Most people own a dog because they like having a dog around – as simple as that. But is it really that simple? Why do we like having a dog around the place?
Dogs are man’s favourite animals, with many books, films and songs having been written and made about them over the years. How much is that doggy in the window? Love me, love my dog. Digby, the biggest dog in the world. Turner and Hooch. The dog who saved the world. And how many children’s essays have revolved around the family pooch?
People do this because they love their dogs, and we love them because they do us good in ways we may not even understand.
Of course, companionship comes into it. A dog can be like a best friend, and that’s a mutual thing: they like it too, having this human who seems to actually enjoy doing things like feeding them, giving them somewhere to live and taking them for walks. And that in turn makes us feel good because it’s nice to be appreciated. It is often said that cats are more selfish and don’t give you much in return. Dogs can apparently appreciate the relationship and make sure they help you by using attributes that you don’t possess.
When a dog, looking out of the window, barks at a passer-by, they’re telling you something. You might not know what that something is, but they are contributing, helping you out.
It is good to be secure, and equally important to have the feeling of security. Whether you live in a friendly neighbourhood in a famously safe town, or an area known locally as bandit country, having a dog just gives that extra layer of insulation against an unpredictable world. If the dog is an inveterate barker for no particular reason, you may have to reassure visitors that it’s nothing personal, just a natural canine impulse that can mean “hello” as well as “behave yourself with my owner”. Similarly, dogs like to sniff people so they recognise them next time, and if you have several dogs, there may be a rather intimidating cacophony of barking while a visitor is given the canine once-over, but no harm will be done. And you can bet your life word will get around that yours is not a good place for trespassing, whether by youngsters scrumping your apples or burglars looking for soft targets.
It’s largely a case of nurture over nature. In a quiet, genteel little town, there may be a lot of dogs, but you don’t notice them because they are not interested in making their presence felt. On the other hand, in certain countries, dogs are encouraged to bark and snarl at people passing, just to deter them if they had thought of breaking in. In these countries, everybody also has bars on their windows and the drivers on the road are aggressive too, but that’s another story.
For many people, getting out for a walk might be nice when we do it, but it’s easy to find excuses for not doing it. Or should that be seeing no reason to do it? Whichever is the case, a dog provides the answer, because they need to be taken out regularly, and they give us a reason for doing what we’re doing when we do get out there. A young, energetic dog may keep its owner quite literally on their toes, marching briskly to keep up with their furry friend.
In addition to the exercise we find ourselves doing, having a dog has been shown to be good for our health in other ways. It can lower blood pressure, improve our mood and result in a more positive outlook in general. Faster recovery from illness and fewer days off work and school are other reported benefits. Dogs can give us a reason to get up in the morning and bring a smile to our face, intentionally or otherwise – and some dogs are comedians who enjoy doing their party piece for us.
Taking the dog for a walk can be a great way of meeting people. Dog walkers immediately have something in common with other dog walkers, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation. Even with people who don’t have a dog, they might find yours cute, or if the dog is old and fat, you can make some remark about how slow they are. Even if it doesn’t lead to friendships, just passing the time of day in this way is good for us.
They can help us raise children
A youngster may not like being given household chores to do, but if they love the dog and are given the task of feeding, washing the food bowl and eventually taking them for a walk, it can be a great way of creating a sense of responsibility and generally helping out.