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Review of a Dog Behavior Book

Dogs That Know When
Their Owners Are Coming Home

by Rupert Sheldrake |
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Dogs That Know When their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals makes for fascinating reading.  The rich collection of dog tales and animal stories in this remarkable book makes it an appealing volume for dog lovers and anyone interested in animal behavior. It can be read at a much deeper level as well, but the book is very much worth reading for the animal episodes alone.  Click for the full book review.

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   Review of a Dog Behavior Book, continued [ Top ]

Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
by Rupert Sheldrake

The rich collection of dog tales and animal stories in this remarkable book makes it an appealing volume for dog lovers and anyone interested in animal behavior. It can be read at a much deeper level as well, but the book is very much worth reading for the animal episodes alone.

There’s the story of Jaytee, a mixed-breed terrier living in Northern England who correctly anticipated the retun of his owner Pam 85 percent of the time during a year-long experiment. Pam kept a log of her own travels including the varying and random times when she set off for home. Her parents kept a log of Jaytee’s activities including when he went to the French door to await his mistress. The match-up was remarkable.

There’s the tale of a cat named Sami living in Washington, D.C., who waits by the door about 10 minutes before either his owner Jeanne or her boyfriend arrives home at Jeanne’s high-rise apartment at widely varying and unexpected times. How did Sami or Jaytee or the other critters in the book know their owners had set out for home and would soon arrive -- when the people at home did not know?

Stories of horses, monkeys, birds and other species are included in the book as well. Their "unexplained powers" range from anticipating their owners’ arrival to coming to an owner’s rescue from a considerable distance to expressing grief when a parent or offspring dies, again from a far distant place. Also considered are such phenomena as homing abilities and the coordinated behavior of groups of animals, birds and fish.

Book to Read at Different Levels

Clearly this is a book that can be read at different levels. For many readers, it will challenge -- and perhaps actuallly change -- their thinking about such things as premonitions, telepathy, parapsychology and the workings of the human and animal mind.

At the basic level, as already noted, readers can simply enjoy the many dog and animal stories that illuminate the human-animal bond and the wide diversity of animals’ special capabilities. For example, Chad, a Golden Retriever therapy dog, readily knows the difference between the very ill people he visits, with whom he is calm and gentle, and those less ill, with whom he clowns around.

At the second level, readers can explore explanations put forward for the often remarkable animal behaviors described in the book. Author Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist by training, carefully works through possible sources of the animals’ apparent "super powers," including the senses of smell and hearing. But he frequently finds that the identified behaviors appear to go beyond the normally accepted senses.

Morphic Fields and Other Explanations

To explain many of these cases, Sheldrake proposes a concept of "morphic fields" to explain the behavior that seems unexplainable. Innate sense of direction, animal migrations and homing, and the seemingly coordinated behaviors of herds of horses, flocks of birds and schools of fish are among the phenomena explored in connection with this concept of the way individual creatures are connected to others in their social grouping.

For readers who wish to delve still deeper into the issues the book raises, Sheldrake offers both examples and theorires of premonitions, precognition, parapsychology, telepathy, psychokinesis and other psychic phenomena. He explores new ideas on learning and the working of the human mind.

Open Arms and Skepticism

I approached this book torn between two way of viewing its content. My own family has a famous story of the dog Buddy who found his way home over many unfamiliar miles to be united with his people. And as a high school student, I wrote a research paper on the studies of J.B. Rhine on parapsychology and extrasensory perception or ESP. I was open to learning more about this topic.

At the same time, I held a thorough skepticism toward the ideas of psychic powers and extra senses, perhaps because these have been exploited for centuries by charlatans. As I discovered Sheldrake’s extensive scientific training combined with his very detailed, research-oriented approach to the subject, I realized the importance of this book both for animal lovers and those fascinated with aspects of human behavior, thinking, learning and languages.

The book compiles substantial evidence of real occurrences, real behaviors. Whether Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields and morphic resonance prove to be the right explanations for these behaviors most surely cannot be known at this time. His experiments need to be repeated by other researchers to provide corroborating evidence, for example. That is how science works  --test and retest.

But without question, Rupert Sheldrake has demonstrated sufficient evidence that researchers must begin to take seriously this entire field of behavior, perceptions and senses -- and help us gain a new theory of the human-animal bond based on the working a several scientists able to confirm each other's work. Both humans and animals can only benefit from the new understandings that are beginning to come out of this important field of study.

Review by Barbara B. Petura, Webmaster
Member, Dog Writers Association of America

AUTHOR: Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist who studied natural sciences at Cambridge and philosophy at Harvard, then earned the Ph.D. in biochemistry at Cambridge. He has studied biochemistry and cell biology, the development of plants and aging of cells. Read his full biography.

PUBLISHER: Crown Publishers, 1999, hardback edition. Three Rivers Press, paperback edition, 1999.

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