How dogs can teach us to be better friends
Another week has passed, and today, I intend to write about the differences between dogs and people and why following in dogs’ footsteps can help us solve communication and relationships challenges with other people.
I often hear dog lovers say that they prefer the company of dogs to that of people. One of the reasons we love our dogs is that we can predict their behaviour much more easily than people’s. We know there will be a wagging tail when we come home. We can predict they will be happy going for walks and out for adventures. In other words, dogs are much less likely than people to change their behaviour, which we find comforting.
Personally, when it comes to my human relationships and friendships, the ones I enjoy are with people who are predictable. Such friends do not necessarily need to always agree with me or always be happy. I just like that I know what to expect. Unpredictable friends fluctuate from friendly to aloof, from happy to moody and from generous to cheap in a blink and without a warning, which can be difficult.
It appears that if we want to be a good friend to others, we should do our best to be predictable so others know what to expect.
Until now, I didn’t really think of dogs being good listeners, but when we examine their behaviour closely, they appear to be very good at listening. They are not only aware of what is going on in their surroundings and are excellent guards, they also do their best to listen even though they may not understand us completely.
Writing these lines made me chuckle because I realized that while dogs are generally good listeners, some of them are masters in pretending they can’t hear us when convenient. I guess even dogs are not perfect. ;-)
However, dogs definitely appear to be better listeners and empaths than many people. It may be that humans are genetically predisposed to self-centred behaviour for the purpose of survival. However, in modern society, good listeners are generally the winners when it comes to building relationships and winning friends.
To be good listeners, we must strive to refine our ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes, listen and acknowledge his or her needs. This does not mean we shouldn't have well-defined boundaries. In fact, the opposite is true. Well-established boundaries make relationships easier.
Since the beginning of humankind, we have gone all the way from caves to the sleekness of smart homes, where we can voice-command everything from lights, blinds and fans to vacuum cleaners and robotic dogs (just kidding). Yet, the more comfort there is, the more people whine and lose the ability to adapt.
The ultimate example of this is the Millennial generation because, with some exceptions, their cushy lives have made them less adaptable and in some cases spoiled.
I remember my niece telling me with a serious expression that it was very “traumatic” for her when she found an item she wanted to buy online, but it wasn’t in stock.
I have witnessed parents cook three different meals for dinner because the kids do not like to eat the adults’ meal. While this may seem caring, in my opinion, picky kids are a result of less ideal parenting. It is good for children to not always get what they want; this makes them more adaptable later in life.
The same applies to picky dogs, and some time ago, I wrote a blog post on monkey love. However, overall, most dogs are happy and much more adaptable than people.
TRAIT #4 and the story of internet trolls
Unlike people, dogs seem to get along just fine with the exception of the odd fight. Also, they do not get upset when other dogs have a different “opinion" from theirs.
Recently, I shared a blog post written by someone else suggesting that there should be a dog in the White House. Most presidents have had one, which helped them overcome the challenges of the job.
In my post, I didn’t express a political opinion, the post was generally neutral. Nevertheless, it sparked a big, fiery and somewhat nasty debate. Some people accused me of taking sides, which I didn’t. Others were appalled that I would “subject a dog to being with Trump”, and some people even used vulgar language and verbally abused other commenters. I was shocked.
To be honest, for a moment, I was unsure if I should mention this here, but then I decided to go ahead for several reasons:
A few months ago, I listened to a podcast about a Russian who ended up “accidentally” working for an internet troll company. His role was to create misinformation and troll social media.
You can listen to the podcast below:
Listening to the podcast made me wonder if our Facebook page had been attacked by trolls searching for certain keywords such as White House or Trump. I know this sounds rather bizarre, but as you can see from the podcast, it is possible.
Why do I think so? It is because I have a hard time imagining that the true, honourable members of our community could be so inappropriate. Some people threatened that they would never buy our products and supplements because I was taking sides, which I didn’t.
So, I need to emphasize one very important thing: My Facebook page is my home where freedom of speech rules. Everyone is welcome, except rude, disrespectful and intolerant people who will be banned. In other words, our Facebook page is our community home, and those who do not like what we post can find many other pages to join and visit.
Until 1989, when the Eastern Bloc Iron Curtain fell, I lived in Czechoslovakia under a regime that didn’t allow freedom of speech. There is no way a few rude yellers will tell me what I should say and when I should say it. I promise I will continue to be myself and do my best to be helpful to you and your dogs. However, I will protect essential freedoms as fiercely as a parent would protect a child.
There are as many opinions as there are people about pretty much anything. If someone disagrees with us, it does not mean they are our enemy. It also does not mean that we can’t like each other and be friends.
And, if people threaten not to buy my all-natural supplements for their dogs because they see things differently than I do, I know others will buy them. It just makes me sad that their dogs will lose the benefit.
There will always be people who think we should say, act and be a certain way, but it is humanly impossible to make everyone happy. The only optimal way of being is to be ourselves, and we all know that dogs are true masters this.
The fifth and perhaps most talked about is our dogs’ art of unconditional love.
For example, I often think about dogs’ that love unconditionally despite being abused. It is extremely rare for a human to forgive on such a level and it would also be rare for dogs NOT TO forgive their people.
A possible explanation could be that dogs simply evolved this way, but I think there is more to it. Look at cats; they benefit from the alliance with us, but they rarely display such a high degree of loyalty and love that dogs do.
The ability to love and forgive unconditionally is the very core reason why we love dogs so much. When we’re with them, we feel safe and loved, which fulfills our primal need. Dogs don’t care if we have a pimple on our face, thinning hair, imperfect teeth, or a few extra pounds or wear a T-shirt with a spot on it. They do not judge us when we make mistakes or slip up in a conversation.
Perhaps the answer to human problems is to be more like dogs—sincere, open, forgiving, and loving—but it is often not easy. I have had a few situations in life when it was hard for me to forgive. However, forgiving someone who hurt us is good for our health and happiness. At the same time we must not mistake forgiveness with suppressing our feelings and emotions. I trust you know what I mean.
When we aim to forgive, it helps to see things from the other person’s perspective and try to understand why people get grumpy, intolerant or even aggressive. They may be frustrated with their choices, have made bad decisions, lost direction in life, or feel unworthy of a good life.
There are also people whose ego is acting out and they need to feel a sense of superiority in order to feel worthy. In other words behind the confident and arrogant facade, there is a fearful person with low self-esteem.
I agree that we must prevent people from physically and emotionally hurting us and others. The good news is that most of us are free to decide what kind of people we have in our lives. However, I have seen it in many lives of my friends and clients that not forgiving contributes to stress and disease, and it also affects the health and well-being of our dogs.
I am not saying you should feel solely responsible for every health problem your dog experiences. What I mean is that practicing forgiveness helps us and our dogs to be overall, happier and healthier.
Perhaps you may want to make a list of people you think wronged or hurt you and write them a letter of forgiveness. You may or may not send it, you may burn it, you may keep it but no matter what you do with it, I bet it will make you feel better!
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM