DEAR DR. FOX: People talk about the “unconditional love” their dogs give them. I think this is how parents should love their children. Maybe how dogs love is better than what most people are able to give. What are your thoughts about this? -- K.L.S., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR K.L.S.: Your question is really quite profound. My love of animals is based upon what they have taught and given me in countless ways since early childhood, including a career dedicated to their well-being and recognition of their rights.
In my opinion, “unconditional love” is a simplistic figment of sentiment. Before any dog or other creature will accept our affection, she/he must first trust us. Hence, the vital importance of proper puppy socialization.
Greeting, grooming and playing are affection-affirming behaviors that humans interpret as expressing love. But it is self-evident that such mutual enjoyment is an emotional, empathic engagement of two or more consciousnesses: a communion of bodies, minds and spirits. Affectionate and caregiving interactions, in particular, cause reciprocal elevations in the love/bonding hormone oxytocin and other pleasure-center and immune system-benefiting neurochemicals in puppies and people alike.
Those people who seek to be loved seem to especially enjoy smaller dog breeds with the genetics of perpetual puppies, constantly displaying caregiving (licking) and care-seeking (yapping) behaviors. Overindulgence and not shaping the pup’s behavior to complement a healthy human-animal bond -- and reinforcing the wrong behaviors and solicitations, in particular -- contribute to the obesity epidemic and other health and behavioral problems in dogs today. Separation anxiety in attachment-seeking breeds and individuals is a sad reality for hundreds of thousands of left-alone-all-day, but “loved,” dogs around the industrial world.
The twisted, often obsessive love of control can lead to the acceptance and practice of cruel training methods. The misplaced love of people who buy “exotic pets” (species who neither belong nor thrive in captivity), and of cat owners who let their cats roam free because they believe it is wrong to deprive them of their natural instincts, raise serious ethical and animal welfare concerns.
The love that normal dogs give us is indeed highly conditional -- on how we treat them, and on their history. I believe they have a greater ability to forgive (but not forget) various forms of mistreatment and cruelty than we humans and other primates. I agree with the Australian aborigines’ contention that “dingo (dog) makes us human.“ But I would be remiss not to mention that dogs have long consumed the bloody carnage of human warfare, and in some poor parts of the world today, wild dogs still roam in hungry packs and occasionally attack and kill people.
Dogs reflect the good and the bad sides of human nature. As Chief Dan George opined, “One thing to remember is to talk to the animals. If you do, they will talk back to you. But if you don’t talk to the animals, they won’t talk back to you, then you won’t understand; and when you don’t understand, you will fear; and when you fear, you will destroy the animals. And if you destroy the animals, you will destroy yourself.”
It is through such understanding and communion that transcendental love for other beings is experienced and expressed in our reverential respect for life and compassionate and protective care.
AVMA EXPLAINS IMPORTANCE OF MICROCHIPPING PETS
Time and again, microchips have helped reunite families with pets that have gone missing for months, sometimes years.
Microchips are invaluable identification tools, but they’re not magic; they require registration and updating by pet owners so that, if pets do become lost, they can be returned to the proper address. View AVMA’s FAQs on microchips at avma.org.
PET DNA TESTS MAY BE INACCURATE, EXPERTS SAY
Nearly a dozen companies market genetic tests for pets, and although it can be fun to discover a pet’s ancestry, the market is not regulated. Results suggesting a predisposition to certain diseases may be inaccurate and prompt unnecessary, drastic action, according to veterinarian Lisa Moses and genomics scientist Elinor Karlsson. Studying data from the tests, particularly canine DNA tests, could expand knowledge of animal and human diseases, but reporting and validation standards must first be developed, say Moses and Karlsson. (Science, July 25)
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