Book Review: ‘The Puppy Diaries’ about Raising a Golden Retriever Named Scout

Written for NBC’s Petside

White Golden Retriever
My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with his best bud Zack, a White Golden Retriever.

The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout is a “dogoir” written by Jill Abramson—the first female to land the top gig as executive editor of The New York Times. The book is about her first year raising a tow-headed golden retriever. The story begins with the author’s grief over the loss of Buddy, her 14-year-old West Highland White Terrier, and her reluctance to even consider getting a new dog.
But life forced the issue. Abramson was in a freak accident—she was run down in Times Square, NYC. “The truck’s right front wheel smashed my right foot and I was dragged to the ground,” wrote Abramson. “The rear wheel rolled over my left thigh and snapped the femur.” She writes the story with honesty yet sans self-pity.
This accident left Abramson with a long road to recovery. Aside from pain, and grueling physical therapy, it was a time when Abramson missed her “Westie” Buddy more than ever and sank into depression. Her husband, their two YA kids, and her best friend teamed up to insist that the best cure was to get a new dog. Enter nine-week-old puppy that Abramson named Scout for the spunky girl in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout
Dog lovers: this part-manual/part-memoir is a must-read. I consider myself a know-it-all on the subject of dogs but even I learned new tricks and gained knowledge thanks to Abramson’s investigative reporting skills. For example, I hadn’t known that “a recent study showed that a dog’s gaze increases oxytocin levels in its owner, and oxytocin is the same hormone that creates such an intense bonding between a baby and its mother.” No wonder I think of my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as my son. A dose of oxytocin explains why I feel my entire body and mind relax when I burrow my head into my Buddy’s warm, soft belly.
Before reading this book I was already familiar with clicker training as a positive reinforcement approach, but hadn’t been aware that there is a “depth of zeal” within the fans of this method to the extent that there are even clicker training conventions! I was also pleased to read a fair and balanced take on Cesar Millan’s approach. I’ve heard many criticize his strict alpha-dog tactics but I have always been a big fan of this “Dog Whisperer” for many training tricks I learned from him that really do work and are in no way harmful to my dog.
Abramson’s book regaled me with tales of the vast choices in puppy care—from the Paw-tisserie where dog owners can drink coffee with their pooches and buy them frosted biscuits, to the dog retreat “Biscuits & Bath.” Curious, I visited and found it amusing that the home page is written directly to dogs: “Get chauffeured to the gym, cool off in the tub, hump a leg.”
The Puppy Diaries did not begin as a book. It was a blog column by Abramson on the Times website to chronicle Scout’s first year and it was Abramson’s first experience during her long and successful journalism career that she was exposed to such an immediate, positive, and vigorous back and forth with readers. She attributes that to how passionate we dog lovers are.