March 04, 2006


Doggedly in Love

Do humans really love?

It's one of those philosophical and scientific questions that the more dogged among us sometimes ask ourselves. In this instance, the question is spurred by an entry (a series of entries, actually) in a blog that I read called Dogma, written by Gina Spadafori. (Mike has her Dogs for Dummies book, a fact that's likely made him a bit easier for me to train.)

Apparently, there are humans who believe that dogs are incapable of love, which is interesting considering the current state of the human-run world. There are wars in which humans who all say they believe in God seem Hell-bent on killing each other in the most horrible ways over matters that are maddeningly unclear to your average canine. There are human growls of hate that spread like venom all over the Internet, human-on-human massacres and mass mutilations the world over, and the development of incalculably cruel weapons capable of destroying millions and perhaps billions. And all this from the one species on the planet capable of love?

I don't know. Maybe humans are just creatures of instinct, little more than sock puppets driven by chemicals and conditionings of which they're barely aware.

Take the case of romantic love, on which so much of human art depends. An article in the LA Times notes that "recent research suggests that romantic attraction is in fact a primitive, biologically based drive, like hunger or sex." Humans know this by sticking each other in magnetized metal tubes (what other species would create such a thing?) and watching how their brains work. The evidence reportedly shows that "the neural mechanisms of romantic attraction are distinct from those of sexual attraction and arousal."

There's something about dopamine receptors and states of euphoria and craving. Being in love is apparently a lot like being addicted to some mind-altering substance that makes you feel wonderful, which may be why humans in love seem to a lot like cats who've had a healthy dose of catnip: happy and wacky and purring with desire.

Here's a bit of irony for the dogs-can't-love group: one of the ways in which humans have studied romantic love is by studying animals during courtship. Dr. Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love, did research in which she looked at various chemical compounds in the human brain because the "attraction animals feel for particular mates is linked with elevated levels of dopamine and/or norepinephrine in the brain." Not so surprisingly, "all three of these chemicals produce many of the sensations of human romantic passions."

Yes, I know there are human loves other than romantic love. There are many kinds of important, emotional bonds that form between people who need people, who are reportedly the luckiest people in the world. But what would those MRI machines show if we looked at the bonds that people feel for family members and bonds that dogs feel for their pack members? I suspect (though I don't wish to be crammed into a metal tube to find out) that the brain patterns would be somehow similar, just as the chemical processes inside courting animals and courting humans are similar.

We species of the Earth are not, perhaps, so dissimilar as some believe. Which both gives me comfort and makes me wonder. It gives me comfort to believe that humans really can feel love, despite their unmatched propensity for horrific violence and hate. But it makes me wonder if we dogs are really as admirable as some believe. If we were given opposable thumbs, would we also devise such instruments of destruction? And would we begin to believe that other species, no matter how clever, are little more than biological machines?

Hey Hank, I don't think our people would keep us in the life we have become accustomed to if we didn't love them....Sugar.
Emotions in social animals is a subject that has long fascinated me. Nice post.
if we had many things like humans: opposable thumbs, the drive to improve, the drive to gain, being able to sort and place value on things, a precise toungue and a set of lips... i believe we would eventually make this world we live in the same way the humans have already done.

and we would "love," the same way humans do. //-endo
It's clear to me that humans really love, if only to love their dogs. And I believe dogs can also love. It's a question of faith.
Sad but true! Humans seem so willing to receive love, but not so willing when it comes to giving love back. Or at least they give love back only to those that are 'acceptable'.

Wonderful post.
Hey Hank,

Some humans bark that love is a give and take thing. My typist says it's a give thing. I agree. Mom and Dad give to me. I give to them. Everydog/one feels good. What's the problem?


The dogs-can't-love group are the same people who are so dead set on feeling superior just for being human that they will latch onto any cackamammy idea that promises to keep them emotionally at the top of the heap.

It used to be tool-using, then it was brain laterality and now its "love." Sheesh, I bet you and the other dogs Hank could teach us "monkey minds" a thing or two about REAL love!
Not sure what I'd do without your dlog, Hank.
Always a pleasure!
You are so wise, Hankster. Thanks for your thoughts on this issue. ... Gina
Animals respond to the environment much as humans do, reacting emotionally to others and even becoming stressed and anxious in times of danger. These emotions have a marked effect on their behaviour but while researchers may never be able to know how animals actually feel, studies have found that there are definite behavioural similarities in emotional expression between animals and humans. Nice reads thank you Hank!
HI! Came over from Kimananda's - Maybe dogs don't love like people love, but the two at my feet sure make me feel loved; and accepted; and lovable; and happy -- and I hope I do the same for them.

Now the cat - he's another story. Not sure he can love. But, he can purr, which is cool.

Great blog. I'm glad I was reeled in by Hank's handsomeness.
I miss my little monster so much soley because I know how much she truly loved me. I'm lucky I got to love her.

Thanks, Hank.

Also, love the "Big Dog, Little Dog" series. Great pics. A little dog, Daphne, sometimes stays with me when her mom and day are away.

You're probably right, unless of course we've simply conditioned them to reward us in the style to which we've become accustomed.

Hi Gary,

Thanks. Social animals. It's an interesting term, isn't it?

Hi Endo,

I wonder. I think of all the great apes and how different they are. Maybe we're somehow more than the sum of our parts.

Hi Kimananda, love. Two intangibles that define us. Maybe it's not a material world after all.

Hi Furkids,

Thanks. It's a good thing some of us are acceptable.

Hi Freda,

You're right. It's not the giving that's the problem. I think maybe it's the withholding.

Hi Joy,

You're probably right. It's just one of a long line of cockamammy notions.

Hi Klaneeko,

Thanks so much!

Hi Gina,

Thanks for the inspiration and insights your posts provided.

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your articulate insights.

Hi MaryBishop,

Welcome and thanks. Glad you're a sucker for a pretty face.

Hi Eponine's Cowboy,

Sounds like she was lucky to have you, as well. Please say hi to Daphne.
Hi Hank,
I just found your blog. Not only do dogs feel love, but I have a post on my blog about HOW dogs love. Here's the link:
Great reminders that make a huge difference in the quality of life. I think every single point on this list is important, thanks for sharing.
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