Dogs Act Just Like People, OR People Act Just Like Dogs, Part 2

Robert Harris
Version Date: November 25, 2010

It is sometimes said that the pets we choose reveal who we are. If you have a dog, that might be truer than you think. Having been the butler to two Chihuahuas for several years, I have observed that there is a great similarity between the behaviors, attitudes, and values of dogs and people. I have therefore compiled this list of similarities as food for thought. If you do own a dog or two, call them over and read this article to them. See whether or not these truths apply to your dogs and to you.

We call someone a dog as an insult, but perhaps we should be a bit more cautious. For dogs inhabit our virtues as well as our vices. Here, then, is Part 2 of a list of truths about dogs--and people. Go to Part 1 if you missed it.

11. To get forgiveness, a dog will act cute rather than repent.

Dogs learn pretty early that a wagging tail and a special look in the eyes covers a lot of doggie iniquity. Humans, too, can act coy, affectionate, pouty, or cute (or all of the aforementioned) in order to receive forgiveness without having to repent. There's a way people say, "I'm sorry," in a cute way that we know is insincere, but which often works to get absolution. The important thing to note as this truth relates to humans, however, is that we give the dog the benefit of the doubt. "Well, maybe he didn't know that was my valuable Persian carpet," we say. Or, "He probably didn't intend to chew up the TV remote. He probably thought it was his Nylabone." With humans, on the other hand,when the pout or cutsiness or apology doesn't work, it's because we refuse to grant the benefit of the doubt. We think the opposite and assume that the person is insincere or hypocritical. Even accidents are attributed to malice.

12. Dogs need several lessons before they really learn.

Commentary: We are often much more patient with dogs when trying to get them to behave a certain way than we are with humans, whom we expect to comply and obey instantly. Performance is the best teacher, and early performances must of necessity reflect at least partial ignorance and limited skill. And after the skill is learned, it must be repeated to become excellent and automatic. As John Medina says in Brain Rules, his book about how the brain functions and learns, we must "repeat to remember." Those who sneered at repetition exercises by calling them "drill and kill" are wrong. And by the way, after learning the skill or information, those who continue to study it gain fluency (also called automaticity), which allows instant recall from long-term memory. Saves a lot of extra processing time in the brain. 

13. Dogs love praise and hate criticism.

Commentary: Love, praise, affection--and cookies--keep a dog happy and optimistic. The dog probably doesn't know why he is being praised or petted, but he welcomes it as a sign that his master cares about him and is his friend. Criticism, on the other hand, most likely seems bizarre and psychotic to a dog. Again, he has no idea why the master has the angry tone and scowl, because he quite frankly does not understand English apart from "cookie," and that only when spoken in the right tone of voice. The dog is not thinking, "I was bad and am being punished by harsh words," but "I guess I'd better stay away from master for awhile since he is in such a crazy mood again. He must have had a bad day at work." Praise is direct and understandable to a dog. Criticism makes no sense to a dog. Humans love praise, too, in part because there is so little of it. Many books have to be written telling bosses to praise their employees because bosses are not doing that now. There is a shortage of praise in the modern world, and an abundance of criticism. Changing the balance a bit would help humanity.

14. Dogs just want to have fun.

Commentary: Dogs are all about entertainment. They will chase each other if another available, or chomp on a chew toy if alone. Wolf and Bear love to play "find the cookie," where I hide a kibble or two or five around various places in the livingroom while they wait impatiently in the family room. Then they have a great time running around the room looking for the hidden goodies.  I don't even need to say that people are all about entertainment, too. TV, Internet, iPods, iTunes, high definition everything, iPads, movies (theater, DVD, BluRay, streaming on the PC, playing in the car), Kindles and ebooks, and even printed books. And that's just information entertainment. There are activities of every kind. Well, I'm done here. Work is what gets in the way of what we really want to do, which is, just have fun.

15. What goes into a dog comes out of a dog.

Commentary: One day when Wolf and Bear were still just puppies, I foolishly left a small bowl of Hershey's chocolate kisses next to the sofa in the TV room. It wasn't long before I noticed that five or six kisses were missing. Then, the next day, when I went to clean up the processed dog food that Bear manufactures for my benefit, I saw a lot of aluminum foil  mixed into the, um, other material. With people, what goes into the heart comes out of the heart--processed, perhaps--but much of it likely to be unchanged. It might taste like chocolate, but there's aluminum foil in there, too. For awhile it's been common to say that the information stream has changed from drinking from a water fountain to drinking from a firehose. But it's actually more like drinking from a tsunami. We need to be careful what we swallow. Repeating what we hear without thinking is one of the dangers of modern life.

16. Sometimes a dog thinks it's helping when it's just being a barking nuisance.

Commentary: Dogs bark to warn, dogs bark to threaten, dogs bark to greet, and dogs bark to ask for something. And sometimes, dogs just bark. The warning bark is the most irritating because it can go on so long. As long as the dog hears or smells or imagines something amiss, he barks. We get the message and tell him to be quiet. Would that some people could be told the same. You might think I'm speaking as a man about incessantly talking women who have to worry over something from every angle. And I am. But many times men are guilty of a similar yelping with the women in their lives. We like to solve problems and give advice--we're helping you with your problem--when, in fact, the women don't really want advice. They want a sympathetic--or if a man can reach that high--an empathetic--ear. And sometimes it's the same with advice over a decision. If your girlfriend says, "I'm thinking about getting a tattoo on my forehead that says, 'Elvis Forever.' What do you think?" resist the urge to laugh, mock, or criticize. Ask a question, such as, "Why are you thinking of doing that?" And you can ask thought-provoking questions such as, "Have you thought of getting a temporary henna tattoo to see if you're going to like it?" If you try to argue that she will never get a good job with such a graphic, you'll soon be lost in an argument about why life isn't fair. And as you know if you are older than sixteen, when a man argues with a woman, he always loses. Being right or wrong has nothing to do with it.

17. Dogs often display a senseless possessiveness.

Commentary: Ever see a dog with three or four toys lying around, where the dog is chewing on one of them? Just try to pick up one of the others. Many times you'll hear a growl and maybe an angry snap. My dogs aren't guilty of this particular personality defect, but Bear has of late been displaying a similar quirk. In my office and in the bedroom they have beds, about three feet by two feet. Even though at eight pounds they are large Chihuahuas, there is still room for four or five of them in each bed. Yet Bear will sometimes growl and then rush Wolf with a snap when the poor dog wants to join his brother. Some people are like this. "Can we use that old, empty storeroom?" "No, I might need it at some point." "Now that you have a new X, can I have the old one?" "No, I want to keep it." "Wow, you got five sets of dishes for your wedding. Which set are you going to keep?" "All of them." "Let me just sign this check over to you." "Okay, but don't use that pen; it's mine."

18. A dog needs a dog.

Commentary: Why do people get a little puppy and then leave it all alone while they go to work? No wonder the puppy howls all day. Were you ever left alone as a very young child? Dogs are social and like to greet (sniff, bark, wag tails) other dogs. And they like companionship. As I write this, my two dogs are sleeping up against each other, with Bear resting his head on Wolf's back. It gets awfully lonely being the only dog in the house. That's why I got two, so that when I'm gone they can have each other. People are just like this. An only child doesn't have as much fun as a kid with brothers and sisters. And you can have ten times the fun by enjoying something with a friend than you could have had by yourself. Go for pizza or ice cream or to a movie by yourself and you'll see what I mean. What would a girl do with all those words if she didn't have a girlfriend to share them with? And how could a guy enjoy fixing the car or watching the game witout his best bud nearby, asking him if he wants another soda? And, of course, after boys and girls learn that the opposite sex isn't so repulsive after all, they learn that they actually need each other.

19. A dog knows more than he tells.

Commentary: Dogs are the soul of discretion. And here, often dogs and people are not alike, though the better people are as good as ordinary dogs. Now, if dogs could talk, they might be more like people in this regard and become blabbermouths, especially if someone promised them a cookie. But let's not go there.

20. A good dog will love you for life.

Commentary: Yes, we could learn a lot about how to have happy relationships by studying dogs. If you treat him with even a modicum of decency, a dog will always greet you eagerly, with a waggy tail, never with a "Oh, it's just you" or worse, a "Where have you been?" look. Dogs are agreeable, companionable, easy to get along with, amiable, friendly, forgiving, not keepers of resentments or retailers of past offenses. Unlike even cats, a dog will kiss you (my dogs lick my nose to show their love) any time you need a kiss. A dog won't disagree with everything you say, or criticize everything you do. Or betray you while you're at work. Dogs just want to relax and enjoy life with their human. Would that more people could take this advice to heart. But since this is a comparison article, yes, a good human will love you for life, too. Because people are like dogs and dogs are like people.

Part 1

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com