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The Social Lives of Dogs Hardcover – June 6, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (June 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684810263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684810263
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,302,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who has written evocatively on the ways of dogs (The Hidden Life of Dogs) and cats (The Tribe of the Tiger) at large, here turns her attention to the particular canines--and other animals--with which she shares her home.

Marshall's narrative begins with the arrival of an unfortunate, highly intelligent creature named Sundog, who, excluded from the somewhat constricted worlds of her older dogs, is forced to take his place in the next available pack--that of Marshall and the other human inhabitants of her New Hampshire home. "Perhaps we were not his first choice, but he took us," Marshall writes of Sundog learning his proper place in their order and they in his. Much as domestic dogs enjoy each other's company, Marshall hazards, when in the presence of humans each becomes a competitor for attention and food. Humans, in that world of small rivalries, become not so much alphas or pack leaders--as so many books have it--as they do "sources of life," providers of food and security. Such power can corrupt, of course, and at points Marshall observes that popular methods of dog training--or dog control--can do more harm than good, at least as far as a dog's emotional well-being is concerned.

Through her tales of Sundog, Misty, and her other dogs (and cats, and parrots), Marshall explores how fulfilling a life among animals can be. A little softer on the scientific explanations that drive her other books, Marshall's narrative shares the anecdotal richness of her earlier work. Any human who is curious about how dogs think and how the worlds of dogs and people intersect will find much of value in her pages. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

As she proved in her bestselling The Hidden Life of Dogs, no one writes with greater emotional intelligence about man's (and woman's) best friend than Thomas. Like that marvelous book, this worthy sequel reports on the canines in the author's life, beginning with Sundog, a large white dog Thomas found abandoned in Cambridge, Mass. Upon moving into Thomas's New Hampshire home (which also embraces cats, parrots and several humans, including the author's husband and aged mother), Sundog was ostracized by the three dogs already there and so bonded with Thomas and her husband, as "the first member of our household to cross species lines." As time and pages go by, Sundog is joined by Misty, a purebred sheepdog raised by an earlier owner under horribly rigid conditions; Pearl, an Australian shepherd-chow; Ruby, a maladjusted mix who leaks urine; and Sheila, who's probably part dingo. In narrative as dramatic as good fiction, but rooted in careful observation of animal ways, Thomas recounts how household members adjusted to one another, forming various groups and jockeying for position within and among groups; one extraordinarily gripping section details how Sheila, who as the household's newest member should have occupied the lowest position among the dogs, worked her way up the canine ladder through aggression and guile until Pearl came up with a diplomatic "solution" to her challenge. As enchanting as Thomas's stories are, the most potent magic in her charismatic, opinionated book comes from her ability to lead readers into a fresh world, one that allows animals their own minds (where, for instance, a dog might try "her best to charm us with her pleasant ways"). Anyone who cares about animals will relish joining Thomas in that rich and happy place. Illus. by Jared Taylor Williams. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Brilliantly insightful and full of wisdom.
Brian Oliver
If I had to choose a favorite dog from the book, the human-like Sundog would be my choice.
Klarenka
The book is short and can be finished on a plane ride.
C. B Collins Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A savvy TV producer once invited New Hampshire author Elizabeth Marshall Thomas to host a local cable show for the Humane Society. Her job was to introduce four animals in need of homes; an unruly dog with an incontinence problem, two feral kittens and one normal cat. Thomas adopted all four of them.
Anthropologist, novelist, and animal lover, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas writes of dog behavior with sympathy, insight and considerable humor. Following her bestseller, "The Hidden Life of Dogs" (which explored dog-with-dog culture), "The Social Life of Dogs," examines dog adaptation to human households, or, in the Thomas case, a multiple-species household.
At the time the book opens, Thomas and her husband, Steve, had three old dogs left from "The Hidden Life of Dogs" pack and didn't want any more. Steve "didn't want another animal of any description" and Elizabeth, while "always open to another dog," plans to wait until the old dogs died before getting an adult dog she can learn from, an Indian dog from Northern Canada, say, or a pariah dog from a Third World village. What she doesn't want is the white dog who quietly appears and won't leave - an American purebred cross.
Thomas does not approve of purebreds. "The important features of a dog are his brains and his persona," not looks. Still, unable to find the dog's owners, after a few days Thomas begins to ask herself, "what, after all, is really so wrong with a few purebred strains?"
And so begins her relationship with Sundog, the animal whose ashes will someday be mingled with her and Steve's.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Sy Montgomery on May 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Who could be better qualified to write about the hearts, minds and souls of dogs than Elizabeth Marshall Thomas? Not only is she the celebrated anthropologist who was the first to chronicle the lives of the Bushmen; not only has she studied and published scientific and popular articles on animals from African elephants to Arctic wolves; but she quite literally grew up among dogs. As we learn in the first captivating sentences of this splendid, surprising book, one of her most attentive caretakers as a child was a Newfoundland dog, whose job, as the dog saw it, was to keep the helpless human child from drowning in the sea while the dog's group, her family, lived at the beach. The dog was actually her nanny, writes Thomas--the sort of insight that at once makes perfect sense and yet takes one's breath away, and the sort of insight that characterizes this book. The Social Lives of Dogs is as wide-ranging and as deep as Thomas' best-selling The Hidden Life of Dogs. That book asked the simple and profound question: What do dogs want? The answer: other dogs. But the social grace of dogs is such that they are capable of forming deep, lasting, complex and highly individualized relationships with many species other than their own (including birds, who are, as Thomas points out, more closely related to dinosaurs than to dogs), and this is the fertile ground explored in this riveting new book. In it, we meet a great new cast of characters: brave, stoic, soldierly Sundog, a former stray; Misty, a victim of AKC breeding who grew up in a crate and didn't understand grass; curly-tailed Pearl, who made an art of barking. The Thomas household is, as she writes, a "churning cauldron" of (at its high point) five dogs, a dozen cats, five parrots and a varying number of people.Read more ›
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By tomatojane on August 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those who are already fans of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and her fine anthropologist's approach to studying animal culture, THE SOCIAL LIVES OF DOGS may be the finest jewel in her crown of works. This book chronicles an approximate fifteen-year study which included, in the order that they came to live in the Thomas household, Sundog, Misty, Pearl, Ruby, and Sheilah--dogs of varying breeds and mixes. Thomas tells, in her own beautiful and compassionate way, the story of each dog's incorporation into the lives of the other dogs, people, cats, and birds in her home. She succeeds beautifully in her sincere effort always to explain her animal observations and then to try to understand and interpret from the animal's point of view. What more could one ask of an anthropologist/ethologist?
For me, Thomas taps into something very deep and important--something that's difficult to find words for. But I know that it has to do with a message that says it's okay to feel deep emotions about your animals, to talk to them and hear their answers, and to sense and acknowledge their deep feelings. Even though many of us have known and felt this intuitively, it is neither the message that our Judeo/Christian tradition nor our Linnean <I> scala natura</I> science of classification has wanted to deliver to us.
In the introduction she poses the questions: "Can we understand the mind of an animal? . . .[do] animals have consciousness?" and then proceeds to say that for some scientists . . . "the view that animals are incapable of conscious thought, or even of emotion, has acquired an aura of scientific correctness, and at the moment is the prevailing dogma, as if some very compelling evidence to the contrary was not a problem.
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