This topic was prompted by the angry outburst of a young woman who declared she was not that different to the dogs she trains. I was impressed by the passion of her statement; one that some would consider an insult to their own intelligence.
It’s a question I am usually hesitant to voice on account of my family’s screw-faced disdain for four-legged things. But since blogging has given me an emboldened sense of self-confidence, I thought I’d ask it here.
How different, really, are dogs from us? Can they legitimately be called a child substitute?
A couple of years ago I happened upon a documentary that gave me all the ammunition I would ever need in defending my pooch spoiling ways.
On account of the incredible smarts of a dog in Austria, The Secret Life of the Dog puts a canine’s intellectual capacity on par with a child aged two or three.
This was proven, not only by the undeniable size of the dog’s vocabulary, but by it’s remarkable skills of toy recognition. (It’s amazing what a bit of positive reinforcement can do.)
While the skeptics among us are busy squabbling over the science, let me just say I’ve personally witnessed two types of sentient being in no doubt whatsoever of the validity of this claim.
You guessed it. Dogs and children.
The Christmas before Pepi’s brain broke, we went camping. Best Christmas ever.
Next to us was a cute family of four, also trying to escape their relatives.
On Christmas afternoon, the little four year old girl wandered over for a bit of Christmas present show and tell. The books went by without a whimper. But then she made the mistake of bringing out the sparkling unicorn.
It might have been bigger than Pepi, but as far as he was concerned, that toy was, “Mine, all mine!”
The more she snatched it out of reach, the more incensed he became until, alas, poor Pepi had to be locked away in the tent and reprimanded.
Upon my return, her pronouncement that Pepi was a “naughty boy!” was disproportionate to the size and status of a little scrap of dog. It smacked, just a tad, of triumph over rival.
Then there was the time my Neephs came to visit.
“He’s got soooooo many toys!” declared my three year old niece, and then the kids closed in and counted…one…two…three…SIX toys!
“Such a nice big bed!!” she squealed. “I wish I had a bed like that!”
She would have climbed in with him, were it not for the self-protective yelp that Pepi gave. The yelp of one’s belongings under siege.
To everyone’s credit, most of the kids I know are very good with Pepi – and likewise, he with them. But there is something about the way they interact.
Some illuminating, though slightly worrying experiments on foxes in Siberia, show the way we have bred dogs to be frozen at an infantile stage of life.
Were it not for this, our dear little pups would be far more aggressive, cynical and, funnily enough, a lot less cute looking.
Which brings me to the conclusion of this little tale.
There are two resounding complaints I hear from a different brand of silver fox:
(1) That they don’t see their grown-up children enough.
(2) That their children didn’t turn out quite the way they hoped they would.
So here we have it, the real reason why people have dogs:
They never grow up or leave home. They rarely disappoint. And most of all, they love us cutely and unquestioningly for their entire life :)
It makes me wonder if this is also an unconscious reason behind the cosseting or curtailing of our teens. Who is it that really isn’t ready to let go?
Of course, Dr Peter Rowley-Conwy also raises the question of parasitic relationships, but I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
The moral of the story is, who could ask for a better child substitute? In the words of Dr Morten Kringelbach “What we get in return is probably sometimes much greater than what we put in”.
Do you have a similar story to tell about children and dogs? Or is this just anthropomorphism dressed in expert clothing? Please do share…