How did humans get so lucky as to evolve next to dogs? Did our hominin ancestors see wolves on the horizon and know that someday we would exist co-dependently? We might have still been on each other’s menus back then, but did they recognize the possibilities? As wolves crept closer to our campfires to feed off the scraps we threw, did we realize then what a critical role we would play in each other’s lives, for time immemorial?
Owning a dog can actually lower your stress, so they say. I’m not sure I believe that, but we’ll just go with it for argument’s sake. Ultimately, pets encourage our body to release oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) and decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Touching or talking to a dog can actually lower a person’s blood pressure. Unless they throw up in your lap. Which happens. Oh yes, it happens.
Dogs are so loyal and protective even the smallest one will stand up to the guy carrying the big scary boxes to your porch. They encourage a more active lifestyle… hey, don’t roll your eyes at me! It can happen! Not in my house, because my dogs are consummate couch potatoes like me, but it happens! Or so I’ve heard anyway. With the right parents at the helm, dogs can help teach children empathy and responsibility.
Of course, dogs help ease feelings of grief and loneliness. I mean, you just can’t be lonely with a dog. Or alone. With a dog, there’s always someone there, watching you. Have you ever tried to sit down with a plate of food in front of a dog? Or open a chip bag in a building where a dog resides? You find out very quickly how not-alone you really are.
There are countless incredible service dogs. Dogs who can alert their human to an oncoming seizure and then comfort them as they are recovering. Some individuals with autism have dogs who help calm them when the world around them becomes too much. There are dogs trained to retrieve things for those with mobility issues, walk next to their person and help provide stability. Be the eyes for someone with blindness and ears for someone with hearing loss. Some are trained to seek help from another person when necessary. (Quick PSA: when you see a service dog without its person, that person is most likely in trouble, so follow the dog.)
I haven’t even touched on search and rescue dogs who find people buried in avalanches or detection dogs finding firearms and drugs. There are therapy dogs who provide comfort and affection to a range of people in institutionalized settings like hospitals, group homes, and prisons. The list goes on!
What can’t dogs do? Well, okay, they can’t make me dinner after a long day of work, but they can keep me company while I cook. And they do clean up the floor when I make a mess, so that works out well.
As pets, dogs bring us simple joy and lots of laughs. A trainer once told me that everything a dog does is to benefit the dog… down to playing fetch or being affectionate. She claims that dogs only do things to better their own lot in life, so to speak. I don’t believe that. I believe that they want to make their owners happy, and I swear they smile with us.
My 12-year-old Yorkie, Rufus, is my “heart dog.” He’s had some pretty rough medical issues through the years, but it has not stopped his instigation of our favorite game: ‘Give me those socks!’ which takes place every day. He could stay in bed or lounge around on any one of his many strategically placed pillows and no-one, least of all me, would say word one to him. But no. Even on days where he’s not 100%, he drags himself into the hall to lurk oh-so-obviously when he knows his chance at a rousing game of ‘Give me those socks!’ is on the horizon.
Here’s the gist of the game. Every time I take off my socks and toss them into the laundry pile, he grabs one and leaves. He then prances back, instigating a chase by stuffing the other sock in his mouth along with the first one he has already stolen. Then, I say, “Give me those socks, Rufus!” and he takes off happy as can be. He then trots back into the room to show me the socks, with a smug look on his face, and we do it all over again. “Give me those socks!” I say, and off he goes. It’s never been an out and out chase so much as keep-away – sort of like trying to take a cookie away from a two-year old while said two-year old is sitting in a high chair.
We have played this game ever since he was a puppy. Twelve years of playful sock stealing, and I still don’t know who enjoys the game more. Me or him? I’ve been wondering lately what his intentions really are with this game. Does he play because he loves the reaction? The thrill of the thievery? Or is he stealing my socks because he sees the enjoyment I get from the game? That in his mind, I’M the one who loves the game, and he’s just going along with it to make me happy.
I’ll be honest, as much as I love to see Rufus enjoying himself as a sock thief, he’s not alone. We’re both reaping the happiness reward. Maybe Rufus has the same thought.