Being a dog owner for nearly 40 years and having grown up with dogs since a toddler, one of the things that always amuses me are articles extolling the latest research where intrepid scientists breathlessly announce that their research shows that dogs are not very intelligent. Their view is that we are anthromorphising when we treat our dogs like furry kids and insist that they understand us emotionally as well vocally (or verbally). I’m pretty much convinced that these ‘scientists’ have never owned a dog (more likely a cat) and have some sort of aversion to dogs to come up with these sorts of ‘scientific’ results. Everyone that I know who owns a dogs, or has owned a dog, can tell stories of how their dog shows clear and unambiguous understanding of not just words, but of emotions, and can even anticipate the actions of their owners. Some of this may of course be a Pavlov’s Dog conditioning case, but in my view there’s a lot more to this than what many would admit.
No one fully knows how long dogs have been associated with humans, but it’s most certainly a very long time. Some estimate that the association is at least 15,000 years old and others suspect that it’s much older, as the earliest evidence is only gleaned from when human and dog remains were found together in burial sites. It says something about the relationship when owner and dog are buried in the same grave. The other thing to note is that no one can say when humans and dogs weren’t associated with each other; they seem to have been bonded as long as anyone cares to estimate. It’s clearly been so long that no one who gets their first dog gives a second thought as to whether they can bond with the dog, teach it commands and make it part of the family, it’s just a given as it’s so much of a racial (genetic) memory nowadays. Our affinity towards dogs is pretty much a genetic trait if nothing else. Though of course there will always be those who don’t like dogs and, not so oddly, dogs seem to sense this pretty quickly.
The other thing with dogs is that you can find them working with and for humans in just about any endeavour. Dogs have been guardians of people, livestock and property probably as their very first domesticated roles and continue to do so to this day. As an example, dogs have been and still are honoured for their roles in supporting troops in the field in one of the most hazardous tasks that anyone could possibly engage in, and they also feature in other hazardous activities such as rescue, police etc tasks. And then there’s the humanitarian types of activities such as service or assistance dogs, therapy dogs and so on, as well as the ones for companionship. How many military, rescue, service etc cats have you heard of? While there are cases of therapy cats, cats certainly don’t have the physical capability to perform many tasks and they also tend not to have the temperament for many tasks in which dogs excel. Some would argue those points, but in the main they are most certainly true. And, in reality, you don’t own a cat, a cat owns you.
And it’s been well documented that dogs can provide general health to their owners. It’s been long surmised (and innately known to dog owners) that children who associate with dogs from a very young age develop resistance to allergies etc and studies prove this to be true. Dogs also provide many other health benefits, from physical wellbeing to mental wellbeing. Depending on what you read, the benefits are many and really there are no health downsides. However, there can be some other downsides when it comes to dog ownership, such as holidaying or other travel, if you can’t take your furry kids along for whatever reason. The other downside, as I’ve mentioned previously, is the increasing difficulty of taking your dogs touring anywhere in Australia, as more and more national parks are declared and dogs are forbidden from entry. And I guess you need to be cognisant of the need to manage your dogs health, so there are costs involved in that regard.
Some people just don’t like dogs perhaps because of bad experiences in the past and think that all dogs are a problem. In most cases problem dogs are due to problem owners, and yes, there are breeds that can be more difficult to train and inherently don’t get along especially with other dogs. But well socialised and trained dogs, from an early age, will grow up to be well behaved dogs into their old age. That’s not to say that dogs can be blindly trusted to be left alone say with young children, but you pretty quickly get to know whether there’s likely to be an issue or not. We’ve been blessed to have owned dogs that wouldn’t react to the most obnoxious children and their incessant taunting, or similarly obnoxious dogs. It’s all about training from an early age and that applies to kids as well, judging how children can be far more destructive than any dog.
And when some suggest that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, I say Bah Humbug! Our two hounds, even at the senior age of 10+ years learn new concepts very quickly, to our surprise. They really do seem to understand words and tone or voice. Sometimes it takes only one instance of a word or phrase to be associated with some action and it becomes ingrained in their heads. A simple word such as ‘nightcap’, which follows with a biscuit to get them inside and off to bed, was learned after just saying it once, followed by a biscuit or liver strap. Food is of course a a great educator, but the same has been the case when it comes to such things as simply going out. They recognise the difference between the words going to the ‘park’, which is for a run and going ‘shopping’, which is not. The reaction with both words is quite different, even though the ritual of starting the car etc is the same, and they learned this at a senior age.
So who cares if some researchers suggest that dogs aren’t very intelligent, they’ve managed to link themselves inextricably with humans like no other animal and I think that says something. There is no animal that’s so closely associated with humans, or so caring and protective of humans. There is no other animal that’s used in so many workplaces along with humans. There is no animal that would give their life to save their owner or another human even when not trained to do so. But then there are the usual joyless and soulless groups that see everything in a negative light, clearly they have never owned a dog.