Greg Kincaid is the author of A Dog Named Christmas. His next book, the prequel Christmas with Tucker, comes out in November and is now available for preorder at Amazon.com, BN.com, Borders.com, and all major retailers. You can also read Greg’s previous blog posts for Petfinder and visit him at www.facebook.com/authorgregkincaid.
I grew up in rural Kansas with three rules. The first two were easy: Be truthful. Respect others. The third one was harder to figure: Humans on the inside and animals on the outside. Each species had its own unique place. Cows were in the pasture, horses in the paddock and dogs on the back porch or in their doghouse.
My grandfather, a dog lover to the core, would have thought it cruel to keep a dog locked up inside a house, constrained from his dog responsibilities: chasing rabbits, swimming in the pond, howling with the local coyotes, napping under a shade tree, or just waiting for my grandfather to come in from a hard day’s toil in the fields. In his eyes, a dog was innately happier when residing in the wild kingdom.
Although I wasn’t there, I think my wife — a certified city girl — probably grew up with similar rules, with one difference: Telling the truth and being kind to others are good ideas, but when it comes to the third rule, dogs always belong on the inside, preferably on your lap.
Perhaps dogs are torn, too. After all, they must traverse back and forth, surviving in both animal and human territories.
What is the best environment for a dog? Are dogs, like other domesticated animals, perfectly suited to spending most of their time living out of doors? Or have the human and canine species so evolved, side by side, that Fido is now part of our human pack, fit to be accorded space, not only within our hearts, but also in our homes?
Over the coming weeks, Petfinder will be sharing a few chapters from the book with you. We want to use this forum to encourage discussion among Petfinder friends over this important question: Where does a dog belong?
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but to kick off the discussion, I think we can agree on a few assumptions:
First, dogs, like humans, are emotionally driven creatures. They too experience fear, anger, love, loneliness, joy and jealousy — to mention only a very few emotions. Neurologists would support us in this assumption by pointing out that dogs, humans and other mammals are all endowed with a limbic brain, which is where emotions originate.
Second, we now understand that staying healthy is not just about eating right and exercising. Being healthy is also about establishing “limbic connections,” or emotional ties, with our fellow mammals. There is a great deal of research in this area, but researchers have come to an interesting conclusion that won’t be surprising to pet lovers: The sense of connection that is so important to our well-being can be established between two members of the same species (human to human) or between two members of different mammal species (human to dog or goat to horse).
What does this mean to the inside-or-outside debate? Are the city folks right, or does rural wisdom prevail?
To live a healthy life, dogs and humans need to do the same things: Eat right, exercise and stay connected. If you spend most of your life outdoors, like my grandfather, then by all means have your dog outdoors with you. Romp, roam and be companions. But if, like most of us, your leisure time tends to take place on a sofa and not in a canoe, then inside is where your dog belongs.
However — and I would be interested in knowing what others think — I don’t necessarily conclude that a pet can’t, like us, benefit from some “alone time.” Is it just a matter of degree or frequency? Do individual species have varying emotional needs just like we do? How do puppies differ from adult dogs? How do cats differ from dogs? Are responsible pet parents like responsible parents of children — fostering independence and not dependence in their young? I don’t know the answers, but these are interesting questions for pet lovers to consider.
Still, chances are you’ll rarely go wrong by opening the door and letting your pet inside or, if he’s outside, getting up and joining him. “Beside you” may very well be the best answer to the outside-or-inside debate.
What do you think?
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