You may be aware of the fact that Amy and I have two dogs, Maggie and Otter. (In case you weren’t, I direct you to the posts in the blog tagged “the dog“. Or head to the flickr set entitled “Maggie + Otter“.)
At any rate, the dogs are great fun and bring a lot of joy to our lives. Like all members of the family, however, they tend to drive us nuts on occasion. Moving from Philly to Boston was hard on them – we went through a six-month period of pretty nasty fights between the two of them (although they always showed bite inhibition, which meant they weren’t actually trying to kill each other even if it sounded like it.) But since June, when we moved into this house, they’ve been getting along like a brother and sister… which means they mostly like each other, and she bitches at him for being a big doofus the rest of the time. Normal sibling behavior.
Despite the fact that they’re getting along, I still wanted to understand more about how their brains work, why they’d gone through that period of freaking out our downstairs neighbors with their fighting noises, and why they had such different temperments. Otter is a pretty happy-go-lucky dog, with just a few phobias/quirks (hates having his toes touched [his nickname is Otter Scissortoes], hates having his collar grabbed, loooooves to snuggle but only on top of the covers). Maggie is a lot more intense – always thinking, always alert, ready to fight/run at a moment’s notice, but cuddlier than you can even imagine a dog could be. So I’ve picked up a few books along the way and done some reading – I hit the usual suspects first: the Monks of New Skete and Dog Training for Dummies. I read a few more books here and there, and thought I was really starting to figure things out. But a few months ago, I was in the public library and picked up Patricia McConnell’s book The Other End of the Leash.
In the book, McConnell makes the argument that many of the difficulties humans have with dogs (and vice versa) stem from our fundamentally different ways of approaching the world. Humans look each other in the eye and approach head-on in greeting, dogs approach from the side and only look each other in the eye when they are trying to threaten another dog. Humans enjoy chest-to-chest contact (hugs) while dogs flat-out don’t. And so on…. It was really one of the best books I’ve ever read about the human/dog (mis)connection.
Imagine my delight when I wandered back into the library a couple of weeks ago and stumbled across McConnell’s newest book For the Love of a Dog. If it’s possible, I think this book may have been even better than the first one. In this book, McConnell discusses how emotions are similar and different in humans and dogs, dealing with things like the biology of emotion and the behavior of emotion.
While I can’t say that I completely understand either of my dogs, I do have a bit more knowledge in my arsenal that helps temper my frustration when the dogs are doing something I wish they wouldn’t do, or not doing something I want them to do. Maggie and Otter may not realize it yet, but this knowledge will make their lives better.