Dogs versus Humans: A Contrast in Emotional Honesty
Anyone who visits our home always receives a warm welcome. While I feel that my wife, kids, and I are definitely better than average hosts, we do not deserve much of the credit for making our visitors feel that they are special. Instead, it is our dog Juliet who lets people know how exciting it is to have them here. Even before our guests enter, her tail begins to wag about a hundred miles an hour, and she starts making joyful whimpering noises. Then, when people finally walk in, she jumps up and down on her hind legs and tries to climb up on them with her front legs, and then she usually takes off running in all directions with whatever object she can find - a ball, sock, dog toy, etc. - stuffed in her mouth. When she was younger, she would literally pee on the floor from excitement.
It is safe to say that our guests would probably stop coming over if we humans of the household behaved like Juliet does upon their arrival. Even when we are particularly happy to see people, the most we might do is yell or talk a bit louder when they first arrive or give them a big bear hug. When out in public, we are expected to be even more reserved. One of the last things we humans want, after all, is for other humans, even humans who are complete strangers, to think that we are weird. We spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional energy, after all, wondering what other people think of us.
I’ve thought quite a bit in recent years - and have written occasionally - about similarities between humans and other animals. In the end, I am convinced that we humans are essentially driven by the same primal drives, urges, and fears as all other creatures of the earth. But there are also some key differences caused by our large and complicated brains, and excessive self-consciousness may be one quality that makes us humans unique. We are constantly making great efforts to not let people know what we might be doing, thinking, or feeling. So many of us live in constant terror of what might happen if we break some social norm or show a bit of emotional vulnerability. And then we wonder why we spend so much of our lives feeling isolated and alone.
Our dog Juliet makes no effort to hide her emotions. Even if a guest is afraid of dogs or clearly wants to have little to do with her, she is still going to get excited when they arrive, beg for them to give her some food, or snuggle up next to them when they sit down. And even if she eventually picks up on the fact that this human doesn’t really want her around, I doubt that her feelings get hurt or that she starts to wonder if she is a weird dog. If a new guest were to arrive suddenly, she would give them the same warm welcome that she always does.
As best I can tell, humans when they are very young are no more self-conscious than my dog. They will stare at people, say pretty much anything in public, and scream their heads off in the middle of large crowds. But to the relief of parents everywhere, we humans eventually learn to not make “fools of ourselves” in public. The only trouble is that many of us may become overly careful and reserved in every situation, unable to be our “true selves” even with the people we know the best.
There are times when I wish my dog was more self-conscious, particularly when she feels the need to bark or beg incessantly for food. Still, even though owning a dog was never my idea, I can understand why a lot of people seem to prefer dogs over humans. It’s not just that dogs seem to be so unquestionably loyal. It’s also that dogs seem to be simpler creatures, never making any attempt to hide what they are thinking or feeling. After spending so much of our lives dealing with humans who rarely if ever let on what is really going on in their heads, dogs can definitely be a breath of fresh air.