Before Lulu, I identified as a “cat person.” Dogs seemed like a lot of work. People told me how much fun a dog can be, but I’d seen enough videos of people coming home to a house full of couch cushion fluff and a dog hiding under it to be skeptical about the idea. Then came Lulu and before long I started calling her a little person.
She engages, plays, hides, sighs, vocalizes things I don’t quite understand, seemingly attempting to communicate. But is she? I started wondering what the world feels like from inside a dog’s mind. How much actual emotions and feeling exist in my little person?
She fell asleep in the Adidog jumpsuit I got her, not exactly what I do when I put on my work out clothes. She spent two days hiding and digging up a fresh bone, protecting it against anyone who dared to walk as close as the sidewalk across the street. When I was gone, she stopped eating and playing, appearing depressed. When I leave her in the car and tell her “I’ll be right back,” she steps back from the door, looks away and I swear I can hear her thinking “FINE! Be that way!” I left her in the house for four hours one day, and when I came home, she jumped for joy and liked my face for half an hour. She snuggles against me at night and sometimes wakes me up just to lick my face before curling up against me again. She seems to dream, as she twitches, whimpers, shivers, and kicks while fast asleep.
Finally, I got tired of guessing and took on a research project to find out exactly how much emotions one should expect from a dog. Turns out, dogs grow up to be perpetual two-year-olds. By the age of six months, they develop their full emotional capacity, which matches that of a child at the age of two or so. Church people be damned for saying dogs don’t have souls unless they also want to say that children don’t either, that is if you believe in the existence of a soul. If you don’t you can at least concede that dogs have feelings. Meaning, owners around the world who swear that their dogs love them, are likely correct. I can’t speak for the relationship of every dog and his or her owner, but in general, dogs do know what love is. They also know fear, joy, contentment, love company, get anxious, they feel attached, they know disgust, and can get angry, just as much as a little person could at age two and a half-ish. You can read more about it in a very good article I found by Stanley Coren in Modern Dog Magazine right HERE. It summarizes a lot of research on the subject.
Meanwhile, rest assured that higher emotions such as shame and guilt are not in a dog’s emotional capacity, so go ahead and put that tutu on your furball. They may feel physically restricted and confused but they definitely do not feel shame. If you think so, you are projecting your own feelings regarding wearing a tutu! If they act guilty around you when they do something you consider bad, they are just exhibiting fear because they know consequences. But if they know fear, it means you can traumatize a dog if you mistreat it, or make it do things it shouldn’t like dogfighting. When you come home and you get rushed by your pooch, they are really, truly happy to see you. So, yes, your dog loves you…which is what you wanted to know anyway. The rest is just gravy on a bone.
It means that you have to be as consistent with a dog’s obedience training as you are with your kids. You can’t disregard them. You can’t deprive them of your presence for too long. You can’t ignore them. They will act up to get your love, attention, and interaction just like a little kid would. If you want a well-behaved dog, treat it like a little person. Talk to it. Spend time finding out what it wants. Learn about what it likes and what it hates. Be considerate, loving, and give them lots of hugs and scratches, and let them sleep on top of the bed. For God’s sakes, you wouldn’t let your two-year-old sleep in the corner on the floor, would you? In a cage?… well, perhaps, the “sleeping on the bed” part is just me rationalizing my own inability to make Lulu sleep on the floor. I just can’t! She gives me one of those head-tilted looks in which I can see my own guilt reflected in her eyes.
She won this one.
Love and hugs from Lulu and me.