The Dogs We Meet: Follow Their Lead

Two sidewalk pals, outside a restaurant. (

Two sidewalk pals, outside a restaurant. (

[This article’s first posting had a bad link. This repost will work.] You see them everywhere, day and evening, high-stepping amid urban decay, trotting through trim suburbs, meandering in the country. They may be in a store where clerks don’t mind looking the other way, behind lawn fences low enough to catch their eyes, or tapping their paws against the front glass windows of apartments you may pass.

You should meet them soon. Like maybe today – and meet as many of them as you can, actually. We all know who they are, even if we’ve never met them. After you meet them, follow them to where they lead, figuratively if not literally.

A curious fellow. ( 2013)

A curious fellow. ( 2013)

They’re cute and new, middle-aged and ugly, ancient and dignified.

They can be remotely indifferent, skittishly fearful or wildly exuberant.

They may yip, yap, growl, sniff and snarl. Alert, sluggish, delicate, thick, shiny, shaggy, snappish, playful.

You may have never wanted one or lived with one. You may still pine for one you’ll never forget.

But there’ll always be one around, just in case you’re willing to acknowledge them and say hello or permit them to otherwise make their existence known to you however they chose to. Sometimes they react so eagerly that it almost seems like they’ve been ready all day, waiting just to give you some news.

For just when you think you’re checking in with them, you may find that you’re really checking in with yourself.

Disabled but happy. ( 2013)

Disabled but happy. ( 2013)

If you chose to honor them by even the brief flash of a furtive smile,  you’ll find that these familiar strangers can distract an anxious concern or reset your thinking to regain a lost thought. They’ll evaporate despondency and refresh hope. Especially if you’re lucky enough to meet one with only three legs who’s loving life like nobody’s business.

If you will meet one, at the very least you’re likely to experience an astonishing if brief spike of mood, a momentary jolt out of your head that may be long enough to releases the natural joy we all too often subconsciously repress.

Ambling, lumbering, whizzing, careening: these odd-shaped, mysterious bundles of energy which some Human long ago declared to be “Dog.”

More often than not, when there’s a Human rushing along a sidewalk to make a scheduled meeting, jogging through a park to sustain a fat-burning cardio rate, or shouting into a car dashboard speakerphone and using time efficiently while stuck in traffic, there’s also a Dog within range of sight.

A little fellow wants to say hello. ( 2013)

They may be peeing, sniffing or sitting dutifully at the end of a leash, hanging out a car window, or fetching a ball on a sloping greensward: but they are there if we look around.

The hits of joy any Human can get from the Dogs we meet begins with putting into practice a small habit which may lead us to follow them.

All it takes is looking at them. You don’t have to tell them how good they are or ask them how their day is going in baby talk. You need not even bend your knee to them, brush their ear, ruffle their fur or press your face to their head.

You only need to catch their eye.

As you train yourself to begin noticing Dogs everywhere, you’ve find you can continue doing the important things you must do, if you really must. Once you get into this habit, however, you will likely find that you do put a pause on whatever it is that is causing you to furrow your brow. Soon enough you’ll find that looking at a Dog for even one second will defrost your happiness and let it flow a bit more easily. And it’s all for free.

Beach retriever. ( 2013)

Beach retriever. ( 2013)

By their unambiguous animation Dogs possess the power to remind us that we are more than the sum of our Facebook “likes,” Twitter followers, our ancestor or children, new shoes, new apps and new cars. We are not our age, race, gender, weight, height or salary. We transcend such mortal fixations if we begin to follow a Dog’s lead.

We may be aware of how other people will judge the way “our” Dog looks, but they don’t care what other Dogs think about the way we look. Or how they look, for that matter.

In fact, beneath those filters which we learn to place on our words and deeds in guard against the judgment of other Human Beings, we might even secretly suspect that we can still share something elemental with them.

What are Dogs? Are they aliens? Perhaps what we best recognize and find familiar about Dogs is that we share a basic, theoretical definition, an amalgam of primal intuitions, survival instinct and unquenchable desire for social interaction, propelled to see what a new day will bring by an ultimately unknowable, unstoppable yet tangible force of Nature.

Low-rider. ( 2013)

The learned of our species have told us to believe that Humans are more evolved than Dogs because our brains function with more elaborate complexity, resulting in an ability to organize the days of our existence with structure, and then categorize the experiences of those days so that we can derive from it all a sense of meaning.

We presume that it is only by constructing this process of meaning, that we can feel those sensations we label as “joy” and “happiness.”

Along the way, some pretty smart Humans figured out how to shake some money and gain some power from training us to find meaning in the beliefs and products they had to sell us – if we signed on for it all.

Dogs aren’t in on this deal. They can’t use credit cards on ebay, program GPS or multiply dividends. Of course Humans believe that the more elaborate the complexity the far more supreme it is. Of course we do. After all, we’re only human.

Yet by the very abstract method with which we presume Dogs perceive existence, they may well be the ones enjoying more evolved lives in this very same world we share with them.

Dogs don’t communicate what they “think about life ” through the accurate precision of spoken language. Talking, in a sense, may be far too pedestrian for them, too didactic, burdensome and time-consuming. They don’t need to save old copies of Living Simple magazine. They already know all that stuff. And they seem to presume that we still do too, somewhere within us.

Happy bulldog. ( 2013)

Go ahead and think of Dogs as less evolved. Call them dumb.

They don’t care.

The fact that they’re not even aware of such classifications existing may actually be the first of several clues about just which of the species is more evolved.

They don’t perceive us as inferior.

They forgive, forget, shower patience and affection to a degree no Human is capable of doing – and have faith that we are capable of comprehending why they do this.

Dogs still avidly show their appreciation, even if we fail to provide their most basic functional needs. Most crushing of all is how abused Dogs perpetually renew their trust, hoping Humans will revere them as much as they do us. They will prove their undying loyalty by trying to find a way to come home, even after being dumped in abandonment.  They will endure excruciating pain to continue comforting us with their presence even if we refuse to face the truth that nothing beautiful lasts forever.  Especially them.

King of the hill. (

Humans can analyze a Dog’s habits, train them in tasks and tricks, control their behavior and force them into diets and Halloween costumes.

We have even determined that a Dog’s “love” and “loyalty” is really just their survival instinct, their recognition of dependency on us for their survival.

Yet, it is us, the most evolved species, who pursue them, the less evolved species, so willing to become beholden to them. (Look which species provides free food to which species.)

If a Human has once or does now live with a Dog or are around one for any frequent length of time, we are often compelled at some point to perform that peculiarly invasive ritual of just silently staring into the eyes of a Dog.

As many times as we may determinedly do this, intent on decoding their thoughts, we end up with no more definitive answer than the first time we tried.

Yet in the Dogs we meet, Humans will find more than enough evidence of how these little buddhas effortlessly sustain that natural state of bliss which propels their existence.

A curious fellow ready to say hello. ( 2013)

They’re inclined to be happy, so they are.

Keep staring into their eyes. You’ll get no straight answers.

For all their submission, Dogs especially resist our effort to penetrate the mystery of their most singular of inherent gifts: Don’t create problems which don’t exist.

Dogs don’t have separation anxiety until they’re separated. Dogs aren’t aggressive to other Dogs until they encounter them. Dogs don’t hate the vet until they get there.

As they are otherwise pursing their mundane needs and daily routines, Dogs live blissfully because they are living blissfully.

All of them, purebreds to mixed-breeds to three-legged ones live by one mantra: Why worry if you can enjoy?

This simplicity proves too complex for Humans.

Life is far more complex. It’s just not that easy. Emulating a Dog’s view of life is unrealistic. How can you appreciate life without challenge, struggle, and angst to make you more evolved?

We intellectually understand the Dog’s view on life, but somehow we can’t grasp it emotionally.

Young Vizsla. ( 2013)

We wonder in confounding frustration (and bemused jealousy?): “How can a being not born into the most evolved species be so happy – and how can the most evolved species have possibly failed to adapt this skill and not make it our own? 

And to this, Dogs respond with even more heartbreaking magnificence: “Here, take our happiness. We won’t know any is missing. We’ve got a supply that will never end!  Don’t stop to think about it – just take it! What’s ours is yours!

In fact, Dogs will actually beg us to drink from their fountain of joy, for days on end if it they had their way, as long as they can take breaks to eat, sleep and poop.

Never quite able to possess this gift ourselves, we have learned to share what they give us.

Wet Yeller. (

Even better, you don’t need to live with a Dog as your domestic companion to have one offer to share they joy. You just have to meet them.

They’ll offer it even if you’re both just paused on a street corner and you’ve only a second to ruffle their fur or smooth their ears.  With a perpetually open-door of generosity unheard of among the more evolved species, they’re even willing to give joy to those keeping a fearful distance from them or those who are cursing into those hot, little metal boxes pushed up against the side of their heads or who have white cords hanging out of their ears while yelling or singing to no other  visible Human.

That’s fine with Dogs; wave, smile or nod, just be sure to look at them so they can share their beaming  joy for the honor of your presence.

None of this suggests that every Dog is eager to meet every Human up-close. Some have been so physically bruised and emotionally abused that they had to finally override their inclination to love and forced themselves to learn skepticism.

A personal friend, the very happy Whippet named Whitmore. ( 2013)

You can usually determine this in them and the safety of close approach by offering Dogs your downturned “paw.” If they don’t want it, just remember they weren’t always like that.

They may stare at you for a bit before deciding to cautiously approach with curiosity if not enthusiasm. Just before a Dog approaches to meet you with a sniff or a kiss, they will also likely pause,  moving their head slightly aside and rolling their eyes up to catch those of the Human at the other end of their leash.

This gesture by Dogs takes a milli-second; unless you’re closely observing it’s easy to never realize the brilliance of such subtle communication. They seem to “asking” their trusted Human companion about you,  “Mind if it I meet them?”

Unless it’s to protect you or the Dog, its rare to find a Human companion who isn’t eager to let you have a share of the joy they get from the Dog.

In fact, there is no greater proof of how happy a Dog can make a perfect stranger than to be walking one on a leash and see the faces of people who catch their eyes. Somehow, these less evolved beings have a way of making us more evolved ones behave more civilly, socially and kindly to our own species.

Truth be told, most Dogs are very, very happy. Their excitement that you have noticed them is direct and immediate.

Some are so grateful that a stranger returns their smile, wag or look that they cannot physically restrain from showing you their appreciation. There is no greater honor than when a Dog you’ve never met will disobey the Human at the other end of their leash and jump up and lick your face.

Even better is when Dogs gently press themselves against you and tuck their head into the crook of your knee or elbow. And when they do this, it may surprise you, perhaps make your heart beat stronger, yet it has already bared open their hearts.

Shepherd brothers. ( 2013)

By the necessity of our world, the experience can only be momentary, but it is not ephemeral. Do this in one form or another several times in a day and your mood may well rise.

A Dog may not be your  legal “property” but every one of them you see are,  in a sense, all of our dogs. They oblige to share with them the parks and sidewalks they seem to own. They are out there, everywhere.

You may consider them not important enough to notice just right now.

That’s alright, they’ll still watch you and hope to meet you the very next minute.

They detect the slightest tension in jaws, widening of nostrils, or smiles growing across lips.

You might be pressing “2” if your call is about a current account, but their magic scenting ability has already transmitted more information to them about you than all your recent transactions ever could.

Elderly poodle couple Teddy and Tina, ( 2013)

They don’t want to sell you a trial protection plan for a worst-case scenario. They just want to make you smile.

Some Dogs are trained to lead Humans unable to see. No Dogs, however, need training to lead Humans unable to feel.

Five Dogs enjoying the company of themselves. ( 2013)

They do this by leading us to return to the world which is real. They are Nature’s most accessible ambassadors, liaisons to that truthful realm Humans find too elusive to embrace, too easy to ignore, the universal home where designated evolutionary ranking is irrelevant.

If you can spare even one minutes before catching your plane or getting to the dentist, follow a Dog’s lead and open yourself to saying hello.

Even better, look into their eyes if you can. There you can find the solution for again stimulating your senses and finding yourself centered.

And the one of them who looked up. ( 2013)

There’s one caveat to all of this. Given the choice between meeting a new one of us or a new one of them, a Dog will always show more interest in another Dog. Even if we wave biscuits to draw their attention to us.

Perhaps that’s disappointing. Only a less-evolved species would not chose to meet one of the most-evolved our pride might tell us.

By preferring their own kind, Dogs prove that when it comes to socializing, they’re about as equally evolved as Humans.

Stick around, however, until the other Dog has left and the remaining Dog will confirm its comparative evolutionary status.

Somehow, someway, the Dog will find a way to catch your eye and let you know that, to their species, by our simply existing we are always worthy of their love.

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2 replies »

  1. Great post, Carl. I’ve never had a dog that was “my” dog though I’ve been responsible for several dogs.
    I once went to jail for a dog. It was my daughter’s dog; there were outstanding fines for his vagrancy. I’ve always had a cat and sometimes more than one. The thing I really like about cats: They don’t “dog” you. Yet I’ve missed having a dog.

    • Thanks Jim. I think I should have plainly added a sentence up front saying what you do essentially – one can enjoy the company of a dog without “owning” one. But most of all I like the idea of going to jail for a dog….which is not even the one you’ve committed to in your own home! That could actually be a funny movie short I bet. I think cats have their place. There are some breeds of dogs that are rather like cats – indifferent until they want something!


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