When I walk in our front door, my dogs are happy to see me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone for hours or days. I know they’re happy because they wiggle, dance and squirm. Their tales wag excitedly and they push each other out of the way, trying to get closer to me. They are happy to see me because they love me.
It seems obvious to me that dogs feel emotions similar to humans. In reality, however, the existence of emotions in animals has long been a point of scientific dispute. In fact, 17th-century scientists and philosophers such as René Descartes and Nicholas de Malebranche asserted that dogs were nothing more than living machines that can be programmed to do things. They believed that given the proper stimulus and motivation a dog could be easily programmed, but that they feel nothing and know nothing.
Modern science has evolved from that theory, and come to recognize that animals have a similar chemistry, hormones and even brain structure as those that create emotions in humans. Because a dog’s neurology and chemistry are similar to a human being, it’s sensible to assume that our emotional ranges are similar, but that’s not exactly the case. Yes, it’s true that dogs have emotions which are similar to ours, but not the same as a fully-developed adult human. Research indicates that dogs have the emotional ranges and mental abilities comparable to that of a two to two-and-a-half year old human.
We’ve all read the romantic stories of artists and their muses. The muse provided the artists with companionship and sometimes appeared in their work; the artists often created work that either directly or indirectly included their muse. To prepare for this article, I got lost in the research. I came across a story about two socialite sisters named Claribel and Etta Cone who provided motivation and inspiration for Henry Matisse; another about how a beautiful young woman named Joanna Hiffernan inspired some of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s most important works, and another on how Dora Maar, a French poet, painter and photographer, was the muse for several of Pablo Picasso’s sad portraits. As was his custom, another woman named Marie-Thérèse Walter became the inspiration for many of Picasso’s later portraits.
Andrew Wyeth was inspired by a woman named Helga Testorf, who was his sister’s housekeeper; Edouard Manet saw Victorine Meurent running through the streets and was instantly intrigued. She became such an important catalyst for him that she inadvertently inspired him to change his artistic style. There is the beautiful but tragic story of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel and the equally sad story of Edie Sedgwick, who became one of Andy Warhol’s primary muses.
But it’s not just other humans that provide inspiration and companionship to artists. Some very special canines played the role of muse for many famous artists of the past, and wound up making an appearance in their paintings and photographs.
There are many angels in the pet rescue world. I’m consistently amazed by some people’s willingness to donate their time, resources and skills to better an animal’s life. It’s heartwarming. Not to get too sentimental here, but its stories like these that renew my faith in humanity. When you spend time researching and writing about animals, you come across some pretty horrific articles. Then, thankfully, you read stories about organizations that take the bitter taste out of your mouth. These organizations and the volunteers who make it all happen are heroes.
Geography can be a problem when it comes to abandoned pets that need new homes and people who are searching for a pet to share their life with. Generally speaking, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and California have an overabundance of animals in the shelter system. Conversely, states like Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, New York and even Florida typically have more potential adoptees than animals. Solving this logistical problem and finding a way to get the pets to people who could adopt them used to be impossible. But now, thanks to pet flight rescue organizations, all that is changing.
Pet flight rescue organizations are a fairly new concept. These non-profit groups find a way to connect general aviation pilots with animal rescue volunteers to fly homeless and abandoned pets to safe havens; to areas where they can find forever families that will take good care of them, feed them a healthy pet food like CANIDAE, and offer them a lifetime of love and companionship.
When you share your life with a dog and there are no other humans living in your house, your pet may become so accustomed to interacting with your gender that she develops a fear of the opposite sex. Not the sex opposite from her, but the sex opposite from you! This can become a serious issue. Since your dog has limited opportunities to interact with the other gender on a regular basis, they are strange and unusual to her. She may react badly towards them.
I’ve seen it from both sides. My cousin lives alone with his German shepherd mix, Leon. These two are inseparable; the dog goes everywhere with him. People often talk about the special bond my cousin and Leon have, and it is a beautiful thing to see. The other side of the coin, however, is that the dog is not friendly towards women. It’s so bad that he will snarl and show his teeth when a woman is anywhere near. He behaves differently towards men.
A neighbor friend and her roommate live with a tiny Chihuahua named Brutus. The two women and Brutus take long walks every afternoon. Whenever my husband and I happen upon them, Brutus allows me to pat him but he won’t let my husband within a 10 foot radius. The women say Brutus acts that way towards all men.
Have you ever noticed your cat wrinkle up his nose like he smells something rancid? He may also lift up his head a bit and even pull back his lips, almost like a cartoon snarl or grimace. If you have seen it, you would know. It’s a distinctive look that catches your attention. Sometimes referred to as making a funny face or pulling a stinky face, this look is a real thing. It’s a biological response with a technical name: it’s called a Flehmen Response or a Flehmen Reaction. Sometimes the verb is shortened and simply called flehming.
Fun fact – Flehmen is a German word that means “lip curl” or “curl the upper lip.”
Some pet owners see their cat with a Flehmen Response and mistakenly think he is panting. Unlike dogs, cats don’t pant much. In most cases, cats only pant under extreme circumstances such as when they are in an overly stressful situation, when they are becoming dangerously overheated or when they are in labor.
So when your cat makes that funny face, even though it looks like he is either panting or smelling something bad, it’s really quite the opposite. When your cat has a Flehmen Response, he smells something he likes and he wants to further investigate the odor. That facial position allows him to taste the good smell so he can gather more information about it. Cats have a finely honed sense of smell, but the action is not all located in their noses.
We all know how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is. In fact, smell is a dog’s primary sense; they interpret the world predominately through their olfactory system while humans interpret the world predominately through our visual system. Even so, both humans and dogs use senses to understand what’s going on around them. But did you know that, just like humans, dogs rely on more than just their senses to figure things out? Dogs are experts at reading body language, and not just each other’s. In the same way that humans have learned to read canine body language, dogs can read human body language. Our movements, posture and even our glances tell our canine companions a lot about what we are thinking and feeling.
Have you ever glanced over at your dog’s leash? If your dog sees you look at his leash, what does he do? My dogs jump up and run to the door, ready to go on a walk. I used to think their reaction was based on the time of day, because we usually keep a pretty regular walk schedule. To rule that out, I looked at the leash random times and got the same reaction. Because I didn’t say the tell-tale “w” word, I knew they were not reacting to my verbal cue. And because it was at an unusual time, I knew they were not reacting to a specific time of day. No. They were reading my body language!
Social cognition is a popular field of study, and research into a dog’s ability to pick up on human behavior signals is thriving. It’s long been understood that most social mammals are adept at reading cues from members of their same species, but the study of social cognition recognizes that dogs are amazingly good at reading human body language. A dog’s social cognition crosses species type.
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