I’m obsessed with dogs. Specifically, I’m obsessed with how crazy people are about their dogs. In a way, it has come as a relief to finally learn why I’ve never understood the dog-human attachment:
I am unevolved, genetically deficient.
From an article in Smithsonian Magazine:
“When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust. Other mammal relationships, including those between mom and child, or between mates, feature oxytocin, but the human/dog example is the only case in which it has been observed at work between two different species.” (How Accurate Is the Theory of Dog Domestication in ‘Alpha’? 8/15/2018)
I certainly experience the oxytocin release within the mom and child and mate-to-mate relationships. I just don’t get it with dogs.
Moreover, I would submit that the human species has by now evolved to secrete even more oxytocin when gazing into a dog’s eyes than a baby’s. Perhaps this is why people are more apt to understand why you wouldn’t want kids than why you’re not interested in having a dog.
This doesn’t mean I dislike dogs. I do, yet I don’t feel compelled to gawk at strangers’ dogs and ask if I can pet them. In fact, I get more oxytocin out of staring at my friend Ana’s breathtaking Queen of the Night flower than into a dog’s eyes:
My genetic deficiency comes with feelings of confusion and shame.
I was once in line at Starbucks and noticed that the young woman ordering was holding a tiny dog, a Chihuahua I think. The cashier was all ooh and aww, and they got to babbling about their dogs. The cashier even pulled up a photo of his dog on his cell phone. I was third in line wanting to get my coffee and go and knew I couldn’t just tell them enough already and get on with it.
What kind of miserable person would interrupt such a harmless, worthy exchange?
I used to think I might be crazy because I don’t want a dog, even though I’ve tried hard to convince myself to want one.
After all, everyone’s always talking about how much they adore their dogs, their unconditional love, how kids should grow up with a dog, how smart and funny they are, and how dogs make you happy, help you stay healthy and live longer.
The numbers are telling of canine awesomeness. There were an estimated 83.7 million to 88.9 million pet dogs in the United States in 2020, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That’s more than the U.S. population of humans under 18 years of age, which was around 73.1 million the same year (Census Bureau data).
I must be missing out on some beautiful experiences, but I don’t get it.
My niece’s friend started a GoFundMe to raise money for her dog’s surgery bills. I was confused. I thought GoFundMe’s were for things like medical treatment for a child’s rare cancer. What I really couldn’t wrap my head around, however, was my niece asking the family to donate — all this on the same family chat where the ongoing topic was how distraught family members felt about the death and suffering in Ukraine.
Also, sometimes, taking care of a sick dog becomes the owner’s full-time job. Then there are the short obituaries and de rigueur heartfelt condolences when the dog moves on. Yes, I know you’re grieving and I feel for you. I don’t like for people (or dogs) to suffer, but you chose to have a dog and you know a dog’s lifespan is pretty short compared to yours.
I don’t want to go through any of it, neither the losing a dog part nor the having to announce its passing and respond to the messages of solidarity.
Should I feel ashamed?
Yet another thing I don’t get about lots of dog owners is how they view their dogs as the ultimate judges of character.
A 2019 survey suggested that 77% of dog owners looked to their dogs’ reactions when considering who to date — with many ruling out completely anyone their dog doesn’t like. We trust our dogs more than our mothers on this.
This makes little sense, seeing as your dog might love really awful people, murderers even. Hitler is said to have been a dog person. Plenty of dogs wag their tails joyfully when they encounter all manner of evil people, while some dogs don’t take to really nice people.
I also can’t see myself spoiling a dog.
Many generations ago, only the ultra privileged — think royals with their lapdogs in museum paintings—spoiled their dogs to no end.
Today, the dog of any lowly citizen of the kingdom I reside in (known as the United States of America) is just as spoiled as Queen Elizabeth’s corgis. Except the average American can’t count on a team of servants to pick up the poop, walk the dog, give baths and groom.
Instead, you either hire someone from the vast array of people who make a living off of dog ownership, or you do it yourself. And there are risks involved in doing it yourself.
Deirdre (all names are made up), a colleague of mine, seriously injured her back when taking Cooper out to poop. Cooper abruptly pulled on the leash and she fell flat on her buttocks. Something similar happened to Laura, except she injured her leg and broke a rib.
Had they gotten hurt chasing a young grandchild, there might have been some resentment toward the child. Toward the dog, however, there was zero animosity. There was acceptance along with supreme resignation and good cheer.
Big Sweeping Takeaway and Message
I’ve come to the conclusion that being crazy about dogs and having a dog doesn’t mean you love animals. It means you adore dogs.
A person can also love animals and not be into dogs at all.
My son Diego is an example of this. He’s autistic and Animals (yes, with a capital A) is one of his outsized areas of interest -has been for 24 of his 28 years.
Knowing this, people often suggest we get him a dog. And I would totally do it if Diego really wanted one. But when I ask Diego (which I often do), he always says I like wild dogs and dingos and coyotes and wolves but I don’t really want a dog I want a girl. Diego surely inherited my dog-human oxytocin deficiency.
If you are a dog owner and lover, know this: I’m glad your dog makes you happy. I also hope your dog helps you stay healthy and live longer. I’m happy for you. It’s just not for me. At all.
Diego on dogs: Do you want to have a dog Instagram reel