As this past weekend was Father’s Day, I decided to take a break from blogging. In truth it had nothing to do with being a father, my wife and I have no children by choice. I just needed a couple days off to recharge my inspirational batteries.
But as I sat down last night to review my list of ideas, nothing seemed inspire thoughts that would percolate to page. So instead of trying to force it, I decided to get lost in the words and thoughts of someone else; a process that usually pays off, and— did not disappoint this time as well.
A character in a book I was reading made a comment about curiosity. She said she found curiosity a very honest emotion. Immediately, I thought about all the animals that I’ve ever known in my life. Dogs, cats, horses, cows, ferrets, and many more, the one thing I found fascinating about them was their curiosity.
I wondered why I found their curiosity so remarkable. Was it the fact that the behavior lends itself to cuteness? Perhaps, it’s because I acknowledge the similarities to my own behavior? Maybe, I just find their curiosity, well, curious?
Perhaps the most honest answer is a combination of all those reasons infused with respect for the honesty of the emotion.
In every animal I’ve ever spent time with, I’ve recognized the integrity of their emotions. But it’s only after I’ve become curious about animal behavior itself, that I’ve learned that sometimes their emotions are not what they seem. Not because they are employing human like deception, but because I perceive them through a human prism.
We look at our dogs and we often classify their behavior between two extremes, each of which is often anecdotal of the truth. On the one hand, we recognize ourselves in their behaviors and make the leap of assigning human reasons as well. On the other hand, we see dogs as descendants of wolves and derive our behavioral explanations there.
However, the dogs that we have come to know and love as our constant companions are unique and distinctive and their behavior cannot be explained away simply by mammalian similarity or lupine ancestry.
In order to become as good a friend to our dogs as they are to us, we are the ones who need to employ some honest curiosity. Explaining canine behavior using terms like dominance, alpha, pack leader, and wolf like descriptors runs the risk of ignoring the real reason behind the behaviors in the same way that assigning human like descriptors like guilt and anger can.
Honest curiosity means that in addition to watching made (and edited) for TV moments, we take the time to discover what sound science and objective observation have to say about our dogs.