" in Hebrew. I was moved by stories of Edinburgh's Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful hound that sat on his master's grave for 14 years, and of Emily Bronte's dog Keeper.

But Garber has no grand unifying theory of the dog/human bond, and is bogged down in excessive but insubstantial cultural linkages. Masson, for all his faults, does manage to be coherent about his ideas, in a slavering, staring-eyed sort of way. In the end the olfactory world of the dog is so staggeringly alien to us (a dog's sense of smell is one to 10 million times stronger than human) that we shall never understand it. Perhaps dog dreams, too, are olfactory rather than visual. And as to the vexed question, "do dogs ever lie about love?", the secondary question, touching on consciousness, must surely be: "do they have a choice?"

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea