Ask Sue Halpern Anything: Our Special Relationship With Dogs

The author weighs in on why dogs and humans get along so well, with a follow up about what her therapy dog Pransky was able to teach her about that special relationship while they worked together at a local nursing home:

Back in March, Halpern wrote a piece on the human relationship with dogs that we very much enjoyed here at the Dish. Here’s another excerpt from it:

[M]ost dogs that were originally bred to work—herding sheep, ferreting rats, retrieving game, or even, like those first labradoodles, guiding the blind—now live out their days as suburban or urban habitués, with little to do all day but wait for the return of family members from work or school. The fact is that dogs—at least dogs like [author John Homans’] Scout and Stella, and my dog and probably yours—come into our world for our pleasure, whatever that pleasure is. They are here at our invitation, and exist under our control. We determine what they eat and when, and how much they exercise and how, and we train them—à la [Jill] Abramson’s Scout—to live according to our rules and standards. The human–canine bond is inherently unequal. Like it or not, it is a power relationship.

Yet at the same time, we love our dogs.

We feel sure that they know us and like us, although we never know just how well; we sense they adapt to our moods, but we also know that they very naturally may be more interested in dogs they meet on the street; we believe we can count on them to be absolutely loyal companions, something we may not be able to say about most people we know. Maybe more than at any other time in history, we love our dogs as we love one another, and sometimes even more than that.  …

From the start of our lives together, our relationship to dogs has told us something about ourselves: what we have valued, how we have behaved, and our connection to the natural world and to our animal selves. These days, unlike days past, some of us appear to be uncomfortable with our dominion over our dogs, perhaps because canine science offers a nuanced and thought-provoking take on a dog’s capacities, sensibilities, feelings, and intelligence. Still, the elevation of our dogs to honorary human status is not exactly new. Fourteen thousand years ago, people chose to be buried alongside their dogs. Yet you have to wonder: fourteen thousand years hence, when archaeologists uncover Swarovski crystal–encrusted dog collars and that trove of canine Harley gear, what will they say it says about us?

Sue’s new book, A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher, came out last week. Watch her previous answers here. Full AA archive here.