The Love of a Dog


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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99 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    Nice, Mike.

    My cat loves my husband. She likes me, even loves me, too. But. He’s different. And this difference is not because due to the belly, I feed the cat, I change the litter box, I give the fresh water. I’m good for sitting beside, for sleeping beside.

    But she will sit at my husbands feet and just look at him, for hours. If he’s gone for more then a few hours, she’ll prowl the house, looking for him and calling for him. When he comes home, she won’t leave his side for several hours. She likes me in the way cats like people. But she loves him.

    Growing up on a farm, I had opportunity to watch a lot of animals. I saw how cows gather; they have friendships, preferred cows in the herd to hang out with and much grass; to be near in the barn. Sheep are even more like this.

    But it’s the interspecies relationships that really indicate love to me. The dog that hangs with the barn cat; the horse that has one particular goat it’s always with. There’s the viral video of a friendship between a dog and a cow:

    When it gets to creature of the wild, there’s also love. Birds that mate for life, for instance. A few summers ago, I got to watch a loon courtship. The pair that had been nesting on our pond hadn’t nested the summer before, though I don’t know why. The next summer there was a gathering, nearly a dozen loons. For two days, they hooted and swooped and swam and partied together. Then they all gathered in the center, and formed two lines like a cake walk, and two loons paraded up through the middle. Soon after, most of the loons left, but two stayed behind. They did this lovely circle swim, beat to tail, and around and around, one dipping it’s beak in the water, and then the other. I have no way of knowing if this was the same pair that swam up the middle of the two lines, but I feel it was; that I’d witnessed a love ceremony. I do know that once again, we have a nesting pair on the pond.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Edit: that video is of a dog and an elephant.

      /sigh. Cow on the brain.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


      I’m jealous of you getting to see loons often. We always enjoy them when we vacation in New Hampshire.


    • Avatar Michelle says:

      Zic, it’s been our experience that cats pick favorites. The feline love of my husband’s life, a Birman named Shana, was totally devoted to him even though I was the one who spotted her at a no-kill shelter and insisted we bring her home. She was (and remains) one of the most beautiful cats I’d ever seen. Yet, aside from allowing me to serve her, she generally had little use for me. Toward the end of her life, she showed me more affection, but she totally fawned over The Russian. Every morning, the minute his feet hit the floor and he got out of bed, there she’d be rubbing him all over and trilling. Sometimes, she’d sit on the nightstand next to his side of the bed and stare at him while he slept. It was obvious that she’d be happy to get rid of the rest of us so she could have The Russian all to herself.

      We were heartbroken when we lost her to cancer about two years ago. We got a new Birman about a year later, also named Shana at The Russian’s behest. And, of course, she clearly loves me far more than she loves him. So it goes.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        That’s our story, too. This cat is a Balinese; a replacement for a previous Balinese who *loved me* and died too young of feline aids. She was so sweet and loving that I wanted another of the same breed. Who, of course, dotes on my spouse, not on me.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Thanks, Mike. I am (was?) one of those skeptics but I asked about this in part because I am quickly reflecting on my skepticism. I’ve been debating a post for a while on how I’m pretty sure I am on the “wrong side of history” with regards to my views on animals. I’ve gone on record here saying that I’m more likely to argue that animals are property than I am to argue that they have anything approaching “rights”. And while the rights conversation is a tricky one for all the reasons every rights conversation is, I’m pretty sure the viewpoints I once held — and held quite strongly — will be looked upon as barbaric in the not-too-distant future. And not just because of societal shifts, but because of greater scientific understanding such as what is offered here.

    I also think it important to consider Tod’s excellent comment on the varying nature of love. The feelings shared between a human and her pet may not be akin to those felt between two humans, but that does not mean it isn’t a form of love.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      @kazzy I wonder you take on this story about a man-eating tiger in India.

      I’m more likely to argue that animals are property than I am to argue that they have anything approaching “rights”.

      Because I think the presumption that animals (and plants, for that matter) don’t have rights is loaded with all sorts of problems; primarily, that it leads to some very poor decision making on the part of humans in regards to how we treat habitat.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      You’ve never been attacked by a dog, have you?
      (it’s a lot more common in the country. I know a guy
      who took to carrying a stout stick for the purpose of
      laying out dogs that thought the road was their territory).
      Human rights are always going to superceed animal rights, at least
      where it comes to life and limb.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      I don’t see animal rights ever becoming a major, wide spread issue myself. How do animals express their rights? They don’t people do it for them. Leaving aside that most of what pet lovers say about animals is their own projection, animals have no way of choosing or expressing their choice. So animal rights,even if they have some, ends up being what animal lovers think they are. I’m obviously not a PETA member but would probably fall into the environmentalist camp. What moral choices can/do animals make? But the Wife is an animal lover so i’ve seen this up close, so while i truly believe the love people have for their animals is as real and powerful as any love and that animals have emotions, i’m not seeing them as anywhere close to human or having a ton of rights.

      Sort of off topic but i’d be more impressed pet lovers understood their animals if they stopped buying them food that is clearly designed to be appetizing or at least sound fancy to humans. There is lobster cat food…really which cats naturally prey on lobsters or tuna? Why not have song bird flavored cat food for cats? And do cats or dogs really need veggies and balanced meals? Looking through most of the pet food section is more like looking at the FDA food pyramid.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        1) most dog and cat food is drugged. cats and dogs are junkies.
        2) If dogs and cats can deceive people (–+ScienceDaily%29), then yes, they are capable of morality.
        3) Cats will run away if their home is too… noisy. Like people yelling at each other too much.
        That’s expressing themselves, isn’t it?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I don’t see animal rights ever becoming a major, wide spread issue myself. How do animals express their rights?

        There may be two different things here; animal rights, as applied to the specific rights of a specific animal, and species rights, as applied to the rights any given species might have to their share if this earth’s resources.

        As is often the case, we get to the problems of the individual vs. the moral greater good, which often comes at the expense of our perception of any individual’s rights.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @greginak – I don’t see animal rights ever becoming a major, wide spread issue myself. How do animals express their rights? They don’t people do it for them…animals have no way of choosing or expressing their choice.

        maybe, maybe not:

        It’s going to be a tough code to crack, but I see no reason it must remain uncrackable forever; seems sufficient study and computing power might eventually be able to crack the code, and then they can tell us.

        If there are any left to do so.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        No Kim, none of that suggests moral choices. None of that really gets at whether pets make choices about where to live or why they leave even assuming they leave by choice, not just get run over or lost. Yes animals get lost and confused.lReport

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @glyph If we truly could understand what animals were saying it would indeed be fascinating. I’d love to know. However i don’t think what we do know is actually all that amazing. It doesn’t surprise me at all that animals have different sounds for different dangers or make sounds showing pleasure or irritation. That all seems pretty obvious to me. That doesn’t equal anything we would call human like language or suggest we could talk to them. What they are saying may come down to ” hunger” “fear” “oh shit HAWK” While those are clearly useful for the animals we can usually figure those things out now. I’d love to see how they combine language with scent which i would guess most animals do. It would be fun to see some pet owners have to modify the scents they use in their house or on themselves due to their pets previously hidden disdain for scented candles, Axe body spray and cigarettes.

        If we could talk to our pets i would think many pets owners would be profoundly pissed off or disappointed. They would have to modify their behaviors based on the pets liking or just find out little Fifi just likes attention, but doesn’t give a crap about that bow in her hair.

        If they actually had some sort of language and inner life i’d really wonder if we could even begin to understand it. What a dog or cat or marmoset “thinks” would truly be trying to understand an Other. There is no reason for us to think what goes on in their brains would be easily comprehensible to us. They are very different species which is why i don’t really go for anthropomorphizing animals. They are what they are, not what we project. To truly understand them would mean dropping our projections.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        If a dog is capable of deceit and instead chooses to be honest (as a border collie will, by and large), then it is doing moral behavior.
        If a group of cats instead traps a harmless puppy, so that it is hanging off a ledge by its front paws, and then pokes it from below with sticks, while biting deliberately into its arteries, simply to see what happens — that is immoral. (cats generally don’t eat dogs, and these were well fed).
        If a group of dogs savagely attacks a small puppy and leaves it broken and near death on the ground, is it moral?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I am sure I am projecting, but I have a hard time believing most mammals’ inner lives would really be all that incomprehensible to us; at least not that much more than any stranger from a faraway land, or the thoughts of a small child.

        What will I eat today?

        Will I be warm and dry, or cold and wet?

        Will I find a mate or someone to comfort me?

        Will I die alone?

        The farther evolutionary branches from us, I’d imagine become more alien.

        But if we ever talk to whales or dolphins, I think we’ll recognize much of what’s in their songs. It’s all the same code at the base.

        To be clear, I see this as a ways off. But maybe not more than a few hundred years. Maybe less.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


        I agree on the silliness of pet food flavors although I can’t help but buy our dogs filet mignon flavor food occasionally as a treat. It’s a sickness.

        As for vegetables, our vet recommends them along with quality protein. We give our dogs a lot of green beans, brocolli, peas and carrots, tomatoes and bananas. Unfortunately Josie gets a little gassy with the brocolli but she is a classy lady so we will draw a veil of silence across that conversation. I mostly kill squirrels for the dogs since I am not crazy about eating them myself. I cook them with vegetables and make a kind of stew that they go bonkers for it and it’s much healthier. The vet actually told me she was jealous of how well our dogs ate. They also get a little venison when I can spare it.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I would amazed if animals can even conceive of death. Certainly they miss other people/animals when they are gone but that doesn’t imply they understand death.

        Basic emotions like hunger, comfort, affection are likely similar. But animal like dogs evolved in a hierarchical groups. I’ d guess a lot of what people call love from dogs is something like submission to the dominant leader. I can’t imagine what the world seems like to a whale. yeah they likely have the same basic emotions but their physical world is so different i think they would alien to us.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @greginak I think elephants may well be aware of death.

        It’s common to have aging or sick pets run off to die alone; though I don’t necessarily think this is being aware of death so much as a response to dying.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Animals like humans also evolved in hierarchical groups.

        *We* don’t understand death, either.

        Oh, we think we do, with our religious traditions, and with our EEG’s – but none of us can really, truly conceive of non-existence.

        You’re taking the things we have most in common with them, and thinking them the least.

        Animals grieve (elephants, chimps, dogs).

        They fear death, even if only in an instinctual way – as would a child.

        Again, it’s all the same code at base.

        We’re more like them than not. I’m not sure why we’d think different.

        “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” — Charles DarwinReport

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @glyph @zic I think those things happen but i don’t think we can infer what the animals are “thinking.” Instinct is different from thought. Animals likely don’t know why they do things, they just do them. Is that thought? I don’t really think so. Do animals fear death? Well do they even know what death is? They instinctually fear being eaten and being hungry, but do they even have a concept of death? When i see it proven, then i’ll believe it. If we are going to understand them, then we need to remove as much as possible our projections and our concepts so them for whatever they actually are.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        deceit is generally used to suggest an understanding of others and of time.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I get that instinct is different from thought. But I’ve witnessed animals ‘think.’ Work out problems.

        I’d recommend this, particularly Chaser; who figured out that ‘Darwin’ was the one stuffed animal that he didn’t yet have a name for:

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @greginak – eh, I’d argue that WE largely don’t know why we do things, we just do them, and make up comforting stories after the fact.

        I’d argue that most of what we’ve built up as elaborate “concepts of death” is, at root, just a fear of being eaten, in one way or another.

        Really, what sensible argument can we put forth to avoid projection onto mammals that wouldn’t apply equally to a child who speaks a language we do not understand?

        Do we think – because he can’t tell us in a way we can understand – that the child has no inner life?

        Or do we assume that he thinks about the same basic sorts of things we do?

        I mean, yeah, throughout human history, we’ve made terrible mistakes when projecting and assuming that an Other thought exactly the way we did.

        But we’ve made even worse mistakes when we failed to project, and assumed that the Other could not *possibly* be evolved enough to think or feel the way that we would.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Well said up there.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        cat’s are better at intelligence than dogs. they think better.
        But dogs? dogs are better at extelligence — at communicating, and creating knowledge that they can transmit from one to the next.

        Squirt a cat with orange juice (in the eye), and that cat will not come near an orange again.
        Do the same thing with a dog, and the entire pack will avoid orange scent (or hotpepper jerky)Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @stillwater – thanks, but I am a terrible hypocrite in this arena. I eat meat. I wear leather. I semi-justify it by saying, well, if I accept that we are all part of the same natural order – if I suspect, strongly, that most mammals are more like me than not – then I have just as much kinship with the wolf (or other apex predator) as I do with the cow (or other prey), and if it’s not inherently wrong for a wolf to go outside his species* for his dinner, then it’s not for me either, so long as I’m not unnecessarily cruel about it (though I understand and respect vegetarians who would say that ANY killing is inherently cruel and unnecessary, when viable alternatives exist).

        *(I think it’s interesting that I, and I think many humans, feel a bit of revulsion at those animal species that regularly cannibalize their own).Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @glyph I would agree we don’t know what we do all that well. Which makes me just a bit, well actually a lot, more cautious about thinking we can figure out what goes on in animal brains. They clearly have some stuff going on in there. Most of which i think we would call instinct or simple learning. But after that they truly are Others. Hell some creatures may have far more complex or “deeper” ( whatever the hell that means) thoughts then we do, But to be rigorous and scientific we need to check our preconceptions at the door. I’d more easily believe whatever they think is far weirder to our eyes then anything we could believe.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        but we smell really, really good! (like pork roast).
        [Yes, this fact disturbs people]
        How the hell do I know this shit?
        Someone just got crisped in a gas explosion down south of here…Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Aaaaand… now “Hungry Like the Wolf” is stuck in my head.

        Also, I don’t know what you call animal problem solving if you don’t call it thinking, and while the issue of whether animals are conscious in the same way that we are, or in something analogous, is yet to be sorted out, I see no reason to assume that animals don’t have some metacognitive abilities.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @zic I believe animals, especially predators plan and problem solve. Thinking is a big word involving a lot of different functions. That they can problem doesn’t necessarily imply other things since we don’t’ know their “thought process.” I believe animals can do all sorts of things. My tendency, and where i think i’m differing from other people, is i don’t’ think we can then assume all sorts of other capabilities or aspects of their minds based on the things we can see. To much of that sounds like projection to me.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @greginak I think the difference here is what between what you or I might consider ‘rational,’ and what we might consider cognition.

        I agree that where an animal sits on the predator/prey scale impacts the cognitive abilities that animal might have; toward the prey end, pushing toward ‘rational.’

        The biggest argument I see against animal ‘intellect,’ if you will, is their lack of use of symbols; but even here, I think they may use a host of scent/signal/vocalization that might indicate ways of thinking you or I are unable to comprehend. I think of birds, for instance, and their brains process of 3-D space, magnetic field, and wind current.

        What I’m getting at here is that much of this question involves around, “can animals think,’ meaning can the think like humans, when it should be, “how do animals think, and how does that compare to how humans think.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        the biggest argument against animal intelligence is deer, who routinely eat poisonous things, try to get their fawns killed by pushing them into the more dangerous situations, and overall overpopulate.
        (note: dogs eating sharp and pointy things is not the same: wolves have enough fur in their tummies that eating sharp things doesn’t hurt ’em).Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        also, one of the main predictors of intelligence is the variety of foods an animal can/will eat.
        it’s why cats and goats are really intelligent critters (and why dogs aren’t. all prey looks alike to them).Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I have no idea whether that’s true, but while looking it up, I found this. I love the caption on that hedgehog picture.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’d say the biggest argument against dog’s being intelligent is porcupines.

        They go after them again and again and again, and even the ‘smartest’ dog will not learn to avoid them.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Dogs have remarkable theory of mind abilities, which make them seem smarter than they might actually be to us (though really smart dogs can do some impressive problem solving, as anyone who’s had a smart dog figure out how to open door knobs or complex gate locks knows). For example, dogs will respond to pointing appropriately (they’ll look and/or go where pointed), while most great apes will not. Are dogs as smart as chimps and bonobos? Hell no.

        Anyone who believes that great apes don’t “think,” however, has an incredibly limited meaning for the term, and I suspect the same is true of dogs and crows, toothless whales and raccoons, and hell, maybe even octopi.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        If they’re so smart, why are they always making Latin plurals of Greek words?Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Dogs may in fact love, but I strongly insist that doesn’t mean they understand humans very well.
    Devotion is not anything more than singleminded love. And who hasn’t seen a dog who still loves
    an owner who beats him? Dogs understand approval, they understand devotion — but they don’t understand hate, at least not within their pack.

    Dogs are loved by people because they are ingratiating — they crave approval to such a degree they will
    do nearly anything to get it. Imagine having a creature whose entire mental outlook revolves around you and how much you like them. That’s a dog (note: some working dogs aren’t quite like this. a border collie will herd sheep pretty much regardless of what you say. They’re Responsible Critters that Like Having a Job to Do — they’ll herd small kids too, if you let ’em).

    I’m certain dogs, living more in the present than we do, feel loneliness more acutely.

    Some people want dogs to be “kinda like humans”. I think their greatest strength is that they’re not.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      I’ve seen bored Border Collies herd fish. When they’re not opening doorknobs (the round kind, not the lever kind. Most dogs can work out the lever kind) and generally getting up to stuff. And into stuff.

      The really smart working breeds — and Border Collies are a prime example — get bored easily and it’s not good for them. They need activity and something to focus on.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        My husband saw a border collie handler give the command for one dog to herd the other border collies. Oh, god, the fight that ensued.

        Border Collies are nice, honest dogs. Poodles are the deceitful type — the kind that don’t like you realizing that they’re intelligent (and that are good at getting other dogs in trouble for things the poodle did).Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        My parents used to have a border collie. He would punish them when they left him home alone by getting into the trash and spreading it around the yard. I went to their place once when they were out shopping, I let him in, and he pretty much ignored me. Then, the minute they came home, he started jumping on me and licking my face to show them that they’d been replaced in his affections. Too damned smart for his own good.Report

    • Avatar Zane says:

      @Kim “And who hasn’t seen a dog who still loves an owner who beats him?” That doesn’t necessarily mean anything that separates dogs from people. Abused children and partners often still love their abusers.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      I’ll testify to the herding kids bit. We had a border collie when my little sister was about three (it had adopted us, a story all by itself), and the neighbors whose back yards were all adjacent had kids about her age. It was fascinating to watch the dog decide that the little kids had spent enough time on Timmy’s swing set, and it was time to go play in Martha’s sandbox. Round ’em up and move ’em out. The dog would let a kid go if their mom came out on the back porch and called for them. Otherwise, group play time under doggie supervision.Report

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    Absolutely fantastic read. Thanks Mike.

    My favorite companion, Paco, is now 13, which is old for a bigger dog. It is sad seeing him change* and knowing he doesn’t have much time left.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Roger – Our dog Murphy is almost 8 and while he hasn’t slowed down he has gotten more mature and it kills me to think about only having 4-5 more years with him.Report

  5. Avatar Kim says:
    Wow, they managed to do fMRI on dogs. Unsedated.

    I wonder if they were required to put earmuffs/plugs on the dogs?
    fMRI is noisy enough for people, a dog’s hearing is far more acute.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Based on our initial experience, we have developed a training program for the dogs that teaches them to cooperatively enter the MRI scanner. The program is based on acclimatization to the MRI scanner noise, tight scanner enclosure, scanner steps, and operating vibrations and the shaping and ultimate chaining of several requisite behaviors. To do this, we constructed two replica MRIs, each of which consist of a tube of approximately the same dimensions as the inner bore of the actual Siemens MRI, a patient table, portable steps, and multiple simulated receiver coils that adhere closely to the dimensions of a human neck coil (see below). We also constructed a proprietary chin rest that facilitated comfort and proper positioning for the animals and that adapted the apparatus for the uniqueness of the canine anatomy. Once the animals became confident and competent regarding all the preparatory steps – proven by completing a simulated MRI in the replica apparatus – we then performed live scans in the actual Siemens MRI.

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Kim – they noted in the book that because they used treats and accilmation to the machine the dogs eventually would jump into the machine as soon as they saw it.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I couldn’t scan a dog without at least giving it the same ear protection as a human.
        If they weren’t doing at least that, I would leave in protest.

        Even if the dog is willing to do so for treats and praise, I would consider
        such a thing torture, made all the worse because the dog is willing
        to endure it for our love.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Kim, if you click on the link, you’ll see a picture of the setup.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        ah, I see. Still don’t see any ear-guards (though earplugs may be invisible with flopsy ears).

        I’m laughing at the sheer homemade-ingenuity of the training devices.

        Also: dogs smarter than humans. Don’t need bite bars. (in fairness, they aren’t asking the dogs to move their paws during the experiment)Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I’d be shocked if they didn’t have ear protection. Probably something that was harder for the dogs to paw off.

        MRI’s are loud for people — for dogs, I don’t think any amount of training would suffice to hold them still without something to dull the sound a bit.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Kim, look again. Look at the word “Callie.”Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I know full well that my dogs read my emotions and that they engage in behaviors that manipulate my emotions. When they rest their chins on my lap and look at me with their eyes and hold their faces just so, they know they elicit behavior from me which they generally like — I pay attention them, scratch and pet them, give them carrots, let them outside. They know that assuming particular poses, like “sitting pretty,” will induce me to give them carrots. They know that they can scratch at the back door and sooner or later, they will be let back in the house. So they have trained me to behave in ways that they like.

    Do they love me, or simply use me for food and shelter and carrots? I think the love is demonstrated in part from the fact that they tolerate and do not lash out at me when things happen which they dislike — claw-clipping, bathing, trips to the vet, or even moderately unpleasant things like being pushed off the couch to make room for humans,getting put outside when they’d rather be lazing on the couch, or being told to “go lay down” when treats are not forthcoming. They don’t like these things, and don’t tolerate them well from other people, but when I do them (or my wife does them) they put up with it. They identify us as their protectors and guardians, and they trust us to act in a way that ultimately benefits them, even if they don’t like particular things when they happen.

    Moreover, they crave our companionship even if we are not dispensing treats. Dogs are pack animals and they feel lost without their alphas. They come to greet me when I come home from work. The sole practical household service they seem to perform — barking loudly to tell us that someone has just rung the front doorbell in case we didn’t hear it — is small, but the contribution of affection and companionship seems real enough. The symbiosis between human and dog is real enough in our household that if you don’t want to call it “love” in the strictest sense of the word, it’s still a comfort and a joy to have them. Despite the incredible amounts of shed they constantly leave behind them.

    The cats, however, are true parasites. They cannot catch bugs or spiders, contribute nothing at all. They love us not, occasionally destroy things like the good blinds, walk on the kitchen counters contrary to my repeated instructions against such conduct, and break into our pantry like burglars, to get into our food. They consume food and other resources, and leave behind stinky toxic waste, sometimes not even in their litter boxes. Were they not cute, their presence would not be tolerated.Report

  7. Avatar Michelle says:

    Great piece, Mike. While I’m much more of a cat person than a dog person, I’ve learned to see the appeal. If dogs don’t love in the human sense, they do certainly relish our companionship. Our pug always greeted us with a wagging tail (well, more of a wagging ass) and what could only be described as a look of pure happiness. She was a con artist par excellence. It takes a cold heart to resist a wrinkly puggy face. Sadly, we lost her to old age and heart problems this past December.

    I suspect we’ll get another dog at some point, albeit a bigger one who can accompany us on hikes and walks. Fiona was just such a presence that it’s hard to think about getting another canine just yet. As a friend of mine noted, “first they steal our hearts; then they break them.” That’s certainly been true of all of our companion animals, who depart all too soon, and yet I couldn’t imagine life without them.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Well, we’ve come a long way from thinking that animals don’t experience pain, so I guess that’s a good thing. I just find it fascinating that anyone would deny that dogs experience love – and even love for humans. Doing so requires believing an elaborate theory about other minds and the role of empirical evidence and *measurement* and a whole slew of things. Behaviorally, the answer seems obvious.Report

  9. Avatar Glyph says:

    I may have told this story, so apologies for the rerun; but you hear, often, that dogs have no sense of time, and cannot plan for the future.

    I do not believe this to be true. (Warning: the following involves speculation, and much projection. But also, observation).

    We have two dogs. They have often jostled for hierarchical position over the years. Dog#1 is older, larger, and smarter – but she’s a female. So Dog#2 thinks he should be the boss, simply by virtue of being male.

    Dog#1 generally rolls her eyes and lets him on most matters, because it’s not worth the hassle (as I said – she’s smarter).

    In the old, pre-kid-configured living room, there were two dog beds.

    One was in front of the fireplace, and commanded the best view of the surroundings. It was the favored seat. We never intervened in seating arrangements, they were first-come-first-served. So both dogs would always rush for that one.

    One day, Dog#2 got there first. Dog #1 snuffled around him for a while, then came up to me, pleading with me to help her claim her rightful throne.

    I told her “sorry, kid, yer SOL, go lay down on the loser’s bed”; which she did for a while.

    In a few minutes, she came up to me and started to lick my hand in the specific manner she does when she needs to go outside. This signal is both specific (she is not a person-licker), and also a rare occurrence – she can hold water like a camel and NEVER really needs to go out at night, so I took her seriously.

    So I got up, and opened the door to let the dogs out.

    Dog #2, who I may have mentioned, is a total doofus, raced outside, because he always does – WOOHOO, OUTSIDE! IT’S JUST AS AWESOME AS IT WAS 5 MINUTES AGO! MAYBE EVEN MORE SO!

    But Dog #1 stepped just outside the door and sat down on the deck, watching Dog #2, and waiting.

    Hmmm…strange, I thought she needed to go.

    So I opened the door back up, and she trotted straight to her favorite bed and lay down.

    Now, consider: this was a simple scam, but it required her to grok A.) what was needed to get Dog #2 to move (an open door to outside) and B.) what was required to get that door open (a rarely-used signal to me, The Patsy) and C.) not to forget her plan while the door was open and she was actually outside (she needed to remain close to the door and bide her time).

    I’m not saying dogs are geniuses.

    But the idea they can’t execute simple plans? That I can’t buy.Report

    • Avatar Zane says:

      @glyph I agree with you that dogs can be planful. How do you know “So Dog#2 thinks he should be the boss, simply by virtue of being male.” to be true? He may want to be boss, but how could we know that his sex plays a role in that?

      I tease, but this is where anthropomorphizing starts, right?

      (Speaking of “being boss”, a number of years ago my partner and I decided to add another dog to our family. The dog we already had clearly did not want another member of the pack but never convincingly kept the new dog beneath her in status. They fought over dominance all the time. It was a quite unhappy house for a while. Both were female.)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Presumably because the male dog is asserting dominance by mounting the female?
        (Dog sex is not fun for the female — in that sense, romantic love may be entirely absent in the species.)Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Heh. I DID say I would be projecting.

        But he’s by far the more aggressive of the two (yet also more insecure/easily spooked). They have fought a few times; as I said, she generally lets him get his way, but occasionally she has lost patience with him. We’ve never let a fight between them complete, because I don’t know if he would ever submit to her, and even if she submitted to him, I am not entirely sure he’d relent.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @kim female dogs will do this, too; it’s as much an alpha dog thing as a male-alpa-dog thing.

        You really don’t want to know how I know this. It required 1) reading one of the books Mike mentioned, Monks of New Skete and private puppy classes with a dog-behavioral specialist.

        I’m a firm believer in well-trained dogs, and suggest that a well-trained dog really has a well-trained person; someone who has learned how to understand dog behavior.Report

      • Avatar Zane says:

        @kim Female dogs sometimes mount other dogs (and other animals) as well. I’m only cautioning that we don’t attribute human meanings to dog behaviors. I certainly believe dogs feel pain, fear, joy, excitement, and so on, but the reasons dogs do what they do may not actually match the reasons people tend to do the same things.

        I meant no criticism of @glyph, certainly. It’s just there’s no reason to think dogs view gender/sex in any way the same manner as people do. (And of course, there’s tremendous variation in how people of different cultures and subcultures view gender.)Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I had two dogs from the same litter – Josie and Spinner – once upon a time. Josie was the smart, clever trickster; Spinner was the obedient, rule following reactor. I gave them some dogs treats, the rawhide chewies that they really enjoyed. They each took it and went to their respective places outside to commence chewing.

      Josie, who was also a hoarder – her little spot was strewn with all sorts of objects she thought were valuable – laid down with her toy for a few minutes, looked over at Spinner then ran towards the little rise overlooking the valley, barking a few times along the way. Spinner, who thought this was a signal of danger or fun, friskily sprinted past her leaving her treat behind. Josie then turned around, scooped up Spinner’s chewie and was back in her spot by the time Spinner returned to not-find her now missing rawhide. It was quite an elaborate ruse, if you ask me. Josie even tricked me a few times with cagey, clever stuff like this.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        But did Josie ever USE you, against Spinner? I think that’s the part that blows my mind.

        My dog manipulated me, to manipulate the other dog, to get what she wanted. She had to predict both of our reactions.

        That shit is next-level.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        No, Josie never manipulated me to manipulate Spinner.

        That I’m aware of.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Do people really say animals like dogs can’t plan or have a concept of time? I don’t know, but how many people say that? Because dogs are wolves. Predators always plan and predict and clearly “think” about what their prey will do. Wildlife biologists, hunters and people familiar with wild animal behavior have seen and known that for years. So i’m wondering how much of a strawman or ignorant argument the “they don’t plan” is. Predators have a lot of planning ability. How much of that is instinct or learned is a good question. Prey animals though…..dumb as boxes of rocks.

      I think Still also noted up thread that some people would say animals dont’ feel pain. Really? Who says that? I know fishermen used to say fish couldn’t feel pain, but who would ever say a dog or cat or moose doesn’t feel pain.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        About the pain thing: not ten years ago I heard a guy describe hitting a deer with his car, ending with a bit about how it was alright since deer don’t feel pain. But it was a common enough view not all that long ago. I think it’s an example of how theories can get too far in front of one’s nose.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        It was René Descartes who started that noxious rumor, according to wikipedia.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Of course it was Depeche Mode who started the Blasphemous Rumors though.

        That animals don’t feel pain seems far fetched to me, but a lot people continue to believe those things regardless of my distance from fetch.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        I think that Greginak has a sick sense of humor.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        And don’t get me started on Fleetwood Mac!Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        acting like a robot is not planning or having knowledge of time. when a border collie herds, it’s running on full-on instinct, and even though it may look like it’s being intelligent, it’s really not. (it’s intelligence is shown in other situations).

        It’s possible to breed in various “catching strategies” that do not require thought.

        Intelligence is mainly about adaptability and flexibility anywayReport

  10. Avatar North says:

    I can say with absolute certainty that dogs can love. Humans evolved to love and it’d be the height of hubris to think that development is confined to our species.

    Dogs are also like the lotto winners of the planet. They live lives as eternal puppies (for wolf puppy behavior is the behavior that dogs adopt for their entire lives) guarded, loved and cared for by the terran biosphere’s apex species. I suppose cats could argue that they’ve scammed the system but I suspect it goes without saying that the human species would generally choose their dogs over their cats in a pinch.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Well yeah but cans dogs appreciate good schadenfreude or rapier like sarcasm or high quality slapstick or good low quality innuendo. No i say……no.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      North – I would say that First World dogs have it made. Most of the world’s dog population mostly live as non-pets and semi-wild. They gravitate to humans and rely on humans for leaving food behind but many, many dogs end up as village dogs scavenging for scraps. Not saying it’s a terrible life but they aren’t cared for in the way that pet dogs are in First World countries.Report

  11. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    Dog hunting is morally good?Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      OK – I’ll bite. Who mentioned dog hunting?Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

      Just wondering if hunting and killing animals that someone might love is morally wrong. I’d say it is.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Are we talking about hunting someone else’s housepets or are we talking about shooting a deer despite the fact that there are deer furries?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I don’t think we were talking carnal love.
        And horses are really, really tasty!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Assume *NOTHING*.

        But okay. I suppose I’m asking if we’re talking about a specific person loving a specific animal (such as a pet) or if we’re talking about a specific person loving all animals, everywhere.

        Because the first totally makes sense to me as being described as “wrong” but the second has me wondering exactly how much of a moral obligation is put on me by how strongly another person feels something.Report

  12. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Great post, Mike.

    It’s hypothesized that the evolution of dogs from wolves was a sort of joint production of humans and canines. Humans leave lots of trash around, and wolves–like humans–are omnivores, so they found human trash delectable. And humans may have tolerated them because they acted as watchdogs, as an early warning system against hostiles. Those which were less skittish of humans were more likely to stick around; those that were less aggressive were more likely to be tolerated. That put selective pressures at work. And as humans began to work directly with them, and use them as tools–as Mike does with hunting dogs–those that were more accurately responsive to human wants/demands/needs were most likely to be selected for further breeding. So, the theory is, dogs were in fact purposely bred to understand us.

    In 20th century Russia there was selective breeding of the most docile…some type of weasel…for the fur-industry, to get critters that were easier to handle. They managed to fully domesticate them in 20 weasel generations, which gives us our minimum time period for domestication of wolves to dogs. It certainly wasn’t that quickly, but that indicates that it could have possibly happened within just a few human generations. (Also, the weasels developed mottled coats. Dogs also have mottled coats, unlike wolves, so it’s now believed that the gene(s) involved with domestication are also involved with hair color, possibly an interesting case of exaptation.

    A personal dog story, about intelligence. I was hiking in the woods with my Walker hound mix, who, running ahead, went uphill when the trail split, while I intended to go downhill. When I got to the split I called for him, and he began to run back down the trail toward me, then paused, looked downhill, and plunged straight down, not toward me, but toward the trail about 40 yards ahead of me, where he sat and waited for me to get there. And I thought, “my dog understands geometry!” And then I thought, “of course, he’s by heritage a predator,” and an instinct for triangulation would be advantageous to a predator.Report