“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” -Edward Hoagland
Canis familiaris. The Latin name used by humans to identify my species epitomizes the unique position of dogs, balanced somewhere between wildness and human society. Undoubtedly, we are very different from humans. We are canines, separated from wolves in just the blink of an evolutionary eye. However, tens of thousands of years of domestication have integrated dogs fully into human lives, making us entirely familiar to humans, so profoundly recognizable.
The boundaries that separate our species become vague upon consideration of our unshakeable bond. We dogs are indelibly intertwined with human culture. Sled dogs, explosive detection dogs, hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, seizure alert dogs, guard dogs, herding dogs—we are part of almost every society, performing an array of jobs that assist humans in their various pursuits. Our most primary and significant purpose, however, is companion dog to our human counterparts. We share your home, wake with you, walk with you, sit by you in sadness and happiness, follow you wherever we can, loyally underfoot. We pay attention to what is significant to you. And when we look into the eyes of our humans, it is irrefutable that a love and understanding exists between us. We are family to each other.
Within our familiarity to humans, there is a tendency to try to fit us into the human world more seamlessly with the expectation that dogs should understand and adhere to human logic. Dog should sit, stay, come; dog should not chase after the squirrel that will never be caught. Dog should not bark at the mailman, but should bark at the intruder. Dog should drink from a bowl on the floor, but not from the raised bowl of the same water in the bathroom toilet. Dog should be clean; dog should not run merrily and muddily through the house after splashing through puddles…While I can see (maybe reluctantly) how some of these ideas make sense, some human concepts are just bizarre. It takes our devotion and immense desire to please in order to abide these behavioral expectations. At least, we really, really try.
While we dogs work at shaping our behaviors to fit the human world, I think it would be valuable for people to reverse the process, examine what brings dogs happiness, and try to emulate that to an extent. I’m a smart enough dog to know you won’t be rolling in the dead fish on the beach (but, hey, if you want to try it, go for it! I rate it as one of my most favorite activities.) Other less smelly dog proclivities might be beneficial in the lives of humans. So while I’ll do my best not to chew up another pair of my human’s sunglasses (they just have such a satisfying crunch!), here are just a few suggestions for humans to try out:
- PLAY!! Whenever the slightest possibility presents itself, choose to play. Romp, roll, wrestle, run with complete abandon. Connect to another person or animal with lightheartedness and mirth. Get wet, get muddy, get out of breath. Step out of the confines of polite, restrained human manners and see how a bit of reckless delight can buoy your mentality towards happiness.
- Pay Attention to This Moment. Human lives seem more complicated than dogs’, filled with conflicting pressures and nuanced with thoughts constantly swirling in the decisions of the past and possibilities of the future. A dog’s experience, however, is rich and complex by being tuned into what is happening right now in this exact moment. On our morning walks, the world—beautiful, noisy, and smelly—vibrantly offers its intricacies, making us a part of the place we currently occupy. We are able to live fully, enthusiastically, joyfully by being aware of what surrounds us. Though our sensory capabilities are different (you being driven visually, dogs being led by our noses), try on our next walk to soak in as much of the world as you can. Feel the cool Fall air against your warm face. Listen to the cacophony of bird songs, impatient traffic, rustling squirrels, and the happy panting of your pup beside you. Notice that every color is present when you look carefully (to the not colorblind, that is.) And maybe it will occur to you that in each new, exceptional passing moment, the potential for authentic happiness is abundant.
- Love with Every Ounce of Yourself. When you feel affection for another, give yourself to that feeling completely and without restraint. Love without expectation of reciprocity or consequence. Generously, tenderly, wholeheartedly, unconditionally. When the feeling arises, pay attention to it, not other complications or worries. Let your eyes shine, smile widen, and (metaphorical) tail wag as you demonstrate your fondness. Recognize that loved ones are spectacular, rare, and our time with them is all too brief. Don’t waste any bit of this most prized bit of life by playing it cool. You will bring happiness to so many lives, including your own, by extending and expressing your adoration for family, friends, and other loved ones. Genuinely show it at every opportunity.
We dogs are so familiar to you, these key parts of our “dogma” may have gone unnoticed or just taken for granted. We miss big parts of the things closest to us—it happens. But, I hope some of my tried and true canine advice is helpful to you! Besides “feed dog more bones,” what kind of advice do you think your dog would give you??
Wishing you happy tails and much love,