Updated: Jul 5, 2018
My dog is always on hand for affection. A dog is often thought of as synonymous with loyalty. We refer to our canine companions as 'man's best friend'....as offering unconditional love, dependable, loving, part of the family. I know little about wolf and pack behaviour (for that, visit the page of the excellent Shaun Ellis), but what I do know is just how my own dog makes me feel. She is always on hand to listen to me, to walk with me (even from apparent deep sleep she can sense me putting on my shoes), to be stroked and fed. She allows me to care for her, nurture her, play with her, talk about and to her (every dog owner will testify that their dog understands them), be in charge (sometimes!), explore with her, hunt with her and be constantly in her company. I don't know many people who would tolerate all that! And with that, comes the feeling of being loved, connected, important and responsible. Powerful feelings in a world where sometimes technology and busy lives leave us feeling all too alone.
Being Limbic Brain dominant (a dog's cortex is around 7% of their brain as opposed to our over thinking, language heavy, problem solving and analysing cortex which is on average 35%), a dog provides relationship without complexity. Attachment without evaluation or judgement.
Key skills of relationship building, essential for the development of healthy attachments are explored in the company of a dog (and indeed other animals too) as children (and adults sometimes too) are naturally drawn to animals who offer connection without complication, and carry out tasks such as feeding, cleaning and caring. In this, children can explore the feelings of power and responsibility, play with conversation and communication and transpose their feelings onto those of the dog. The dog becomes a metaphor for the expression of their inner reality. All in the safety of relationship with an animal who will never betray their feelings.
I know that it is not quite that straight forward. I know that I am massively oversimplifying. I know that some dogs (mine often) will not respond to our heartfelt gestures inviting reciprocation, need regular exercise, routine, healthy diet and so on...And I know that dogs can also generate stress...(my own for example, being fearful of other dogs, cats, tractors, plastic bags and shadows can significantly raise my cortisol levels on a walk). This can pose challenges to say the least. However, even in the midst of these challenges, once an animal becomes 'our own', and is transposed from 'pet" into 'family member', a feat achieved by the chemical response of attachment (namely buckets of oxytocin once again!) this, I believe only strengthens the resolve to work with, problem solve and exercise greater effort to train, tame and integrate our dear ones. Perhaps this also can help understand and work with other family members who offer similar challenges!!
So, in summary, I am a strong believer and advocate of animals in the lives of children, in homes, in education, in care settings...in every possible setting where children (and adults) might benefit from the support and connection of relationship and affection. Not once in a while, not only on 'bring your dog to work day', but all the time....why would you choose to leave your best friend behind?