Traces of Alexandra Horowitz ‘Year of the Puppy’

The last thing writer and dog behavior expert Alexandra Horowitz needs in the spring of 2020 is a new puppy. Her family — three reasonable humans, two elderly dogs and a contented cat — was “full of animal hair,” she writes in “The Year of the Puppy,” her latest book. The pandemic is just settling down. Why open the door to chaos?

Why do people get a new puppy during a pandemic? (Why not everyone?) Beyond the usual reasons, there are scientific considerations for Horowitz, who runs the Canine Cognition Lab at Barnard College and whose book features best-selling book”Inside of a Dog: What the dog sees, smells, and knows.“Long ago fascinated by dogs umwelt – how they experience the world – she has never studied a puppy’s development before from its origins as “a meowing coat”, as she writes, through adolescence and more. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.

She imagined herself as resembling canine behavior like the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who used her own children as subjects to formulate her theories of developmental psychology. But “Five puppies“Coming on Tuesday from Viking, becoming less of a scientific inquiry (despite a lot of it) and more of a personal memoir, as the arrival of this little and famous person threw the family away from its normal axis.

Horowitz said in a recent interview: “It turned out that we were too attached to each other in her life. “And as an observer, I’m not objective.”

After reading about what happened next, what you want is to meet the dog in question, whose name is Quid (short for Quiddity). And there she was one day, waiting for Horowitz on the sidewalk outside their apartment on the Upper West Side, a medium-sized hybrid with a sleek black coat, a wrinkly schnauzer-like face and Brezhnev-esque eyebrows. the appearance of a wise old man.

“It made it easier for her to meet outside, because she was an accomplice to us and we were going into the house together,” Horowitz said, as Quid sniffled, babbled, and crooned in greeting. “It makes her enthusiastic, which she shows through her barking. Do you want to treat her? “

The conversation moved upstairs to Horowitz’s apartment, where Quid engaged in two of her favorite pastimes, chasing a tennis ball and being petted by Horowitz. Edsel, the calico cat, stretched out on a reporter’s notebook, knocked out his pen, and began to purr softly. “The cat likes to find what you’re using and sit on it,” says Horowitz.

Horowitz knew the woman who was nursing Quid’s mother, and so met the puppies the day they were born. But when she brought Quid home, at just 10 weeks old, Horowitz noticed that she didn’t quite take Quid right away. And her previous assumption that canine traits such as jumping, barking, and anxiety stem from a dog’s early experiences has not been supported by evidence.

“Her early life wasn’t filled with trauma, but she wasn’t the dog I was hoping for at first,” says Horowitz, 53. “She didn’t respond to us the way I wanted her to be.” The impulsive Quid, eager to run after squirrels and other elusive creatures, tends to bark more constantly and with no apparent purpose than Horowitz’s two old dogs (and now, sadly, it’s too late) .

And so the book is as much about how Horowitz adjusted to Quid and how Quid adjusted to the business of growing up, becoming “an exceptionally sensitive, nimble, sweet and lovable creature.” , Horowitz writes. “A member of our family.”

As we chatted, Horowitz’s husband, writer and editor Ammon Shea, wandering to do something in the kitchen. What is his opinion on Quid?

He considered.

“I think she is attractive, full of excitement and love and she has a hairy joie de vivre – with lots of hair and teeth – and she is untrained in her passions, which is what That was great,” he said. “No one cares about a heavy dog.”

He added: “She’s also kind of a pain in the tuchus because the enthusiasts aren’t trained.”

Shea, an editor and researcher at Merriam Webster, is also a writer who loves to dig into a topic; His books include “Read OED: One Man, One Year, 21,739 pages. In an odd twist, Horowitz also worked at Merriam-Webster, as a lexicographer — defining words — after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in philosophy. Her next job was a reality check at The New Yorker.

She went back to school and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees. in cognitive science at the University of California at San Diego. Her thesis is called “The behavior of the theory of mind, and a case study of dogs at play.”

The two met in 2004 when Shea, then working for a moving company, was hired to help Horowitz move into a new apartment.

“We met lexicographically,” he said. Upon entering the house, Horowitz said, “It’s okay, Pumpernickel,” to her then-dog. (Readers of “Life of a Dog” will recognize Pumpernickel, who starred.)

“And I said, ‘Do you know the etymology of the word ‘pumpernickel? ‘” Shea recalls. “And she knew the etymology, although we had a slight disagreement. I said ‘demon fart’, and she said ‘flashing goblin.’

Five years later, they got married.

At the Canine Cognition Laboratory, Horowitz studies canine behavior, using subjects brought in by volunteers. She also teaches workshops on canine awareness, audio storytelling, and creative non-fiction.

Although she and her family have a home in upstate New York, where they’ve spent much of the pandemic, she believes the city is a great place for a dog — what smells, constellations of potential canine friends, new experiences, connections with their people. (She doesn’t like to say “owner.” As she explains, “The longer I live with dogs, the less I seem to think of them as possessions.”)

“Cities are fascinating, and with any mirror image, you can see that a city dog ​​can do exceptionally well,” says Horowitz. “As a city dweller, you have to focus and pay attention to what the dog needs. They need to walk; They need socialization. And the smells are a phenomenon. “

Of course, the experience of raising Quid is enhanced by the pandemic, as it is for so many people in similar positions.

“I see her as a keeper of time, which is important because the days slip by,” Horowitz said. “Nothing in our lives feels hopeful, but there’s something very hopeful about adding a puppy to the family.”

Now that the two elderly family dogs have died, the family has changed again: three people, a dog and a cat have learned from the dog that it’s fun to have your family come home, greet them with a warm welcome. run down the hallway. (“Then he found himself wondering what he was doing there,” says Horowitz.)

She said of Quid: “The cat is probably still more interested in her than he is. “Their species division is too obvious. They don’t really communicate often, so it’s a matter of mutual tolerance.”

Since Quid learned from Horowitz, Horowitz also learned from Quid.

“I feel like I’ve been too focused on the dog’s behavior now,” she said. “Nothing slips like me, and it’s too much for a puppy to bear. And over time, as I began to release the idea that she should be someone else and not who she is, I began to appreciate her for who she really is. “

They are: responsive to her family, informed about what they are doing and planning to do, physically present, extremely happy to be caressed, squeezed and cuddled.

“I like the way she changed,” Horowitz said. “I love seeing her from time to time. I loved watching how she learned about tennis balls and how she found her passion for finding them again. The things you love are not what you have designed, but how they are. It’s her personality that I love. “

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