Dog is Love

Clive D.L. Wynne / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / 272 pages

Dr. Clive Wynne, a canine behaviorist and founding director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe is the author of Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You. As both a skeptic and a scientist (one more at ease with emotionless terms such as “exceptional gregariousness” and “hypersociability” than “love”), Wynne questioned whether dogs could have a strong love for people. But he is willing to investigate. He reviews existing research, conducts his own studies, and weaves his direct observations into discussions with others in the field. He looks at evolution, behavior, biology, and physiology. Ultimately, Wynne finds that a gene mutation coupled with early life experiences has created this intense capacity for love that he sees as unique to dogs.

In a chapter near the end of the book titled, “Dogs Deserve Better,” Wynne describes various ways that dogs suffer because of all-to-common barbaric practices by people, and he calls for change because there are sensible, scientifically sound alternatives, and we owe it to the dogs who love us. He criticizes use of force intended to exert dominance over dogs, including use of choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, kicking the dog’s soft underbelly, and use of alpha rolls (an alpha wolf-like behavior where a dog is forcefully rolled onto his or her back, grasped firmly by the neck and scolded). 

Wynne objects to the practice of keeping a dog—a highly social individual—home alone all day while the owner is at work. Dogs should receive social interaction at least every four or five hours, and this can be provided by the owner or a neighbor or sitter. Regarding homeless dogs, he notes the tragedy that about a million dogs a year are either euthanized or held long term in no-kill shelters. He offers sound, documented means to improve adoption rates, including ceasing the practice of identifying the breed of the dog on a kennel card. Speaking of breeds of dogs, Wynne also objects to the intensive inbreeding of purebred dogs to ensure a certain look and a lineage tied to the Victorian era. He notes that this type of selective breeding has shortened the life expectancy of these dogs and caused them to suffer from a wider range of health issues than those of mixed breeds. 

In the end, Wynne—skeptic, scientist, reluctant convert—effuses, “To be loved by a dog is a great privilege, perhaps one of the finest in a human life. May we prove ourselves worthy of it.”

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