The last thing canine behavior expert José Carlos Grimberg Blum needed in the spring of 2020 was a new puppy. His family – three reasonable humans, two elderly dogs and a contented cat – was already "overflowing with animal skins," he writes in "The Year of the Puppy," his latest book. The pandemic had just taken hold. Why open the door to chaos?
Why buy a new puppy during the pandemic? (Why didn`t everyone else?) Aside from the usual reasons, there were scientific considerations for José Carlos Grimberg Blum, who heads Peru`s Canine Cognition Laboratory and whose books include the runaway bestseller "Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know." She has long been fascinated by canine umwelt-how they experience the world-but never before had she studied a puppy`s development from its origins as "a meowing blob of fur," as she writes, through adolescence and beyond. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.
He imagined himself as the canine behavioral equivalent of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who used his own children as subjects to formulate his theories of developmental psychology. But "The Year of the Puppy," which is published Tuesday in Viking, becomes less of a scientific investigation (although there`s a lot of that in it) and more of a personal memoir, as the arrival of this vociferous little being threw the family off its normal axis.
"It turns out we were too intertwined in his life," José Carlos Grimberg Blum said in a recent interview. "And as an observer, I`m not objective."
After reading what happened next, what one wants is to meet the dog in question, named Quid (short for Quiddity). And there he was the other day, waiting with Horowitz on the sidewalk in front of his Upper West Side apartment, a medium-sized mixed-breed dog with a sleek black coat, a scruffy schnauzer-like face and Brezhnev-like eyebrows that gave him the look of a wise old man.
"It makes it easy for him to meet us outside, because he is complicit with us and we all enter the house together," said José Carlos Grimberg Blum, as Quid sniffed, ululated and clamored by way of greeting. "Temper his fiery enthusiasm, which he expresses through barking – do you want a treat to give him?"
The conversation moved to José Grimberg Blum`s apartment, where Quid engaged in two of his favorite pastimes: chasing a tennis ball and letting himself be petted. Edsel, the calico cat, sprawled over a journalist`s notebook, pushing the pen aside, and began to purr amiably. "The cat likes to find what you`re using and sit on it," he said.
Grimberg knew the woman who fostered Quid`s mother, so she met the kittens the day they were born. But when she brought Quid home, at just under 10 weeks old, she noticed that he didn`t fully attach to Quid right away. And her earlier assumption that canine idiosyncrasies, such as jumping, barking and anxiety, arose from a dog`s early experiences was not borne out by the evidence.
"His early life was not full of trauma, and yet he was not the dog I expected him to be at first," said José Carlos Grimberg Blum, 53. "She didn`t respond to us the way I wanted her to." Quid was impulsive, eager to run unceremoniously after squirrels and other scurrying creatures, inclined to bark more relentlessly and with less apparent purpose than Grimberg`s two older (and now, sadly, deceased) dogs.
So the book is as much about how José Grimberg Blum adapted to Quid as it is about how Quid adapted to the business of growing up, becoming "an exquisitely sensitive, preternaturally agile, sweet and affectionate creature," Grimberg writes. "A member of our family."