“Histories are fuller of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” — Alexander Pope
What is it about dogs?
In the wild they search for, stalk, chase, grab and kill their prey. This highly honed aspect of the pack instinct comes from one of the most organized and social animals of all time; the wolf. And yet, in partnership with man they will retrieve, guard, hunt, herd, seek, protect, and search.
We can talk to them, confess to them, and blame them for our bad day…and still, under all circumstances, they greet us daily as long-lost friends.
We use them more for our own edification than for theirs. Too often, after the excitement of puppyhood has worn off, we leave them to fend for themselves. We dispatch them to the basement, garage, or backyard. Fortunately, we do not do this to our children!
We leave them cooped up throughout the day until they are forced to relieve themselves, and then oftentimes we reprimand them for soiling the carpet.
We reprimand them for the slightest wrongdoing because we are moody, irritable, or short-tempered…which, by the way, is absolutely the worst time to correct a dog.
In my training classes, I constantly reminded my students that the dog who piddled on the carpet because you left him in the house for 10 hours is the same dog that anxiously awaits their return home every day with a wagging tail, bounding with excitement, and ready for a jaunt in the park … or a mere pat on the head if that’s all you are willing to offer.
And guess what, they’d be waiting with that same exuberance whether you were a banker or a bank robber.
Speaking of dog’s behavior leads to similar topics. What do dogs think about, do they rationalize, are they problem solvers, do they think about their next meal, are they bored when left alone, etc.?
I do not want to get in a battle with those not in agreement with my opinions. I am not a scientist, nor animal psychologist, not geneticist. My pedigree is simply more than 50 years of training dogs.
Since dogs can’t talk with us, the best we can do is assign the same words to them that we assign to ourselves. From the get-go, this is a mistake. Because most words we use with dogs are not absolutes, they are relatives.
Example: the word “happy.” If you ask 10 different people what makes them happy, you will get 10 different answers based on what the word happy means to them. So, when we think our dog is happy, what are we basing that on? (Example of absolutes would be sit, stay, down, heal, and come.)
How about other words we use referring to our dogs: boredom, loving, affectionate, sad, lonely.
I’ve heard people say, “He licks my mouth because he loves me so much.”
Not true, all dogs lick their master’s mouths hoping to find a morsel of food that has been left behind.
Example: Through the years I’ve seen thousands of dogs staked outside on a chain. By the end of the day many of those dogs are wound so tightly they can barely move. I’ve yet to see a single dog smart enough to unwind himself.
Am I saying the dog is therefore dumb? Absolutely not. On the other hand, he surely is not smart or intelligent based on our definition of those words.
Animal psychologists use the word intelligence when speaking of wolves. But they use that word in the context of describing how a wolf might survive within his surroundings.
In other words, they are not using that word within the confines of human description. Rather, it is used as a description pertaining to wolves’ dealings within their environment.
Dogs are not rational thinking beings. They don’t plan their day, hope to have steak for dinner, think about winter versus summer, or wonder if tonight is the night that you take them for a run in the park. And they certainly don’t think about that sweet-looking poodle that just moved in down the street!
Dogs live in the present — not in the past, and not in the future. Eight hours locked in the basement or yard while you work is not eight hours that they wonder when you will return. If I were to assign a human word as to how dogs perceive time, I would say that they merely exist.
I was once asked what I believe dogs represent. Here is my answer, as stated by The Representative of All Dogs, in my book, “The Bog, The Legend of Man’s Best Friend.”
“We represent loyalty. We are our masters’ keeper. When you are given to us it is a pact for life…for our life. There is no one in your life that you always think about. It is impossible for you. It is fully possible for us.
“Yours is a life of multiple purposes. You are to be both good and gentle. You are to love one another. And you are to aspire to the kingdom of God.
“Your time on earth is challenging and demanding…full of days of wonder and nights of dread. For some life is unbelievably short, for others it endures for many years. You may be prosperous, or you may be a pauper. Your fellow man may measure you as a success or judge you as a failure. You may have been granted the elixir of health or the poison of sickness, pain, and suffering. Yours is a life of the oxen: you are burdened with the gift of choice, you must carry the yoke of life-defining decisions, and you must control the beast of desire.
“Loyalty, however, is the defining trait of our kind. We are a pack of the pact. We have accepted the ‘one thought,’ the ‘single purpose,’ and the ‘just cause.’ Because of this we think of you at all times.
“It is not our death that we fear, it is yours. We can deal with ours, we cannot live with yours. You have been granted multiple coping methods if your friend or family member passes. We have none. That is why we lay at the casket, at the grave, or beside your lifeless body. That is why The Almighty has granted us such a short life…because we cannot live if our best friend is lost…that is why our world is over so quickly.”
Thanks for reading. John
John Preston Smith is the author of “The Legend of the Last Dog.” All of his books are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.