Dog is my Copilot!
January 30, 2003 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Do Dogs Have History? For those of you who participated in this discussion a while back (I linked here to the discussion, but be warned the FPP link from that discussion is to a gruesome, sad picture), the author of this book review elucidates many of the reasons why some of us love dogs as much (if not more than?) people. via Robot Wisdom
posted by vito90 (26 comments total)
I wish our statesmen were more like well-behaved domestic dogs. When they meet, they'd sniff each other's butts, have a milk bone, and then run around waiting for a human to throw a ball for them leaving us to live our lives.
posted by Eekacat at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2003

Vito, thanks for the link--both to the article and the somewhat disturbing past discussion (yerk).

I've always wondered a bit why, generally speaking, I like the company of dogs better than that of people. Take me to a party where I don't know (and/or am not interested in) many of the people, and I'll head for the household animals like a needle to a magnet. Dogs not only love willingly and to excess, and are easy to please, but they also won't yammer on about their job or the latest reality TV experiment.

Very interesting bit about dogs' inability to speak leading to them being given morality credit as well. Did anyone else read that and think of this bit of refrigerator-door fodder? Printed in Ann Landers and a million other forums:

If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can get going without pep pills,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can overlook it when something goes wrong through no fault of yours and those you love take it out on you,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion or politics,
Then, my friends, you are almost as good as your dog.

...How much of this can be said to be purposeful on the part of the dog? And yet I do tend to think of dogs as morally superior to people, what with my experience of their loyalty, patience and love. Yes, I know that dogs can be cruel and self-centered and even materialistic, but I still find myself thinking that there are precious few bad dogs in the world, versus dogs with bad training. And I'm nowhere near ready to give humans the same benefit of the doubt. I contribute regularly to the Humane Society and animal-rescue organizations, but let my United Way contributions lapse a long time ago.

No doubt I'm morally blinkered. That's OK--any swipes aimed at me for it will bounce right off once I get home and hear my retriever warbling his whale-song of excited welcome.

Go, Ragom!
posted by clever sheep at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2003

Who hasn't told their dog,
"Here's a treat! Want a treat??"
and then not given the dog a treat.
Watching them become excited and
then dejected when you refuse
them their reward. Later you can do
it again and the dog will still become
excited and anticipate a treat. Now
that is a true companion! A small price
to pay when they get to eat, sleep
and poop all day?
posted by xtian at 10:20 AM on January 30, 2003

Even if I'm failing the sarcasm test, I can't resist.

Thanks, xtian, for lending circumstantial evidence to my belief that dogs can be smarter and work harder than their human counterparts.
posted by clever sheep at 10:29 AM on January 30, 2003

bred into unnatural shapes

When you do the above what is that called? For instance like the wiener dog it was bred to go down badger holes. What is that breeding process called with dogs?
posted by thomcatspike at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2003

Dog lovers might enjoy this Dog Blog - 100 illustrations of dogs that Michael Wertz did a year or so ago...there are some really charming illustrations that go to the heart of dogginess.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2003

thomcatspike: it's called "selective breeding" (not just dogs, animals of any species being bred for a specific reason, including when wild animals are bred in zoos to get offspring which are tamer, or more disease resistant, or whatever, it doesn't just have to concern body type). Oh, and "weiner dogs" are called Dachshunds ("badger dog" in German).
posted by biscotti at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2003

Clever sheep, I'm afraid dogs can be prejudiced against people who look like other people that mistreated them. Some dogs also don't like people from ethnic groups other than the one they were socialised with.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:48 AM on January 30, 2003

I wish our statesmen were more like well-behaved domestic dogs. When they meet, they'd sniff each other's butts, have a milk bone, and then run around waiting for a human to throw a ball for them leaving us to live our lives.

And the sitting down in front of us at family gatherings and parties to noisily and elaborately lick their own genitalia part?
And what about the occasional attempts at humping our legs?

Oh, wait...
posted by y2karl at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2003

They can also be prejudiced against particular breeds (or colours or shapes) of dogs. My Lab hates Boxers because he used to fight with one at the doggy daycare.
posted by timeistight at 12:12 PM on January 30, 2003

IAJS, and on preview, Time, I don't think any species is perfect--I'm sure there are examples out there to support your assertions. But how many bigoted dogs have you met, versus the numbers of bigoted humans? I think we're looking at a very lopsided ratio.

I've never personally met a dog that discriminated on the basis of ethnic group--or breed--and I'm amused to picture a dog who could sniff out one's religion or political affiliation (C'mere, Orwell! Good boy!). No crusades, no ethnic cleansing, no redlining, no "purebreds only" water fountains.

I am acquainted with one dog with a shocking history of abuse, who was afraid of older people and hairbrushes; but is that really prejudice as we understand it? Prejudice has connotations of being unjustified dislike, based on ignorance rather than reason. I particularly don't think the term is a good fit when I reflect that the very same dog I describe has overcome those associations and learned to love several older people he's met. There's just an initial hesitation--are you going to hit me?--followed by offering as much love as the person will allow.
posted by clever sheep at 12:15 PM on January 30, 2003

Some dogs also don't like people from ethnic groups other than the one they were socialised with.
I can attest to this. My terrier-poodle mix has some very negative reactions with African Americans. This behavior has caused public embarrassment on more than one occasion. Of course the same could be said about many statesmen....
posted by evilcupcakes at 12:18 PM on January 30, 2003

I'd lilke to have cats and dogs at home. This way I can be sure (ee, Bemba is licking my face at this very moment!) that at least, someone is happy!
posted by samelborp at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2003

I read this article in the magazine and it is a great post but once again, printer friendly version when one is available, people?

Compare the two and tell me my link is not easier to read.

Dogs don't speak but they do understand language. Also, dogs bark--that is, domesticated dogs but neither wild dogs or wolves. Just as domesticated cats meow but wild ones do not. It has been suggested that barks and meows are in a sense attempts at modeling human speech the better with which to interact with us.

As I linked and noted here, dogs recognize a vocabulary into the hundreds whereas cat know a score of words at best. But then they've taught us their language, it would seem.

Upon review, evilcupcake, they can also react negatively to those who speak to them in foreign languages, mailmen, vacumm cleaners and the operators thereof on occasion.
posted by y2karl at 12:33 PM on January 30, 2003

Dogs who have issues with certain ethnic groups and breeds of dog can most often be trained and socialised out of their issues, many people are no different, the main difference is that a dog's owner can make a conscious decision to train and resocialise their issues-laden dog, I'm not sure who can make that decision for an issues-laden person.

Oh, and y2karl, cats actually have a far wider range of vocal sounds (and understanding thereof) than dogs do. Cats have something like 400 different vocalizations, dogs are usually said to have less than 50 (even though more dogs can be trained to understand a wider variety of human sounds than most cats). And given that cats with the right temperament can be trained to perform quite complex tasks, I suspect that the issue here is more one of innate species characteristics (dogs are social and therefore programmed to observe and learn from others, cats generally aren't) and selective breeding for trainability in dogs. In fact, given that cats haven't historically been bred for trainability, and that being social goes against their basic nature, I think it's cats who are more remarkable in their interactions with humans than dogs.
posted by biscotti at 12:39 PM on January 30, 2003

Thanks y2karl...constructive criticism and improved linkage duly noted and appreciated.

As long as my dog's tail wags, I know I'm doing something right.
posted by vito90 at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2003

Hanging around any urban dog park will disabuse you of the notion that a world run by dogs would be less violent.

I'm pretty sure, however, that the parties would be a lot more fun.
posted by timeistight at 12:57 PM on January 30, 2003

I was speaking of cats' recognition of spoken human speech, biscotti, not their subtle vocalizations, and as noted in this better link than I first provided, we understand them as they have trained us to.
The basic relationship between us and dogs and us and cats is that of master and slave, god and heirodule--it's just that the order's reversed in the second case, as I know all too well.
posted by y2karl at 1:13 PM on January 30, 2003

Excellent link. From the article:

The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come some day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. . . .The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?


Hanging around any urban dog park will disabuse you of the notion that a world run by dogs would be less violent.

Hung out with thousands of dogs over the years -- a day without running your hand over a dog is a day without beauty. I've yet to see my first canine intraspecies murder, or even much interspecies murder....the disembowelling of Indians (by dogs trained to hunt and kill) and papal toe-crunching (Goo' boy!) mentioned in the article notwithstanding.

My impression is that, given the means to design and manufacture, my own dogs would create millions of Frisbees of Mass Throwing instead a single Weapon of Mass Destruction.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:29 PM on January 30, 2003

I've yet to see my first canine intraspecies murder

It happens, and not just with assholes fighting pitbulls either. Get two dogs of the same sex, similar ages and comparable dominance levels living together and you'll often find that they'll kill each other if left to their own devices (especially if they're both female, and even if they've been properly socialized). Dogs are wonderful creatures, but many of them are very far from peaceable.
posted by biscotti at 3:50 PM on January 30, 2003

The thing I do not like about dogs, f&m, is that they are all too often killers of cats or anything smaller. A friend was walking a golden retriever she was babysitting and while going by a yard, the dog spotted a kitten, leaned over the fence, picked it up and snapped its neck, just like that. I expected that from dogs like boxers or pit bulls or untrained sight hounds, I guess, but that retriever who killed a cat so easily when the first opportunity came, no chasing, no nothing, shocked me. Of course, if cats came big as dogs, they'd being killing dogs and us all the time.
posted by y2karl at 4:08 PM on January 30, 2003

a day without running your hand over a dog is a day without beauty

We have a point of agreement there, fold_and_mutilate.
posted by timeistight at 5:13 PM on January 30, 2003

my cat eats small dogs for breakfast. she's an 18 pounder.

seriously, it is amazing the relationship that cats and dogs have with people. right now my cat is sitting next to me on the sofa and she's like a good friend i can kick back and watch tv with. my cats seem to know when i've had a bad day at the office or in a great mood. they provide comfort when i'm sad and do stupid-ass things that make me laugh.

i'm a cat person. dogs are too high maintence for me, but dog owners i know feel the same way. they are like family, but with fur, a tail, claws and sharp teeth.

parenthetically, a friend did a video [they've exceeded their bandwidth so you might have to check back later] asking people how much money would it take to kill a puppy. for most of us, killing a pet is right up there with killing a person.
posted by birdherder at 5:34 PM on January 30, 2003

From madamjujujive's link comes our very own house-maniac, Scott the Suicidal. I'd love to get a bigger image to frame and hang.

We have three cats and the dog... and absolutely no need for television to fulfill our entertainment needs.
posted by NsJen at 5:38 PM on January 30, 2003

my dog is a work'n dog breed and instinctually
knows what to do with a sheep. ehehe
posted by xtian at 6:51 PM on January 30, 2003

Nice article, Vito. Thanks. (Sorry to chime in so late.) This:

He pictures a distant ancestor, clothed in skins, huddled by a tiny fire. Next to the ancestor sits a dog, its pointed ears pricked for sounds of danger—sounds too faint for the man to hear

...reminded me of Kipling:

The Woman said, "Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, help my Man to hunt through the day and guard his Cave at night, and I will give you as many roast bones as you need."

"Ah!" said the Cat, listening. "This is a very wise Woman, but she is not so wise as I am."

Wild Dog crawled into the Cave and laid his head on the Woman"s lap, and said, "O my Friend and Wife of my Friend, I will help your Man to hunt through the day, and at night I will guard your Cave."

"Ah!" said the Cat, listening. "That is a very foolish Dog." And he went back through the Wet Wild Woods waving his wild tail, and walking by his wild lone. But he never told anybody.

When the Man waked up he said, "What is Wild Dog doing here?" And the Woman said, "His name is not Wild Dog anymore, but the
First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always. Take him with you when you go hunting."

-from Cat That Walked By Himself

It makes me feel good to see so many animal friends here.
posted by Shane at 5:52 AM on January 31, 2003

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