One Nation Under Dog (Review)

One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer ReviewOne Nation Under Dog is an enthralling weave of story and facts penned by author Michael Schaffer. Schaffer is a journalist (and pet owner) based in Philadelphia who has done a fabulous job discussing a number of topics that will interest not only pet lovers but anyone who has wondered what the insanity is behind the current pet industry trends.

Just what is the pet industry?

Today it includes everything from old-fashioned products such as collars and kibble to newer trends such as veterinary acupuncture, specialty pet services (pet limos, pet nannies, animal coaches, etc) and holistic remedies.

Because I am active in the pet industry—it was no surprise to me that the American Pet Products Association reported growth of over $2 billion for 2008 with projections of $45 billion for 2009.

Fifteen years ago the annual amount spent on pets was a mere $17 billion which shows how things have changed for America’s 69 million pet-owning households.

Ultimately what the One Nation Under Dog says is that modern pet ownership has been transformed by our evolution into a less connected, lonelier society where four-legged companionship matters more than ever:

“The dog in the mohair sweater, it turns out, is less a symptom of a gilded age than a reflection of a lonelier one.”

One Nation Under Dog looks at the trends that have occurred through the phenomenon of “humanization,” which is that tendency to see domestic animals not as beasts but rather as furry members of the family. (In the wild animal world attributing human emotions and behaviors to animals is called anthropomorphism.)

Although I am family with the pet industry and watch trends, Michael Schaffer delved deeply into the subject from the perspective of a journalist and I was impressed at how he handled the many topics contained in One Nation Under Dog because it gave a lot of valuable information and history with story in a palatable manner.

Throughout the book he cites sources and statistics for each of the topics he explored and provides a comprehensive list at the end for those who want to delve deeper.

Did you know that a survey for the American Animal Hospital Association (2001) revealed that 83 percent of pet owners call themselves their animal’s “mommy” or “daddy?”

I knew it was high but didn’t realize it was that significant.

In a recent article he wrote why even non-pet oriented types should care about the trends:

“It’s a phenomenon that should also matter to those of us who don’t make a living operating doggie day spas. In an atomized era, the growing amount of time and money we collectively spend on pets is an indication of how much we thirst for community, leaning on animals for support once provided by other humans. And the specifics of how we treat those pets no longer just reflect what we think is appropriate for animals. From the popularity of pet antidepressants to the rise of pet-custody divorce settlements, the way people interact with their pets says a great deal about two-legged society.”

What I enjoyed about the One Nation Under Dog was that it took a look at the expanded idea of family (with pets) through history. Most people lack that perspective and I liked how he used different strategies to illustrate the trends.

For instance, he contrasted the advertising differences from the 1920s (a woman outside strolling with a dog) with ads spanning from then until present day. By the end of the century the ads showing animals now had them relocated into the home on the bed.

Did you ever wonder what drives the changes we are seeing?

Schaffer’s research reveals that baby-boomer empty-nesters have transferred their nurturing to animals–which is why the humanization has grabbed hold so strongly.

Some of the changes include:

  • Pet food has moved from corporate agricultural by-products and fillers to more health oriented organic lines.
  • Pet training has moved from traditional methods developed during the early 1900s to a model that focuses on positive reinforcement.
  • Enrichment and socialization is seen as important to the well-being of animals instead of an after thought.
  • Petcentric legal practices focus on the intrinsic value of the pet versus the “value of the property” and tackle the nuances of pet custody in divorce and pet trusts.
  • Veterinary medical specialty certification numbers that have doubled since 1980.
  • Social networks specifically for pets and their people that help create social support and friendships.
  • Pet accessory lines that mimic the human accessory lines.
  • Pet loss bereavement groups exist and the pet death industry is growing quickly.

One Nation Under Dog is divided into thirteen chapters with the traditional front and back matter:

From Dog House to Our House tells a little bit about Michael’s pet owning experience and the touches on a few of the topics found throughout the book with a nice summary of the history behind pet keeping.

The $43 Billion Dollar Fur Baby delves into the world of the pet industry trends and products.

Man’s Best Friendster explores the world of pet networking and pet parties.

It’s Me and the Dog discusses the controversies arising over an emerging pet-friendly world including dog law, dog wars, and animal disaster response.

Trading Up gets into the world of pet fashion and boutiques where you can get a peak into Pet Fashion Week and what that is all about.

Hip Replacements and Health Plans shares some intimate details behind one furry family member’s procedures while exploring the current status of veterinary specialty care and pet health insurance.

Breeding the Perfect Beast looks at the world of dogs as commodities. Get a glimpse at puppy mills, the (fabled) hypoallergenic pet, a rent-a-pet program, private breeders, adoption centers, and dog shows.

Legal Beagles is a quick view into the new legal issues concerning pets such as the pet food recall, damage claims, pet custody, and pet estate law.

Toy Town shares the stories of a couple of pet industry products—including the story of how my favorite pet industry guy, Joe Markham came up with the idea for Kong.

The $100,000-a-Year Dog Walker? This chapter talks about the new services available in the pet industry such as specialty groomers, dog walkers, and pet chauffeurs.

Trick or Treat discusses the current types of animal training and the industry icons that have influenced the dog training world and if you didn’t know the history behind the training trends this is a good chapter to read.

From Alpo to Omega-3 Fatty Acids reveals the history behind pet food trends and looks at some of the different options available to pet owners today.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Puppy is an overview of the pet care world as related to class structure, education, and touches on the no-kill movement.

The American Way of Pet Death explores pet bereavement, the pet death industry, and related topics such as the origins of the infamous Rainbow Bridge poem.

Our Pets, Ourselves is a summary of many of the points found throughout the book but the statement I liked the best was:

“Pets, and how we treat them, are a public reflection of our deepest individual values.”

Well said…and the book is well done.

I highly recommend this book not just to animal lovers or pet enthusiasts but to those who simply don’t understand the fascination surrounding pets today.

Purchase One Nation Under Dog: Adventures in the New World of Prozac-Popping Puppies, Dog-Park Politics, and Organic Pet Foodor pick up a copy from booksellers online or in your community.

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  1. Interesting. Thanks for such a thorough review!

    I’ve been meaning to check this book out. My mom was telling me about it after she heard the author speaking on NPR.


    Mary H.

  2. @Mary: Thanks for the note. Yes, life got in the way so I wanted to make sure that I gave this book some good coverage. I really found it to be well done and am sure you will love it.


  1. […] These pet lifestyle industry trends were discussed at length in One Nation Under Dog. […]