How Dogs Teach us to Love
“Wait for the girl who looks at you with those same eyes.”
I said it without even thinking. I was just responding with humor as best I could to the waiter saying how sweet my dog was. It was a sentiment straight from the heart, unprepared and unrehearsed.
So what is it about Rocco’s eyes? What is it about the way a dog looks at us that we know this is love? How is it not dependence? Without me he doesn’t eat. How is it not approval seeking? Praise seeking? Attention seeking? Validation seeking?
It’s something I didn’t fully understand from interacting with dogs until I owned one. Rocco just wants my time. Dogs are eternally present. They don’t contemplate the past, the future or their existence. They live straight from the heart, trusting their instincts.
Sure, you can train a dog, but that just changes the pattern of neurological activity dictating their instinctual behavior. The instinctual response changes and we say they have learned. With dedicated effort a human can also neurologically rewire their instinctual responses, but the difference is a human can know and consider this. The dog is just doing whatever behavior is wired, without thought about it. It just happens.
I’m grateful that Rocco doesn’t beg for food from the table, but even if he did, he wouldn’t be using his cute eyes to manipulate me into feeding him. A dog learns to do the behavior that is re-enforced. When a dog begs for food, he doesn’t make a conscious decision about it. It’s just honest. He is who he is and he learned what he learned.
So when a dog gives love, this is the same. A dogs love is by nature without condition. A dog lacks the human capacity for thought which would allow for a condition to be knowingly attached to his behavior. One of the biggest roadblocks to a real connection in human relationships are the conditions we place upon our love. If you do this, if you don’t do this, if you look this way, if you treat me this way, if you believe this, if you say that, ect ect. Unconditional love is so far above any other kind of love, that it is hard to say that any form of love given with condition is love at all.
Even if we inform some of the dogs influences at the onset, by rewarding him with attention when he comes to us, or with cuddles, food or playtime when he takes certain actions, he’s still not capable of knowingly doing these things to get the desired response. A dog is just being himself. So while we might knowingly or unknowingly train a dog for certain behaviors, that dog is teaching us every day of our lives what real love looks like. He’s showing how to be present, to live from our instincts, and to follow our heart. He shows us what it’s like to turn off our brain and just be.
One of my closest friends told me before I got Rocco that in Brazil they say “Humans need dogs, because dogs teach humans how to love.” At the time this didn’t make sense to me, but now it makes all the sense in the world. I also understand the phrase “Dogs are the gateway drug to children.” It feels good to give and receive unconditional love, and humans aren’t above conditioned pleasure seeking responses either 😉