My first dog training class, in 1968, involved my adolescent Saint Bernard and an ex-marine instructor who hung a Basenji off a choke chain for not sitting when told. Me and my dog walked out. Years later, in the 80’s, I became interested in dog training and took a friend’s dog to classes for the experience. Both classes focused on the “commands” we were to give our dogs, and how to punish them if they didn’t respond correctly. No one mentioned paying attention to a dog’s posture and expression as a way to be a better dog trainer.
Oh, how far we’ve come! I remember, when I began teaching family dog training classes in the early 90’s, how surprised people were when I asked them to describe a dog’s response to praise and petting after coming when called. “Oh!,” they’d exclaim. “He turned his head away when his owner said ‘Good boy!’ and patted him on the head! Oh wow, I hadn’t noticed that.” Yes! Because no one told them to pay attention, but as soon as they did, it was clear the praise meant nothing, having never been paired with something the dog loves, and the patting on the head was something the dog disliked.
Thank heaven it’s a brave new world, and we have an endless source of books and videos that help us deconstruct what a dog’s outside might tell us about their inside, and, especially, what they might do next. However, I’ve never seen anything even approaching the prodigious work of Katja Krauss and Gabi Maue in the book Dogs in Translation: A unique journey of observation and interpretation. With 468 pages, 1,300+ photographs, and the hefty price tag of $79.95, this is not a book for the casual dog owner. That said, it is an invaluable resource for any one serious about understanding dogs and improving their powers of observation. It comes with a Workbook, which is invaluable in itself.
Here’s part of what I had to say about the book when I was given a review copy:
This book is an accomplishment to celebrate, refining, as it will, our abilities to observe subtle but important visual signals from our dogs. If you’re serious about canine behavior, put this on your “must have” list!
But don’t take my word for it, the book’s supporters include Susan Friedman, Clive Wynne, and James O’Heare. The photographs within are outstandingly clear, the interpretations are well considered, and the predictions (and questions: “What do you think happens next?”) are invaluable.
One of the things that makes this book so special is the attention to detail. How does the light effect a dog’s eyes? Did an interaction with another dog create the minor amount of piloerection we see in this photo? How does breed and structure effect postural signals? I’m struggling to describe this visual symphony of dogness, so I took a few photographs on my dining room table. Any weird perspective/shadows are on me, not the book. Here’s from page 11:
Here’s from page 34 of the Workbook (which comes along with the book):
The author’s ask your prediction about whether these dogs end up playing or not. Care to make a guess? (All subsequent behavior is explained in the back of the book.)
There’s one point that needs to be made about books like this, as elaborate, thorough, and flat-out gorgeous as this one is. Happily, the point was made by one of the authors herself:
“We have the opinion and the dogs have the facts.”
That’s an important reminder that our interpretations, including those of the authors, are just that, and only that. We need to be careful about making assumptions about how any dog is feeling internally. Whether one agrees with all of their interpretations doesn’t matter, what matters is that everything in this book causes you to think hard about what you are seeing, and to be a better observer. What makes this book especially valuable is that the authors not only used split-second photography to illustrate subtle expressions and movement, but they know many of the dogs photographed, and exactly what happened after the photography were taken. Thus, they may be guessing that a particular dog is nervous, but they know for a fact that the dog in question, for example, left the area and chose not to play.
Originally published in Germany by my good friends at Kynos, the U.S. version is published by First Stone in the UK, and distributed in the U.S. by Dogwise. (Apology here: I got it wrong the first time I posted this, said Dogwise was the publisher. Sorry!) And yay for all of them, it is truly a treasure. Nothing I can do or say here adequately represents the depth and breadth of this book. Buy it for yourself, go in with a friend, ask your library to get it, or splurge and donate it to your local humane society. But whatever you do, try to get your hands on this achievement of a lifetime, and enrich your life.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: It’s spring! Granted, last Saturday, February 18th, was not the “official” start of spring, which is March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere. But years ago I decided to use the first song notes of the Black-capped Chickadee as my indicator of spring, because these adorable, Disney-esque birds may Chicka-dee-dee-dee all winter long, but begin their territorial and mating song in February, and what a sweet sound it is. “Fee bee! Fee bee bee!” they began singing this weekend–music to my ears. Why not call that spring?
In addition, it’s lighter in the evening, so that we don’t have to rush walking the dogs after their dinner before dark, a friend saw some Sandhill Cranes flying in, and we have some bulbs coming up, in spite of my efforts to mind meld them into waiting til April. They are gonna get slammed by ice and sleet and rain and snow, but their leaves are hardy things. Sleet and ice, of course, are predicted just a few days from now, and will come and go all the way through March and part of April. But still. Fee bee! Fee bee bee!
[This is hysterical. I played the video above to check it out before inserting it, and there are now two chickadees raising a ruckus outside the dining room window. Slam me for saying it, but if I’ve ever heard a chickadee sound pissed off, it’s right now. This is amusing, but also a reminder to not mess up birds when they are establishing their territories by playing recordings of their song to call them in. Honestly, I had no idea they would hear the notes that I was playing inside the house. Their responsiveness is truly impressive. ]
It’s spring-ish inside the house too. I almost forgot the two amaryllis I put in the cellar last fall, but finally brought them up and they are growing like crazy. Those pink pretty things in the background are thanks to my sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.
Here’s a bloom from the one I bought last fall that bloomed about a month ago. It’s fading now, but what a joy it has been to a color addict like me.
It’s not always so pretty outside this time of year. You can see in the photo below that there’s the whole spring catastrophe: mud, ice and snow, all at once. The sheep are actually grazing dried grass up the hill where it’s clear, but getting up there requires navigating a lot of ice. In this shot, the sheep are impatiently waiting for me to put their hay in the feeders, while pretending Skip is not outside the fence looking like a hungry wolf.
Do not show the photo below of Skip and Maggie to the sheep. I think Mr. Wonderful, with his adorable little tongue tip, would lose all cred if the flock got a glimpse of it.
May your week be as comfy as Skip looks on the couch (or perhaps as baleful as Maggie looks–do you love the crossed paw?), and let us know if you’ve seen Dogs in Translation, and what you think the dogs on the workbook page will do. Play? Fight? Ignore each other? We’re all ears. And eyes . . .
I so love that there is a book like this now available. I tried to find one to share with clients when I was a pet sitter, but never found one quite meeting my needs. I will definitely be checking this one out!
On a birding note, I have been hearing the spring sounds of the chickadees too. I love hearing them! Even my cardinals have started singing away. Alas, their songs may be for naught. Fake spring is about to end as we face a major storm with lots of snow. I look forward to their songs to continue soon again and for the melting to begin. I hope it stays safe on the farm.
Becky G says
This book reminds me of what I often heard when working with the great Pat Miller: We need to listen with our eyes.
YES to Spring, we have had a fabulous winter in MI and the red winged black birds have arrived or came out which I consider the first sign of Spring here. A very mild winter indeed for the midwest, we have had several days in low 50’s and 40’s which makes walking the dog 4-5 miles a breeze! Love the photos of Skip and Maggie.
Melanie Babendreier says
I bought the book and it really is amazing, but at first I was really frustrated when they would state “the forehead is wrinkled” or the whiskers are pointing up” and it just isn’t visible in the photos. Nevertheless, the more I look and read, the more I understand and know what to look for in my own dogs and the dogs I train.
P.s. I, too, love the spring Chickadee song!
Pat Hall says
I’m so glad to read your review of this book! I have always had a strong interest in learning as much as I can about dog behavior and understanding what our dogs are telling us. I get a lot of books from Dogwise and received an email from them announcing the book. With the price tag, I had to think about it, but then decided I really need to have it. I’ve ordered it and am now awaiting its arrival. I can’t wait!
Camille Asmer, CDBC, IAABC-ADT, CCBC, CPDT says
I bought this book just a month ago and completely agree, it’s fantastic in its detail. probably a bit much for clients, but for trainers and behavior consultants, it is going to be invaluable!
Love the gorgeous blooms! (and the pups, of course!)
Chris from Boise says
This sounds like a terrific book. I grew up in the same era you did, Trisha, and body language was never mentioned in the training classes I took as a teenager. It was the late, great Habi who forced me to learn how to really see what I was looking at. Since then, I’ve occasionally visited dog parks without our dogs, just to watch dog-dog interactions.
Situational asymmetry: Obi is a master of subtle but effective signs. He can be looking at Mike with a soft eye and relaxed lip, while snarling with narrowed eye and lifted lip at obnoxious Rowan on the side of his face away from Mike.
Chickadee spring songs are the very first signs of spring for me, too. They’ve been singing here for a couple of weeks. I heard/saw the first meadowlark song last week. And screech owls are courting in our backyard.
Frank Hashek says
Where is Dogs In Translation available for sale?
Frank, you can get Dogs in Translation for dogwise.com, or Amazon.
Chris, I love hearing about Obi’s flexible face. What a master of communication. And meadowlarks! Wonderful Saw my first bluebird last evening, was amazed. And happy!
Melanie, I too found myself looking at some photographs and not seeing what was described. Hard to tell if it’s because of the printing, or because the authors were there and saw it in person, or, something else. But I agree completely that the book has sooo much to offer.
Tails Around the Ranch says
The book is $10 cheaper on DogWise ($79.95) than Amazon at $89.95. It could be a valuable resource even at that price point.
I have the book. I’m hoping to use it to help me explain what I am seeing to a person who is not always watching. If I say “look at his face and eyes”, by the time the other person looks, the intent stare and forward posture and ears have shifted – just because of speaking. I’m hoping this book will give me the opportunity to show a picture of what I was seeing, with the ‘gravitas’ of an expensive book by experts, not just me. Long story shorter, new dog, formerly with unhoused person, only about a year old, coming to our home with no perfect old dog here to school him appropriately about all things civilized – plus cats. Eek.
OMGosh, I had never heard a chickadee before! Thank you so much, that was delightful..!
Dogwise rocks! Always a better choice than Amazon for sure!
John Sellers says
First Stone, in the UK, are the publishers of the English language edition…but that’s a minor gripe! We are very happy that our friends at Dogwise are the US distributors. And we are so grateful for your thoughtful, perceptive review. Our mission as a publisher is to expand the pool of knowledge for the benefit or dogs, and their guardians, everywhere.
Deb Mickey says
LOL! We’ve traveled familiar paths in our dog journey. Back in the day I too asked my students to evaluate how their dogs perceived their hands-on, heavy petting praise then I described it as when my mother would wash my face with a wash cloth. “Stop squirming, I just want to get that dirt off”. Not praise at all!
This book looks fascinating!
Seeing flock of geese and robins here in ole Pennsylvania – can’t wait for spring!
Deborah Robson says
I have resisted all the previous dog-communication visual references (except Lili Chin’s) because they seemed “very good but not great.” It turns out I was saving up for Dogs in Translation–which I ordered as soon as Dogwise listed it in their e-mail. I’ve been a writer, editor, and publisher for long enough to know a Must Have book when it appears on a topic of great and ongoing interest to me.
Based on experience getting magazines and books printed, my thought on the images where, say, the forehead wrinkles are noted in the caption but not readily visible in the photo is that there’s a combination of the color(s) in the photo and the printing process. It’s more evident on the dark-colored dogs.
All this tuning of my observation skills is especially pertinent right now because we’re in the process of adding a new-to-us used dog to the household. She and the established resident are doing great–not 100%, but it’s useful to know when the microsignals indicate “yes” and when they briefly signal “not right now.”
My apologies to John and First Stone. I’m cozy upstairs in bed in a snow storm, but will make the correction in the morning assuming we have power! Congratulations on an exquisite book, we are all grateful to you.
Julie Lyons says
I’ve asked my husband to give me the book for our anniversary. It’s interesting that our first two female Gordon Setters loved to have the back of their ears rubbed. They would literally melt onto the floor in pleasure. Our third Gordon, a male, turned away from my rubbing the back of his ears so I started scratching his back which he loves. He raises my elbow on our bed every morning so I’ll scratch his back. When I mentioned to my husband this evening that our dog doesn’t like his ears rubbed, my husband said that our dog loves it when my husband scratches ears! So…he wants one affection from me and a different one from my husband. What do you think Patricia?
Going to ask my library to get the book, since it’s out of my price range.
Saw my first Red-Winged Blackbirds of the year (they’ve always been my Harbingers of Spring) last Saturday while participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count here in northern Indiana.
They might be regretting that now, since we’re getting freezing rain.
Kathy Carlson says
I had a training experience in the 80’s where the instructor didn’t think my dobie/blue heeler puppy was responding quickly enough to the command Sit – she then pulled the dog’s front feet off the floor by grabbing and holding both sides of the dog’s neck. At which point my puppy started resisting and growling strenuously to the point the instructor was afraid to let go of the puppy and asked me to come take her. Which I did, and then I walked out of the class, never to return.
Excited to get this book! Always looking to learn more about behavior and expand my knowledge.
The chicadee’s song peeked my dog’s attention as we sit on the sofa together. 🙂
Rebecca Ruggiero says
The book looks gorgeous and so valuable. I love the chickadee info and the flower blooms, especially since it’s sub-zero winter weather here in Maine today. I played the YouTube video of the chickadee calls and my eight-month old poodle immediately began “woofing” and peering out the window. Guess she’s anxious for spring too!
Excited for this!
Hi there. I looked into buying this book and discovered that the workbook must be purchased separately, bringing the total to $99.90. Lovely book but a bit pricey.