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Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name Paperback – March 1, 2007

3.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First published by Knopf in 1986, Hearne's groundbreaking book was born of her need to be able to talk about her training relationships with dogs, horses and other animals. Hearne (1946-2001) found that there was no vocabulary, that captured the complex set of dependencies, trusts and moral quandaries that arose for when she trained dogs to track, or horses to jump. Through luminous anecdotes, she here develops rigorous and beautiful descriptions of the transactions between animals and people, what they entail and what the expectations-on both sides-are. Drawing on everything from Xenophon, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein to legendary Disney animal trainer William Koehler, Hearne anticipates the work of philosophers like Donna Haraway, but also provides of kind of training manual for the soul of anyone who has an animal or animals in his or her life. She would go on to write Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog and other books, but none distills Hearne's vision, and imparts a sense of her discovery, as this book does.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal

This engrossing treatise on animal behavior and interspecies communication provides an astute and possibly unique synthesis of a domestic animal trainer's practical knowledge and the intellectually more distant and even sterile theories of the academic world. Modern psychologists and philosophers have typically railed dogmatically against the anthropormorphism and morality inherent in the language of animal trainers. But Hearne points out that the validity of the trainers' methodology is supported by the fact that trainers who actually work interestingly and successfully with animals can accomplish so much more than most academic researchers in training their charges. The author believes that the training relationship is a complex and fragile moral understanding between animal and human. Enthusiastically recommended. Robert Paustian, Wilkes Coll. Lib., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (March 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602390029
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602390027
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Laura Duhan Kaplan on November 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite books of all time.
Vicki Hearne - animal trainer, poet, and philosopher - talks about her relationship with the working animals she trains. She presents her philosophies by illustrating them with stories of animals she has trained.
If you have deep respect for animal intelligence, this book will confirm and deepen your beliefs.
Training, she says, is the creation of a shared language. But language has many ambiguities. For example, trainers haven't a clue what the world smells like to a dog, for whom "scenting" is a primary sense. Yet humans and dogs can learn to work together across the gap of their differences by coming to share the vocabulary of trained scent work.
Animal training, says Hearne, is as challenging for the trainer as it is for the animal. Trainers must learn humility, and learn to communicate in new ways. For example, horses take in information through touch and are extremely sensitive to the motions of the rider. Once a trainer comes to understand this (and other things about horses), she or he can begin to understand the way a horse understands its world and its self.
Of course I don't do justice to the book by summarizing a few of its philosophical points! Hearne writes gracefully, and shows a great mastery of a variety of disciplines - psychology, philosophy, literature, animal training. Her anecdotes make the philosophy much easier to understand, and the philosophy makes the implications of the anecdotes much richer.
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Re: the "near drowning" of the hole-digging dog, here's how Vicki describes it: "I put Salty's head in the Hole. She emerges quite quickly (she's a very strong, agile dog)." This is not waterboarding; it's getting the dog's attention. I would not try this method myself, as I am not a trainer. (Vicki warns us we "can't work a dog" from her writings.) Neither would I let this description turn me away from a wise, courageous and ultimately compassionate book about intraspecies communication.

As an ex-vet. tech., I've seen what happens when people and animals don't talk the same language: the animals suffer. When they inconvenience their "loving" owners enough, the animals die. Chapter 8, "The Sound of Kindness," should be required reading for all pet owners.

Other parts of this book soar and inspire with their deep respect for what the relationship between humans and animals should be. It is because of this that we must take responsibility for what we do to and with companion animals. As Henry Beston had it, "They are not bretheren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners in the splendor and travail of the earth."
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Vicki Hearne is both an animal trainer and an assistant professor of philosophy at Yale. With these two qualifications, she addresses the relationship humans have with "dumb" domestic animals, primarily dogs, horses and cats. he book is exquisite, and confirms what we already "know, that animals can think, feel, respond, and--in a sense--make decisions about how to respond to humans. She proves the intelligence of the horse trainer who admitted there were truly "crazy" horses whose indsanity justified their destrucrtion, but that if any trainer had experienced more than one such horse, the trainer should be put to sleep instead. The chapter on cats is a little fuzzy, but the rest is five-star.
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So many reviewers have completely missed the point of this book, in spite of Hearne's warning in the first paragraph that the book is "philosophical" and about finding "an accurate way to talk about our relationships with domestic animals." Listen carefully: It is not a training manual. Let's wait a moment for the folks who need to digest that.

Not so strangely, Hearne does not reveal her special trick for getting dogs to fetch, although there is an entire chapter called "How to Say 'Fetch!'" (Note it is about how to SAY 'fetch', not how to teach it.) In fact, she spends almost as much time talking about horses as she does about dogs, and there is even a substantial chapter on cats. Since the latter "can't be trained," this might serve as an additional clue that (ready?) "This is not a training manual."

To those who got that and still weren't too happy with the book, I offer my sympathy. There are places where Hearne lets "literature" run away with coherence, not on every page but often enough that I found myself writing "More gibberish" in the margin 'way too often. That said, there is enough unique, illuminating insight in the book to more than make up for the occasional rave. I am not sure that all good dogs are "contemptuous of bribes," but I have one who is (admittedly, she is still a teen with teen arrogance), and I had one who was (a Rotty mix of great wisdom, gentleness, and charm). If we remember that our work is "finding a way to talk about our relationship with domestic animals," Hearne's observation becomes apt. By presuming that we can bribe a dog into doing our will, we say something about that relationship that is worth reconsidering.

A key concept of Hearne's "new vocabulary" is the idea that dogs think in terms of "their work.
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