Why Do We Like Dogs?
By Tracie Korol
My Airedale friend is staying with me this week. As she normally lives in a highly controlled neighborhood, one of her favorite things to do when she visits is to reclaim her Inner Wolf. That, and pal around with the neighbor dog, a wilderness-wise terrier, and her special friend. When she can do both at the same time, she is in dog heaven.
At one point, monitoring play in the backyard, I watched Pooh (the neighbor) dart off into the underbrush and pull out … something. Something highly desirable given Airedale’s reaction. Not to kick up a game of GimmeThat, I strolled casually around the perimeter of the yard, slowly coming closer to the prize. They beamed at me; they were so proud. Pooh had scored an old, dry skeleton — entire rib cage, spine, tail assembly and one leg — and, as a team, were preparing to settle down for an afternoon of Inner Wolf-ing — dragging it around for a while and then, ultimately, settling down to crunch it to smithereens. Before things became more interesting, I retired the whole mess to the garbage to looks of dismay, disappointment and what could be described as dog pouting.
(Later, when Pooh fetched the skull, I determined it was an ex-cat.)
I share this anecdote because my reaction to this whole slightly gruesome event was “why do I like dogs, again?” They trail grime and hair wherever they go, hork up piles on the nice rugs, leave other gifts on the bathmat, yap, fart, roll on and/or eat dead things, cause us to spend outrageous amounts of money at pet stores and the veterinary, and create occasions when you have to pick up cat skeletons with your bare hands.
Yet, during Hurricane Katrina people would not leave their dogs alone to perish and refused to evacuate. Imagine that. People chose to risk their lives for their dogs. We like our dogs to the extreme, but why?
Certainly, dogs give us joy and pleasure. There is science that explains part of the reason why. Studies have shown that oxytocin and dopamine, the “pleasure chemical,” are released in the brain when we pet our dogs. This even works for people who are not crazy about dogs and who don’t even own one. Oxytocin motivates a desire to interact with others and gives us a sense of well being when we do. It is the same brain chemical that helps a mother with lactation and bonding with her new baby.
But science aside, our dogs enrich our lives. They improve cognitive development and strengthen immune systems in children; they increase self-esteem, positive communication skills, responsibility and compassion in adolescents; they offer companionship for singles, empty-nesters and the elderly; they lower our blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increase survival rates, assist in battling depression and help prevent heart disease. Having a dog can be a beneficial symbiotic relationship that we are just beginning to understand. But the question remains: WHY do we really like dogs?
My theory is that dogs fulfill our most basic needs for validation and affection. In other words — the need to be right (dogs never tell us we’re wrong), and the need to be loved (they offer unconditional affection). Or do they?
In my experience, a dog doesn’t do anything unconditionally! (Remember my What’s-In-It-For-Me method of dog training?) But we perceive they do and that is what is important. Our perception of their forgiving, honest nature allows us to love them unconditionally. Anything that increases our ability to love has to be a good thing. And, with that tender thought in mind, I’m happily going to go hose off eight muddy little feet and wipe up yet another layer of canine-applied dried marsh grime.
BowWOW! Is a production of Tracie Korol and wholeDog. She is a canine behavior coach, Reiki practitioner, a canine massage therapist (CMT), herbalist, and canine homeopath. Want more information? Have a question? Send a note to Tracie at email@example.com or visit www.wholedog.biz.
Send your bad dog stories
For an up-coming article possibly called “Eeuw and Aw,” please send me stories of your Best Friend’s reprehensible moments and why you love him anyway.