Coming as it does from a respected zoologist, this is a surprisingly unscientific collection of canine trivia. I'm a very slow reader, but I finished off the 130 pages in a winter afternoon. Most chapters are very short, so there is blank space at the end of each. The line drawings by Edward Coleridge are nice, but are doubtful at adding useful information, while leaving even less of the scant pages to convey text. "Dogwatching" has the appearance of a book hacked out in a few days. Morris is capable of much better.
The book consists entirely of single-subject chapters, each one answering a question that Desmond Morris selects to ask himself, such as "Why do dogs bark?" and "Why do some breeds have short legs?" For the most part, Morris answers his own questions with far more confidence than proof. There are no footnotes, no bibliography, no index, no references to other works. If you have a question about dogs, you better hope Morris has asked himself the same question. You also better hope that Morris got the answer right, which is far from a foregone conclusion.
Morris uses a breezy style that seems to rely on his personal authority and opinion rather than proof or citations. Since he doesn't attempt to prove his statements, many of his explanations could have been made at least as clearly in a sentence or two, but have been inflated into these mini-chapters.
Morris does seem to sincerely love dogs, giving them full credit as our best friends and supporting their humane treatment. I salute him for that, as well as for writing a sometimes interesting book. There are a few chapters that told me things I did not know about dogs, but I have to remain sceptical about those, since those "facts" are only pinned on Morris' personal authority. A person's reputation should earn him the right to be read, but readers should use care to accept statements from "authority" only with accompanying evidence.
Some of the areas where I think Desmond Morris errs:
Morris sees dogs as essentially being very slightly modified wolves. Much of this book directly explains dog behavior by referring to observed wolf behavior. But recent research has shown that in some very important ways, dogs differ from wolves.
"Dogwatching" was written in 1986, and (from looking at the copyright page) apparently has not been revised since. A LOT of new knowledge has been discovered about dogs and their canid cousins in the last 19 years.
For instance, it is now known that dogs, and even dog puppies, can read human body language like a book. Yet wolves can't. Nor can even human-fostered wolf cubs learn to "read" people. Even chimps can't read people like a dog can. In the context of dog-human relations, this is a HUGE behavioral difference between wolf and dog.
It is also clear that when he wrote this book, Morris didn't know about the remarkable work with foxes in Russia that created a domesticated fox by breeding for tameness over a few generations.
Morris even seems to think that a wolf can be just like a domestic dog, if only it is raised like one. This could even be a physically dangerous idea -- just ask some of the people who have hand-raised wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. Wolves may be unafraid of people who have raised the from puppies, but they never become "domesticated." "Tame" wolves may, and regularly do, turn on their human keepers, whereas wild wolves give humans a wide berth. Wolves simply lack the empathy that dogs have for the humans in their "pack."
"Dogwatching : Why dogs bark and other canine mysteries explained" may be fine for those who love both dogs and trivia, so long as those readers don't care very much if they get correct answers. Everyone else should save their money.