In my family I have two parents, two sisters, and a beloved golden retriever – Rosie. Last week, the following conversation took place at a family dinner.
This encounter got me thinking: Why do humans love their dogs so much, and is the feeling mutual?
I have always been slightly skeptical of some dog owners tactics. For instance, my mother has full on conversations with Rosie in front of me. It creeps me out. She will ask my dog detailed questions, like “What are your plans for the day, Rosie?” or “How are you feeling?” and expect an intricate response from Rosie, as if the thousand other times my dog has sat there and blankly stared at my mother as she attempted to hold a conversation hasn’t yet hinted to her that this time would possibly be any different.
Besides that, I have witnessed both of my sisters accidentally step backwards onto Rosie’s paws and immediately drop down to both knees, desperately pleading for forgiveness from my dog as if Rosie knew what an apology was. It’s hard not to blurt out “Rosie doesn’t understand a single thing you are saying and is forever going to associate you with this traumatic experience from now on. Your apology is pointless, because Rosie is a dog and doesn’t know what an apology is.” without sounding like a punk.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my dog. I just don’t understand why some people treat dogs as human beings, when it is obvious that they are nothing like humans.
However, I admit that sometimes dogs can do a good job of acting like they understand us, and I was pretty curious as to why this is, so I read a bit about it, and found some interesting stuff. And now I plan on sharing this interesting stuff.
Here we go!
Dogs were first kept as pets nearly 15,000 years ago. They were originally domesticated and used as the world’s first ‘alarm system’ in order to dissuade potential intruders and attackers from either harming the owner, or stealing shit. It must have worked pretty well, because here we are, 15 millennia’s later, still keeping dogs as pets.
In the last 30 years, several studies have been done on the psychology of both dogs and dog owners. These studies have proven invaluable to determining how dogs see us and how we see our dogs.
First and foremost, the studies suggest that dog owners are, on average, healthier, happier, and less lonely than those who do not own dogs. This is because owning a dog adds to both an individual’s sense of purpose (they feel they have a duty to provide for their dog) and because a dog offers companionship and excitement to an owner’s life that could otherwise not be provided by humans.
For example, a study done with HIV positive men found that those who owned a dog were much less depressed than those who did not own a dog. Similarly, a study of elderly medicare patients found that those who owned a dog had much fewer doctor visits than those who did not.
Ultimately, the health benefits come down to the companionship a dog offers, and the stress-reliever qualities a dog possesses. A dogs companionship reduces loneliness, which can eliminate depression. The calming effect a dog can have on its owner, whether it be because of the dogs ignorance to the stressful situations an owner can experience (at work, in a relationship, etc) or because of the dog’s ability to distract the owner from life’s hardships, is extremely calming and serves as a great way to relieve stress. Stress leads to bad health, which leads to disease. So owning a dog can literally keep you healthy.
On the other side of the spectrum, however, things are a little different. In order to address all of the questions you might have, I am going to bring in Jenny. Jenny is your typical obsessed-with-her-dog owner.
Jenny will be stating what she knows and asking questions on what she doesn’t know and I will be correcting her and answering her questions with some research I have done on the subject.
Alright Jenny, you have the stage.
My dog loves me because he always licks me!
Your dog licks you for two reasons. Reason one is because canine mothers lick their puppies for social and hygienic reasons, and vice versa, puppies lick their mothers. And reason two is because he probably noticed that licking will get your attention so that you can do stuff for him, like get him food.
Okay, well my dog always stares at me, so he must care about me.
Your dog is once again most likely staring at you in hopes that you will give him food. But some dogs consider direct eye contact very threatening, so if he isn’t hoping for food, he is staring at you because he is about to attack you.
But he jumps up when he sees me, so he must be excited.
Your dog jumps up because he is trying to assert dominance over you.
What about when my dog does stuff like chase his tail?
Your dog is chasing his tail either because he is excited or because he has anal gland problems. Have fun figuring out which one.
What about when my dog plays with his toys
When your dog wildly thrashes his toys around, it is not because he is trying to be cute. It’s because he is manifesting one of his most primal instincts: killing.
Why does my dog bark at strangers?
Your dog is barking at strangers because he thinks they are a threat to you, the owner. But it’s probably not as deep and heart-felt as you think it is. Your dog is barking because he doesn’t want the stranger to harm his only source of food – you. Talk about selfish.
So my dog ‘loves me’ only because I feed him?
Yeah, that and you pet him, which probably feels good too.
How could you say that to me? You are heartless.
You were asking me questions. This was part of the article, stop acting like this.
You make me sick Jack. You are so cruel.
Jenny knock it off. You always act like this when you hear things that go against your intuition. Stop it.
You always just have to get your way. I am ALWAYS the one in the wrong. Whatever, do whatever you want. I hope you are happy.
Alright, well I am sorry if I offended you.