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A Dog’s Life: A Rich And Happy Experience

My dog seems to have a rich inner life and no one can convince me otherwise. My observations tell me he’s got a lot going on inside his head, and that my perceptions are not just coming from wishful thinking. I’d be just as happy with Buddy if he were merely a peaceful, hungry being sharing space with us.

Peaceful and hungry don’t tell the whole story about this little poodle, and I doubt they tell the story about your pooch. Buddy has a rich inner life-one that he tries his best to communicate to us.

For example, my husband has been away quite often working out of state. This is hard on Buddy as the two are uncannily close. Whenever the suitcases come out of the closet, he spends a few hours figuring out who is leaving the house: He sniffs the suitcases. He observes our behavior to see whom is busiest preparing to leave. And then he visits his dog carrier to see if it has moved. When it hasn’t, he knows he isn’t going anywhere, so by process of elimination he’s got things pretty well figured out before we leave for the airport.

When we get there, he crawls over two rows of seats to the back of the car to say goodbye. And he employs the same facial expression each time: he bows his head, squints his eyes, and looks forlorn. When we get in the front seat together to drive away, he looks to me for reassurance. He wants me to pet him and say, “It’s okay!” He sits on the front seat, widens those teardrop eyes and looks right into my eyes, conveying a great deal of feeling.

I always hug him and tell him all the great things we’re going to do together while his dad is away, like head to the doggie park and have lots of treats and go for walks.

He knows all of these words very well but I don’t know how much they comfort them. While my husband is away, all I have to do is say his name and I get the squinty eye look and downtrodden posture. For the first few days, Buddy is very sad and very squinty, but he eventually adjusts.

Because he’s smart, he doesn’t like sitting around much. He needs things to do and he lets me know it. But sadly, he knows in this house it’s not fun and games all day. Like most dogs, he lies around most of the time, but I don’t think that would be his first choice. He’d rather be hiking in the woods with us, running, playing and engaging with other beings. I feel kind of guilty that more of the day isn’t focused on him and I’m very aware that his life would be greatly enriched if it was. There’s no being in the universe that doesn’t benefit from our attention.

He’s very interested in whatever it is that we’re doing: he intently watches me floss, bake, drive, vacuum, exercise, talk on the phone. He knows when it’s time for bed and comes to remind me. If I let him walk me, he’ll walk me to PetSmart. He knows where it is and he knows dogs are allowed inside.

We expect our dogs to be just, well, dogs. But anecdotedly, when we raise our expectations of them, they surprise us, as we so aptly see in service animals and police dogs. We’ve made it clear that Buddy is part of the family and so his unique world view is that his needs and emotions and happiness matter to us.

A scientist worked with a vet to discover what goes on in a dog’s brain by training him to feel comfortable getting scans in an MRI. And it should be no surprise that they discovered striking similarities between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region.

What the studies really show us is that we should have greater appreciation for the richness of the interior lives of animals and a realization that they have feelings very much like we do, even though they don’t have words to describe them. They are more like “non-human persons” than we give them credit for.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to insist they get voting rights. But they should at least be recognized as having very rich inner lives, and if we do that as dog owners, I think the quality of a dog’s life will improve.

Buddy has done a lot in 11 years-from airplane travel to international living to dozens of car rides all over the country to border crossings. I think those experiences are reflected in his personality. He’s a dog that’s been around. And I truly think he expects more out of life than your average animal.

If he could talk, he’d probably ask us to pass the steak sauce, or at least the Grey Poupon.

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