Deconstructing Dog Lovers

Parsing the bond between people and pets

| July 26, 2007

Even though the reliable affection of a dog is a comfort to many humans, some continue to view the bond between pets and their owners as a 'meager substitute' for relationships with other people. In an essay for American Sexuality Magazine, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor Alice A. Kuzniar says that 'dog love' can also be seen as 'natural,' and 'unaffected and genuine, even as an ideal of harmony.'

'Taken seriously,' Kuzniar writes, '[pet love] calls for us to redefine bonds of privacy, succor, and habituation.' Humans rise early to walk their dogs before work, nurse them when they get old, and lean on canines for companionship in times of need. Such mutual devotion has long given dogs qualities that go beyond those of a simple pet. Dogs don't occupy a single role for humans, Kuzniar observes; rather, they are able to simultaneously act as 'guardian, lover, companion, or child.'

Regardless of the role they play in our lives, the relationship between dogs and humans can be seen as a kind of 'evolutionary trick,' according to Jon Katz, who writes the 'Heavy Petting' column for Slate magazine. Katz quotes John Archer, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England, saying, 'Being attached to animals is not, strictly speaking, necessary for human health and welfare.' Archer's research suggests that dogs are 'social parasites' -- expert manipulators of human emotions who've broken countless wills with downcast faces and soft whimpers.

Katz points out that, in spire of their parasitic tendencies, dogs do offer more than any simple stomach bug. We give dogs food and shelter, and in exchange, they give us comfort and affection. Dogs have adapted to humans, and in turn, humans lavish affection and creature comforts on their dogs. 'To grasp this exchange doesn't trivialize our love,' Katz writes, 'it explains it.'

Go there >> On Intimacy with Dogs

Go there, too >> Why People Love Dogs

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