Why Dogs Often Make Us Better People

As humans, we’re smart—but not so smart that we can’t learn a thing or two from these creatures.

Never expecting a tribute in print is one of the many adorable traits of a good pet dog. For a job well done, he (or she, there being mercifully just two canine genders) is perfectly happy with nothing more than a biscuit, a pat on the head, or a scratch behind the ear. But a good dog deserves so much more.

I’m not sure where my love of dogs comes from, but it’s been a powerful impulse for as long as I can remember. Any time I see someone walking one, my eyes go straight to the canine after no more than a momentary glance at the owner. I feel an immediate connection—to the dog.

At ages 12 and 14, my two rat terrier rescues are senior citizens. They’re still in reasonably good health, but I dread the day when they won’t be around to greet me when I come home or make sure I get my daily walks. Like all the dogs I’ve had before, I know I’ll never forget them—their loyalty, their quirks, or even their occasional annoyances that were often for my own good.

Every decent dog owner knows his dog is special, and in that, every dog owner is exactly right. The more you love a dog, the more he pays you back in ways nobody else sees or knows. You feel it deep down, and I think he does too. They’re called “man’s best friend” for good cause. I don’t doubt for a minute that I’m a better person because of what my dogs have done for me.

Unyielding Loyalty

We naturally miss our canine friends when they’re gone, but stories abound of dogs that also miss the humans they love.

In Cadiz, Spain, there’s a street named for a dog named Canelo who walked regularly to a local hospital with his master, who received dialysis treatments there three times a week. When the owner died, Canelo was cared for by local residents, who watched him walk to that same hospital and wait outside three faithful times each week for the next 12 years. After the passing of his master, Hachiko returned every day for the following nine years at the same time to the same train station where he had always met his owner upon his return from work.

A statue in Toyko honors an Akita named Hachiko. After the passing of his master, Hachiko returned every day for the following nine years at the same time to the same train station where he had always met his owner upon his return from work. (Editor’s note: Hachiko was the inspiration for the 2009 film Hachi, starring Richard Gere.)

On my last visit to Scotland a few years ago, I made a point to take a slight detour as I walked the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. I wanted to see the monument to “Greyfriars Bobby,” a little Skye Terrier who lived from 1855 to 1872. Though there is some dispute about certain details of the story, he apparently guarded and slept on his master’s grave for 14 years after his master’s untimely death. (You can read about him here.)

And who can forget the image of the retriever named Hawkeye who stayed for hours by the coffin of his owner, a Navy Seal who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when the helicopter he was riding in was shot down?

And don’t forget the indispensable work canines do as service dogs, guide dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs, and war dogs—all for the purpose of helping their human friends. Perhaps you think they’re just “dumb animals” who know nothing but what instinct and human training tell them to do. I can’t prove it, but I’ve always thought the bond I’ve had with my dogs was deeper than that.

A century and a half ago, a young lawyer and later US Senator named George Graham Vest delivered the best speech on dogs, ever. He said in part, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.”

Dogs Make Us Better

They’ve made me more fully appreciate unconditional love, commitment, and life itself. I have so many more reasons to smile and feel good, even inspired, when I’m around them.

Knowing that my two terriers won’t be with me much longer has prompted me to think about the effect they and all my previous mutts have had on me. Because of these adorable and loyal critters, I believe I’m a more disciplined person. Like clockwork, they let me know when they need to go outside or for a walk or be fed. They’ve made me more fully appreciate unconditional love, commitment, and life itself. I have so many more reasons to smile and feel good, even inspired, when I’m around them. When I take them for an unleashed hike through the woods, their excitement and boundless energy remind me how important freedom is, even to our intelligent four-legged friends.

I could go on and on, but if you’re a long-time dog owner, you know what I’m talking about. I hope you’ll go out of your way, as I plan to do today, to let your dog(s) know how much you appreciate them.

As humans, we’re smart—but not so smart that we can’t learn a thing or two from these creatures. Maybe dogs are God’s way of telling humankind, “You can do better.”

More by Lawrence W. Reed

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