In last week’s post we postulated that dogs were, through selective breeding and increasingly close proximity to humans, learning to miror human facial expressions corresponding to their emotional states. That dogs actually do demonstrate a wide range of emotions has finally been accepted by Brilliant People (animal behaviorists whose salaries were paid by testing facilities and informed by a rigid, sweeping, and self-serving Old Testament injunction for Man to have dominion over the Earth and all its beasty inhabitants. ( At some point women were included in this astounding corraling of natural resources, possibly because women, like some of the larger predatory mammals, scared the hell out of the ruling gender. But that’s another story.)
Now the evolution of dogs, while not precisely understood, still stands as a unique occurance in history in that they appear to have evolved along with humanity. Two interesting facts about that: dogs, unlike their wolf ancesters, developed enzymes in their stomachs to digest grains at the same time humans did, and dog and human brains seem to have evolved in a symbiotic relationship that meant one influenced the development of the other.
Now if the above statement doesn’t make you sit up and eye your Wiener dog, like your Wiener dog is eyeing you, you’re just not paying attention. Because it is now a proven scientific fact that your 10 pound 8 inch high Wiener is in direct competition with you for all your food sources (unlike your cat, hence the attitude) AND she pretty much knows what you’re thinking all the time.
And yet…there’s no war. Do you know why? Because your Wiener likes you. He wants to hang with you. Dogs would not have even survived to evolve with stinky, hairy, aggressive, egotistical man-apes if they were constantly fighting with them over the scraps some hairy scary woman ( not yet corraled), was throwing out the door. Dog meat would have become an instant cupboard staple. Instead, over time, the dog that paid attention,smiled winningly, and licked the hand instead of biting it, lived to pass this knack for diplomacy on to its young.
Given all this, to fail to see that the close association of these two species would mean a parallel emotional development is a willfull act that seeks to demean the inherent worth of one species for the aggrandizement of another. In other words, if I deny that you have feelings, I can pretty much do whatever I want to you without suffering any guilt. Up until relatively recently, this denial of the obvious included denying dogs the ability to feel meaningful pain. You gotta think a lot of Wieners had to really be invested in the idea of sharing pizza and the Super Bowl to still want to hang around.
Pizza aside, dogs have, like humans, more facial muscles than most other animals to put into play when they want to express their feelings, especially around the eyes and ears. We know they can pull up the corners of their mouths, pull them down, bare their teeth, one or all, wrinkle their muzzles and narrow and widen their nostrils. They can manage soulful looks. They can adjust their ears to look woebegone or alert. They can look nose -pinched peeved, eye- slit suspicious, loosey goosey loony, tongue- lolling happy, andat peace with the universe with a bone to chew. They can stare deep into your eyes and demand attention. They can look confused,scared and disappointed. They can bristle with indignation. With excitement. Who hasn’t seen ecstasy on the face of their Wiener rolling in the grass? They smile and frown. They dissemble. They fake. A single lifted eyebrow questions your intentions.
When did we start to really notice the interior life of dogs? Out in the barn, tied to the stake, trapped in the laboratory, housed in the kennel, we didn’t really see them. We used them, worked them, bred them, and occasionally felt the deeper evolutionary tug that has kept us together for tens of thousands of years. But when we took them into our homes, almost, as a culture, en mass and overnight, things changed. Already adept at watching us constantly, (certainly an evolutionary advantage, given the lopsided balance of power), and increasingly being bred to fit into our lives as companions, dogs suddenly had an opportunity to do ten fold what they were born to do: adapt to human behaviour to further ensure their survival. And the best way to do that? The obvious way. Mirror our feelings.
If you doubt that your dog can mirror your emotions, try this: In a calm moment, look at him and quietly say, “I love you”. Your eyes will automatically soften as you say those words. Look closely. His will, too.