The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves” by Alexandra Horowitz

Book review by: Terri Schlichenmeyer

You do not need a dog.

You can tick off the reasons: you don’t have time or money for a dog. There is no room in your house. You don’t have a yard. You already have a dog (or two). You do not need another but – once you’ve read “The Year of the Puppy” by Alexandra Horowitz – you’ll see that there’s a chasm of difference between “need” and “want.”

A dog was not originally in the cards.

There were two canines in the household already and, as the founder of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, dogs constantly circled through Alexandra Horowitz’s life. Still, the word “puppy” kept surfacing in her early-pandemic mind, until she finally gave in to it. If she could find a puppy, and study it from birth forward, that would be research, right?

And so Horowitz found someone who was fostering a very pregnant mother dog, and she was able to witness the birth of eleven squirming little “sweet potatoes” with big heads and tiny feet. About two weeks later, she noted that the puppies’ eyes were opening and she could tell they were starting to hear (puppies’ ears are plugged at birth). She watched the litter as they went from fat little blobs to actual baby dogs, as each showed its burgeoning personality, and as they learned how to be dogs.

So how do you pick one puppy from eleven that you’ve come to know?  It wasn’t science for this scientist; the foster “matched” pups with prospective parents, including Horowitz. In the end, after an overnight debate on names, Quid came to live with her new family. 

Her presence was a challenge at first: Quid was a handful, always chewing, always into things, a typical puppy, a hurricane on four legs – but Horowitz could see that Quid was learning and, more importantly, she could see how. Things would take time. Love would come with affection “via the petting hand.”

And, says Horowitz, “That is the magic bit.”

The bed is no longer yours. Neither is the sofa, the kitchen, the bathroom, or the car. Happily, you share them with another species, and “The Year of the Puppy” reminds you why.

It’s hard, in fact, to keep a goofy grin off your face while you’re reading this book because puppies just do that to people – author Alexandra Horowitz included. And yet (though it had to be tempting), Horowitz doesn’t go completely twitterpated; the litter she studied and the pup she ultimately chose were observed carefully and their behaviors are explained in talks-the-talk language that dog lovers will appreciate. Adding to the charm: Horowitz offers many delightful comparisons between human infants and canine babies, and between Horowitz’ own human pre-adolescent and her growing furry one.

Even for rescue parents who haven’t had a puppy in years, this book will make sense in the data about development and canine adulthood in a way you’ll like. For dog lovers of every stripe and spot, “The Year of the Puppy” is the book you need.


Viking $28.00,

320 pages