The bond we have with dogs

Marie-Thérèse Walter, Pablo Picasso's muse,  © Gérard Blot/Réunion de Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY, Acquavella Galleries.
Marie-Thérèse Walter and a shepherd. © Gérard Blot.

There is definitely something special about the bond we have with dogs. Their ability to read our communicative gestures makes them seem “in tune” with us. And their attentiveness to our every move can’t help but make us feel special. There is one study that shows that dogs would prefer to spend time with humans than their own species, which is unusual for an animal. Every dog owner is familiar with that rise in spirits as a thumping tail greets you at the door, and from the enthusiasm dogs have for us, it’s hard to believe the feeling isn’t mutual.

— Canine behavioral scientist Dr. Brian Hare, in a recent interview featured in Scientific American.

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I love this: Science backing what we already know to be true about our dogs.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Unqualified, unconditional regard

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“Another human being will never bring us to the same unqualified, unconditional regard that a dog does. Our full immersion in language brings with it qualification and condition; once we enter the world of signs, we can never again be so single-minded.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

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Happy weekend, everyone! Hope it is restful. I may be arranging a small play-date between Bo and Zoe while their owners are out of town. Should be fun! Let’s just up the Bo-ster isn’t too rambunctious for Zoe, the dignified older woman…

The mystery of living with a dog

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“The fact of the matter is, I like not knowing how Lucille experiences the world, I like the mystery of living with a dog. There is something deeply rewarding about the moment when she and I manage to transcend the language barrier, to reach across the boundaries of species and communicate with one another, understand what the other wants and feels. But there is something equally rewarding about honoring the moments when we can’t.”

Pack of Two, Caroline Knapp

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I’m off for a long weekend! Hope you all have pleasant ones and I’ll see you on Monday!

Poem by Marie Howe: “Buddy”

A sweet poem about how we can often misunderstand each other.

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By Marie Howe

Andy sees us to the door, and Buddy is suddenly all over him, leaping
and barking because Andy said: walk. Are you going to walk home? he said.

To me. And Buddy thinks him and now, and he’s wrong. He doesn’t
understand the difference between sign and symbol like we do–the thing

and the word for the thing, how we can talk about something when it’s not
even there, without it actually happening–the way I talk about John.

Andy meant: soon. He meant me. As for Buddy, Andy meant: later. When he
was good and ready, he said. Buddy doesn’t understand. He’s in a state

of agitation and grief, scratching at the door. If one of us said, Andy,
when Andy wasn’t there, that silly Buddy would probably jump up barking

and begin looking for him.

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Happy weekend, everyone. Hope you all stay cozy and warm!

Review: Animals in Translation

Animals in Translation

After reading and loving Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson’s Animals Make Us Human, I was especially eager to read that book’s predecessor, Animals in Translation. Animals in Translation has a more direct focus on the relationship between autism and the animal mind, which was very fascinating.

Grandin herself is a remarkable individual and it is difficult to read the book without wishing you had her intuition toward animals. Her ability to decipher animal behavior is enviable, to say the least. She is especially passionate about horses and cows, and this book, like Animals Make Us Human, taught me a lot about these animals that I didn’t previously know.

For me, one of Grandin’s most valuable insights is passing on the knowledge that all animals are far more perceptive and sensitive than we think. I’m attuned to thinking that dogs are highly intelligent, but I don’t ever think of horses, cows, chickens, or pigeons as possessing any special intelligence. Grandin convincingly shows that this is not the case, and that we should all be far more conscientious about the way we approach, handle, and communicate with all animals.

While I was interested in her arguments about livestock, I found her points and paragraphs on dogs to be far less convincing. Grandin knows a ton about livestock, but I don’t think she knows very much about dogs. For one thing, she still believes in and advocates the dominance model of behavior for dogs and the debunked “alpha dog” theory. She says you should never let your dogs up on your bed or couch and never let them look you in the eye, because then they’ll control the house, etc. A lot of people think like this about their dogs, but we now know that it’s a pretty big leap–and it’s all based on outmoded research about captive wolves.

Secondly, she dislikes purebred dogs–in some ways, for very good reasons (unethical breeding leading to genetic defects), but in others, in very questionable reasons. She tries to make the point that purebred dogs are worse than mixed breeds. Her evidence? ONE anecdote from ONE friend she had. This friend had two mixed breeds and one purebred lab and the purebred tore up the house while the mixes were no trouble at all. From this one story, Grandin concludes that mixed breeds are better than purebreds. This might be true, but even if it is, Grandin should know better than use one friend’s story–based on ONE dog’s behavior!–as evidence that all purebreds are behavioral nightmares.

For those reasons, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone looking for thoughtful and well-researched information about dogs. But if you’re interested in the broader perspectives on animal intelligence and its relationship with autism, then it may be an enjoyable book for you.

How dogs humble us

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I am not one to over-romanticize dogs or think of them as supernatural sages trapped in furry bodies. They are dogs. They are just another Earth-grounded species. But they have a lot to teach us about ourselves. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all of the ways that dogs make us less self-absorbed humans.

Why spending time with dogs makes us more humble and bearable people:

  • Dogs make us exercise servant leadership. We have to stoop down and pick up their poop with our hands. We pull ticks out of their fur. We clean up their vomit on the carpet. We are reminded that we are not so very important.
  • Dogs make us realize how poor our communication skills really are. There is nothing more humbling than trying to train a dog something new and realizing that we are not coming across very clearly.
  • Dogs remind us that they forgive more swiftly and more completely than we do.
  • Dogs have more trust in us than we have in ourselves.
  • Dogs make us realize that all the things we get stressed out about might not actually be life-and-death situations. What is really important right now? In a dog’s eyes: You need to throw that ball for me another 1,500 times. That’s all that really needs to happen today. Just relax.

How does your dog humble you?