Just who is the top dog?
“Oh, we have one just like him,” the young lady gushed, motioning toward the small child. Her husband followed close behind asking, “How old is he? Ours is almost 4.”
The child stood tethered to an older woman, waiting for luggage to arrive on the airport carousel. A man nearby, presumably her husband, tapped on his phone to arrange an Uber ride. The luggage lady answered the inquiring couple, “He’s 2.”
“Can we pet him?” asked the younger man, adding, “He won’t bite, will he?” The older woman answered, “He won’t bite, but just don’t raise your hand over your head. That seems to set him off.”
“Ours does the same thing with people other than us,” the younger man replied, gently patting the child on the top of his head. Then the following dialog ensued.
“Ours hates the mailman. He likes to lie on the window seat and I swear he can hear the mail truck coming.”
“This one doesn’t like it when the lawn crew mows.”
“How much does he weigh?”
“Ours is now over 40. He’ll grow a lot these next couple years.”
With that, the older man retrieved luggage. His wife gave a gentle tug on the child’s tether and stepped back, signaling they were ready to leave the airport carousel area. The younger man said, “Thanks for letting us pet him. I just can’t believe how much he looks like ours.” The younger woman rubbed the small child under the chin, put her nose to the child’s, and cooed, “You are a good boy. You are just adorable! Yes, you are!”
If the above seems strange, or even a tad creepy, to you — just change the word “child” to “dog” and it will sound perfectly normal. Normal because people love to talk about, and to, dogs. Their dogs and other folks’ dogs. They certainly seem to do it with more animation, and perhaps more often, than they talk about their kids. I’ll bet you a dog biscuit you have seen it, too, on the sidewalks, trails, and shops of Daniel Island.
Why is that? Is it possible that people like dogs more than other people? I Googled the question, and – whoa! A 2018 study in the journal Society and Animals suggests people are more empathetic to animals than they are to fellow humans. Another journal, Scientific Reports, found that dogs make more facial movements (presumably than a human does) when a human is speaking to them.
“Would you like a snickerdoodle?” my lovely wife, Grace, asked. Deep in my dog vs. man research, I failed to reply and Grace inquired again, “I said, would you like a snickerdoodle?”
“Huh?” I mumbled, looking up, adding, “Let me ask you about this interesting stuff I’ve been reading.”
Grace sighed, “Sure, let’s do your question since you didn’t answer mine.”
I proceeded to query Grace on the proposition that people might interact more strongly with dogs than other humans. Grace rubbed her chin. “Well,” she mused, “Buddy (our beagle) does roll his head from side to side when you talk to him.”
“I could roll my head,” I offered. “I wasn’t asking you to roll your head, dear,” Grace replied.
“I was just observing that it does connote he is listening intently.”
“I listen intently,” I answered.
“Whatever,” Grace chuckled, adding, “and his eyes get bigger and he raises his eyebrows when you talk to him. That is a sure sign of both attention and interest.”
“Maybe,” I replied, turning back to my computer research. Another blog reported that researchers found that one strand of DNA — chromosome 6 to be exact — has three genes that code for hyper-sociability that are in the same spot for dogs as they are for humans.
After a little more investigation, I stood up, stretched, yawned, and asked, “Do we have any cookies? I could go for something sweet.”
“You mean like a snickerdoodle?” Grace answered.
“Yeah, that would be great.”
“I had two left, but I gave them to Buddy.”
“You gave them to Buddy? Why?”
“I held one up and his eyes got bigger,” Grace explained.
“I just knew he would appreciate it and I couldn’t deny those big, attentive eyes.”
When I didn’t respond, Grace added, “Maybe that’s why they call them man’s best friend.”
I looked down at Buddy. He had cookie crumbs in his whiskers. He looked up at me, rolled his head from side to side, and I swear he smiled. He then rubbed his body aside Grace’s leg. She bent down, rubbed beneath his chin, put her nose to his, and cooed, “You are a good boy. You are just adorable! Yes, you are!”