Who's a Good Dog?

And How to Be a Better Human

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Pub Date 06 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 01 Aug 2023

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A New Scientist Best Book of 2023

A guide to cultivating a shared life of joy and respect with our dogs.
Who’s a Good Dog? is an invitation to nurture more thoughtful and balanced relationships with our canine companions. By deepening our curiosity about what our dogs are experiencing, and by working together with them in a spirit of collaboration, we can become more effective and compassionate caregivers.
With sympathy for the challenges met by both dogs and their humans, bioethicist Jessica Pierce explores common practices of caring for dogs, including how we provide exercise, what we feed, how and why we socialize and train, and how we employ tools such as collars and leashes. She helps us both to identify potential sources of fear and anxiety in our dogs’ lives and to expand practices that provide physical and emotional nourishment. Who’s a Good Dog? also encourages us to think more critically about what we expect of our dogs and how these expectations can set everyone up for success or failure. Pierce offers resources to help us cultivate attentiveness and kindness, inspiring us to practice the art of noticing, of astonishment, of looking with fresh eyes at these beings we think we know so well. And more than this, she makes her findings relatable by examining facets of her relationship with Bella, the dog in her life. As Bella shows throughout, all dogs are good dogs, and we, as humans and dog guardians, could be doing a little bit better to get along with them and give them what they need.
A New Scientist Best Book of 2023

A guide to cultivating a shared life of joy and respect with our dogs.
Who’s a Good Dog? is an invitation to nurture more thoughtful and balanced relationships with...

Advance Praise

“Pierce is one of the leading canine bioethicists in the world. In Who’s a Good Dog? she carefully applies her deep and broad knowledge of ethics and dog behavior so that all canines—homed and free-ranging dog beings—can have the best lives possible, and so too can their human companions or the humans with whom they have contact. When dogs and humans form and maintain close, give-and-take relationships, it’s a win-win for all. In this landmark and readable book, Pierce tells us just how to do it.” -- Marc Bekoff, author of "Dogs Demystified" and "Canine Confidential"

“Who’s a Good Dog? is sorely needed to fill essentially a void in the public conversation about the human-dog relationship. Pierce bravely asks us to examine our assumptions about our dogs’ emotional landscapes, and to consider our own actions and choices within those relationships. Her book is a comprehensive, accessible manual for people who have never before considered the basic ethical implications of living with a dog.” -- Lisa Moses, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics

“An astonishing book. Reading Who’s a Good Dog? is akin to the project Pierce asks of us: to adopt a beginner’s mind in relation to understanding the dogs we live with. There’s a sense with many of the questions posed in the book that there is much more to say—but this is also its beauty, that with incredible restraint, Pierce has created opening after opening for us to do the work of reflection (and theorization) ourselves. Original, well-executed, and engaging.” -- Kathryn Gillespie, author of "The Cow with Ear Tag #1389"

“A book that all loving pet owners should read.” ― New Scientist, on "The Last Walk"

“There is of course so, so much more to enrichment for pets; I’d recommend starting with Pierce’s book if you want to know more.” ― New York Magazine, on "Run, Spot, Run"

“Pierce is one of the leading canine bioethicists in the world. In Who’s a Good Dog? she carefully applies her deep and broad knowledge of ethics and dog behavior so that all canines—homed and...

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Featured Reviews

Who's a Good Dog? was a thoughtful insight guide to create better relationship with our dogs. This book had interesting approaches because although the series guide almost similar with something we already knew and learned but it also adjustable for accommodate our unique companion characters.

Alongside with the normal treatment such as feed, exercise, play, training and socializing this book also digging deeper into the topics. For example for feeding activity we starting with the dog's mindset. Why they still stealing food although the owner already serve the best for them?
How to choose best route for our walking activities with them. I really like this type of approach and would love to practice one or two with my own pet.
Additional picture or illustrations will boost the mood and make good rest for eyes. And who dont love cute dogs pic?

Thank you University Chicago Press and Netgalley for provided my copy. My thoughts and opinions always become my own

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Absolutely loved the way Jessica Pierce's introduction in the book. I could feel the love for Bella and related to a lot of what Jessica described. I felt a variety of emotions and have actually had to go through something similar with my own dog Theo. He broke his hip at 1 years old & as a new dog mom, it was very overwhelming.

I am a proud dog mom to 2 amazing dogs. I love them very much so and found this book incredibly insightful, I highly recommend all dog owners/potential dog owners to read this book.

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For anyone who owns a dog, “Who’s a Good Dog and How to be a Better Human” by Jessica Pierce, is essential reading. Families with dogs are very much in the majority. According to statistics there are around 180 million dogs kept as pets around the world, a figure which has surged in recent decades (and spiked during the pandemic).

Paradoxically, while dogs today have access to advanced veterinary technology and treatment, better food, high standards of housing and all manner of toys and accessories, there’s been a staggering increase in the number of dogs suffering from anxiety-related and behavioural problems. Living in close proximity to humans is nothing new for dogs, who have been “man’s best friend” for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, there’s something about what Pierce describes as the “very unnatural ‘ecosystem’ of the twenty-first-century human home” that’s cultivating a canine crisis.

Pierce explores this anomaly to try and identify just what it is that's making the human-dog relationship so fraught. One of her findings that resonated with me is that dogs are being unreasonably “de-dogged”, in other words are being expected to suppress their canine instincts so as to fit more amenably into the human home environment. More and more, we are demanding that dogs behave in a manner that suits us, not them – not to bark, shed hair, chew, dig, sniff disgusting (to us) things or react to other dogs or humans in an impolite or aggressive way. We want dogs to provide comfort and companionship but not upset the tidy, controlled and constrained environment we’ve provided for them. We want them to be, as Pierce says, “therapists and fur-covered antidepressants”.

Harmonious co-existence then between our beloved dogs and ourselves is increasingly threatened by our unrealistic expectations and assumptions. What Pierce sets out to do in her book is to take a magnifying glass to the space we share, ethically, emotionally and physically with our dogs. Her aim is not to offer a “how to” manual for bringing up dogs but to show us how we can develop a more mindful approach to the relationship. There are many ways of doing this, but in summary they amount to respecting dogs as complex individual creatures, not toys and not unpaid providers of unconditional love. With instincts and needs that don’t often mesh with those of their owners, dogs rely completely on us for their welfare. But as they can’t advocate for themselves, they also rely on us to understand the complexities of being a dog in an “intensively homed” environment.

Pierce has enunciated the problem succinctly and with a great deal of insight, but more than this she’s provided clarity and a new perspective on the many issues that trouble owner/dog interactions. She writes as an owner of a dog herself who has made many mistakes and encountered many problems. Bella, her current dog, is lame in one leg, has a number of behavioural issues and is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a consistently “good dog”. Pierce’s honesty and realistic approach to the kinds of things that can and do go wrong make her book relatable and engaging. She doesn’t offer any quick makeover solutions, as many dog owner advice books do, but she does put forward a comprehensively researched examination of the problems both dogs and their owners face. It’s a big picture approach rather than a pedantic one. Most of all though, and what made the book especially rewarding for me, Pierce has made me think about how I have been compromising the “dogness” of my own dogs in trying to make them conform to my unrealistic human standards. That alone makes the book worth reading, but there’s much more enlightenment to be found as well.

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I have spent over 3000 days so far with my dog and an insurmountable amount of time fawning over every other dog I come across. Its fair to say I’m a dog person. I would say that my respect for dogs exceeds that which I have for humans. So when reading this book I was surprised at some of the issues flagged by Jessica Pierce that do not make me as good an owner as I thought I was. Not in a shaming way, but in a thoughtful explanation of idiosyncrasies that as a society of dog lovers we have organically overlooked. For example, we scold our dogs for natural canine behaviour, animalistic behaviour, so that they fit in with out human world that we have imposed on them.
We want them as company, to support us and our emotional needs and yet what are they getting in return that meets their emotional needs? I think of how my kids and I lock the dog in a separate room when the Tesco delivery comes, the reasoning twofold. Firstly, she doesn’t like men being on our property randomly and when she realises its food based, she gets excited and runs about the delivery van, ergo, in the road. I do this to protect the stranger and protect my dog’s safety. To her, this is locking her away from protecting us and getting giddy. Being a dog parent is hard. Yes we feed them, keep them safe, give them access to medical treatment, cuddle and walk them. But maybe there is so much more we can consider.
Enlightening, subjective and a great reminder for those who have forgotten what it really is to be a good dog owner with mutual appreciation for each other.

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Every dog guardian who wants to truly help their dog live his or her best life should read this book.

Jessica Pierce covers all angles of dog care from nutrition to cooperative veterinary care to training. She points out how the average American dog’s world has shrunk over the past several decades. Gone are the days of dogs freely roaming and exploring, except for the few who live in the country.

So given this more limited existence, what’s a dog lover to do?

For one thing, start considering things from your dog’s point of view. To that end, Pierce poses some thought-provoking questions throughout the book to help. She had me rethinking how I structure training sessions with my two.

I found myself agreeing with Pierce a great deal. When I’m enjoying a meal, I share a bit with my dogs just as she described. I don’t view their behavior as “begging”. Instead, I see my two good dogs sitting and waiting patiently for me to share a little with them.

She has a great section on DINOS, dogs in need of space, which I truly appreciated. My smaller dog needs space. She’s not a pandemic pup, but it seems like pandemic pups struggling with reactivity may have prompted bioethicist Pierce to tackle this book.

If you’re a fan of Kathy Sdao’s book Plenty in Life is Free, Pierce’s approach to dog care will resonate with you.

Thank you NetGalley and University of Chicago Press for providing me with an Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for my honest review.

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