The photograph on the front caught me immediately: two adorable Boston terriers, one seeming to whisper in the other’s ear, while the other stares at you in surprise, as though he’s been caught! Irresistible, right? The cast of characters next interested me – a mix of breeds common in America, breeds which most of us know well through direct or indirect contact. Some of their stories are weaker than others – not as funny, not as connection-forming, and not as well-rounded – but there are some downright stirring moments too. I enjoyed reading more than half of the book, but also felt some of the material was just fluff.
Yes, as you might expect, Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know is a cutesy book in many ways. The art direction is bright and adorable; each character even has its own motif. But, hiding quietly beneath the surface, you’ll also find brilliant examination of our relationship to dogs. There are many vignettes which deal with the way we inadvertently create or nurture neuroses and bad habits in dogs, one story of repeated intolerance for mistakes (and bad luck), and a particularly bittersweet story about a shelter dog who is passed over again and again because people prefer puppies. Honestly, how well do humans deal with the same kind of rejection over and over?
Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know could make a good gift for a dog-lover, even if their favorite breed isn’t represented. Each reader will probably sympathize with different characters for different reasons. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with Chihuahuas so, while I found little Tinkerbell’s “reality check” attitude toward her ditzy human hilarious, it didn’t connect with me as deeply as Sophie the aging cocker spaniel, who reminded me of the cocker mix that grew up with me. Equally enjoyable were the misadventures of Moonbeam with her well-meaning but hilariously misguided New Age human caretaker. Moonbeam is a pragmatic little mutt who survived a flood and finds herself bearing a vegetarian diet, doggie massage and acupuncture, and endless talk about the “trauma” she once endured. Rufus T was another highlight: he is a country-born bloodhound who dreams about city life and show business. He tells a beautiful sad story about feeling like an outsider in your own home but finding friendship just next door: a testament to the families we choose, versus the ones we don’t.
There are, of course, many other characters you may love more than the ones I’ve discussed: Axelrod, the typically sweet and dopey yellow Labrador; or Bandana, the type-A border collie who can’t abide by how things are done at his house; or even Dimples, a boxer who is a mother to two young boys that will never get it right thanks to the humans not allowing her to raise them. Each of the eleven doggie characters present really poignant moments or laugh-aloud insights just as you start to wonder where the story is headed. The authors did a remarkable job giving each dog a distinct voice. Even if you get along with some of these dogs better than others, each and all of them will remind you that we don’t always know best when it comes to canines.
Caitlin is a fiction writer who also dabbles in poetry, creative nonfiction and acrylic painting. When not reading, she enjoys hiking, cooking and spending time with friends and pets. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Portland and currently resides in Louisiana.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.