For our well-being, we should find our inner dog

Contributing WriterMarch 1, 2014 

Dogs and humans have uncanny abilities that let us watch over each other.

Scientists are learning that dogs have a knack for reading our moods, monitoring our highs and our lows — just as we have some ability to realize what a dog or another human is enduring. People who can read what other people are going through are sometimes called empaths. It’s a dog’s version of “I feel your pain.”

We are learning that dogs can read our emotions and that of their own kind. In both people and among our pooch pals, an area of the brain can light up when the emotions of someone else are strong. And dog or person, it’s in the same part of the brain.

Attila Andics, a neurobiologist in Budapest, has led a team in studying how our dogs seem so gifted at reading our feelings. Now we are learning that a large part of the long, affectionate relationship between humans and dogs is that we are almost literally on the same wavelength.

Both humans and dogs are pack animals. We often join together, species to species, in daily situations that pretty much amount to an affectionate, compound family made up of two outwardly diverse but tightly bonded mammals.

Oh, some dogs and humans are too rough, too nasty to know all the fun in strolling, running and playing fetch-the-ball with each other. Some people are just too stuffy and some dogs are just too angry to stop snapping at each other.

Most humans encounter more harm and viciousness from competitive versions of our own kind than from the occasional grumpy mutt. Year in and year out, century after century, massively more humans are slaughtered by fellow humans than by dogs.

In fact, nearly all of the great religions seem to have taken murderous turns over the centuries in removing other believers from the earth. The Jews, the Christians and the Muslims have all driven their disagreements to enormously lethal extremes.

The same cannot be said of the collies, the Labradors or the beagles. Dogs hardly ever kill anyone, human or canine. Dogs, like humans, can occasionally become much too cranky and, in my opinion, are much too quick to bite people. But that’s a minor flaw by comparison with what humans do, and not just to each other. Humans in almost every village and city routinely eradicate overpopulations of dogs.

On the other hand, for every dog who bites a human, there are 10,000 dogs who just want to hang out with us, their peeps.

While there are many symbiotic (you-scratch-my-hairy-back-and-I’ll-scratch yours) relationships between dogs and humans, the same is not true of the cousins of domesticated dogs — wolves.

Do a Google search on your computer of wolves killing humans. Nearly all recorded human deaths by wolves in the past occurred back in other centuries before wolves learned to avoid us.

Wikipedia, the great authoritative source of knowledge, reports that “In the half-century up to 2002, there were eight fatal (wolf) attacks in Europe and Russia, none in North America.”

While wolves tend to avoid humans, they have no such gentleman’s agreement with the calves and sheep of ranchers, which they regard more as dinner than as enemies.

Dogs never go to war against us. The same cannot be said about humans. We euthanize overpopulations of domestic dogs because we are too slow and cheap to introduce our dogs to the benefits of birth control.

Would that we could consider the same remedy the next time some not-so-great religion decides to teach a competitor the right way to love the correct version of God.

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501

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