Willie, Cliche, and other pet theories

DOG LOVE by Marjorie Garber Hamish Hamilton pounds 20 DOGS NEVER LIE ABOUT LOVE by Jeffrey Masson Cape pounds 15.99

When the owner of two golden retrievers compulsively collects dog trivia, that's eccentric. When the owner is a Harvard academic (or "cultural commentator") who puts the information in a book, that's scholarship. Cleverly marketed scholarship, too. Marjorie Garber's Dog Love pulls off a neat trick: it takes a searching look at our relationship with dogs, while adding handsomely to the bulging store of dogabilia and dog trivia.

As if to divide herself from the kitsch and the kooks, she begins on a sceptical, almost admonishing note, contrasting the outpouring of popular sympathy for abandoned puppies to the reaction to people in need. She gently mocks the pet-care industry, and its buoyant new US chains such as Petsmart, Petstuff and Petco, and the trade in pet insurance, pad-protectors, dog bagels and the like. But then, very like a labrador that has sat still long enough, she races off and retrieves enough doggy detail to occupy the owners of Britain's 6.5 million canines and ten times that in the US.

One senses an irrepressibility - that once she has found something out, she couldn't leave it out. She gives us dogs in literature, dogs in films, dogs in cartoons, dogs as companions, dogs as war heroes, dogs in hospitals, dogs in advertising, dogs in space, dogs according to sexual fetishists, dogs in shows, dogs in the law, dogs in cemeteries, dog cryogenics, and a delightful coda about the various formations of dog tails. Midway through the book, just when the reader feels overwhelmed, open to any subject but dogs, a method to the madness emerges. This book is not so much about dogs, but their owners.

Very illustrious owners, too. Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson, Lord Byron, Eugene O'Neill, Sigmund Freud, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert Louis Stevenson ... The names alone tell a story: Dorothy Parker's mutt (a "Thurber" dog) was "Cliche"; John Cheever's bitch retriever "Edgar", Peter Mayle's mutt "Boy", Armistead Maupin's poodle "Willie", Lyndon Johnson's beagles "Him" and "Her".

A scientific discussion of dogs is restricted chiefly to the laboratories of Pavlov and Descartes, where dogs were tortured and dissected alive, on the grounds that they were machines with neither souls nor consciences. Garber uses one of Descartes's contemporaries, Madame de Sevigne, to do the debunking. "Machines which love, which prefer one person to another, machines which are jealous ... come now!"

For the British reader, Garber is a refreshing American: she's erudite and she gets Britain right, be it about the founding of Crufts, the aristocratic business of "dog improvement" or Lord Byron's passion for his dog, Boatswain. If there is a problem, it is her generosity toward her readers. Lest she lose the less well-read, she occasionally spells out the obvious (such as shades of meaning to the word "fancy").

Yet Garber's own sense of humour is quick and sly, nowhere more dancing than in the chapter about pedigree dog clubs, where she finds "fabulous bloodlines" and the American Polish Owczarek Nizinny Club advertising "luxurious non-shedding coats that come in all colours". Her straight face trembles a bit when quoting sexologist Alfred Kinsey on the subject of people lusting for pets, but the tone never descends to scoffing.

By contrast, in Dogs Never Lie About Love, the former Freud archivist Jeffrey Masson isn't out to run circles around us with dog-facts, but to settle us down in something of a dog-lovers' encounter therapy group. This is Masson's second book on animal emotions: When Elephants Weep, written in 1994 with Susan McCarthy, became a best-seller. The style is touchy- feely. Suffice it to say humans with dogs are not "dog-owners" but "caretakers". Yet a clear line of thinking runs through the mush: that it is dogs' capacity for love and loyalty, their rare emotional candour, that allows them to survive.

Garber's book takes the idea further, more clearly. Dog behaviour tells an evolutionary story about survival in a pack. Before humans self-destruct, they may wish to study the importance of it. Oddly, it is Garber, rather than Masson the analyst, who brings the father of psychoanalysis into the argument, quoting Freud's observation: "Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object relations."

Freud had his ideas about dog-haters, too. "It would be incomprehensible ... that man should use the name of his most faithful friend in the animal world - the dog - as a term of abuse if that creature had not incurred his contempt through two characteristics: that it is an animal whose dominant sense is that of smell and one which has no horror of excrement, and that is not ashamed of its sexual function."

The best quip, found in the Garber book, goes to Peter Mayle: "To err is human. To forgive is canine."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum