Dogs Act Just Like People, OR People Act Just Like Dogs 

Robert Harris
Version Date: November 13, 2010

It is sometimes said that the pets we choose reveal who we are. If you have a dog, that might be truer than you think. Having been the butler to two Chihuahuas for several years, I have observed that there is a great similarity between the behaviors, attitudes, and values of dogs and people. I have therefore compiled this list of similarities as food for thought. If you do own a dog or two, call them over and read this article to them. See whether or not these truths apply to your dogs and to you.

We call someone a dog as an insult, but perhaps we should be a bit more cautious. For dogs inhabit our virtues as well as our vices. Here, then, is a list of truths about dogs--and people.

1. Every dog wants whatever the other dog has.

Commentary: Envy, jealously, rivalry, and pride are all present in dogs and people at least to some extent. I remember many years ago we had a toy cocker spaniel who not only wanted the toys other dogs had, but he wanted a monopoly on affection, too. We used to be (heartlessly) amused when we petted another dog and made dramatic shows of affection to it because it made Frisky, our toy cocker, whine and whimper. He couldn't stand to see another dog get what he didn't get. With Wolf and Bear (see their blog at
WolfAndBearDog.com), even though they have a basket full of toys, one wants whatever the other has picked out to play with.

2. The new toy is the only valuable toy.

Commentary: If I buy a new toy for the dogs, I'd better get two, because if I come home with just one, and expect that the dogs will share it or that one dog will play with it while the other chooses from among the two dozen toys already in the house--I am mistaken. Both want the new toy with fervor.  In fact, when I do come home with two equal toys, each dog looks over the other dog's toy carefully, to make sure that the other toy is not more desirable. See Truth #1.

3. No matter how full you fill it, the love tank is soon empty.

Commentary: Dogs and people need regular, if not constant, affection and affirmation. I can pet and caress and kiss my doggies for several minutes at a stretch, and then five minutes later they are back with expectant looks, as if to say, "What have you done for me lately?" or perhaps, "I need love!" Dogs are not afraid to hide their needs--conveyed quite effectively by their facial expressions, though the wagging tail and an occasional whimper help make the thought unmistakable. People could learn a lot from dogs. We shouldn't be shy about saying, "Hug me!" when we need one.

4. There are good dogs and there are--dogs.

Commentary: Some dogs--many dogs--are affectionate, loyal, obedient, attentive, patient (except when it comes to food or cookies), and just good companions. My dogs want to be with me no matter what I do. They never say, "That sounds boring," or "You do it. I think I'll stay here." They even want to go out to the garage with me when I empty the trash. They never argue or complain. Wolf is a good dog, and Bear is a dog, too. Well, I sometimes call him a semi-good dog. He is a bit more difficult to train. 

5. A cookie teaches a dog more than a spanking does.

Commentary: For some reason we've gotten into the habit of making a big deal over small errors, thinking that "a stick in time saves nine"--a verbal beating will whip the dog (or spouse or employee) into shape. But, as we observe with dogs, all punishment does is make the dog not want to be around you. Reward your dog when he does his business where he's supposed to, instead of punishing him when he forgets. As Paul L. Marciano says in Carrots and Sticks Don't Work, "You will never get the behavior you want by focusing on the behavior you don't want." He goes on to say, "To fundamentally change behavior, you must use positive reinforcement and focus on the behavior that you do want, not the behavior that you don't want" (p. 87).  Oh, and Marciano is not writing a book about dog training. It's about corporate leadership.

6. Even the dog that can jump up on the sofa would rather be lifted up.

Commentary: Remember the typing test, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs." Not only do you use every letter on the keyboard, but you repeat a common thought about dogs. They are lazy and want to be waited on. There seems to be a bit of laziness in humans, too. Most of us like to be waited on. I've been out with people who don't like fast-food restaurants--not because they don't like the food, but because they are not being waited on at the table. Being waited on flatters us and reinforces our ego. And dogs have egos, too, just like us. In fact, Wolf and Bear seem to think they are big dogs. They act as if they're ready to take on a pack of coyotes. It's just another case of "Your ego is writing checks your body can't cash." 

7. Sometimes dogs fight just for fun.

Commentary:  Wolf and Bear chase each other around the coffee table in the TV room and then run into the living room and around through the kitchen. When one catches the other, they both bark and growl. Odd as it seems, some human couples enjoy fighting, and in fact, pick fights with each other. I'm not sure if this is the same as dog play. But some people do find arguments to be exhilarating. Fighting does get the blood circulating.

8. Most dogs like to leave a mess for other people to clean up.

Commentary: Whenever I leave a dinner napkin on the coffee table (I eat dinner while watching TV in the TV room), one of the dogs is sure to rip it to shreds when I'm upstairs or otherwise distracted. Wolf gets his stuffed animals out of the bin and spreads them throughout the house. And how many a dog has turned over a trash can and rummaged through it, only to leave a colossal mess? Now, maybe we should talk about your roommate or spouse. Well, maybe not. But people are like dogs.

9. Sometimes a dog wants to be on the other side of any door.

Commentary: Dogs are curious and they love freedom. And, of course, that's just like people, too. But I think the desire to go through every closed door goes way beyond curiosity and freedom, right to the elemental desire that impels all of us to want to go to the next step almost as soon as we've arrived at the previous one. Traditionnal philosophers called this the desire for the infinite--which could be satisfied only by the Infinite. Samuel Johnson, in his charming book Rasselas, says that we suffer from a "hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some employment" (Chapter 32). Imlac, the guide in the book, says of the pyramid they are exploring, "I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyment." It seems to be both canine and human not to be satisfied for very long. 

10. Dogs will often beg for something that isn't good for them.

Commentary:  Dogs, of course, make the reasonable assumption that whatever their human likes, they will like, too. And they have usually experieced multiple confirmations of this assumption. However, they don't have much discernment. Oh, yes, we say, this is just like children, too. They are always begging mom and dad for something they might not be ready for (I remember asking for a machete when I was seven or eight). But it goes beyond childhood. How often have you heard a friend say, "I know this is wrong [or bad for me], but I want to do it anyway"? Has your husband been begging you to let him get one of those 150 mph motorcycles even though he can barely drive a car?

Go to Part 2 and read more!

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com