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Maria_H
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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

Do you have a question for David? Reply to this message to start the conversation!


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

Mr Wroblewski,

Thank you for spending time with us discussing your book. Forgive me, I have only begun and do not have a full perspective of the work. However, I understand that some reviewers have felt that the work is a "new" Hamlet. My initial impression is that your work stands on it's own. Did you intend that it be compared to the Hamlet saga? Did you write the story with the end in mind and try to guide the body of the story to that end, or did you let the story guide itself to it's own conclusion?

Thank you and I will be better prepared the next time  post.

Michael

"I don't need to fight to prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven..."
Baba O'Reilly-The Who
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

I, too, haven't read far yet so expect to have even more questions as I continue. My first question isn't about the book, really: will you be coming to Michigan, specifically the Detroit metro area? I checked your scheduled events and see that you have not been here yet.

 

Although I'm not far into the book, I'm hooked already. You've probably  heard that a million times by now. I read a lot of reviews of this book before I bought it, and all of them are not only favorable; they gush about it!

 

Last night I was surprised to read a review of your book that didn't gush. You probably read it, too, in The New York Times. I almost never agree with their book reviews. I almost never agree with them, period. 

 

I read your "Welcome" post and understand it to mean that you may not be able to answer some questions about the book because the readers' perceptions about it are as valid as your own. Am I correct that that's what you mean?

 

I've heard other writers say the same thing and have found it frustrating and once even maddening. So I'm glad you gave that warning. I know how to deal with it now. I still ask the question I want to ask but pose it so the writer can't say, "What do you think?"

 

I'm a technical writer, a different kind of writer. If a reader asks me a question and I can't come up with an answer, I'm out of a job.  :-) 

 

Beth 

 

 

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vivico1
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

David, if its ok to use your first name,

I have several questions, I will try to keep them to one per post. One thing I was wondering, and wondering if you had any input into it was, do you feel sometimes the synopsis of a book can give too much away to start out with? For example, with this book, yes I wanted to know its about a family raising some "rare" dogs, something unique about them and that the boy was a mute and then I would have rather known something like, when a tragedy strikes the family, Edgar and his dogs find themselves on the run from...... But here, it tells us, his father dies mysteriously, the uncle insinuates himself into the household, Edgar suspects him, tries to prove it, that backfires and then he is on the run. Thats a lot of information to give away in a story like this. I would rather his father's death be the surprise to me it was to Edgar and not go into it saying to myself, the uncle did it too! When his father dies, the timing and way he died at least caught me offguard but not in the way it would have, if the synopsis had not been so detailed. Do you think some of this should have come as a surprise in the story instead of on the book synopsis? Do you have any control as a writer over that aspect of it. thank you.

Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

David,

I don't know if this is a particular style of writing or just your style in this story but I was wondering about the use of names. Why do we hear Edgar's grandfather's name, his mother's and father's and his uncle's, but then for so much of the book. It becomes, Edgar, Claude, then "Edgar's mother" and "Edgar's father"? Most of the story you have Edgar and his uncle with names but, its not told in the first person, so its not like mom or dad, which would have seemed proper, but his mother and his father. Why did you chose to use those phrases for his parents instead of their names? I didn't remember his mother's name until after his father died, and then she is called by name and I thought, oh yeah, thats what it was. Was there a reason for this? Because I have to tell you, some pages were getting a bit annoying for me to hear Edgar did this, Claude said that, Edgar's mother told Edgar's father to do this. Edgar's father believe that Edgar's mother knew more about....but Claude knew Edgar's mother thought Edgar's father.... There were a few places that I wanted to say, I KNOW who they are to Edgar, there are only 4 people there, can't we use their names too, like we do Edgar and Claude? This may seem like a picky thing but it makes for awkward reading in parts to hear those phrases over and over in one or two pages, thats what started bothering me enough to even notice. I have to believe you have some special reason for refering to them in this manner for so much of the book?

Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


vivico1 wrote:

David, if its ok to use your first name,

I have several questions, I will try to keep them to one per post. One thing I was wondering, and wondering if you had any input into it was, do you feel sometimes the synopsis of a book can give too much away to start out with? For example, with this book, yes I wanted to know its about a family raising some "rare" dogs, something unique about them and that the boy was a mute and then I would have rather known something like, when a tragedy strikes the family, Edgar and his dogs find themselves on the run from...... But here, it tells us, his father dies mysteriously, the uncle insinuates himself into the household, Edgar suspects him, tries to prove it, that backfires and then he is on the run. Thats a lot of information to give away in a story like this. I would rather his father's death be the surprise to me it was to Edgar and not go into it saying to myself, the uncle did it too! When his father dies, the timing and way he died at least caught me offguard but not in the way it would have, if the synopsis had not been so detailed. Do you think some of this should have come as a surprise in the story instead of on the book synopsis? Do you have any control as a writer over that aspect of it. thank you.


Vivian, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I'm glad you asked this. 

 

Beth 

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


vivico1 wrote:

David,

I don't know if this is a particular style of writing or just your style in this story but I was wondering about the use of names. Why do we hear Edgar's grandfather's name, his mother's and father's and his uncle's, but then for so much of the book. It becomes, Edgar, Claude, then "Edgar's mother" and "Edgar's father"? Most of the story you have Edgar and his uncle with names but, its not told in the first person, so its not like mom or dad, which would have seemed proper, but his mother and his father. Why did you chose to use those phrases for his parents instead of their names? I didn't remember his mother's name until after his father died, and then she is called by name and I thought, oh yeah, thats what it was. Was there a reason for this? Because I have to tell you, some pages were getting a bit annoying for me to hear Edgar did this, Claude said that, Edgar's mother told Edgar's father to do this. Edgar's father believe that Edgar's mother knew more about....but Claude knew Edgar's mother thought Edgar's father.... There were a few places that I wanted to say, I KNOW who they are to Edgar, there are only 4 people there, can't we use their names too, like we do Edgar and Claude? This may seem like a picky thing but it makes for awkward reading in parts to hear those phrases over and over in one or two pages, thats what started bothering me enough to even notice. I have to believe you have some special reason for refering to them in this manner for so much of the book?


Isn't that funny, Vivian? I liked David's use of "Edgar's father" and "Edgar's mother." It put emphasis where it should be, I think.

 

I'm anxious to read the reply to this question.

 

Beth 

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abbyg7
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

Mr. Wroblewski

 

Thank you for being involved in this discussion.  It's always interesting to hear the author's perspective.

 

I read this book a month or so ago and loved it.  I couldn't put it down, but at the same time did not want it to end.  I especially liked the parts told from Almondine's point of view.

 

I just started a non-fiction book called "Dog Man  An  Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain"  by Martha Sherrill.  It is the story of Morie Sawataishi and his wife Kitako and their obsession with preventing the extinction of the Akita breed.  Some parts in this book reminded me of parts of your book.  Morie was very concerned with the breeding of his dogs to bring out desirable characteristics and he was also concerned with who bought his puppies.  He wanted them to go to people he knew and respected and would rather give them away then sell them to people he didn't like.  Morie also mentions Hachi-ko, the Akita who waited every afternoon for his dead master to get off the train.

I'm wondering if you know of Morie and based your characters on him?  And were the Sawtelle dogs Akitas?  When I read your book, I pictured them as Shepherds, but now I think when I re-read this book(which I will)I won't be able to see them as anything but Akitas.

 

Well, once again, I loved your book and look forward to hearing that you have written another book in the future.

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brontyman
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

Hi abbyg7!

You mentioned the akita at the train station...he showed up everyday for 10 years to search the crowd for his master, after his master died of a heart attack at work. They built him a place to stay and he was cared for until his death in 1925. A statue was built to honor him, and was melted down during the war. It was replaced after the war in the 1950's, and it came to represent loyalty. Japanese who plan to marry will pledge their loyalty to one another in front of the statue. I hope you may visit it someday...

Michael

"I don't need to fight to prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven..."
Baba O'Reilly-The Who
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


vivico1 wrote:

David, if its ok to use your first name,

I have several questions, I will try to keep them to one per post. One thing I was wondering, and wondering if you had any input into it was, do you feel sometimes the synopsis of a book can give too much away to start out with? For example, with this book, yes I wanted to know its about a family raising some "rare" dogs, something unique about them and that the boy was a mute and then I would have rather known something like, when a tragedy strikes the family, Edgar and his dogs find themselves on the run from...... But here, it tells us, his father dies mysteriously, the uncle insinuates himself into the household, Edgar suspects him, tries to prove it, that backfires and then he is on the run. Thats a lot of information to give away in a story like this. I would rather his father's death be the surprise to me it was to Edgar and not go into it saying to myself, the uncle did it too! When his father dies, the timing and way he died at least caught me offguard but not in the way it would have, if the synopsis had not been so detailed. Do you think some of this should have come as a surprise in the story instead of on the book synopsis? Do you have any control as a writer over that aspect of it. thank you.


 

Vivian,

 

Oh lordy, don't get me started. If I had my way, novels would be issued with blank covers, maybe a pretty picture, but no flap copy and no blurbs. I consider virtually anything beyond the title to be a spoiler, and I always think the best way to learn about a novel is to have a friend say, "Just read it." (Nonfiction is different, in my opinion.)

 

The author has plenty of say about the flap copy, but it has to say something. So you make a guess and hope you've walked the line between creating interest and giving too much away. Then you lay awake at night and worry. You also have to assume readers know how this game works, and if they read too much of the flap copy, they might learn something they'd rather not. In Edgar's case, we tried to limit it to whatever we thought would be revealed in the early reviews. (Which, as it turned out, we radically underestimated.) BTW, I also encourage people NOT to read the reviews until after they've finished the book. I understand that sounds self-serving, but in fact it's how I read most reviews of novels. I'll maybe skim the first paragraph, then punt and look it up later.

 

Sounds like we got it wrong on this one. So sorry to hear it!

-David 

 

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


vivico1 wrote:

David,

I don't know if this is a particular style of writing or just your style in this story but I was wondering about the use of names. Why do we hear Edgar's grandfather's name, his mother's and father's and his uncle's, but then for so much of the book. It becomes, Edgar, Claude, then "Edgar's mother" and "Edgar's father"?


Vivian,

 

A lot of this story is about family, and I wanted to emphasis familial relations, even in such a small story. Also, I wanted Edgar's presence to suffuse the early chapters, so though I could have said "Gar" or "Trudy" throughout I sometimes opted for "Edgar's mother/father" as a better choice.

 

-David 

 

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


abbyg7 wrote:

Mr. Wroblewski

 

Thank you for being involved in this discussion.  It's always interesting to hear the author's perspective.

 

I read this book a month or so ago and loved it.  I couldn't put it down, but at the same time did not want it to end.  I especially liked the parts told from Almondine's point of view.

 

I just started a non-fiction book called "Dog Man  An  Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain"  by Martha Sherrill.  It is the story of Morie Sawataishi and his wife Kitako and their obsession with preventing the extinction of the Akita breed.  Some parts in this book reminded me of parts of your book.  Morie was very concerned with the breeding of his dogs to bring out desirable characteristics and he was also concerned with who bought his puppies.  He wanted them to go to people he knew and respected and would rather give them away then sell them to people he didn't like.  Morie also mentions Hachi-ko, the Akita who waited every afternoon for his dead master to get off the train.

I'm wondering if you know of Morie and based your characters on him?  And were the Sawtelle dogs Akitas?  When I read your book, I pictured them as Shepherds, but now I think when I re-read this book(which I will)I won't be able to see them as anything but Akitas.

 

Well, once again, I loved your book and look forward to hearing that you have written another book in the future.


Abbyg7, thanks for bringing this up.

 

I just loved Martha Sherrill's book DOG MAN. It's is exquisitely well-written and thoroughly researched. I highly recommend it. As far as I know, it is the only biography of a dog breeder ever written, which makes it interesting in itself. Morie's life and story are terribly interesting, and as I mentioned on my web site, there is a dog in common between Edgar's story and that book, Hachiko.  More about that in the Part 2 thread, where I'll also be talking about the Fortunate Fields breeding program. But to answer your question, I did not know about Morie or of Martha's book during the writing of Edgar Sawtelle.

 

It is interesting how your conception of the Sawtelle dogs changed once you read DOG MAN. The Sawtelle dogs are, of course, a fictional breed -- you're free (and encouraged) to imagine them any way you like!

 

-David 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


brontyman wrote:

Hi abbyg7!

You mentioned the akita at the train station...he showed up everyday for 10 years to search the crowd for his master, after his master died of a heart attack at work. They built him a place to stay and he was cared for until his death in 1925. A statue was built to honor him, and was melted down during the war. It was replaced after the war in the 1950's, and it came to represent loyalty. Japanese who plan to marry will pledge their loyalty to one another in front of the statue. I hope you may visit it someday...


 

Hi Michael,

I would love to visit Japan someday.  My brother spent 4 years there in the mid 80's and still speaks very fondly of his time there.  When he came back home, he and his family stayed with my family for several months.  They managed to bring home an Akita puppy.  That dog was beautiful and extremely loyal to his family.  I felt very honored the day he finally took my wrist gently in his mouth to show me I was accepted into his circle of people.

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

David:

 

These dogs are able to understand when Edgar "speaks." They're a fictional breed, so are you saying this ability is part of the fiction?

 

Our dog, who died a few years ago at an old age, was almost completely deaf the last three years of her life. My husband and I actually made up a couple of signs (as in sign language) that she quickly learned and obeyed.

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


evollbach wrote:

David:

 

These dogs are able to understand when Edgar "speaks." They're a fictional breed, so are you saying this ability is part of the fiction?

 

Our dog, who died a few years ago at an old age, was almost completely deaf the last three years of her life. My husband and I actually made up a couple of signs (as in sign language) that she quickly learned and obeyed.


 

Hi evollbach!

 

Well, I only meant that it was a conscious decision to make the Sawtelle dogs NOT some well-known breed, so that (within certain limits, at least) everyone was free to imagine the Sawtelle dogs as they preferred. They are surely of a certain size, for example, but I didn't want them to accidentally "inherit" the breed preconceptions that would come along with any breed I could name. (That's also why, for example, I don't talk about what breed my dog Lola is -- I think it would be natural to assume that the Sawtelle dogs are Lola's breed, but they definitely aren't.)

 

But I don't imagine that the Sawtelle dogs can literally understand spoken language. It isn't quite that simple. Instead I wrote this book in part as a way of thinking about the paradox of our lives with dogs; how clearly communicative dogs are, despite being unable to understand human language. What I do think is that the Sawtelle dogs are slightly more... something... than the dogs most of us know. But understanding what that something is is part of Edgar's journey in this story. (I'm thinking of the question Trudy puts to Edgar in the chapter called The Letters from Fortunate Fields). In any case, I tend to think that quality is unnameable. 

 

As for signing with your dog -- yes, interesting! I was taught to use a few hand signs with my dogs long ago, and still use them. So when we want Lola to "down" we raise a hand straight overhead, etc. Lola tends to obey the hand signs better than the spoken commands.

 

-David 

 

 

 


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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

Circuses and zoos have used hand signals to get the animals to do things for ages. Everything from the elephants to the seals! I don't see that it would be too hard to believe the dogs could understand signing. I think what makes them a different "breed" to all the other dogs around was the eye contact, the gaze, stare. That intrigued me because if you can't get and keep a dog's attention, he won't learn signing and all the nuances of body movements at all. I know you can get a dog's attention, but this eye contact, this gaze, was something different. I thought about that David especially when Edgar would get the dogs to do something from afar or when things were in chaos. It's one thing to be right in front of a dog and have eye contact with it, its quite another thing to be across the yard with all kinds of things going on and not be able to yell out loud to the dog to look at you and still be able to keep constant contact with the dogs. They had to be watching all the time, or sensing something as they ran around, to look at Edgar when they needed to. I found that part interesting David. Was the gaze something you knew would be part of what made them special to begin with, or did it come out of the need to have them look at Edgar so he could sign to them?

 

I have cats. Cats can understand hand signals and signs, they just don't care! LOL! :smileywink:

 


David_Wroblewski wrote:

Well, I only meant that it was a conscious decision to make the Sawtelle dogs NOT some well-known breed, so that (within certain limits, at least) everyone was free to imagine the Sawtelle dogs as they preferred. They are surely of a certain size, for example, but I didn't want them to accidentally "inherit" the breed preconceptions that would come along with any breed I could name. (That's also why, for example, I don't talk about what breed my dog Lola is -- I think it would be natural to assume that the Sawtelle dogs are Lola's breed, but they definitely aren't.)

 

 

... I don't imagine that the Sawtelle dogs can literally understand spoken language. It isn't quite that simple. Instead I wrote this book in part as a way of thinking about the paradox of our lives with dogs; how clearly communicative dogs are, despite being unable to understand human language. What I do think is that the Sawtelle dogs are slightly more... something... than the dogs most of us know. But understanding what that something is is part of Edgar's journey in this story. (I'm thinking of the question Trudy puts to Edgar in the chapter called The Letters from Fortunate Fields). In any case, I tend to think that quality is unnameable.

 

As for signing with your dog -- yes, interesting! I was taught to use a few hand signs with my dogs long ago, and still use them. So when we want Lola to "down" we raise a hand straight overhead, etc. Lola tends to obey the hand signs better than the spoken commands.

 

-David

 

 

 


 

 

Vivian
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski

First let me say I really loved this book.  A month ago I lost my dog I had for 14 years who also went deaf in the last couple years and did respond to hand signals, which I always use along with verbal direction. Dogs have such an amazing gift for reading our body language and picking up on subtlety.  This story appealed to me and all those "boy and his dog" adventure stories, so I wonder what books inspired you to write this, or to even choose dogs as a primary theme or character in the story?  And let me add that having picked this book up after losing my dog, it provided a great sense of comfort and let me revisit so many of my adventures with him.  Also I was thrilled to see Hachiko mentioned in the story.  I have a good friend who is Japanese, living in Tokyo and told me of him years ago and even presented me with a statue of him. I hope one day also to see the monument to him.  In NYC where I live we have are Balto in Central park.
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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


David_Wroblewski wrote:

What I do think is that the Sawtelle dogs are slightly more... something... than the dogs most of us know. But understanding what that something is is part of Edgar's journey in this story. (I'm thinking of the question Trudy puts to Edgar in the chapter called The Letters from Fortunate Fields). In any case, I tend to think that quality is unnameable. 

 

 


The Sawtelle dogs are smarter than other dogs, I think. It's good enough for me to understand that much at this point. (I'm into Part 3 now.)

 

A different comment: At first  (SPOILER MAYBE      SPOILER MAYBE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

when I read the ghost part I was unhappy that this excellent book went there. It felt to me like such an easy trick, not what I would expect of this book.

 

Later I remembered Shakespeare did the same thing. Then I realized you were pulling a Hamlet on the reader, and I thought, how interesting that he would do it this way. And I wasn't unhappy anymore.

 

I have to get up in the morning at 5 a.m. for work, and this book is keeping me reading way, way past bedtime.  I just love it, and keep thinking about who else I know who needs to know about it.

 

Beth

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


vivico1 wrote:

Circuses and zoos have used hand signals to get the animals to do things for ages. Everything from the elephants to the seals! I don't see that it would be too hard to believe the dogs could understand signing.

 

 


 


Oh, Vivian, but I like to think my dog was special and exceptional.  :-)  Beth

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Re: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: Questions for David Wroblewski


vivico1 wrote:

Circuses and zoos have used hand signals to get the animals to do things for ages. Everything from the elephants to the seals! I don't see that it would be too hard to believe the dogs could understand signing. I think what makes them a different "breed" to all the other dogs around was the eye contact, the gaze, stare. That intrigued me because if you can't get and keep a dog's attention, he won't learn signing and all the nuances of body movements at all. I know you can get a dog's attention, but this eye contact, this gaze, was something different. I thought about that David especially when Edgar would get the dogs to do something from afar or when things were in chaos. It's one thing to be right in front of a dog and have eye contact with it, its quite another thing to be across the yard with all kinds of things going on and not be able to yell out loud to the dog to look at you and still be able to keep constant contact with the dogs. They had to be watching all the time, or sensing something as they ran around, to look at Edgar when they needed to. I found that part interesting David. Was the gaze something you knew would be part of what made them special to begin with, or did it come out of the need to have them look at Edgar so he could sign to them?


Great question. There are two sorts of gazing going on in the story. The eye-to-eye contact is mentioned indirectly, mostly, by other characters, who remark on how intently the Sawtelle dogs watch the people around them (Mrs. Wilkes, for example.) That's certainly a marker, in the story, of the dog's abilities.

 

But the shared gaze training is different from eye-to-eye gazing, and I think this is probably unclear in the story: shared gaze was meant to indicate a person and their dog jointly looking at some third object of interest. In the scientific literature this is also called "gaze following", and is a hot topic of animal research right now, because if an animal knows to look where another animal is looking, then they may be making some hypothesis about what that animal is thinking, wanting, planning, etc. Such as, hey I think that monkey just found some tasty fruit, I see where he is looking, I'll go get it before he does. There is a line of reasoning that says, this is why most species don't have prominent eye whites, because they give away too much information about where the animal is looking. Humans are rather unique in how much eye white they show -- it is totally obvious where we are looking, compared to most animals.  And in fact studies have been done to determine at what age babies begin to direct their gaze to where their mothers are looking, instead of at their mother's face. So I wanted this shared-gaze, cooperative-seeing sort of behavior to be one of the main ways that the Sawtelle dogs are different from ordinary dogs. 

 

By the way, if anyone has a dog, try getting them to reliably look where you are looking. It is very difficult -- I can't get Lola to do it, except by accident. She always wants to look at my face. I'd love to know if others have had more success with this.

 

-David

 

 

 

 


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