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If Dogs Could Talk: Exploring the Canine Mind Paperback – December 27, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this intriguing book, Hungarian ethologist Csányi approaches the question of canine sentience using more science and less wishful thinking than one usually finds in the pet section of the bookstore. "Individual dog stories or anecdotes must be handled with considerable care when we want scientific proof," he warns. Even with this in mind, however, Csányi is most willing to see intelligence in his own beloved dogs, Flip and Jerry, who romp through the pages in charming anecdotes. So how smart are dogs, really? "The average dog living in a human environment understands at least forty to fifty expressions... and is able to act appropriately even in complicated situations." Csányi draws parallels between human and canine evolution in terms of reasoning ability, visual observations and other brain functions. Just as in early humans, individual bonding and group dynamics are the emotional and intellectual drivers for dogs, Csányi notes—a fact that will come as no surprise to pet owners. He demonstrates that dogs can imitate us, feel emotions, cooperate and obey commands, but he follows Darwin in recommending that we not assign morals to animal behaviors. Dogs will develop morals when they develop speech, he says, and he's actually quite enthusiastic about the prospect, going so far as to recommend a breeding program to produce talking dogs. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This book by canine ethologist Csanyi has been popular in his native Hungary and is now translated for American readers. As the author points out, canine ethologists must also have familiarity with human behavior, as the natural environment of the dog is human society. To be successful, the proto-dog had to develop the ability to understand and empathize with what humans expected of it, and these basic intellectual skills were honed and refined over the thousands of years that dogs have been domesticated. The author substantiates this alliance of two minds, as he calls it, with synopses of his own research, the findings of other scientists, and anecdotes from the behavior of his own dogs and other pet dogs. Csanyi is a careful scientist, but also a dog lover, and his attention to the coevolution of human and dog behavior provides a very different view of dogs from what is found in standard dog books. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865477299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865477292
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Makes sense although he does go a bit too far.
Madalyn Fliesler
This book encouraged me to reflect upon my own actions, reactions, and assumed knowledge in a very personal way.
J. Brown
I found this an interesting read and well worth my time.
Giuliana E. Lund

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nick Ingram on March 13, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mostly, "If Dogs Could Talk" is book which explores many aspects of how to approach the complex issues that surround studying what dogs might be thinking and feeling. Csanyi is Hungarian, and one of the world's foremost ethologists studying canine behavior. The book is well-translated, in that it is quite readable, in spite of its many challenges.

By far, the most exciting aspect of the book concerns the examples of his own and other dogs he has known. I found that I learned to think about dogs and their behavior in wholly new ways: what they might be trying to "say" to me through their physical indications -- this was the most valuable aspect of the book for me.

On the flip side, Csanyi is dismissive in his discussion of some of the most famous ethology work done with primates and birds. I suspect that this negativity, though it is not overtly stated, seems to stem from the time that the study of individual animals takes in these cases, and that only many trials with many subjects yields real data. However, he might have explored his bias rather than diminishing the work of others and had a much better outcome.

One of the other Amazon reviewers said that even with its problems, he learned so much more than from reading anything else he had to give this book a high rating, and after all my reservations, I agree with him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ellzeena on November 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm a certified applied animal behaviorist with many (far too many) years experience in my field. I've seen literally hundreds of dogs with problem behaviors (and the majority with active aggression, since that is my specialty). Almost every single dog suffered from the result of poor or inappropriate training, lack of socialization, poor breed or breed type choice by owner, careless or mindless supervision and just your basic seat of the pants ignorance on the part of the owner(s). A basic understanding of the origins of the domestic dog and its more than obvious ability to think, problem solve, plan, feel and communicate, is absolutely necessary if a person is to have the sort of relationship and experience with the dog that s/he hopes to obtain. This isn't a textbook. It's filled with extremely interesting information much in the same way an undergraduate class in Ethology might be, but it's also useful. If you have an interest in training and dog behavior, this book belongs in your reference pile. Your dogs will thank you, your clients will thank you, and a whole new world of seeing and understanding the dog at your side will present itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Brown on June 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book encouraged me to reflect upon my own actions, reactions, and assumed knowledge in a very personal way. It has changed the relationship that I have with my animals. For instance, previously when one of my dogs would whine and pester me when I was busy writing I might absentmindedly toss a toy or throw a handful of treats to "occupy" for a while. However, now I find that I pause, even if it is only for a few seconds, and ask myself whether or not I can identify what she really needs or wants rather than jumping to something "I" want her to do like distraction training such sitting, down, etc. This helps me to remember that she is a thinking and reasoning entity even if it is only to the level of a 3 yr old human. I see her as more of a sentient creature to be respected and perhaps not ordered to perform some obedience stance or amuse herself every time I don't want to be bothered. Maybe she just needs a 2 minute cuddle or a drink or a kind word. Maybe, like me, she sometimes likes to hear the sound of her own voice and prattles on to much. So now rather than react out of "obedience training mode" reflex to stop an unwanted behavior (read a behavior "I" don't want her to do at that exact time) I am more conscious of what she might desire. This doesn't mean she gets to be obnoxious, act dangerously, hunt the neighbors cats to extinction, or infringe on the rights of others to walk down the street in peace. However, if I really respect her as a thinking entity then shouldn't I pause and reflect and try in my incompetent way to understand what might be going on in her brain? I believe this is a worthy undertaking even if her thinking is very foreign to my human mind.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By mah on April 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
The author is a scientist studying dog behavior. He is also a dog-lover and dog-owner who encourages his dogs to talk to him and they do. I liked the mixture of science, research, and personal observation in this book. It also offered a small taste of dogs in another culture. The author may be asking the question "If Dogs Could Talk..." but he's also showing the reader what we know about the way dogs think and ways that dogs do talk if we're willing to learn and pay attention. Though the author doesn't appear to be someone who lets the dogs run his house, he is very attuned to the ways they speak to him. He responds to them and encourages them. I found it a very thought-provoking book about the potential for balancing "leadership and listening".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Caldwell on November 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful read. As a professional dog trainer for over 12 years, I found this book stimulating, thought-provoking, and fascinating. It is the first "dog" book in years I have read that has held my attention. The descriptions of the research studies the author conducted on dog behavior are astounding. If you are interested at all in the canine mind, buy this book. Can't say enough good things about it.
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