:Adam’s Task and Working Dogs

Holy Smokes. I started this entry more than an hour ago and got totally sidetracked. Not physically sidetracked, but lost in cyberspace. It started right after I scanned the spine of the copy of Working Dogs I currently have from the library.

Realizing this was a book I wanted to own, I did a quick search and discovered Dogwise currently has this book in print. My library copy was printed in 1934. In a review for Dog World magazine D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D. had the following comments:

Students of dog genetics have long recognized the significance of Working Dogs, which was first published in 1934- well before other books that are considered forerunners. Dogwise has finally made this long-out-of-print classic available again. Working Dogs chronicles the pioneering adventure of one of dogdom’s most ambitious breeding programs, known as the Fortunate Fields project, began in 1924 in Switzerland, attempted to apply scientific principles to create superior working German Shepherd Dogs for a variety of services, including work as police dogs, herding dogs, guide dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs, without sacrificing their role as family dogs. Individual finding regarding the inheritance of specific traits were recorded in scientific journals of the time, forming the foundation of canine behavioral genetics. Quoting from the book’s foreword; “Every step in the breeding, rearing, and training of these working dogs is as carefully planned, measured, and recorded as is the making of a fine piece of machinery designed to do a particular piece of work.” Few, if any, sources document the process and progress of generations of breeding toward a specific goal as does Working Dogs. Although of special interest to German Shepherd owners, Working Dogs’ relevance to breeders, behaviorists, trainers, and history buffs transcends breed interest. The writing is compelling, drawing the reader into the project. The text is liberally peppered with black–and-white photographs of Shepherds of the time. Chapter topics include descriptions of dogs as workers, how breeders are selected, psychological traits, the inheritance of specific traits, the association of traits, and which traits are most vital to the dog’s success as a worker, among others. If you have ever wondered how much of your dog’s behavior is inherited, or how much progress you could make if you had every resource at your disposal, Working Dogs will go far to answer your questions.

So, I’ve purchased a copy. Now that didn’t take nearly an hour. It took only a few minutes. The culprit was a Lesson in Anatomy. Onward!

Some days ago, upon completing The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I wrote a blog entry about the book titled Musings on a Tuesday Morning.

In response to that post Shellie asked:

So, where do you think the Sawtelle dogs went?

Kathy asked:

If you could write a sequel to the Sawtelle dogs, where would you like to see the story take them?

 And Katy commented:

But I have read Vickie Hearne’s book, Adam’s Task.
I must admit, I found it a bit overwhelming and took more than a month to read it because I kept re-reading paragraphs and entire chapters, to comprehend, digest and try to understand what, exactly, she was trying to say. Her intellect and use of the English language is way above mine, as is her understanding of the canine mind.
I finished the book with some confusion, and the feeling that I would come back and re-read it at a future date, when I had “learned” enough to comprehend more of what she has to say.
I would welcome a discussion of Adam’s Task, or at least some illucidation, from someone who has more insight and more experience with that of which she so eloquently speaks.

Let’s see if I can answer Shellie and Kathy’s questions without spoiling the book, giving away to much. I’d start the sequel with the dogs’ journeying to be reunited with several siblings. Where it would go from there would remain to be seen. I have several ideas, but again don’t want to spoil the read for others. I’m reminded of a long-time client of Mountain Pet Grooming. Francine Matthews is a best selling author of numerous novels. She starts her books with a destination in mind, a mapped route. It takes on a life of its own en-route. She arrives at the planned ending, the planned destination, but the roads followed are usually not in the designated plan. “Imagine,” she said, “starting in California, knowing the destination is NYC. There are a lot of ways to get there!”

On to Adam’s Task…

Although I had the pleasure of ‘being’ in Vicki Hearne’s company via cyberspace, soaking up her contributions to (defunct since Dr. John Armstrong’s passing) the CANGEN list, I confess to never having read Adam’s Task. Katy’s comment inspired me to get the book from my local library. I’m plowing through it. Slowly. I understand Katy’s comment! And, surely it’s going to be one of those books that ends up in a place of honor…right next to Annie On Dogs! and Bones Would Rain From The Sky. That being said…whew!

Vicki is also a philosopher. I also confess to finding philosophy…hummm…the only words that come to mind imply negativity. At one point in Nate’s (never ending) college career, he decided to minor in religion. Skeptics might say it was because of his religious – or lack thereof – upbringing. Perhaps. But it was primarily that philosophy courses counted towards a minor in religion. He loves philosophy. He likes how philosophy challenges one to think for oneself. He probably really liked that there weren’t right or wrong answers. 🙂 Curious, I tried several times to ‘take’ a course along side. I gave up with The Philosophy of Science. Philosophers are wordy, more wordy than Joe Biden. I couldn’t wrap my mind around science being a philosophy. No, I don’t think so. Good science is a proven fact. As I said, I gave up.

Until now. Katy, I’m game to wade through Adam’s Task. Having made it through the first chapter which describes her own inability to find decent conversation in her areas of interest – dog and horse training and philosophy – the second chapter shows promise of getting inside the mind of a dog.

3 Comments on “:Adam’s Task and Working Dogs”

  1. katy widger says:

    Thanks, Debby! I read Adam’s Task during the long nights last winter, and will dust it off and see if I can plow through again. I wasn’t totally without comprehension, but, well, I’m relieved to see that you find her a bit obtuse, as well.
    I finished the Sawtelle book last week. Tried to “make it last” but ended up spending one long evening, well past midnight, finishing up.
    My one thought on finishing it, was that the Sawtelle dogs, in choosing to leave, and Almondine, in choosing to seek Edgar “on the other side”, and Essay’s choice during the water spout event, confirmed and completed the quest that the Sawtelle’s were striving for in their breeding and training program. It begged the question as to whether or not the “choice” the dogs were able to make was the result of the breeding or the training, or a combination of both.
    A sequel could answer that question.
    As to where the dogs “went”, I could only surmise that where they went wasn’t the point, it was the choice to go that mattered.
    David Wrobeleski “knows” the mind of a dog in the way that I have come to know dogs. And, I suspect that Vickie Hearnes was getting at a similar point in her book. But how much more interesting and compelling was David’s version!

  2. bethfinke says:

    I am blind and use a guide dog — found your blog because I also keep a blog on wordpress. Am in the middle of reading (okay, listening to) the Edgar Sautelle book and was especially proud to find references to the Seeing Eye there — I got my dog Hanni from the Seeing Eye.

  3. lhasalhady says:

    Beth, welcome! What’s your blog address? You are surely the author of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound as well as Long Time, No See. Right? Is there an audio version of Adam’s Task? Maybe, then, I could finish that book!

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