Not everyone likes dogs, but those who do like dogs, like them a lot. As Will Rogers said, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Dogs are like people. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and well, personalities even. With 37-47 percent of households owning a dog, they are certainly important members of many American families.
Every dog owner has a unique list of reasons why his or her dog is special to them. Some dogs are revered for being energetic, maybe affectionate, or fiercely protective, and just like human siblings, multiple dogs in the same house can be quite different from each other.
Every once in a while, we are reminded of the power and influence that dogs have in our lives.
Sadly, one of these times can be after we have lost them. Dogs have tremendous power and influence over their human “masters.” Who’s really training who? They have the power to steal our heart with wet kisses and begging eyes, and the influence to help us understand an important fact: dogs really know how to live.
They understand more than you think they do. Dogs are masters at perception. They notice if we are anxious, happy, worried, sad or angry. More notably, dogs recognize illness in their owners and will seek to be close if this is the case. At least one study has shown that dogs read intentions by reading behavior. A 2011 study published in “Learning & Behavior” found that domestic dogs are roughly as intelligent as a 2-year-old human. That means that they are capable of understanding the meaning of roughly 165 words and that they can make sense of body language.
They express happiness. It is very easy to tell when a dog is happy. The excited and furious wag of a tail, the “smile” dog owners swear by, the running in circles and jumping in the air. Dogs aren’t hesitant to express their happiness, and ultimately, their appreciation for whatever it is that is making them happy is evident by their behavior.
They know how to relax. Have you ever seen a dog walk in a circle before laying down? Primitively, they did this in order to flatten tall grass and rid their sleeping area of bugs and snakes. As domesticated animals, those primitive instincts still remain. Once a dog has prepared its spot, it can easily fall into a slumber quickly. Sometimes, relaxation for a dog means sitting outside in the sun, soaking in the rays with eyes half closed. What a great way to enjoy the world.
They have loyalty mastered. True stories have told us that a lost dog can walk hundreds of miles home or that a dog can run in front of a bullet to protect a family member. The familiar adage of being gone ten minutes or ten hours not impacting the level of excitement that your dog expresses upon your return home is true. Dogs will stay by your side; they will not hold grudges, and they will stand up for you if needed, no matter the consequence to them. They possess integrity and grit.
They love you to their last breath. Sometimes our dogs love us so much that they stay with us as long as possible, even if they are suffering. Our canine companions express love in ways that human beings cannot. As pack animals, they form deep bonds with their human and depend on us for acceptance and love. In the midst of a dog owner facing the agonizing decision of putting their beloved pet to sleep, a dog will lick its owners face in response to a tear-filled, “I’m sorry.” The lick may be meant to communicate to us, “Thank you for giving me a good life to live.” In that moment, we know that the following holds fiercely true: dogs are love.
In loving memory of Clovis “Bear” Bigler April 2009 – Dec. 2014 “Woman’s Best Friend”
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Platte City with her family. She may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.