5 Social Benefits of Dogs
Does it get more social than this?
Dogs consistently display virtues that are absent or inconsistent in others.
Yes, you can find a cat who greets people enthusiastically. Yes, you can find a wife who never holds a grudge. You can also have a school-aged son who never complains about what you provide for him. But these are not characteristics that all cats and all humans display.
Take for example the "greeting thing." I would say that some cats greet their owners enthusiastically, some of the time, or most of the time. But in this respect they don't compare to dogs, who pretty much always get up from what they are doing (if they are able) and walk over and greet you. In this sense, if you want a pet who brightens your day by being consistently and unconditionally (within limits) receptive to you, a cat will not make the cut. Neither will a wife, nor a child, or any human being for that matter. Perhaps you can get this benefit from an African Gray parrot, or a cockatiel, but we can not generalize about an entire species, like we can about dogs, in this case.
So why "social benefits" to humans? Isn't that a bit egocentric and selfish?
As long as we admit that we have these needs, our dogs have a lot greater role in our world than fulfilling a human ego's narcissistic void. Although some people indeed think that their dog is truly happy to see them and has a dog specifically for this end, others are more realistic about why dogs behave like this.
But the end is important.
If I have had a lousy, conflict-ridden day, and I see my husband, he will see the expression on my face and he won't exactly come bounding toward me. Perhaps he wants to hear about it. Perhaps he wants to keep me at an arms distance, because being human, his defenses are up. Perhaps I am the source of the conflicts and it is actually in his best interest to clear away from me.
A dog is a social animal who provides a break from the reciprocal aggravation among people. At worst, a dog might get on your nerves if he slobbers all over your legs giving you "kisses" or this or that. But as far as interpersonal strife is concerned, he is a neutral party. And he still approaches you (perhaps with more hesitation if he picks up a "vibe") but he is concerned about you and will still greet you. This is a real break from human conflict and drama and for many of us, our dogs provide an endorphin or adrenaline boost for which there is no substitute.
This is what I mean when I say that dogs provide irreplaceable social benefits to us people.
1. Your dog will never complain about what you provide for him
Unlike your wife or child or mother or best friend or colleague, or even local charity recipient, your dog will not question why you provided this particular kibble over that one, or why this dog bed isn't made of memory foam like the one Rover across the street has.
People don't operate like this. We simply can not, as much as we would like to. We value this characteristic so much, that we have canonized people who display it as saints. That is how rare it is.
While we interpret this attitude as "gratitude" ... in the case of dogs I don't think it is so much them being grateful to us, so much as they lack the abstract thinking skills to contemplate the ifs, hows, whys and buts of anything that is not directly in front of them.
But for us people, the "mechanics" of why dogs don't complain about their accommodations, room or board is less important. We are wired to feel needed and appreciated and when we do something, we generally want it noticed and ... well ... appreciated.
Whether or not dogs appreciate it or not does not change the effect that it has on humans, when we make an effort and it gets the result, without undue stress.
OK ... for the sake of belaboring the argument.
Here is an example:
John goes to the supermarket and purchases a 50 pound of Purina Puppy Chow when he was supposed to get Purina Dog Chow. This is an honest mistake. He heard "Purina" and "Chow" and something to do with dogs, etc. Well Puppy Chow is more expensive then Dog Chow.
He comes home and his wife sees the bag and gets annoyed that he didn't get the right food.
"He always does this," she mutters under her breath.
John doesn't want the conflict because he knows that he often gets confused and brings home the wrong thing, like the last time she sent him out to get whole milk and he came back with 2%. His wife doesn't know that he heard her, and he feels diminished inside for letting her down, like he always does.
The dog has been in his crate and literally dying to be greeted by him. After he puts the kibble down, he lets the dog out and pets him as he watches his tail wag.
As he thinks about how he wishes he could afford a more expensive brand like he used to before his hours got cut, he puts the Puppy Chow in a bowl and proceeds to feed his dog. The dog eats the food enthusiastically.
Moral of the story:
Your dog will never compare your accommodations to what Paris Hilton or Tom Cruise can provide for their dogs. He also does not have a sense of how badly you screwed up this time. Your dog either does not care, or he simply does not have a mechanism for understanding it. Humans have a need for recognition for our efforts, which other humans can not provide consistently.
2. Your dog greets you enthusiastically
Only a dark skeptic would say the our dogs strictly fulfill some kind of vulgar need in our egos, for recognition and that we appreciate our dogs because they don't see the evil in us, or our incompetence, or whatnot.
I think it is far more complex than this.
First of all, dogs read us and our immediate surroundings, astutely. Not that every dog is suited to this, but there are reasons why dogs are assigned tasks that only they can do. I am talking about search and rescue, epileptic seizure detection, watchdogs, police dogs, seeing-eye dogs, therapy dogs, etc. I am no expert on any of these occupations but I will say that these are not tasks that can be doled out to a creature who does not have a fine-tuned sense of human body language.
Dogs pick up on our moods and body language before other people do. Otherwise, why would dogs detect seizures before we do?
So therefore I surmise that our dogs greeting us enthusiastically is not some "dumb" reflex that they exhibit, with little or no understanding of how much of a jerk their owners really are. And I would also argue that the owners appreciate their dogs greetings, as far more than a cheap replacement for recognition they crave from the community.
I'm going to move into the first person now, as I can only discuss what unique role my dogs have in my own life. When I go out to see my dogs, I realize that they are very limited in what they perceive about the hows and whys of my human experience. I am glad that they don't "get" these things, actually.
My dogs are happy to see me.
When I take one of them away from the "pack" they greet him or her enthusiastically when I return the pack member to them.
Dogs love and accept their pack for what it is. They gravitate toward that pack, even if they are the underdog who gets the least amount of respect or privilege. They still prefer the pack, to sulking in some hypothetical den somewhere, or thinking about how much more awesome another pack, on the Westside of town, would be.
My dog doesn't greet me because I am "special" ... he greets me because I am here. He greets me without having a real "reason" to do so.
No human being I have ever encountered operates like this, but our human need for unconditional acknowledgement, in turn, is acute.
Noooooo! Anything but the dog beach!
3. Your dog doesn't display a poor attitude about activities you plan for him.
Ok here is a typical scenario that in my opinion, illustrates exactly why people keep dogs and why some people forgo marriage and children.
Mom (Carol) is working Saturday afternoon. Dad (John) has the kids (Susan: 8, Robert: 10) for the day and he decides that they are going to go hiking at Lookout Canyon, and have an early dinner at Douglas Diner. He will take the two dogs (Fido: 4, Rex: 8). He did not ask the kids what they wanted to do, because they also need to take the dogs out and there are limited places where he can meet everybody's needs, stay within budget, and not be on a trail that is too long for the kids.
Susan: Hey Dad what are we doing today?
Robert: Can we go to Fifteen Flags?
Susan: Can't we go to the mall? I need some new shoes.
Robert: You just got shoes.
Susan: I didn't pick them out, and they don't look good with my pink dress.
Robert: Can't we go to Fifteen Flags?
Susan: We went to Fifteen Flags last week.
John: No. We are not going to Fifteen Flags or to the mall. We are taking the dogs to Lookout Canyon and then we are going to meet your mother for dinner at Douglas Diner.
Robert and Susan: Both roll their eyes. Aw mayn!
John: That is where we are going, so get ready because we are leaving in an hour.
Robert: Come on Dad it is hot and we have been there like a gazillion times.
Susan: Can I just stay home and play on my i-pad?
John: No, now let's get ready, I am serious. You are not staying home alone all afternoon. You are 8 years old.
Robert: I don't know where my hiking boots are. I think I outgrew them last week.
John: Hop up. NOW. I am not joking and I don't want to hear one more complaint out of you.
The kids slowly and begrudgingly get their stuff ready, and they end up stalling the effort another half-hour.
John leashes up Fido and Rex and puts them in the car.
While on the trail, the kids continue to charm and delight their father:
Susan: Dad, the hill is so steep.
Robert: I am hot.
Susan: Me too, can we turn around.
Robert: This is boring.
Susan: Totally boring ....
They are aggravating him to the point that he can't even enjoy the beautiful plants that have come into bloom or feel the crisp wind on his cheek, or watch his feet kick up the glorious trail dust..
The dogs? Fido and Rex continue to sniff and chase each other and when they start to pant a bit too much they stop to give the dogs some water, and then the dogs are ready to go.
Robert: Dad, these shoes are too small for me. I told you and I am getting blisters.
John: That is enough complaints out of you, young man. It has only been a mile.
John is reluctant to tell his kids that they have utterly poisoned the day for him. He looks at the dogs and they look back at him and move the walk forward. The afternoon wears on like this. They turn back and soon it is dinner time.
John: OK can you see the car from here? We are heading towards it, and then we are going to meet your mother at Douglas Diner.
Robert: Do we have to go there? We went there last time and they didn't have chicken fingers.
Susan: Why do we always go there?
John: ... because they have a patio area where we can eat outside with the dogs.
Susan: Why is it always about the dogs?
Robert: It gets cold out there and it makes my food cold.
Later at the diner:
Carol: You are 15 minutes late.
John: Sorry, the kids took longer coming down the trail than I thought ...
John goes out to the car to feed the dogs and get 5 minutes of peace. They family sits down at the outdoor table. As they eat, Fido and Rex sit under the table the whole time, simply happy to be with their family. Carol, Robert and Susan, on the other hand, complain about having to eat outside where it is noisy and cold, and they don't care one bit about how fun it is to have the dogs at a restaurant. Over the course of the meal, John sets aside scraps of food for the dogs, to reward them for being so quiet and good.
After he pays the bill, he walks the dogs to the car and gives them the tidbits that he had rolled in a napkin for them. They look at him like he is the greatest guy on the planet.
4. Your dog does not hold a grudge.
Even if you were to torture your dog, he will still bark when he hears an intruder. If he doesn't bark at the intruder, it is not because he is "mad at you" but rather, because he doesn't feel like barking.
5. Your dog thinks that everything you do is really cool.
It is true.
They really do.
If you have any questions about this, see point number 3.
I am flattered that our dogs think that even the most mundane things that we do, are special.
Dogs consistently display this type of attitude.
That makes me feel good. It is a reliable source of happiness for me. And for our dogs too.
So what are the "social benefits" of dogs?
Well ... for one, when you have a pet who is happy to go to a dog park or on a trail, etc. you are likely to meet other people with dogs, who are in a positive frame of mind, who are there to exercise with their dogs.
You can't really say that about the mall or about Fifteen Flags. In fact I would argue that such places have the opposite effect: people go there to consume and to be entertained and stimulated. What are you going to do? Spark up a conversation with another single mother at the food court? What about? The price of an eggroll these days?
Our dogs can "break the ice" for us in a public place. Sure ... at a veterinary clinic you can meet fellow cat owners with similar woes. But people don't take cats to the beach to socialize with other cats. If you are feeling lonely and you take your dog to the dog beach, you can spark up a conversation with somebody about their dogs.
If you are at a normal beach, you could have your towel plunked down right next to somebody who could have been your soul-mate, and you would have no easy way to establish common ground.
And if you have kids who you have enrolled in sports or any other competitive activity, I can't think of a worse way to make high-quality social connections. In such a context people are focused on the game and winning, and where their son or daughter ranks against the others. They are not interested in collaborating or sharing. Their desire is to protect and market their investment.
The social benefits of having dogs also stem from the lift in our moods that our dogs can provide. If we are in a better mood, our outlook can improve, which might shape our interactions with other people, for the better.
So there is no replacement for dogs. They meet human needs and have a place in human society and in the human psyche that oddly enough, other people can not occupy.