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Born to Bark

My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog

About The Book

"For Christmas the woman who would become my wife bought me a dog—a little terrier. The next year her Christmas gift to me was a shotgun. Most of the people in my family believe that those two gifts were not unrelated."

So begins Born to Bark, the charming new memoir by psychologist and beloved dog expert Stan Coren of his relationship with an irrepressible gray Cairn terrier named Flint. Stan immediately loved the pup for his friendly nature and indefatigable spirit, though his wife soon found the dog’s unpredictable exuberance difficult to deal with, to say the least.

Even though Flint drove Stan’s wife up the wall, he became the joy of Stan’s life. The key to unlocking this psychologist-author’s way of looking at dog behavior, Flint also became the inspiration behind Coren’s classic, The Intelligence of Dogs. Undeterred by Flint’s irrepressible behavior (and by the breeder’s warning that he might be untrainable), Coren set out to prove that his furry companion could pass muster with the best of them. He persevered in training the unruly dog and even ventured into the competitive circles of obedience trials in dog shows, where Flint eventually made canine history as the highest-scoring Cairn terrier in obedience competition up to that time. (Stan chose not to tell his wife that the highest-ranking obedience dog of that year, a border collie, earned a total score that was fifty times higher.)

The longest-running popular expert on human-dog bonding, Coren has enlivened his respected books and theories about dogs with accounts of his own experiences in training, living with, loving, and trying to understand them. A consummate storyteller, Coren now tells the wry, poignant, goofy, and good-hearted tale of his life with the dog who (in the words of his own book titles) taught him How to Speak Dog and How Dogs Think and whose antics made him ask Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Illustrated with Coren’s own delightful line drawings and photos, and interwoven with his heartfelt anecdotes of other beloved dogs from his earlier life, Born to Bark is an irresistible good dog/bad dog tale of this extraordinary, willful pooch and his profound impact on his master’s insights into canine behavior as a research psychologist and on his outlook on life as a whole.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Born to Bark includes discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Discussion Questions

1. Coren's love of many breeds of dogs comes through so beautifully in Born to Bark, as well as his other books. His fondness for his Cairn terrier Flint is particularly strong, however. What is it about the terrier personality that you think he found so appealing?

2. Coren suggests that most people talk to their dogs and that there are different ways that people do this. Do you ever talk to your dog? What do you talk about? Do you actually supply the dog's answers, as Coren does, or do you just think them?

3. Coren's wife Joan, seems to have many more problems with Flint than with Wiz. Do you think that these had to do with the personality of the dogs or her personality or both?

4. Flint clearly had a helpful, therapeutic effect on Alice and helped break through her depression. Are there other places in the book, or in your own life or experience that you have seen dogs providing a psychological boost or improving a person's mood and combating depression?

5. Coren did not want to tell the members of his dog obedience club that he was a professor of psychology at first. Do you think that he was right? Do you think that this strategy was helpful or harmful? 

6. Coren provides an inside look at the world of dog obedience competition. Do you think that this is an appealing sport? Do you think that you might ever want to train a dog for competition?

7. Do you think that the innovative training methods Coren used with Flint as a pup helped them both bond to each other?

8. Do some dogs just have a better sense of humor than others? Flint seems so fun-loving and playful—does Coren say that this is typical of most dogs or the smaller dogs or terriers?

9. Would Coren recommend a terrier specifically a Cairn to most families who are looking for a small dog? How would you think he would want to guide people who fall in love with the breed through reading Born to Bark?

10. What were some of the main things Coren learned from Flint about canine intelligence? What were the emotional lessons he learned?

11. What type of breed is your favorite, and why? Have you tried any of Stan Coren’s training techniques on your dogs, and how have they worked? How did you introduce your dog to your children/other pets, and how did they react?

12. Coren writes about Flint’s instinctual hunting behavior, but Flint also displayed a different kind of behavior when he saved a litter of kittens from a building about to be demolished. Why do you think Flint saved the kittens? Have you ever seen a dog behave similarly?

13. Flint the Cairn Terrior and Wiz the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel have distinctly different temperaments and personalities, but Wiz also learned a lot by watching Flint and modeled his own behavior after Flint’s. What surprised you about the relationship between these two dogs? How do you think they related to each other and influenced one another?

About The Author

Photo Credit: John Bouliane

Stanley Coren an international authority on sidedness, is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog (2010), among other books.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (November 2, 2010)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439189221

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Raves and Reviews

"Enchanting" --Library Journal

"[A] quirky blend of history, science, and personal experience by psychologist and trainer Stanley Coren...has a lot to teach us about dogs." --O: The Oprah Magazine

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More books from this author: Stanley Coren