When Sharon Castellanos (a.k.a. Grouchy Puppy) asked me in her Influence Positively Questionnaire whether I would like to return in my next life as a cat or as a dog, I reluctantly said that I’d prefer to be a cat because they’re less dependent on humans, who are often less than dependable.
Another reason to prefer felinity has recently occurred to me: Cats aren’t saddled with the myth of unconditional love.
Cat owners know their pets love them — but on their own terms. Dogs love us on their own terms too, but we impose “always” and “in every way” expectations on them.
Dogs, so the myth goes, are empathetic. They intuit our moods and know when we need comfort.
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. While Frankie is eating, for example, I could be lying on the floor bleeding and not get any attention until he’s done. The other day, he barked irritably at me because I went back to bed with a cold and didn’t want to play with him and his squeaky chile. As I type this, he’s sitting at my feet, demanding attention.
Always empathetic? Keyed into my every need and mood? I think not.
Here are some conditions — a.k.a activities — under which your dog is likely not to love you if you interrupt, depending on breed:
- When they’re sniffing something delightfully disgusting.
- When they’re digging.
- When they spot a small animal.
- When they’re chewing on a rawhide.
- When (as noted) they’re eating.
And if you think that you can mistreat or injure a dog and he’ll always be thrilled to see you, regardless, you’re deluded. He may depend on you for food and shelter and be grateful for kindness but don’t mistake expedience for unconditional love.
It is true, however, that the conditions on which most human love depends are unimportant to dogs:
We don’t look like dogs so they have no basis for evaluating our desirability to our own species. Our weight, height, skin tone or color make no difference to them.
What with their inability to use credit cards and lack of access to online banking, dogs don’t care how much money we have. Dogs would much prefer to live with a poor butcher than with a wealthy banker.
The more malodorous we are the better, as far as dogs are concerned. Stringy, oily hair? Hey, they don’t like bathing either.
A male dog will hump any female in heat — and vice versa. Why would they care who we partner with, and how often? The only issue they might have is that human sex tends to take longer — if done correctly — than dog sex. So if you do the deed away from home, your dog might be concerned about whether you will return from a liaison in time to feed him.
Whether you are eloquent or inarticulate, engaging or boring… it’s all the same to dogs. Remember Gary Larson’s Farside cartoon, “What Dogs Hear”: Blah blah blah Ginger. Your dog will easily learn to recognize the utterances that signal food in your household. And you can monopolize the conversation and talk about yourself all you want.