The world of war.
Rebecca Frankel writes of a world not many of us will ever know. It’s a scary, unpredictable, and wickedly dangerous world. It’s the world of war.
“You don’t have to walk a mile down a bomb-laden road in Kandahar to know the pull of devotion of a dog…”
Frankel follows several military dog handlers as they go through their training, learning about their dogs, building a bond that will carry them to a foreign land (in more ways than one). She explores the history of dogs in war. She brings you face to face with the ugliness of war. And the beauty of having a friend walking through hell with you.
As a professional trainer who uses force-free training technologies (clicker training), I was reluctant to even accept the book from the publicist for review. I know how military dogs are trained. It’s not clickers and treats, let’s just say that. The old and inaccurate dominance theories run rampant in the military.
So while the stories in a couple of the chapters left me disappointed, I was happy to read of the true bond between the soldiers and their dogs. How much the dogs normalized the soldiers’ lives. How many lives the dogs saved thanks to their superior olfactory senses.
Military dog programs take money and manpower. A lot of both. So, from a solely economical standpoint, it makes sense to ramp up the canine program when it’s really needed, and to eliminate the program when the need is gone. From a continuity, institutional knowledge, and efficiency standpoint, however, eliminating a canine program is foolish.
The programs are constantly being reinvented whenever the need arises. Frankel’s book argues for an institutionalized program that can be scaled up — or down — at will, not created from scratch repeatedly when we go into and out of war.
Anyone who has known the love of a dog will enjoy this book.
You can feel the bond between the soldiers and their dogs. The good that the dogs are doing, the lives that they’re saving — you can’t put a price on that. But in addition to the lives being saved, there’s more at work here:
“Any handler who has brought a dog with him or her to war will say it made all the difference in the world. They will say that the dog by their side provided them with something more than just a living, breathing piece of home — it acted as a talisman, insulating them from whatever horrors unfolded, bringing them peace in turbulence, offering companionship in times of loneliness. It made the path through war bearable, the unendurable somehow endurable, and many will say they came through the other side more stable.”
Frankel spent considerable time with the men and women in the military, spent time with their families, their dogs. She checked her sources, experts in canine cognition, like Marc Beckoff, Dr. Stanley Coren, and Alexandra Horowitz — all authors of books on my own bookshelf.
I enjoyed the book a lot more than I expected. Frankel has captured the beauty and connection that exists between a dog and his person. I cannot lie: many tears were shed reading the book. Some were happy tears, accompanied by thankful laughs, while others were just sobs for the lives that are lost in war.
If you’re looking for a good read, a read that’ll take you on a journey you’ll never otherwise know, buy this book. It’s more than just a story about dogs and war.