Canine Corner

The human-animal bond

Dog Philosophy 101: What Dogs Teach Us About Life

A lighthearted look at what we can learn from our dogs.

dog dogs canine canines pet pets philosophy social bond clinical political
I recently was pleased to receive an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of Guelph. As part of the ceremony I was asked to give a convocation address to the university graduates majoring in the social sciences. Rather than give the usual "inspirational" speech, I chose to give a lighthearted talk about what we can learn from dogs in terms of the philosophy of life. I decided to present this material it as if it were a summary of a university course which I named “Dog Philosophy 101.” The talk appeared to be well received, and when I returned home I found a flock of e-mail messages asking me to publish my brief little address. In response to those requests I give you an outline of Dog Philosophy 101.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

 *****
It seems to me that you never stop learning. I, for instance, seem to learn a lot from just watching my dogs. In fact it is from my observations of the behavior of my dogs that I recently came to the conclusion that the modern university curriculum seems to suffer from a major deficiency in preparing you for your future life and career. Fortunately some knowledge of the philosophy of life that dogs follow can remedy the situation. Therefore, in order to fill what I see as a major gap in your education I'm going to take a few minutes of the time allotted to me here to give you your last course before you graduatethis course is Dog Philosophy 101. It is a multidisciplinary course which has implications for a variety of other fields of study.

 To begin with, for all disciplines that require research the dog philosophers have established a basic principle. The principle is that if you can't find what you're looking for use your nose. Simply sniff around. If this doesn't find what you are looking for, start digging. If you still haven’t found it then dig deeper. If you find yourself in too deep, stop digging. Climb out of the hole, lie down on the grass and just rest a bit. Sometimes we find what we're looking for when we stop looking.

On issues of law, morality, and ethics, the dog philosophers teach that sometimes you are allowed to break a few rules—so if the occasion arises, go for it. However, it is also the case that when it is in your best interest you should practice obedience.

In the area of business management and leadership, the dog philosophers offer a basic experimental procedure. If you think you are a person with some influence, try ordering someone else's dog around. It doesn't work. This experiment demonstrates that a dog will work for you if he likes you, and it also shows that he will work even harder if he also respects you. Remember that this principle works not only in dog pack hierarchies, but also in herds of people.

In the realm of communication, the dog philosophy is quite clear. Good communication is 99% listening and only 1% barking. How things are said is usually more important than what is said. Ultimately this leads to the principal that one should avoid biting when a simple growl will do. Avoid growling when a simple snarl will do. And avoid snarling when a simple stare will do. In practical applications the rule of thumb is less barking and more tail wagging.

In matters of politics and geography you should know your own turf and know the territory of others. It is important to let others know when they have invaded your space. However when loved ones return to your home space it is your duty to run up and greet them.

On the issue of temporal cosmology, the dog philosophers are very clear—stay in the present—that’s where you can have an effect, and where you are likely to find the treats. If for some reason you cannot maintain your hold on the present, take a nap.

Perhaps the greatest influence of dog philosophy is in the areas of social and clinical psychology. The canine philosophers say that it is okay to thrive on attention and to let people touch you. They also have reached the conclusion that if someone is having a bad day the best therapy is to simply be silent and to sit close by them. If you don't know what to say, say nothing. If you do know what to say, say nothing. In both cases it is therapeutic to nuzzle them gently.

What I have given you here is the general outline of Dog Philosophy 101, or at least the Coles Notes version of it. The good news is that there will be no written exam for this course. There is a practicum however to see whether you have learned the essence of the material—it is called the rest of your life.

If you have difficulty remembering this material, just keep in mind what the greatest of all dog philosophers, Lassie, said in summarizing the essence of dog philosophy. “Harr-ruff Ruff!”

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome

 Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

more...

Subscribe to Canine Corner

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?