Monday, October 1, 2007

The Difference Between Dogs and Humans

Laurie Erickson photo

Dog people already know how much we have in common with our dogs. We do often start to look alike after years together. (Unfortunately, my older whippets are getting fatter, instead of me adopting the sleek svelte form of the younger ones.) But, lordy are there differences.

A dog won't say one thing and mean another. If you offer a dog the last piece of your home made coconut cream pie, there isn't a healthy dog in the world who would say, "Oh, no, really, I want you to have it." All that dog is going to say is "Gulp and thank you. Are you sure there's no more?"

Dogs will still love you when they can't trust you. Amazing. Human love is all about trust, because it is conditional love. But you can treat a dog very badly, you can be as unfair as all get out, you can raise your hand in anger, you can subject a dog to any number of miseries and humiliation and that dog will still love you. He might be cowed and wary, but he will still express unabashed delight at seeing your return. He will still take on your sadness as his own or try to share his joy with you. If allowed he will lick your feet. His devotion will not waver in the least.

This is not to say that a dog won't voice her displeasure at poor human conduct. When I have loaded up the dogs in the van, promising "Let's go for a ride!" only to have them discover that I have brought them to the vet, hooo boy do they let me know I've been a bad servant. They take a whiff of Ol' Poke and Stick's parking lot and they give me looks that could melt a cast iron skillet. But they'll still love me, and they'll still do a happy dance when we find our way home.

Dogs are unfailingly honest. A dog will not smile and wag and then bite you. She will warn you. If you don't understand the Language of Dogs you might miss the warning, but it was there. And if a dog is guilty of an indiscretion, she won't lie about it. If you come home to garbage on the floor, you can just look at your dog and she will smile, and roll around, and say, "Oh, yah, that was me. I got in the garbage. Oh, and look, I ate your shoe, too, see?" Some dogs will even take on a "collective" confession. If one of the puppies has acted as a paper shredder with the Sunday News all over the yard, sweet old Fat Charlie will tell me he is so sorry he didn't prevent it. He apologizes for being their distant relation. And if you set that sandwich unattended on the kitchen counter, Fat Charlie will tell me, whether or not I'm listening, that he will eat it. And he does.

The sense of smell. We humans rely on our eyes and our ears. We communicate with our eyes and words, both of which can lie masterfully. But dogs rely on their noses, first and foremost, so you can't lie to a dog. There is no covering the stink of dishonesty, the crackling odor of fear. The perfume of caring concern, the sweet fragrance of joy. The stench of anger. Now, I've got to tell you that I'm as grateful as can be that we humans can recognize each other by sight and greet with a handshake or a hug; smelling crotches and sniffing butts to see what my friends have been up to does not appeal in the least!

Dogs aren't proud. Please don't confuse being noble with being proud. Dogs can be the noblest creatures, even more so because it isn't all contaminated with pride. No vanity, no need to be right. We get so tangled up in our human need to win, half of the time we lose sight of what we were fighting for. So we make up something else. If a dog fights - not the perverted man made depravity of Michael Vick's ilk - it is for survival. Food, procreation, defending property or pack order, not over hurt feelings or because "she said I have a big butt."

So, let's see. Could I love someone who had treated me unfairly or with malice, someone who betrayed my trust, just as much as I had beforehand? Could I say what I want without concern about what others think? Could I readily admit to transgressions, knowing that there will be consequences? Could I share my joy contagiously, and deny myself any inklings of pride?

Nope. I'm human. But I'm trying to learn from my dogs, and they are constant, generous teachers.



  1. Oh, Patience, that is so beautiful and true. Thanks for writing that!
    Sheila & Lady

  2. Hey, Patience!
    How long has Paducah been in Afghanistan? Been thinking a lot about Afghanistan lately, actually, as I am finishing up a sweater for the "Afghans For Afghans" October sweater drive.

    Annie & the Ragtag Horde

  3. Patience-a well-written and undeniably true post! We all need to work on unconditional love and our pride, among the many other things! In my gallery- we threw a surprise birthday dinner party for my brother-in-law the other night-posted pics today! Your yard looks great!
    kari & kijsa

  4. Yep, you hit the nail on the head!!



  5. Woops!!! Afghanistan! Thanks for the heads up, Annie. Could you tell us more about the Afghans for Afghans you are doing? Is there a website? I would like to post a note about it.
    Kijsa, I will pop over to your blog immediately to see the pictures. I have taken to Gardening By Weedwacker, a new method I invented all by myself. I give up with the malignent Bermuda grass that will NOT leave my little gardens alone.
    Thanks for your kind words, everyone. This was one of those essays that my head said I could have written better and I was worried about posting it. But my heart wanted to write it. Some of those have become my most popular writings, so sometimes I just have to go with my heart.
    all the best-


    I figure this is my small contribution to whirled peas...

    Annie & the Ragtag Horde

  7. It's really hard for us humans to live up to our Dogs. I believe they were put here to remind us constantly of God's unconditional love for us and his forgiving nature.

    I was reading the account of the anniversary of the killings in PA of the Amish children last year and how the Amish, whos religion centers around forgiveness, have made a donation to the killer's widow and children.

    All examples the world could take note of!

    Thanks for reminding me!



  8. Margaret! That's the basis, or basic premise of the novel I'm writing: that dogs are here as God's little angel ambassadogs of unconditional love. Of course we go blumbering along feeling all superior when we're clueless as all get out. I like that word blumber!
    Thanks for writing-

  9. SO TRUE!!! I would be a much better human if I could be more like my dogs (sans the butt and crotch sniffing of course).

    Great piece. Thanks for writing it.



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