We don’t deserve dogs. No, really, we don’t.
If you look at the amazing evolutionary journey dogs have traveled to become our faithful companions, it is quite difficult to believe that these unconditionally loving creatures ended up beside us selfish humans. From the wilderness to your couch cushions, these amazing canines have the capacity to learn so many things to become simply incredible. From disaster rescue to simple companionship, dogs have become an irreplaceable aspect of the human experience. What is it that makes these creatures so incredibly amazing?
Next time you are hanging out with your dog, take a moment to just sit and observe them. Watch their body language, pay attention to their constantly moving nose, watch their ears; dogs are a perfect study of non-verbal communication and body language. If your pup is anything like my dog, Kibeth, if you look down at them, you may be surprised to find them looking back at you. What do they see? What are they thinking? Why does it feel like they know you down to your soul when they stare up at you sometimes? In a nutshell, they can.
Many fascinating behaviors in dogs can be boiled down to two sources: they have impressively sensitive eyes and their noses are virtually impeccable. They have the eyes of a hunter and the nose of a tracker, both created and adapted to provide their brains with a plethora of information to process. A dog can see the quick movement of a lizard from across the yard and then smell the path the lizard took, starting from a few days ago, and where it originated. These phenomenal traits give dogs essential “superpowers”.
For example, many people state that their dog knows when they are down or sad. Good therapy dogs have a gift for knowing which people need their attention and when they need that attention. I have lost count of the stories I have read about dogs being the key to someone’s journey through immense trauma or pain. My own therapy dog is unique in this way; she is aloof most of the time with people, unless she sees someone with a mental illness, a physical disability, or is simply more emotional or sad. She will always seek out the saddened homeless man or the mentally disabled child and provide her own quiet support and love. She knows when I am down and stays near me when I need her most without me saying a single command. How does she know?
Dogs can see the changes your body takes on when you are upset or stressed: frowning, slumped shoulders, furrowed brow, isolation from the crowd, slower movements, etc. Dogs can also smell the change in your hormones; we release different hormones at different levels when something is wrong and dogs can smell when something is off. Throughout the millennia that dogs have been watching and working with humans, they have learned what makes us content and happy. Dogs have been watching us for thousands of years; they know us better than we will ever know ourselves on a level deeper than we could ever comprehend.
One thing that fascinates me is that for most animals, including wolves, direct eye contact is considered threatening and dominant. Yet, dogs will gladly hold your gaze, especially therapy dogs. This is a learned behavior, science has discovered, meaning dogs do this simply because it makes us happy. How incredible is that!?
My dog, Kibeth, reads me like a book when I am upset. She alleviates the aloneness by providing her presence and makes it a point to look me in the eyes to remind me that I am seen, she follows me around to remind me that I am not alone, and she snuggles into me or leans into me to provide a physical “shoulder” to lean on. She does all of these things because she can see and smell the positive change in my body and emotional state when she does them.
Dogs provide the calmness to counterbalance whatever stressor is in play. Service dogs for PTSD sufferers are excellent examples of this concept as they are trained and conditioned to alleviate the worst form of stress in their people by providing tactical input, vocal and non-vocal cues, and to sometimes physically place themselves between the stressor and their person. Service dogs are taught a multitude of skills to grant their handler independence and confidence they would otherwise lack. A dog’s incredibly sharp eyes, amazing nose, and integrated brains give them the tools they can use to make themselves irreplaceable in our lives and assures their continued survival in our homes.
Dogs are one of the only animals in our world that are well known to sacrifice their lives for humankind and their unconditional faithfulness in incredibly tough situations has given human beings the ability to accomplish anything from avalanche rescue missions or bomb detection to letting the blind walk across New York or stopping a PTSD flashback in its tracks. But even if you don’t have a “super powered” dog, take a moment to look back at your own special pup. Every dog, no matter what, has the innate ability to provide something good and honest. Every dog, in my opinion, is absolutely fantastic.
Hailing from sunny Southern California, Brianna is a Registered Nurse, former dog foster mom, and Marine Corps spouse. She enjoys beach trips, hikes, and any other various adventures with her two rescue pups, Kibeth and Ajax, as well as writing or reading about anything canine.
Dogs give us the purest physical example of unconditional love and pure unadulterated joy in the world.