Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: Is My Dog a Wolf? (dog book, children's)

Is My Dog a Wolf? How Your Pet Compares to its Wild Cousin, by Jenni Bidner, $9.95, 2006, 64 pp, Lark Books. (ages 6 and up) (2006 ASPCA® Henry Bergh Children's Book Award in the 'Non-Fiction Companion Animals' category) 

Is My Dog a Wolf?

In a word, “No.” And anyone who continues to use outdated wolf terms like “dominant dog,” “alpha roll,” or “alpha dog” when talking about man’s best friend has not paid attention to advances in dog training or wolf observation in the past few decades.

Written by a Search and Rescue (SAR) dog handler from the upper Mid-West, Is My Dog a Wolf? abounds with story-telling photos on every page. You will surely find YOUR dog depicted somewhere in this book, if only in behavior (chewing, digging, playing fetch).

Bidner provides an antidote to the wolf myths and outdated wolf ‘facts’ that still proliferate on TV and in fairy tales - or are spewed about by a few famous dog trainers (usually the traditional, force-based trainers). The author beautifully explains the similarities and differences in dogs and wolves. For example, wolves cannot be easily be trained as your family pet.

Over the centuries, dogs and wolves have evolved under different selection forces. Wolves are well-adapted for pack living: they hunt cooperatively, and aunts, uncles, and teen wolves help babysit and train the puppies.

On the other hand, dogs have been selected to live with a family of humans, to assist in hunting ducks or herding sheep or just for companionship (there are more than 300 breeds of dogs of all sizes, shapes, colors and temperaments for very different ‘jobs’). Wolves are happy only in the wild, while a dog likes to live in our home and considers our human family to be his pack.

When Fido chases Kitty (a real, live squeaky toy!), plays tug with you, digs in the wrong place in the backyard, chews the shoes you forgot to put in the closet, or barks at the delivery person, he is exhibiting remnants of wolf behavior. Both wolves and dogs have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, use body language including facial and tail expressions, and share the same hunting tools – their teeth. They both play-fight and sometimes even fight over food. But dogs bark more, even though some will howl like wolves. All these behaviors and more are explained and discussed in both photos and words.

For more information, check out the Minnesota Wildlife Science Center at, or to learn about the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

This book is an excellent portrayal of the differences and similarities between dogs and wolves, for children and adults alike. Had it also quoted Dr. L. David Mech, the foremost expert on wolves for the last 40 years, it would have been a perfect treatment. Even so, it is well worth keeping and provides much food for thought.

(This review first appeared in GRREAT News, May-June 2011.)

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