For the Love of A Dog
Understanding Emotion in You and your Best FriendBook - 2006
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I wonder whether dogs believe that we are completely unable to smell, given how impoverished our ability is compared to theirs. We can use our noses, but it might not seem like it to dogs. Accordingly, just because dogs don't think the way we do, it doesn't follow that they can't think at all.
Sometimes it seems that our irrationality about emotions, animals, and our relationship to them knows no bounds. In a strange twist of logic, we call kindness 'humane,' when we can be the cruelest of species. We accuse violent people of acting 'like animals.' In an almost desperate attempt to keep ourselves separate, we've done all we can to remind ourselves that animals aren't human, while trying to forget that we humans are still animals.
By trying to separate rational thought from our emotions, we've put the 'thinking' part of our brains on a pedestal and have treated our emotions like poor second cousins. What an irony, then, that so many have denied animals the ability to experience emotions, when simultaneously we've described emotions as primitive and animalistic.
It's true that you can train dogs (and all animals) to do an amazing number of things, but you can't do personality transplants on dogs any more than you can on people. Think of your own life, and your own personality. Doesn't it sometimes feel like you're swimming upstream when you're working at one task, while others feel almost effortless? We're all suited to do different things, and aren't equally adept at everything we attempt.
Each dog is different from every other dog. Surely that sentence does nothing but state the obvious. And yet, I see so many people who can't accept that, unlike their first Black Labrador Retriever, their second one doesn't enjoy playing ball but would rather use his nose tracking chipmunks in the backyard. Dog breeds aren't like brand names, with every tenth widget being checked for product consistency.
All animals tend to act in ways that make them feel good. Once you learn to tap into that, you've learned to take advantage of animal behavior's most basic and universal principle.
Don't feel like a failure if you can't make a social butterfly out of the dog you rescued from a nightmarish beginning. Giving him a kind, loving home and helping him to relax enough to nap in your lap are achievements in their own right. If you can manage them, you deserve much more than a blue ribbon and a silver chalice.
Before the invention of things like caramel corn and Krispy Kremes, what made us feel good was good for us. That's still true of animals who live in an environment with limited resources, in which they don't have the opportunities that we do to pig out on too much of a good thing. This general rule works just as well in reverse: in the wild, what feels bad probably isn't good for you, so you should avoid it.
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