The Oldie

DOG’S BEST FRIEND

A BRIEF HISTORY OF AN UNBREAKABL­E BOND

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SIMON GARFIELD

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 310pp, £16.99

Simon Garfield’s devotion to an elderly epileptic black retriever called Ludo shines through this breezy exploratio­n of the bond between man and dog which has existed for 10,000 years.

Dog’s Best Friend despatches several canine myths. We learn, for instance, that barking is not talking, but the recourse of dogs in situations which reward barking. Change the circumstan­ces and the dog shuts up. Also that the expression we call hangdog is a response to owner cues – uncruel experiment­s have ascertaine­d that dogs which don’t eat the forbidden treat have the same guilty look as those which do.

The author is also generous with startling facts: who knew that in 1939, in the first four days of the war, an estimated 400,000 — possibly up to 750,000 — domestic dogs and cats were put down by their owners on government advice that animals could not be taken to air raid shelters? Melanie Reid in the Times mentioned her uncle’s dog, name of Lunatic, before honing in on Garfield’s research into changing fashions in dog-naming. Fido and Spot are toast – these days dogs are more likely to have the same sort of names as we give our children.

Helen Brown in the Telegraph praised the book as ‘charming and erudite’ as well as ‘slightly shambolic’. Jackie Annesley in the Sunday Times thought that Garfield ‘is clearly aware that his latest book is something of a dog’s dinner’. Melanie Reid suspected the author of ‘pulling his punches, understand­ably, at those who are both his target and his readers. Unforgivab­ly, he even spares those who call their dogs “fur babies”.’

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