Why do we love dogs? There are oh so many reasons. Here are ten.
1. They are human-like
I read a few years ago in some scientific magazine that neurologists researched the brains of lab rats and conclusively proved that the animal brain, including those of our smiling, hairy, mammalian counterparts, is incapable of emotion. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach. Shit. Really? I could’ve sworn …
But it didn’t take long to dismiss the science indefinitely. While I read the article in silence my dog, Tess, gently nudged herself by my side.
I looked at her, this goofy, perpetual love-seeker, staring at me and panting. “You’re totally brain dead, aren’t you?” I thought.
She stared at me, blankly. Panting.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked.
And she smiled. I know it.
That research is bullshit. You know it as well as I. Dogs are capable of happiness, fear, jealousy, sadness, indecision, exuberance and the whole gamut of human emotion, sparing the deeper, complex shades of regret, self-loathing and metaphysical Zen. All you need to know this is sheer observation. And dogs can even suffer under the overwhelming weight of their human-like feelings. Ask an owner whose dog has separation anxiety if you don’t believe me. After seeing thirty seven pairs of shoes and four door frames chewed to dickens, it’s impossible to deny your dog is overwhelmed by something internal, something emotional.
Dogs lend themselves to anthropomorphism. That’s why they’re man’s best friend – they are us, just like us, in their weirdness and warmth.
2. They defy all conventional logic
My dog once watched my husband knock on the table with his fist and flew to the door, barking tremendously to warn us of an intruder.
She hates being looked in the eye but will let you stick your whole finger into her ear.
She is terrified of the broom but will run blissfully into oncoming traffic.
She’s eaten days old cat poop. Three times.
She chews on rocks, is alarmed by her own farts and is god-awful terrified of firecrackers – we’re talking, shaking for hours, hiding under furniture, eyes-of-death afraid. She hates being hugged but loves cuddling, she despises strangers, especially if they are friendly and bring treats, and she eats clumps of hairbrush hair out of the trash. (This often results in interesting pooping sessions. After all, hair doesn’t digest. And I have long hair. Use your imagination.) She rolls around the cat urine spotted sections of our lawn with delicious glory and jubilation. She seems to enjoy this even more after a bath.
Dogs, for their record intelligence and bomb-sniffing, military exploit heroics, are incredibly strange. We’re talking, weird. They’re a bunch of hairy weirdos. No dog is normal and all dogs defy practicality in some way.
Which is strange because they are creatures of nature. Isn’t nature supposed to have its shit together? I mean, I get why humans are weird – but animals are supposed to be our instinctual, divinely-guided counterparts.
And they are. The weird part is that dog instincts are unjustifiably bonkers. I’m sure it makes sense to Mother Nature and their little canine hearts but, really? Is eating dried cat poop ever going to have a positive evolutionary response?
Dogs disprove that nature is organized and singularly purposeful. They reveal just how weird the universe’s sense of humor is. And in doing so, they prove how even more endearing they really are.
3. Their digestive tract is nearly* indestructible
When my husband and I aren’t sure our leftover, slightly funkified and slimy hamburger is still viable, we feed it to our dog. And she likes it. Actually, she loves it.
I’m sure we’re doing the wrong thing when we do that, but this is a creature whose tolerance to bacteria is nearly invincible. She drinks water from rain puddles and dank sewer pipes. She licks her own ass. She ate a used condom from our trash bin. She eats shit, vomit and shitted-out vomit. (See previous note on cat poop, her personal favorite.) And she likes it. All of it. Actually, she loves it.
Her digestion is beyond this world. With no effort at all, her compact, forty-pound frame will digest bacteria that to us would be at worst fatal and at the very least digestively treacherous.
I’m constantly amazed at what my dog can eat, the sheer amount of germy yuckyness that goes into her body every day and comes out in the form of a smooth, relaxed bowel movement.
Yet – and boy, is there a yet – there are some things, some relatively wonderful, loveable things, that would be deadly to her.
Chocolate, for one. What an ungodly state, to be allergic to chocolate. She’s also incapable of eating raisins, artificial sweeteners and onion powder. Which, more than anything, makes me question the designer of such an allergy list. I mean, who decided that her kryptonite will all be contained within the confines of the American kitchen cupboard?
If nothing else, this provides more proof of Mother Nature’s irreverence.
4. They never age emotionally
My dog will never truly be an adult. Ever.
Her insatiable appetite for play will continue through the peaks and valleys of her lifetime, as will her need for constant direction. She’ll never grow out of a good romp in the grass or a solid game of fetch. She’ll never have the need to be independent, or find herself, or invest in a 401k. And I love her for that. She is my eternal child.
Unlike humans, dogs are only mildly affected by the maturity incumbent in parenthood. The goal of a doggie mama is to one day frolic joyfully alongside her pups in an eternal game of tag. She is not their wizened, experienced superior. No, once her pups transcend the short period of life where they are solely dependent on her, she conflates instantly to her own puppy ways as if motherhood were a temp position.
I adore this about dogs. They refuse to become self-righteous, ennobled leaders. Their goal in life is simple and hedonistic. They don’t apologize for it or regret their lack of personal growth. It’s beautiful.
5. They are hilarious. Adorably hilarious.
When my dog is feeling playful, she grabs her toy and shakes it vigorously from side to side in a primal, bone-crunching, lupine gesture. She is clearly trying to impress us with her animalistic potency. But when she does this, one of her ears inevitably turns inside out. It looks so uncomfortable (Ouch!), but she doesn’t even notice. She’ll just stare at us with her loopy, inverted ear, grinning goofily. She doesn’t have time to attend to asymmetry – this is play time, bitches.
That sight has never not made my day.
And when she’s really excited, she runs. Not runs, but charges in a solitary stampede of vigor. She doesn’t run in a line, either: she runs in loops. Around and around at full throttle. She’ll do this for about forty-five seconds, after which she collapses, panting on the grass, and then rolls over as if this behavior is so valiant a belly rub is rightly in order. Sometimes she barks and growls while she runs in circles. Almost like she’s declaring her mission to the world, “Fuck, yes. Run!”
She will capture socks if we leave them on the floor and run around the house trying to prompt us in the chase.
There are so many cute things she does everyday it would be sickening to chronicle them all here. You’ve seen dogs in action. You know what I’m talking about.
The cuteness of dogs is in direct relation to their silliness. Both are infinite.
6. They can fall asleep anywhere within two minutes and thirty seconds
Dogs may be light sleepers, but they go down easy. And unlike humans, their appetite for sleep is limitless. They can get twelve hours of hibernation-level rest, wake up, get a drink of water, and then take a nap on the couch. I remember being amazed by this when we brought Tess home from the shelter. It blew my mind how immediately and endlessly she could sleep. The canine propensity for naps is truly remarkable. Tess does not know what insomnia is, nor does she understand REM cycles. She once fell asleep sitting up on the couch watching television. She’s a rock star of sleep. Get it, girl.
7. They are grateful
While my husband and I are partial to shelter dogs, the truth is, all dogs are grateful deep down. Even the nasty, spoiled, poorly behaved ones. All it takes to see this is a piece of cheese.
A dog will do whatever you want for a piece of cheese. You could demand it climb Mt. Kilimanjaro on its hind legs and it would do it. With zest. You could insist it learn to speak fluent, properly accented French and it would do it. With zest. You could demand it sit, shake, roll over, lay down, play dead, speak and stay and it will do all of it. With zest.
Dogs are not entitled creatures. It’s as if nature has imbued them with an eternal inferiority complex. They are forever grateful for everything lent them, from food to affection to shelter.
My dog refuses to eat dinner until she’s sat down and given her paw. To eat without doing so violates her internal code of doggy ethics.
She will love you for the rest of your life if you take her for a walk. Even if it’s a short walk. Even if it’s only once.
At night when it’s time for bed, we let her snuggle in between us for a few minutes. Her dewy puppy face screams out loud every time, “Thank you for loving me! Gah, you’re the best!”
She’s the most un-greedy creature I’ve yet to meet.
We don’t need this kind of gratitude in order to extend love to our dog, but boy does it make it easier. The amount of thanks we receive makes generosity come easy and love abound.
8. They demand love – even when you have so little left in you to give
The night we got Tess, she threw up four times in the truck on our short ride from New Hampshire to Massachusetts. When we let her in the house, she sat in the kitchen by the door for a solid twelve minutes. Just staring at nothing. When it was time for bed, we invited her up with us to initiate bonding – she refused, adamantly. She even refused to sleep in the little doggie bed we bought her two nights before that was cozily tucked next to our bed. Instead, she sat on the floor next to me and stared. All night. She cried a little bit, too, and let me pat her some, but for the most part she insisted we simply “be,” that we exist together but separate, side by side. By the morning, she and I had begun a special bond. I invited her up on the bed and this time she came right up. We were so excited to see her come so far so quickly.
Then she bit my husband. In the face.
It wasn’t one of those intense, stitch-needing dog bites you see gorily recounted on the news. It was a nip. A “Back the fuck off, or else” kind of gesture that nailed him in the forehead and nose. He had a mark and everything.
Our first reaction was shock – this sweet little dog, cute as a button, had just assaulted us. She violated our trust. She disrespected our kindness.
But then it hit us: she is terrified. Not just scared, but terrified. Of us, of our home, of her life. Everything she knew from the shelter was gone, and although her life was comparatively much better as we could see it, to her it was just awful. All of this newness haunted her. She wasn’t herself.
So we did the only thing we could do: we loved her. Intensely and quietly from a distance. We fed her and spoke to her in kind tones and patter her head when she looked comfortable enough to withstand the gesture. After a month, she was ours.
Tess still becomes that “bad dog” when she’s scared. She once lunged at a friendly group of teenage girls who came over to say hello to her. She’s nipped our neighbor’s children after we insisted they not-come-any-closer and they ignored us. She barks at everyone, especially grown men, and bares her teeth whenever a stranger makes eye contact.
In short, she’s a huge pain in the ass and a great hindrance on our social life.
But we love her. Immensely.
The thing about owning a dog is this: you will never fully understand your propensity for mercy and affection until you do. Like having children, it’s one of those huge, mind-altering experiences that broadens your soul while deepening it.
Dogs need us. There’s something about knowing that that brings out the best in our hearts and summons our greatest kindness. It’s the moments I most dislike my dog that I love her the fiercest. Imagine that.
9. They cuddle with everything and one
Dogs love to cuddle – even the ones that are standoffish and seem uninterested in affection. I can’t even count the times I’ve found Tess nestled up to her favorite squeaky toy, Pink Fluffy. Or the number of times she’s nestled up against a throw pillow. Or the number of times she’s nestled up against a seated body. Or a leg. Or a door frame. Or the console of my car.
You get the idea.
Dogs are cuddlers. They are unashamed affection seekers. Their unabashed search for love makes our human quest for the same seem wildly less embarrassing.
The immortal image of teenage Sally crying in her saddle shoes over Johnny who broke her heart always ends with a warm, uplifting hug from her pillow-shaped dog. There’s a reason for that. The affection dogs seek inspires us not only to endure their cuddling but to accept their cuddling when it’s offered. Love is about vulnerability and dogs insist we learn that. It’s not just that we enjoy our dogs because they cuddle with us, it’s that we enjoy them because we can cuddle right back with them. My dog cuddles with me when she’s scared, and I with her when I’m existentially lost. She hears a clap of thunder, I get rejected from a writing gig. We embrace each other at our lowest moments and find strength in our unity. We hug it out. And soon, everything seems a little bit better.
10. They make you a better version of you
The world is a hard place. We are all taught that in order to be acceptable adults who live happy, healthy lives that we must toughen up, suck it up, and put up with everything that we dislike. There’s undoubtedly truth in this, but in pursuing only this mantra we lose something so necessary, so important to our existence. We lose our softness. Our openness. Our awkwardness. Our vulnerability. I know that’s supposed to be the goal of maturation, but honestly? I like the yucky parts of the human soul.
All of this observing and nurturing the weirdness in my dog has taught me to observe and nurture the weirdness in myself. Life is simply better with more love. We can get this from our furry-friends but what’s even better is that they unwittingly teach us how to get it from ourselves. They mirror in unashamed lights exactly what true heart is: it’s the ability to feel fear and jealousy and sadness and jubilation and trepidation and warmth. It’s the ability to have quirks, to seek love in all instances, and to be grateful for everything.
All of those things that make our dogs awesome actually make us awesome, too. By surrounding ourselves with such raw little creatures, we are inspired to be raw ourselves.
So really, dogs make the world a better place. That’s why we should love them.
Not that you needed any convincing.