Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

A Dog’s Life Ain’t All Bad

A bizarre find suggests that Man’s Best Friend is probably also Man’s Oldest Friend. 

In a prehistoric cave in Southern France, archaeologists found twinned sets of footprints leading deep into the recesses of the grotto.  One set seems to belong to a child of about eight years old.  The other set looks like the paw-prints of a large dog, or perhaps a small wolf.  Since the two sets of prints proceed in parallel lines, and give the impression they were made at the same time, it seems that this was very likely a little boy or girl accompanied by a canine pet.  The prints are twenty-six thousand years old.

Dogs are still unique in the animal kingdom, in that they play benignly alongside people, without any taming or training.  Once taught and drilled, they are relied by their human owners for “selflessly” performing tasks as complex as cutting out sheep from a herd, navigating traffic or finding hidden narcotics and explosives.  They are also loved as “faithful” companions, entering our hearts and our lives.  Ask people what defines cuteness, and most will come back with “a puppy”. 

But are we loving them for themselves, or for some kind of human trait that we choose to imagine in them?  We humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize the animals we come into contact with, particularly those that depend on us.  Dogs live in the present moment, and have only a very narrow range of emotions: contented, angry, frightened – that’s about it.  Yet we insist that they are being “devoted” or “sad” or “jealous” or “choosy” or “naughty” or “guilty” (as they drop a chewed-up slipper).  This all presumes a capacity for thought and self-reflection in dogs that they just don’t, and can’t, possess. 

The illusion that our pets are experiencing emotions as complex as our own explains why petfood and pet accessory companies run advertising designed to appeal to the people in a dog’s life, not the dog in a person’s life.  “Oh, look how he’s looking at you”, they coo, when the dog is basically just... well... looking at you.  But we lavish luxuries on our faithful hound based on a conviction that “he understands every word I say”.

Actually he doesn’t.  He just lives with the instinctive knowledge that he’s got a good thing going, and his best interests (food! now!) are best served by going along with whatever curious delusion you’re giving voice to at this particular moment.  Bulldogs are not really stubborn.  Shih Tzus are not really cross.  Spaniels are not really soppy.  But if we want to think they are, that’s just fine with them.  These are illusions we project onto dogs with particular physical or facial characteristics, features that we have bred into them over the years so that we can indulge our fantasies. 

The whole thing, when you think about it, is a scam, run by the dog.  He gets the very narrow range of things he has needed from us for at least twenty-six thousand years.  We get the limitlessly complex pleasure of interpreting his reactions as if he really was capable of thinking like us.  With no effort from the dog.

Not a bad deal, really.  He’d be a mutt to blow it.

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: Multiple Geographies Product –