Our Dogs’ Lesson to Us

Since the rise of the dog’s role in health restoration, dogs can be found just about anywhere today — on college campuses, in hospitals, in fire stations — you name it. For a long time, the emotional intelligence and knowledge of dogs were significantly undervalued. This was largely due to a number of analyses tested by highly influential philosophers like Rene Descartes, which essentially argued that dogs were more similar to machines than humans. These analyses suggested that dogs functioned with the biological equivalent of gears and pulleys, rather than possessing the pure emotions that humans have.

These philosophies survived for centuries and became globally accepted and rarely challenged. In more recent years, however, science has pointed to evidence that says otherwise. As science has progressed, compelling research and a variety of new discoveries have revolutionized the way that we perceive and appreciate dogs. This new insight, which has gained credibility over the past few years, has led to the rise of animal-assisted therapy across many health-related dimensions, as well as the prevalence of service dog ownership today.

So what exactly is it that makes them capable, if not more capable, than humans to connect on a deeper and more emotional level in the healing process? Why do we turn to dogs in times of hardship, and how can they restore our mental well being when we need it most? The answer to these questions lies in the complex and beautiful nature and intrinsic capabilities of our dogs, many of which were doubted for so long. Despite long-established belief, dogs have the same brain structures as humans, which are responsible for producing the emotions that we similarly express on a daily basis. In fact, one of the hormones that they secrete (along with humans), known as oxytocin, triggers the feelings of love and affection for others. So when you walk into your home and see your dog’s tail wagging, this demonstration of happiness isn’t caused by some form of unnatural mechanism like that of a pulley or system of gears, but it is a true and pure expression of joy.

In order to understand the emotional capacity of dogs, it is important to grasp the emotional development pattern of mankind. It has been found in studies that a dog’s intelligence and level of development is equal to that of a two to two-and-a-half year old child. In other words, dogs don’t reach many of the more complex social emotions that we experience past our childhood, such as shame or pride. They do, however, feel the basic emotions of joy, fear, anger and love.

Perhaps, it is this limited span of emotions that makes them so loveable. They are non-judgmental and they love us for this mere sake of connection. They don’t care what we wear or how much money we have in our bank account or where we come from, yet they are so incredibly capable of loving and caring for us. In these ways, and many more, our dogs offer us the most invaluable lessons in life.

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