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Other segments from the episode on October 21, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 21, 2003: Interview with Jon Katz; Commentary on the term "fascist."

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DATE October 21, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jon Katz discusses his new book, "The New Work of
Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

I love my cat, and I'm sure you love your pet. My guest, Jon Katz, is devoted
to his dogs, but here's the question he's raising. Are we asking too much of
our pets? Are we relying on them for the company and emotional support that
we're not getting from friends and family? And are we asking things from them
that go against their nature?

Katz discusses these questions in his latest book, "The New Work of Dogs."
His previous book, "A Dog Year," was about the death of this two Labrador
retrievers and how he raised and trained two border collies.

Katz is also a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. But, yes, he
does have a life apart from his dogs. He's the author of 12 books, including
his series of suburban detective novels. He's written for The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal and Wired. And he's a contributing editor to the
public radio program "Marketplace."

Jon Katz, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, unfortunately, I'm in a studio in
Philadelphia and you're in a studio in Newark, New Jersey. I wish we were in
the same studio because you have your dogs with you and I'd actually love to
meet them. What do you do to convince them to be quiet during interviews?

Mr. JOHN KATZ (Author, "The New Work of Dogs"): They are amazing. They're
working dogs. They're border collies, Homer and Orson, and they have become
media whores, really. They come into the studio, they go right to sleep the
minute I start speaking about dogs, and they stay asleep usually until I stop.
And then they're up about. But they've been to--by God, it must be 80, 90
bookstores and events, and they really love bookstores. They love dog people.
They get treats, they end up in somebody's lap. So--and they love dark
studios, which are like dens for them, I think. They just curl up and sit
there.

GROSS: Let's get to your latest book. It's called "The New Work of Dogs,"
and it's about--well, let me say this. You know, dogs have always been called
man's best friend, but your book is about new ways that people are depending
on dogs. And you ask a lot of questions about whether or not that's good for
the people or the dogs. What are some of the new ways that you think dogs are
figuring into the emotional lives of people?

Mr. KATZ: In the last 25 or 30 years--I really date this to the rise of
television and the decline in the extended family and the rise in divorce
rates, more people living alone, and work becoming unstable for many people.
People have begun to use dogs in a more intensely personal way, as either
human surrogates, substitutes for people in cases where they're lonely or
disconnected or fragmented; or, as members of the family, dogs are getting
human names, they're sleeping in bed. I kind of joke sometimes that, you
know, the boomers created the gifted and talented child, and now they're
working on the gifted and talented dog, where--you know, one woman came to me
at a reading and said, `Well, you know, Mondays we do agility and Tuesdays we
do obedience and Wednesdays we go herding. And what can I do on Thursdays and
Fridays?' I said, `Well, maybe the guy should just, you know, sit in the yard
and, you know, sniff some other dog's butt or something. Let him relax.'

I think there is this astonishing emotional intensity around people and their
animals--dogs and cats, I should say--that is accelerating. I call it the
emotionalization of dogs, people seeing dogs as spiritual, as telepathic, as
soul mates, as intense, as close, as kids with fur. And it's sometimes a very
beautiful thing. You know, I'm crazy about my dogs. We go sheep herding, we
chase geese, we do all kinds of stuff. And I would be embarrassed to tell you
the things I do for these dogs. On the other hand, I found the subject to be
a little darker and more complicated than I thought when I entered it because
I think the culture kind of glorifies the human-dog bond for good reason.
It's quite wonderful. But sometimes it's a bit unthinking and uncritical to
the extent that there aren't a lot of people really wondering whether this
view of dogs as human-like is really good for them or whether--I guess I ended
up wondering myself whether it's really good for people.

GROSS: So you're seeing this, like, new relationship between people and their
dogs as being troubling because of what it says about people's
people-to-people relationships. Are you watching dogs become more neurotic as
people are relying on them more for love and companionship and telepathy and
mysticism and all these other things?

Mr. KATZ: Yes. I think there's enormous evidence, and I think any trainer
would agree with me. For one thing, last year in the United States, 400,000
children were bitten severely enough to require hospitalization, which is a
staggering rise. You see dogs are increasingly just under pressure, neurotic,
chewing up the house, jumping on people. You have the new element of the
rescued dog, the abused dog, dogs that certainly exist, but this all becomes
an element in our ability to do what I think is our primary responsibility
with animals, which is to show them how to live in the world, which means
training them, which means thinking about how we get them, thinking about the
kind of dog or cat that we get, whether it's right for us, and then doing the
work to help it acclimate to an increasingly hostile world. So I do see
behavior that's very, very increasingly neurotic as the dogs are being
pressured to do things dogs really can't do.

GROSS: Like what? What are some of the things dogs are being pressured to
do?

Mr. KATZ: Well, people perceive dogs as loving them unconditionally and
uncritically, and to some extent, that's certainly true. But dogs really
can't understand when we're depressed, when we had a bad day at work. They
really can't give us the kind of emotional support that human beings can give
us.

GROSS: No, they can't say, `Your boss was wrong; you're right.'

Mr. KATZ: Well, I had a great--you know, my first shocking introduction to
this actually was when I took my border collie, Orson, who had a lot of
problems, out to a trainer in Pennsylvania named Caroline Wilke(ph). And I
said, you know, `Caroline,' I said, `I'm having terrible trouble with this
dog. You know, the problem is, he's so attached to me, I think if anything
happened to me, well, you'd just have to shoot him 'cause he couldn't live
with anybody else.' And I remember her getting right in my face and saying,
`Listen, pal, if anything happened to you, I would buy a can of beef liver,
and in two days this dog would forget that you ever walked the earth. And
don't you forget it.'

This was a bit of a shock to me, but it was something I really needed to hear
because I could see the truth of it. It doesn't mean that he doesn't love me
or that I don't love him. But it means it was a reminder to me that I was
beginning to project onto him things that were mine, attitude about authority.
I saw him as being rebellious and devious and willful. And these were things
that were much more true of me than him. The problem was I just didn't now
how to train him.

GROSS: Jon Katz is my guest. His new book is called "The New Work of Dogs."

You've come across people who are afraid to discipline their dogs or at least
unwilling to train and discipline their dogs. You said that, you know,
discipline is not only important for the human who has a dog in his or her
life; it's important for the dog, that dogs need discipline, they need to know
what they're supposed to do and what they're not supposed to do. Why? Why do
dogs, for their own sake, need discipline?

Mr. KATZ: For several reasons. In the first instance, almost everything
dogs like to do--squabble with each other, have sex, roll in disgusting
stuff--is either frowned upon or illegal. You know, in the state of New
Jersey, where I live, there's no longer one place in the entire state where
it's legal to run a dog off a leash. And dogs, of course, instinctively, you
know, need to run, expect to run, want to run. So the environment, 60 percent
of the country does not like dogs or have dogs, one or the other. Dog owners
are a minority, and there's a wave of legislation and rules being passed that
are restricting where dogs and go. There are lawsuits when dogs misbehave,
liability issues, insurance questions.

So we have all these dogs, you know. In 1960, there were 15 million owned
dogs. Last year, there were 68 million owned dogs, plus 10 million dogs in
the shelter system, five million of whom will be euthanized this year. And
they live in a world that is increasingly not built for them and is
increasingly uncomfortably, having so many of them running around so much. So
the imperative to train a dog, you know, training is not about where the dog
poops. Training is not about, you know, cleanliness. Training is about the
dog's relationship, not only to you, but to the world beyond.

GROSS: You've said that when you got dogs, instead of sending the dogs to dog
training school, you sent yourself to a dog trainer so that you could learn
how to train dogs.

Mr. KATZ: I did, and found a very good one. And she beat up on me pretty
good and still does. But one of the things she said, which also affected this
book and led to my wanting to do this book, you know, at some point--my
daughter jokes that I spent my middle age trying to get his border collie to
lie down. We're into our fourth year, and we're getting there. And at one
point, I was very frustrated with him, and Caroline said, `Listen, Katz.' She
said, `If you want to have the dog you want, I'm afraid you're just going to
have to become a better human being, and there's really no shortcut.' Now this
is not the sort of thing you expect to hear from a trainer. But sadly, it was
all so true. And what she was talking about was that in order to show a dog
how to live in the world, train the dog, get the dog you want, I had to be
less angry, less impatient, calmer. And the work that I had to do was really
on me. The dog essentially knows what he or she wants to do. You know, they
sort of come with this basic set of ideas about how they want to live, and it
was my job to deal with him in a more effective way.

So trainers always say, they don't really train the dog. They train the
people, and there's a lot of truth to that. But if you don't bring some self-
awareness of your own life--in my case, you know, I was projecting a very
difficult adolescent onto my dog, who was behaving, to me, like a difficult
adolescent. And you don't need to be a shrink to see the things I was putting
on him. When you see a dog as defying you or being willful or being devious
or being difficult, you're going to treat the dog in a particular way. You're
going to assert yourself or get angry and get impatient and get frustrated,
which makes things a lot worse.

So I found myself in this extraordinary position really as a writer, 'cause
I'm not, you know, a dog trainer. I found myself confronted with this sort of
shocking reality that, you know, in my mid-50s, here this dog was requiring me
to do additional work on myself beyond the many years of therapy I had already
paid for.

GROSS: You know, different breeds of dogs all have special skills, a special
type of intelligence and special needs. You have border collies that you've
gotten from breeders.

Mr. KATZ: Right.

GROSS: What are the unique qualities of border collies?

Mr. KATZ: Well, these dogs have to have work to do, or they go nuts, you
know. They're very intense. They're very energetic, so we do all kinds of
work. We clear geese out of the neighborhood parks and school yards. We go
do sheep herding three or four times a week. We go for lots of walks a day.
You know, this is a good example of a breed, they're great dogs, but if you
don't have work for them to do, they're not good dogs to have. And you see
them all over the place in cities now ever since the movie "Babe" came out.
And it's a good example. I mean, it's the same with dogs like Labs and
retrievers. They're wonderful dogs, but they need to have work. They need to
have exercise. A lot of breeds have very distinct characteristics. Springer
spaniels, for example, have a reason why they're called springers.

And there's a whole number of breeds, you know, Bichons and Westies and other
dogs that really like to be in apartments, that don't need a lot of exercise
and don't mind being left alone. You know, there are very good breeds for
people in almost every circumstance if you do the work. There are dogs that
are fine in apartments, dogs that don't mind being left alone for hours if
they get some exercise. But the marketing of dogs in America, the
emotionalization of them sort of is leading people to, you know, it's, like,
the bigger and more energetic the dog, in the suburbs, the more people are
likely to get it. So you see Labs and retrievers all over the place, these
big hundred-pound dogs with no chance to run anywhere, no exercise and who are
not trained. It's probably the saddest thing that I saw, to be truthful.

GROSS: My guest is Jon Katz. His latest book is called "The New Work of
Dogs." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Two DVD set "The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966"
TERRY GROSS, host:

We're going to continue our interview with Jon Katz in a few minutes. Many
public radio stations are fund-raising today. So while they take a
fund-raising break, we're going to listen to the blues.

In our era of overexposed overnight pop stars, it's hard to imagine that 40
years ago, popular music was a rarity in any medium but jukeboxes and radio.
Television mostly featured established pop or jazz stars or the occasional
rock 'n' roller with a new hit. But in Germany, two promoters had another
idea. Beginning in 1962, they toured a group of American blues masters
throughout Europe and got them top-quality exposure on German television. Now
for the first time, Americans can watch these shows. They've been released on
DVD. Music critic Milo Miles has a review.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES, music critic:

I think everyone would agree that the most captivating parts of the recent
blues series that aired on PBS were the archival footage of blues performers.
And it would be nice if there were more of it around. Well, the biggest and
best new hunk of it I've seen in a long time appears on the two-DVD set called
"The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966."

The pioneering tour packages arranged by German promoters Fritz Rau and Horst
Lippmann helped American blues performers connect with the steady appreciative
European audiences that jazz players discovered a generation earlier. No
surprise the concerts went over well. The German TV shows present a roster of
amazingly high quality: T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Junior
Wells, Memphis Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Mama Thornton, Otis Rush,
Victoria Spivey and more. Some excellent bonus clips from 1969 feature
late-period Chicago players Earl Hooker and Magic Sam. Other performers, such
as Big Joe Williams and Roosevelt Sykes harken back to the blues of the '30s.
But most of the lineup is associated with Chess Records and the '50s. Many
were as close to prime years as we would ever see them, and the shows have a
vitality and crispness equalled only by a few later performances at the
Newport Folk Festival.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Blues Artist #1: (Singing) Sure look good. You don't need a
thing. Sure look good. You don't need a thing, you. I got a crazy woman
shaped like a willow tree. Well, shake it, baby. Shake it for me. Oh, shake
it, babe. Shake it for me. I got a pretty woman, sweet as she can be.

MILES: Until you get used to it, the TV show format seems hokey. Each
performer gets just a number or two, and they're delivered on stage sets
intended to be Deep South honky-tonks and big-city dives. But back then,
every film music number had Broadway window dressing. Just presenting a
performance on a simple stage was foolishly considered low-balling it.
Fortunately a few of them are done in that straightforward way on "American
Folk Blues Festival."

Unidentified Blues Artist #2: (Singing) Well, I can't quit you, baby...

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Blues Artist #2: (Singing) ...but I got to put you down for a
while. Well, you know I can't quit you, baby, but I got to put you down for a
while. Yes, you messed up my happy home, baby. You made me mistreat my only
child.

MILES: And no setting can cut these players' charisma. They can embody cool,
like Otis Rush, even with his high pompadour and fuzzy sweater; like Lightnin'
Hopkins with his semi-dark shades and slinky body language. The hulking Sonny
Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf give off an undeniable hint of menace. Others
have the dignified air of classic deep chops pro entertainers, like Victoria
Spivey and her longtime accompanist Lonnie Johnson.

There are wonderful surprises. Who knew Roosevelt Sykes was such a flamboyant
man at the piano with his writhing shoulders and vigorous guffaws? And there
are frustrating mysteries, like Willie Dixon. He was a superb bass player and
a songwriter whose street-smart lyricism made him the Smokey Robinson of Chess
Records. How could he be such a stiff, inexpressive singer? But more
important, how could it be that nobody filmed the hugely popular and
influential T-Bone Walker before 1962?

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Blues Artist #3: (Singing) Hey, baby. Don't throw your love on
me so strong. Hey, baby. Don't throw your love on me so strong. You know
your love is like a faucet. You can turn it off or on. Hey, baby.

MILES: "The American Folk Blues Festival" performances give us a glimpse into
three vanished worlds. First is the South Side of Chicago and full blues cry,
unaware that its time was already fading. The second is TV, where music is a
rarity, particularly music like hard-core blues. And the third is a culture
where blues was still underground, its spells and rituals not yet suitable for
the mainstream.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "The American Folk Blues Festival" DVDs on the
Hippo Music/Universal label. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Blues Artist #4: (Singing) Every day, every day I have the
blues. Every day and every night, every day I have the blues. When you see
me wearing, baby, you know it's you I hate to lose. Well, nobody loves me.
Nobody seem to care. Nobody loves me, and nobody seems to care.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Jon Katz on his latest book, "The New Work of Dogs"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jon Katz. He's a journalist,
novelist and dog trainer. His latest book, "The New Work of Dogs," examines
the emotional reliance that many of us have on our pets and suggests that if
we treat dogs like our best friends, we may be forgetting to treat them like
dogs. Katz has two Border collies, and he's a member of the Association of
Pet Dog Trainers.

You know, you said that you got your Border collies and that they need to
work, and you take them to sheep herd a few times a week. Do you have a lot
of farms within your area that have sheep?

Mr. JON KATZ (Author, "The New Work of Dogs"): There actually are more than
you might think. I actually go to Pennsylvania, which is only an hour from
me, and we actually take care of a couple of hundred sheep. We graze them
three or four times a week, and I've come to love that quite a bit. I'm
probably the least likely person on the planet to be doing that, but I've
really come to love doing that with the dogs. You don't have to go--there's
other kinds of work you can do, from agility work to just going to parks and
throwing balls and Frisbees around. But it's been quite extraordinary for me
to be involved with the dogs and with sheep because you sort of see why there
are dogs when you do something like that. And the dog people are quite
wonderful. You know, the dog lovers will do almost anything for their dogs
once they figure out what it is they ought to be doing.

GROSS: Well, taking your dog to herd sheep a few times a week, isn't that
like when your kids were young and you had to take them to dance lessons or
music lessons after school?

Mr. KATZ: Yes. I did that, too. Well, it's a little bit like that, I think
the--I actually just bought a farm in upstate New York. I'm going to have my
own sheep in about a month. But it's not the only thing you can do. It is
like that. I think the impulse is very similar, you know. I am a boomer, and
I try to take care of the creatures under my charge. But, of course, I write
about dogs and I work at home, so I'm in a good position to give them the
things that they need. Now you could have a Border collie or a golden
retriever and still work away from home, but you have to work harder to get
them the work and exercise that they need.

GROSS: Your dogs, I think, also have, like, degrees in shepherding, don't
they?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: They got their herding qualifying test. Is it a multiple choice or
essay?

Mr. KATZ: Well, I'm not one to brag. Well, Homer has a couple of titles.
The truth is, you know, I gave up the trialing because of the very thing
that...

GROSS: I'm sorry, you gave up what?

Mr. KATZ: I gave up the trialing. You know, I'd take the sheep out to graze.
But the trialing where you compete for ribbons...

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. KATZ: ...I gave that up because of what you were talking about before.
The people were not having any fun. I mean, everybody was screaming at their
dogs. They looked grim. They dogs weren't having fun. The people weren't
having fun. The pressure on the dogs was enormous. I stopped doing that. I
didn't like what it potentially could have triggered in me. And I don't
really care about the ribbons. I just learned enough so that my dogs can take
these sheep out to pasture and take care of them and watch over them that way.

GROSS: How did you get your Border collies?

Mr. KATZ: A breeder in Texas read "Running to the Mountain," which was not
about dogs but had two dogs in it, two labs, my previous dogs...

GROSS: This is about a six-month break you took from your real life to live
alone on a mountain with your dogs.

Mr. KATZ: Right. That's basically right. And it was somewhat a book about
Thomas Merton and some of his writings about solitude, experience with
solitude, I guess, and was part of the book. And I went with two labs,
without whom I don't think I could have survived, you know, the experience.
They kept me company, and they were quite great. One of the dogs, whenever he
wanted to play, he would come up and nip me on the butt, get me moving. And I
recounted this in the book. And this breeder, Deanna, in Texas read it,
and she said, `Now that's a person I could have a border on.'

And she had this very troubled dog, at the time his name was Devon, who was a
sort of failed obedience dog and had been confined for several months in a
crate, and it was just a mess. And she shipped him to Newark and said, you
know, `I have this feeling from reading your work that you will keep faith
with this dog, that you'll do whatever it takes to work things out with this
dog.' And he was a nightmare. He practically destroyed my neighborhood, my
house, dented my marriage pretty good. He was jumping through windows,
hurting school buses. He was just out of his mind, and that's what began this
whole journey of sort of understanding. I loved him right away, of course,
and identified with him, and in order to keep him, I knew I was going to have
to learn a lot more about dogs than I knew. And that's what started the whole
turn towards dog writing. And the fact that he can lie here like this is a
miracle, really.

GROSS: So you had that ornery dog that wasn't behaving, and you had to train
him in order to be able to live with the dog and have the dog live in your
community and in order to remain married (laughs).

Mr. KATZ: That's right.

GROSS: So...

Mr. KATZ: In order to not have windows and all that sort of thing.

GROSS: ...I mean, there's a difference, I think, between training a puppy,
where all the puppy's behaviors are just kind of like puppy behaviors, but
they haven't really learned a lot yet--you don't have to unteach them a lot of
things--compared to an adult dog that's had something of a life and you have
to totally refashion their behavior. Where did you start?

Mr. KATZ: This was one of the most difficult things that I'd ever done in my
life. It's still ongoing. I think it will never be quite finished, but I
don't think I've ever taken on a harder thing for me because it spoke directly
to my own problems as a human: you know, impatience and anger and frustration
and short attention span and distraction and all the things that get in the
way of doing what he needed. And I loved him, of course, right away and was
confronted with this very simple drama: Either I learned about dogs, and I
was surprised by how little I knew about dogs--I thought I knew more than I
did when I started hanging around with trainers to take a training course and
became a trainer to research "The New Work of Dogs." I don't train dogs, but
I learned enough about it so that I could know a little bit about what I was
writing about.

I was stunned that almost everything I thought about dogs was wrong.
Everything I thought was going on in his head was wrong. The way I was
communicating with him was wrong. My tone of voice was wrong, repetition of
commands was wrong. My whole understanding of what he was about was wrong.
And when I realized how essentially simple, how food-driven, how
attention-driven he was, it became I wouldn't say easy; very, very manageable
to do.

GROSS: I mean, you...

Mr. KATZ: But in order to do that, I had to acknowledge, you know, repeatedly
that almost every assumption I had about dogs was not right.

GROSS: What's one or two of the things that you were doing wrong?

Mr. KATZ: Well, the first thing, of course, is the most common; I was
anthropomorphisizing him. I was attributing all sorts of humanlike emotions
to him. You know, he was being devious. He was being rebellious. He was
being willful. He was being stubborn. He was jealous. He was all these
things that humans are that are not really dog traits. What he really was was
confused. You know, he couldn't tell friend from foe. He didn't understand
what people were asking him. He didn't make sense of the world. This is why
I started with the sheep. I mean, I'm not a person who's naturally inclined
to spend time with sheep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KATZ: But that's just not in my repertoire. But everything I read about
Border collies, including this trainer in Ireland, who I was e-mailing with,
said, `Look, this dog will not make sense of the world until he does what he's
supposed to do and gets around some livestock for a while.' And that was
true. I mean, you know, he's not much of a sheepdog; he's much too skitsy and
intense for that. But the world is beginning to make sense to him, and that
was very good advice. But I think this whole idea, the less I saw him as a
human version of me and the more I saw him as a dog, the easier it was to
train him, the better behaved he became and the happier he and I are and the
more likely that I was to remain married.

GROSS: Did you do the whole reward-and-punishment approach?

Mr. KATZ: I came into the hands of a positive-reinforcement trainer, who does
not do punishment, and this is Carolyn. She's very tough about that. You
basically give the dog the chance to succeed and praise it with a combination
of food and verbal and physical reward. And you don't yell at it or scold it
or correct it or throw things at it or put electronic devices on it. You just
praise them when they're doing the right thing.

GROSS: Why no punishment?

Mr. KATZ: Well, the positive reinforcement, which is a growing training in
the dog world, really holds that yelling and throwing things and criticism
makes them more stressed and that they end up having displaced aggression and
displaced neurotic behavior. I mean, any more than kids, they don't like
being yelled at, and they don't like having things thrown at them, and they
don't like having people scream in their faces. And, you know, like a kid,
you can get a dog to do anything by scaring it. But, as also with a kid,
that's not the best way to do it. And, you know, I'm embarrassed to tell you
that a new dog arrived in my household last week, a puppy from Colorado named
Rose, and I'm training her in this positive way from the beginning. And it's
amazing to me, in 24 hours this dog comes and sits happily and lies down, and
it's housebroken. And I'm a great believer in that.

Now I'm not a hundred percent positive person, you know, so I sometimes will
lose it, as we all will, which is fine. But I think it's a great training
method. I think it really works. I think the dog responds very quickly.
And, best of all, you have this great, grounded relationship with the dog
that's born out of real positive affection and not out of terror or
intimidation. I think it's great.

GROSS: My guest is Jon Katz. His latest book is called "The New Work of
Dogs." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jon Katz, author of "The New Work of Dogs" and "A Dog
Year."

OK, housebreaking a dog--I mean, when I was growing up, I didn't have a dog,
sadly, but the people who I saw training their dogs, what they would do is if
a dog, like, pooped in the house, they would bring the dog over to the poop,
basically...

Mr. KATZ: Right.

GROSS: ...stick the dog's nose in it, spank him a little bit and then put
them either on the newspaper or outside, wherever it was that they wanted to
direct the dog to be pooping in the future. That's negative reinforcement,
right?

Mr. KATZ: Yeah, that's a great--I did that with my Lhasa. I mean, I did that
with many dogs. The way I housebroke Rose or Homer in a day or two was I got
a crate. I put the puppy in the crate, fed the dog in the crate, waited 30
minutes, carried the dog outside. The dog immediately went to the bathroom.
I danced around in the moonlight yelling and whooping and throwing food
around, and three times and the dog was housebroken. I didn't drag her, I
didn't stick her nose in it, I didn't scream at her, I didn't do any `bad
dog.' And it worked in 24 hours. I've done that with two dogs now and...

GROSS: Wait. So you feed them in a box, and then 30 minutes later...

Mr. KATZ: You just feed them in a crate. You get a kennel crate--and they
like it. It makes them feel safe. You give them their food in the crate; you
just put the bowl in the crate. You close the crate. You go, you know, read
the paper or watch television. In a half an hour or so you come back, you
open the crate, you pick the dog out, take the dog outside. The dog will
almost immediately go to the bathroom since puppies go quickly after they eat.
And then you just praise the dog. You make a lot of noise. You give it a
treat. You tell how good they are. You get excited and dance around and look
like a jerk. I mean, twice now I've housebroken dogs in about a day. You
have occasional accidents or something.

But, you know, this is an interesting thing to talk about, Terry, because it
goes to the heart of why I wrote the book. It's a good example of why the
more you understand what dogs are like and treat them as dogs, the easier it
is to do these things. Housebreaking is, really, very simple. Dogs prefer to
go outside. And they don't like to be yelled at. It just makes them more
nervous and more likely to pee all over the place. So this is such a simple
thing. I mean, the way I learned to teach my dogs to come to me--before, I
used to yell and scream and throw chains and jump around and make a lot of
noise, to no effect. Now I just put a bunch of meatballs in my hand, and I
walk backwards. There's not a dog on the planet that won't come running
towards you. And when they come to me, I give her the meatball and say, `Good
girl. Girl come.' And she knows how to come. And, you know, there's no
yelling or throwing or stomping or, you know, shock collars or any of this
dreadful stuff.

I sometimes think, when I spent this year with people and their dogs, that
what I saw was a country--as much as we love our dogs, we're almost having a
civil war with them because--we all know people like this who: `I'm sorry my
dog's jumped on you, but he was abused, so I can't train him,' or, `She's
always been aggressive with people,' or, `She's always hated female dogs,' or,
`She's always chewed up the house.' People live with these awful behaviors,
ad they're constantly yelling and tugging at their dogs and scolding them and
clucking about them. And it's too bad because it doesn't need to be like
that, though. And it was frustrating, really, to see.

GROSS: Dogs seem to, you know, in the best of circumstances, want to please
the main people in their lives. Why do dogs want to please people? Like,
what do they get out of it, outside of the meatball?

Mr. KATZ: There's two great questions revolving around that question. One
is: Why do dogs want to please people, and, also, why do people love dogs?
Because, in a Darwinian sense, we could live very happily without dogs at all.
And why, when we're so rough on all these species, are we so nice to dogs, you
know, when we're not nice to most species? The answer in both cases is really
the same. Dogs want to please us because we feed them and we take care of
them. And dogs are just the wiliest species there is in terms of look at how
they're taken care of. We shelter them, we protect them, we give them great
stuff, we give them gourmet treats. Some dogs I can mention sleep on L.L.
Bean cedar beds that cost a hundred--I don't want to mention any names.

GROSS: Like Jon Katz, for instance?

Mr. KATZ: Well, I have no comment on that. But now why do we do that? There
was great research I came across--you know, working with the University of
Kentucky, I get tons of great studies about this. And this great writer named
John Archer in England is a psychologist; he was obsessed with this idea of
why do people love dogs so much when, in a Darwinian sense, they don't really
do anything for us. And the answer, which speaks directly to your question,
is dogs fool us. They show a range of emotions. They show affection, they
show neediness, they show hostility. And they then trick us. We see these
few emotions, and we are then drawn into thinking they have the whole range of
emotions and we get attached to them.

And what Archer wrote, which I thought was quite wonderful, was that this
makes dogs the most effective social parasites in the history of the world in
the most benign sense of the term because a social parasite is a species which
injects itself into the social system of another species and lives off of it.
And dogs are really brilliant at this, at getting us to think that they're
just like us, so that we will protect and shelter them and lavish them with
great food and treats and drive out three times a week to show them sheep.

GROSS: Jon, I have a question I have to ask you here.

Mr. KATZ: Go ahead.

GROSS: Is this dog thing, like, part of a midlife crisis?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Seriously. And I mean that like, I mean, I really understand how much
people can love animals. At the same time it's like you've invested so much
of your life in this. It's your main subject for writing about. You're
devoting your days, in part because you're writing about it, to taking care of
your dogs. I know your children are grown now, and from what I know, I think
you used to be a very devoted father, I mean, not that you're not anymore.
But you had tasks you had to do that you no longer have to do surrounding your
children, you know. So let's be blunt. Are you having a midlife crisis?

Mr. KATZ: (Laughs) Well, I laugh because people have been asking me that
since I was 20. So...

GROSS: Oh, right. OK.

Mr. KATZ: I think whenever men change people ask them if they're having a
midlife crisis.

GROSS: Oh, probably true.

Mr. KATZ: And I don't know quite what the term means in the sense that I'm
having a gas. You know, I can't say I've ever been happier. I have a great
marriage, I have a great kid. You know, I love writing about dogs. So, you
know, I think people are put off in some way or puzzled by change, and I love
change. And, you know, I used to work in media, and I used to write
mysteries. Now when I wrote mysteries--I mean, I used to write novels, then I
wrote mysteries. No one asked me if I was having a midlife crisis. Well,
actually some people did. When I went to the mountain people asked me if I
was having a midlife crisis.

I think this process for me is very exciting. I don't really write about
dogs, as I'm sure you know. I write about people, the people who own the
dogs. And dogs are a wonderful way into people because dogs are life itself.
When you get to hang around the dogs, people let you into their lives and
reveal themselves. As a writer, in a way, that's hardly ever happened. And
I'm genuinely draw into the rich emotional geography that exists between
people and their pets. So, for me, there's nothing of the sense of crisis
about it. It's, really, a blast. I love the dog people. I love the dogs.
And I especially love writing about it. I feel, after years and years and
years of trying this or that, that I've really found my thing as a writer.
I'm good at it. So I guess the answer--honestly, it's a perfectly fair
question--I would have to say no. I think it's just a lot of fun and very
exciting for me.

GROSS: Well, Jon Katz, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. KATZ: Thank you. I appreciate it, Terry.

GROSS: Jon Katz's latest book is called "The New Work of Dogs." His other
books include a "Dog Year" and "Running to the Mountain."

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Use of `fascist' making a comeback among political
right
TERRY GROSS, host:

The label `fascist' has been making a comeback in recent years, and this time
it's coming as much from the right as the left. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg
has been wondering why Americans, in particular, are so fond of the epithet.

GEOFF NUNBERG:

You'd figure no one would quarrel with describing Saddam Hussein's regime as
fascist. It seemed to have a lot of the features of classical fascism: the
militaristic nationalism, a secular religion of the state and a government by
secret police terror. And that's not to mention the grandiose monuments and
the silly, high-peaked officers' hats, like the ones the Germans and Italians
used to wear. But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stirred up a
controversy recently when he complained to some British journalists that
labeling Saddam a fascist disparaged Mussolini's regime, which he called
`comparatively benign.' `Mussolini never killed anyone,' he said, not quite
accurately. `Mussolini used to send people on vacation in eternal exile.'

Those fine distinctions are apt to be lost on Americans, who don't have any
intimate historical memories of Fascism, with a capital F. Fascist is a word
that we throw around as easily as `bastard' and with no more heed to its
literal meaning. That began with the '60s radicals, who borrowed the epithet
from the international left. It was a moment when `polarizations with a
common syntax,' as Todd Gitlin has put it, `the charge of fascism became a
way of distancing yourself from the tired civilities of liberalism and
rejecting all forms of social control. It stood in for any of the reasons why
you weren't going to work on Maggie's Farm no more.' When William F. Buckley
brought a defamation suit against the author of a 1969 book for calling him a
fascist, the court ruled that the word was too vague to be actionable.

The collapse of the radical movements of the '60s temporarily bleached fascist
of its tone of rage and left it as a jocular term for anybody who was trying
to impose a rigid pattern of behavior. There are fashion fascists and wine
fascists, fascistic anti-smoking ordinances and those fascistic seat belts
that lock you in automatically when you close the car door. But lately
fascist has been making a comeback as a political epithet. The anger stirred
up by the Iraq war and domestic anti-terrorism programs has left us pulling
the word out of the closet, along with tie-dyed T-shirts and chants of `hey,
hey, ho, ho.'

You don't see it used much as an epithet in liberal publications like The
Nation or The American Prospect, but the Web is full of it. An AltaVista
search turns up more than 7,500 pages where fascist or fascism appear within
10 words of Ashcroft or Bush. But this time around the right has adopted the
epithet as well. Granted, it's appropriate to use fascist for Saddam
Hussein's regime, but even there it's striking that not many people were
making that comparison at the time of the first Gulf War. In 1990, there were
only 11 stories in major newspapers and magazines where somebody described
Saddam's regime as fascist. Over the past year there have been more than 150.
And it's more of a stretch when people use phrases like `Islamofascist' to
describe Islamic fundamentalists.

The Taliban government may have been a nasty and repressive theocracy, but it
didn't try to make religion subordinate to the state, the way Hitler and
Mussolini did. Quite the opposite, it's as if the evils of the Taliban or bin
Laden aren't sufficient to the day. We can't go after anybody now without
comparing the campaign to the good war against Hitler and bringing the old
rhetoric of appeasement into play. In fact, the mainstream right has taken to
using fascist with a reckless brio that we used to associate with Abbie
Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Rush Limbaugh has described Dick Gephardt's health
care program as fascist. And a while ago the director of the American
Conservative Union attached the label to Tim Robbins. And the irrepressible
Ann Coulter compares Katie Couric to both Eva Braun and Josef Goebbels.
That's a hermaphroditic image clash I have some trouble getting my head
around.

The right's new enthusiasm for fascist has a lot to do with the fall of
Communism, which left those old epithets, like `pinko' and `communistic,'
sounding quaint and retro. There was a time when the right would routinely
refer to the ACLU as `Communist sympathizers' or `fellow travelers.' Nowadays
Bill O'Reilly describes the group as `a fascist organization which uses their
legal clout to terrorize various school districts and individuals.' That
doesn't make a lot of historical sense. Real fascists didn't try to litigate
their way to power. If they did, they wouldn't have been fascists. But then
few of the Americans who use fascist nowadays have much interest in dotting
their historical I's.

Like `big brother' or `Orwellian,' it's a Spandex specter that you can stretch
over everything that smacks of excessive control and surveillance, whether
it's coming from the left, the right or the seat belt makers. The loose use
of fascist comes particularly easy to Americans. For most of the peoples of
Europe the word still conjures up a shameful episode that has to be lived down
or, in Berlusconi's case, excused away. But we can toss the fascist label
around with easy abandon, secure in the conviction that, really, "It Can't
Happen Here," as Sinclair Lewis entitled his 1935 novel about a fascist
takeover of the US. We Americans may not have a vivid sense of history, but
we react viscerally against anything that someone can get us to picture
wearing boots and a high-peaked hat.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University's Center for the
Study of Language and Information and the author of the book "The Way We Talk
Now."

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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