Why you love your dog

When we first got dear old Lira about 8 years ago, I remember being truly surprised at just how much I loved my dog.  I have to confess, that with her old age and three children to love in the past 8 years, things just aren't like they used to be.  Nonetheless, at the time I remember thinking that their is something powerfully human about deeply loving those you care for, be they your own children, somebody else's children, or a beloved pet.  Jon Katz, the author of A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, has an interesting column up at Slate.com this week that addresses the evolutionary theory involved in our love for our pets.  Here's what I found to be a compelling hypothesis that supports my own intuitive hypothesis from years ago:

Archer suggests, “consider the possibility that pets are, in
evolutionary terms, manipulating human responses, that they are the
equivalent of social parasites.” Social parasites inject themselves
into the social systems of other species and thrive there. Dogs are
masters at that. They show a range of emotions?love, anxiety,
curiosity?and thus trick us into thinking they possess the full range
of human feelings. They dance with joy when we come home, put
their heads on our knees and stare longingly into our eyes. Ah, we
think, at last, the love and loyalty we so richly deserve and so rarely
receive. Over thousands of years of living with humans, dogs have
become wily and transfixing sidekicks with the particularly appealing
characteristic of being unable to speak. We are therefore free to fill
in the blanks with what we need to hear…

“It appears that dogs have evolved specialized skills for reading
human social and communicative behavior,” Hare concludes, which is why
dogs live so much better than moles.

These are interesting
theories. Raccoons and squirrels don't show recognizable human
emotions, nor do they trigger our nurturing (“She's my baby”) impulses.
So, they don't (usually) move into our houses, get their photos taken
with Santa, or even get names. Thousands of rescue workers aren't
standing by to move them lovingly from one home to another…

If the dog's love is just an evolutionary trick, does that diminish it?
I don't think so. Dogs have figured out how to insinuate themselves
into human society in ways that benefit us both. We get affection and
attention. They get the same, plus food, shelter, and protection. To
grasp this exchange doesn't trivialize our love, it explains it.

So, go ahead and love your dog, its in your (and your dog's) genes. 

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