Why dogs? What is it about these furry, funny creatures that can capture our hearts and change our lives? We (I use this term loosely!) dress our dogs up, afford them the best of medical care, take them to meet Santa Paws, provide them with quality organic food, and even throw them birthday parties… in the last 15 years, the US jumped from $17 billion to $43 billion in the amount of money we spend on our pets.
But if you are reading this blog, it is safe to say that you probably agree that loving our dogs is not all about the money. In fact, the financial ‘investment’ is probably the furthest thing from most of our minds. Loving our dogs is about loyalty and companionship, entertainment and comfort. But, the question remains: why dogs? Why not pigs or horses, or even inanimate items that constitute hobbies… trucks, fishing poles, etc?
Is it the way they love? Unapologetically and without restraint. Tongues flying, paws prancing and scrambling, they want to get as close to us as possible. They rest their heavy heads on our knees, as their deep eyes look into our own, expressing what their mouths cannot. Scientists may argue that this ‘adoration’ is simply an appropriate appreciation of resources, and acknowledgement of the vessels that provide them (ie: we bring home the bacon). However, I argue that all dog lovers know the difference between a friend’s dog, staring longingly into our eyes while we nom down on a burger, and our own dog’s adoring glances when we’ve been away for an
extended any amount of time. Not to mention, what about when that loyalty extends to those members of the family who are not the ‘pack leaders’? Many new parents discover a new found love for their dogs, once two-legged puppies enter the scene. When properly introduced, dogs can take on a role that is fiercely protective of the children in their family, who have no resources to offer in exchange. Many adults will look back on their childhood most fondly when recalling memories that highlight their family dogs. Perhaps even more noteworthy, is the fact that dogs who have been socialized appropriately may display affection toward other (prey?) animals in the house, be it dogs, cats, and even bunnies.
Perhaps it is their zest for life, their passion, if you will. Watching a dog run and tumble in hot pursuit of a bouncing ball, or dashing and splashing their way into a cool pond is enough to bring a smile to even the most cynical among us. They bring a uniquely lighthearted intensity and exhuberance to everything they pursuit, be it chasing birds, stealing food from the table or hard-core napping. For many dogs, even training can be fun, and our pups respond almost as if they want to help us learn!
Is it their obedience? It can’t be that, because Gaige doesn’t have an obedient bone in her body, and yet still, she is the apple of
her dad’s our eyes! In fact, it is sometimes in her contrary disobedience that we are nevertheless able to so clearly see the depth of our affections for her.
Perhaps it is their honesty. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a dog with a particularly good poker face. Even with three pups in our house, if I walk in to a plate pulled off of the counter (Georgia) or a chewed shoe (Gaige), their guilty mugs identify the perpetrator almost immediately. Even more worthwhile are their honest evaluations of the people they encounter in their environments. I will trust Tonka’s perceptions of character over any reference or compliment I hear, because his reservations have never once been wrong.
We cannot forgot the dog’s intelligence. Sometimes during a particularly intense training session, it seems as if Georgia’s mind is working so hard, I can actually see the lightbulbs flickering and eventually turning all the way on. Dogs are intelligent creatures, but more than the way they learn, is what they perceive. They seem to possess a wisdom far beyond their years, and hold the secrets to some of life’s most lingering questions. The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life, have come from my dog.
You have to give dogs points for their patience, which I must admit, is commendable if for no other reason than that most of us don’t possess much of this attribute ourselves. This trait is visible not just when it comes to begging endlessly for food. Our dogs spend their lives waiting for us… waiting for us to come home, waiting for us to understand their requests, waiting for us to broaden their environment to walks and adventures. They wait for us, not with frustration or annoyance, but with an unbridled joy when we finally return, get it, or explore. Another trait that humans should envy is the innate confidence that many dogs possess, which is admirable because it often exists regardless of physical stature or athletic abilities. The tiny Chihuahua isn’t afraid to yap at the massive Dane, and the diminutive Corgi doesn’t hesitate to dive head-first into the water.
I think my favorite canine trait is loyalty, which I believe to be different than love. No matter how the days pass, full of activity and outdoor romps, or spent lazily indoors, our dogs greet us with the same frivolity, regard us with the same adoration, and protect us with the same courage. They forgive us when we are unclear or inconsistent, and are always looking toward the future. Although our dogs have memories, or at least recollections, that allow them to recall where they hid their favorite toys or just why they hate the bath tub, they are quick to forget our mistakes and flaws.
You may most admire their companionship and observance (and I’m not just referring to the squirrels outside the window) by they way they move with you through the house, shadowing your steps in and out of rooms, never letting you out of their sight for more than a few minutes at a time (unfortunately, even when it comes to the bathroom!). Again, cynics may suggest that this behavior is simply a creature being on the alert, anticipating the possibility of potential rewards such as outdoor romps or surprise snacks. I prefer the belief that my dogs can’t bear to let me out of their sight. For our dogs, not only must they keep an eye on us, but they prefer to be physically touching us: laying on our feet, nestled against our body, or heads resting on our hands. They romp through the woods, running far ahead, but occasionally turning back to us for a quick pat on the head, seemingly reassured by our presence. Not to mention, what person do you know that would be happy to go along for a car ride with you, no matter the destination or length, just content to be by your side?
Dogs are endlessly resilient and courageous. To meet Georgia is to know nothing of the neglectful past she has endured, and the same can be said for so many dogs who have experienced trauma and violence. Their courage is impressive, seen time and again in stories of devoted dogs laying down their lives to defend their family members. The next time you roll your eyes or yell as your dog barks ferociously at the door, take a second to analyze that act. Sure, it could be a hyper-active overreaction to the mailman. At the same time, how many of our dogs would valiantly defend us with everything they have? I know I would be my own life on mine…
Those of us who work with rescued dogs, who may have seen horrors we cannot imagine, may point out that not all dogs exemplify this list. Certainly, some dogs become withdrawn from play, and are hesitant to embrace the environment around them, etc. But somewhere inside of these dogs, is a little soul that yearns to be cuddled and protected. In spite of their fears, in their hearts lies a fighting spirit that enabled them to endure their tragic past. It may take time for traumatized animals to come back to their natural state, and maybe some won’t ever recover completely, but I believe that this list describes what we all know to be the essential Man’s Best Friend . Sure, there are some quirky dogs that just don’t fit these stereotypical tendencies… and yet their owners love them all the more for it! The dogs that are ornery, difficult, and aloof can sometimes inspire the most devoted companionship out of us.
At the end of the day, I think most of us can agree that the reasons and the depth of loving our dogs are one of the few things in life that defy words, and travel just out of the grasp of language. Nevertheless, we try. So tell me: what is it about dogs, or perhaps your dog in particular, that you are over-the-moon about, and just can’t get enough of? There just might be a giveaway in exchange for your answer! (But I’ll choose to believe that you would answer even without the bribe 😉 )