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Book Review on The Hidden Life of Dogs

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is a pretty well-known author of a number of books dealing with social lives of animals (dogs and deer, for example) and primitive tribes, both contemporary and ancient (her primary specialization is anthropology). In The Hidden Life of Dogs she tries to get an insight into what she considers to be the real life of dogs, the life people don’t get to see because they, according to her, never ask themselves what their dogs really want. Whether she manages to reach her goal or not is, however, rather debatable.


Anthropomorphic Personification of Dogs

the hidden life of dogs book reviewThe Hidden Life of Dogs is written in the manner of a memoir – Thomas describes many years of her interactions with her dogs (a substantial pack of ten huskies and, for some reason, a dingo) and analyzes what she perceives as their psychology, mannerisms, wishes and so on.

The problem is that she clearly allows her primary specialization as an anthropologist to get the better of her. She doesn’t simply anthropomorphize her dogs, she doesn’t seem to see any major differences between people and dogs in the matter of psychology. She doesn’t actually analyze their behavior; she simply takes their behavior and gives an explanation based on her conjectures, sometimes providing examples of rather shocking (for a dog-owner) ignorance.

For example, in one episode she leads a male dog to his mate with a litter of puppies, and, although he doesn’t see them, he knows the puppies are there. She proceeds to say: puppies are silent, so he doesn’t hear them, he doesn’t see them, I can’t smell them, so he can’t smell them as well – yet, shockingly, he somehow knows they are here. Needless to say, any person who knows anything about dogs knows they have much, much better hearing and the sense of smell than people.


Real Life of Dogs or Irresponsibility of an Owner?

But it may just be a harmless quirk of an author. What is much worse is her irresponsibility and the fact she doesn’t notice it. There are a lot of things that will make any dog-owner silently curse the author in disbelief. To name a few:

  • She lets her dogs roam urban areas around her home unsupervised, isn’t bothered when they are missing for days on end and seems fascinated when they manage to come back without being hit by a car.

  • She never neuters or spays her dogs, allows them to breed among themselves without regulation and, again, lets them roam on their own.

  • She leaves two bitches with their newborn litters alone in the house, which results in one of them killing the puppies of another one.


It is ridiculous to listen about any insights into the life of dogs from a person who allows all this to happen to her pets and doesn’t see anything abnormal about it. She is among those dog-owners that make you wish there were some kind of exam one has to pass before he is allowed to keep a pet.

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