The Human-Animal Connection

I imagine most of us have (or have had) animals in our lives – pets at home, livestock on the farm, and so forth. For me, it’s a yellow lab named Buddha. True to his title, he has some calm, composed moments – mostly in the glory of outdoor adventures, but he’s just as much an example of big, slobbery enthusiasm. (Such is the life of a labrador retriever.) He’s been a faithful pal, eager workout companion, and much-needed comic relief more times than I can recall. When I’m in need of time away from society, he gets a special pass to join me. There’s just something different about hanging out with a dog – or most animals, I’d venture to say. There’s more to the human-animal connection, however, than just playing fetch. Throughout human existence, animals have acted as companions, protectors, and workmates. They’ve herded alongside us in the fields, accompanied us in battle, aided us in rescue missions, comforted us in illness and trauma, acted as service animals, stood by as patient and loyal friends. Experts have long examined this deep, even innate bond. Among the more intriguing theories are those that suggest our relationships with animals contributed to our species’ evolution and helped define our very sense of humanity.

Anyone who’s spent much time around small children has seen first-hand the affinity children have for animals. (Maybe you remember your own fascination from those years.) Experts in the field of child development often cite the rich role animals play in the imaginative lives of children as well as the potent influence animals have when included in psychological or medical care for children.

Fast forward to adulthood, and most of us still seek out that inter-species interaction (labelled anthrozoology, by the way). Some 63% of American households have pets. (An untold number are run for, as they say, the sole comfort and convenience of said pet.) We take up bird-watching and wildlife photography. We go on safaris and visit zoos. And then there are the dog shows. (As little TV as I watch, it’s somehow disturbingly easy to get sucked into those, Best in Show parody notwithstanding.) We benefit from the quiet, nonjudgmental nature of their presence. Research has repeatedly shown that humans respond in a unique way to animals in a wide variety of therapy and care settings.

Lest we forget (or go too far down the sentimental path), animals have of course also served as a critical food source. In hunter-gatherer days, hunting represented a fulcrum of human evolutionary progress. Our species certainly benefited from the calorie, nutrient-intense sustenance that game, particularly larger game, provided. It freed us up to do other things besides forage, and it substantially influenced subsequent brain development.

Yet, hunting also served (and still serves, in respectful, responsible hunters today) a life-affirming, reverent purpose. As Ortega y Gasset, Shepard, and others suggest, hunting developed as a uniquely transcendent act in which the animal was honored as fellow participant in the sacred “game” of life and death. As inevitable prey themselves, humans recognized the innate reciprocity, their double-sided participation in the hunter-hunted framework. Hunter-gatherers first developed their skills from observing the techniques of non-human predators. They honored as well as appropriated those skills. The hunt in tribal societies served as a communal, even spiritual ritual that was celebrated in tribal culture through mythic narrative, cave art depictions, and animal figures in ceremonial dance.

Paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman has recently offered another view of how animals contributed to human progress, including evolutionary milestones such as tool-making and language. The first tools, she notes, were designed to dismember the prey we caught – a strategy that meant more meat for the tribe and less for the larger predators that had a way of showing up just in time to enjoy the kill. Cave art and later language developments, she suggests, were developed to record and pass along the knowledge gained regarding animal behavior and characteristics as well as hunting strategies that proved successful.

Our natural affinity for animals, Shipman suggests, took a decidedly significant turn in the domestication process. Our interest in animals and the vast knowledge we had amassed allowed us to build relationships with animals and in turn use that relationship to train them (and later breed them) for our needs. We first domesticated dogs, who undoubtedly helped herd animals for our purposes. We domesticated other species to raise as livestock or help carry or move things we couldn’t with any ease. Domestication allowed us to free up our energy for other purposes.

Shipman theorizes that domestication was the next step in our species’ tool-making progress. In her words, animals became “living tools” for our use. With the advent of domestication, human potential grew exponentially. We were no longer limited to what our own strength and physical ability could accomplish.

For the record, not every thinker is starry-eyed over our leap to domestication. The large-scale domestication of animals, critics like Paul Shepard suggest, may have put us in closer contact with various species (as well as their deadly parasites and disease), but it fundamentally changed the human-animal bond. Quoting ethnoarcheologist Susan Kent, Shepard notes that in “‘groups without domestic animals, both human and non-human animals are viewed as having an intellect – that is, sentience, sociability, and intelligence.” Obviously, it’s a sentiment that dwindled past the Agricultural Revolution, although several recent publications take up the issue through the lens of contemporary research. Even our relationship to modern day pets, critics like Shepard suggest, bare little resemblance to the early domesticated dog-human relationships in pre-agricultural groups. We have infantilized our pets and bred them in such as way that supports a more dependent relationship. (He’s got me there.) Our hunter-gathering days with minimal domestication, Shepard maintains, offered a healthier means (physically and psychically) of simultaneously relating to animal life and gaining the best sustenance from it. Take from the debate what you will, I say.

Thanks for reading today. It’s always fun to take a different course now and then. Let me know what you think – comments, questions, pet pics, what have you. Have a great rest of the week, everyone. For my part, I’m off to play with Buddha.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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79 thoughts on “The Human-Animal Connection”

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  1. I think modern urban people over-do the infantilization of their pets. In a city, a dog has to live in the house, or at least in the fenced-in yard. Thus, she has to be clean, and she has little opportunity to create her own independent social life with other dogs. This is not very healthy for dog or owner: the owner is EVERYTHING to the dog, her companion, her source of food, etc. The owner starts to live to take care of the dog, lets the dog get in the bed, etc.

    A much healthier human-dog relationship exists in rural communities. Dogs can live outside much of the time, and may not have to be fenced in. The rural dogs in my neighborhood in TN socialize with each other and roam the neighborhood, for the most part freely. They take up with any human that happens to be at home or outside working in the garden. They know who their “owners” are, but they have friendly relationships with other humans, and of course other dogs.

    For example, one time I woke up in the night to a sound of snoring. My neighbor’s collie had pushed my front door open, come upstairs, and gone to sleep at the foot of my bed! Later when they moved away, I adopted her. But when I’m away from home, she goes back to her old house and lives with the new inhabitants of that house!

    1. Wow, I sure do hate the free roaming “pet” dogs that live in my neighborhood. They roam around killing small animals, chasing me when I try to go out on my horses, keeping people from walking down the roads because they will be pestered by mangy mutts. Not to mention that you have to drive very carefully to avoid hitting them. Personally I find my neighbors that do this to be slightly lacking in the smarts department, is hillbilly the right word? In this area there is no recourse to make these people behave and care for their animals responsibly until it is too late and they kill or damage your property or are themselves killed by one of the dangers to loose dogs in the country (like a shotgun).

      Sorry for the rant, but I used to like dogs before I moved to the country.

      1. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I’m with Emily on this one. I’m not saying that this is the case all the time, but at least half the time, dogs that are allowed to roam as freely as this are a nuisance (of course, most of the time the demeanor is dependant upon the owner).

        1. I’m also in agreement with Emily here. I’m a dog lover and live in a very rural area. Dogs that are allowed to roam free are a nuisance to others (humans and animals) and a danger to themselves. A dog caught harassing someone’s livestock or chasing deer in the woods is likely to be shot, even those actions may be instinctual.

          Living outside and roaming freely does not equate to a “healthy human-dog” relationship. My Boxer would die of exposure if left outside.

          Dogs have been domesticated to a degree. A well adjusted dog lives within boundaries (literal and figurative) and a good owner figures out a healthy way to use their dogs natural drives and instincts to create those boundaries. A good book on that subject is “Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson. (hope it’s okay to post that, that book has been tremendously useful to me)

        2. I agree with Emily, and the truth is that the majority of rural pet owners do not bother/want to neuter or spay their animals. This creates more dogs running around, and more homeless animals who may not be able to survive on their own. I have a wonderful relationship with my dog Indie(a stray puppy starving to death in a rural area in Texas). I take him on long walks/runs and play fetch, and he is content to sit around and sleep the rest of the time. He seems much happier now than he was as a starving, fearful, rural animal.

        3. I have to agree that from my experience in the animal/pet industry free roaming dogs tend to lack manners/training that are necessary to live in modern neighborhoods. In addition, the outside environment and/or dog pack certainly trumps the owner in terms of the dog’s allegiance. I don’t recommend allowing dogs to free roam.

          That being stated, I wish people’s expectations of their pets were more realistic. It is vital to their well being that we allow them to express natural behavior. Americans, especially, can go too far to the extreme in turning their pets into nothing more than live stuffed animals and adornments. Declawing cats, for example…? Okay, I’ll shut my trap. 😀

      2. This different Emily would like to piggy back on the same sentiment. People who allow their cats to freely roam are contributing to the decline of wild birds. As if those poor feathered guys don’t have enough problems. Keep your cats inside, or at least in your own back yard (when you’re out with them!).

        1. Emily,
          I’d argue that the population of wild birds is greater than it has ever been. Humans, which used to eat a fair number of those little buggers; now legally cannot kill a “songbird”. As for game birds: 30 years ago there were less than 500,000 snow geese, now there are more than 15,000,000 (1 of many similar population booms). Domesticated cats have not been decimating either population.

          When I was a child our cats were outside the majority of the time, and they certainly weren’t killing off the wild birds nearly as quickly as they were the chipmunks and moles.

          There are good and bad aspects of allowing your pets to roam free. They’ll resort to their instinctual behavior and threaten interlopers (you on your walk for example), defecate on poinsettias, etc., but there’s also situations similar to Shannon’s.

        2. Sorry Jason, but you’re totally wrong on this one. Domestic cats are one cause of the decline of songbirds, especially in places like the UK where most people allow their cats to roam freely. Domestic cats in the UK are estimated to kill 55 million birds a year. There are very few species of birds that are increasing their populations; Canada geese are an exception rather than a rule. So Emily is right – please keep your cats inside or under strict supervision.

      3. I don’t hate free roaming dogs at all, even if mutts.
        I do hate it though when they come and sh*t on my lawn!

        1. I hate that too! How am I suppose to workout barefoot in my backyard when the dogg decides to drop his feces right on it!!

    2. I live in a city and have a dog. She has her own couch by the window to watch the world go by, she gets nice walks around the neighborhood, she goes to the dog beach and frolics with other dogs. Not a bad life…I’m a little jealous in fact. 🙂

    3. I have to agree with the others although the picture you paint is a nice one. Dogs roaming free (not all dogs- I’ll give ya that) are a danger not only to themselves and eachother but also to livestock and motorists. Cats roaming free- especially int he city drives me up the wall- aside fromt he songbird issue, diggin and crapping in people’s gardens and landscaping and darting across the road at dusk——man oh man I’ve had some close calls. Not just close to hitting the cats but also to hitting something else while trying to avoid hitting said cats. I have no problem with pets spending time outside, but tie them up for crying out loud.

      1. “man oh man I’ve had some close calls. Not just close to hitting the cats but also to hitting something else while trying to avoid hitting said cats.”

        So in essence, *you’re* behavior is the problem.

    4. When I was a young child (about 8 or so) I remember a free-roaming dog in my grandmother’s neighborhood who loved and played with all of the kids. She was very gentle and naturally protective of us all, herding us out of the street and things like that.

      To my horror, I once witnessed her being savagely beaten with a cane by an old man who had been walking some tiny purebred thing. She had approached them innocently and happily, to greet the new company, but he could only interpret her greeting as an unchained “stray” “attacking” his precious terrier.

      In short, I loved that dog and I think that people who would prefer tiny, chained up, pure-bred, “well-behaved” dogs are complete loons.

  2. My dogs are small, and I couldn’t imagine allowing them run around freely in my neighborhood, but how I miss living in the rural areas where my dogs could run around as they wished. I admit, that they don’t get enough animal interaction (although, when they do, they love it), but interaction with other humans is never a problem. In fact, if my wife and I have visitors, they visitors get more attention. In fact, one morning I couldn’t find one of my dogs and he turned out to be asleep, cuddled up next to my brother-in-law who was visiting from Seattle!

    Anyway, my relationship with my poodles (yes, poodles… my wife’s choice, not mine… but I have no regrets now) may not be the healthiest, but my relationship with my current and past pets have been the most stable, reliable relationship I’ve ever had (I never have to worry about them backstabbing, cheating, or lying to me) and all they ask is for my love and attention.

    So, I wouldn’t worry, Mark. He’s “got me there” too.

  3. I find animal companionship necessary for my emotional health. There’s no doubt that connecting with a [non-judgmental, as Mark put it] pet is therapeutic. However, I’m a cat person and my boyfriend (who I live with) is allergic, so I’m stuck with no pets. Sadly, a goldfish wouldn’t really fill the void.

  4. I really like the idea that animals are to be honored as a sacred part of nature. It seems to me like, as humans, we take an anthropocentric view of the world far to often. We forget that we are animals too. We forget that we are only a small part of a much larger hierarchy of living creatures.

    It makes me very upset to consider the harm we are doing to this hierarchy/ balance. Many species have gone extinct just over the past decade, and for what? A few new mini-malls?

    1. True! One thing I don’t do enough is give thanks to God for providing a means of nourishment, and furthermore, remembering that an animal sacrificed itself for my health and the health of my family.

      1. Not to be too picky, but that animal didn’t sacrifice itself. You killed it. I don’t have any problem with hunting for food, as it’s the way nature works, but the animal wanted to live, just as you do.

  5. If you’re blind,heard sheep or work for the DEA dogs are great and useful. If you have to live with people that have dogs for no reason other than to have something cute depend on them, then dogs are assholes that bark ,shed and beg for scraps.

    I like dogs but only if they’re not mine and I don’t have to live with them.

  6. I have lots of pets (I think as a vet student, it’s a prerequisite). That being said, although each pet is a valued companion and contributes to my mental and physical health (hard to turn down a run when there are pups and ponies begging to be taken for an outing), I think that it’s important to for each pet to have a “job”. Although being a companion was a nice side affect of the evolutionary/domestication process, they were initially domesticated to HAVE a job, and for the DOG’s (or Horse, or anyother commonly accepted domestic “pet”), I believe that the tradition should be continued on.

  7. -The most intelligent dog I ever had was a collie named “Boo Boo”. (There will never be another). An intelligent, well trained dog knows where they are, and are not welcome. Then you have your poor little “mutts”…you could kick them, and they will still come back. (Pigs are smarter than dogs). Green Acres is the place for me. lol.

  8. My relationship with animals is such a contradiction to me. I love my dogs (I have a Buddha of my own) like they are my kids and I have always been really drawn to animals-that led me to being vegetarian. So when that didn’t work out for my health, it has really messed with my head going back to eating meat. My body feels better, but my mind is poking along at it and gets me in trouble.

    1. I hope you come to your own peace over this. I wrestled with the ethicality of eating animals for a while but just couldn’t handle vegetarianism for even a short time. It was far too counter to my psychological and physical needs.

      For me the important thing is to realize that I am really an obligate carnivore if I want to be at my best. I am thankful for the animals I am able to eat while still being sorry they had to die to feed me.

      I am really interested in learning to bow-hunt large game–the idea of really providing my own food is appealing, as is the thought that by ending a single animal’s life I could feed myself, my fiancee and my dog high-quality food for months at a time (in the case of an elk, for instance).

    2. I was vegetarian for four years as a way to boycott CAFOs but now I just make sure to buy meat that had the best life it could. No CAFO meat, but grass-fed, pastured, etc. And since my dog and cat both love meat, I make sure to give them some, too. I no longer equate eating beef with eating my dog, and it’s something we can share together. He’s happy and healthy, and so am I.

    3. I don’t have pets, but I do raise pastured chickens and lambs. I thoroughly enjoy them, but when it’s slaughter day, they have to be slaughtered. I give them the best, happiest life that I can and then enjoy them from my freezer, grateful for each of them.

    4. Think of the sea. Practically everything in it must kill something else in order to survive.

      We don’t like the fact that animals can be happy, and feel pain and make us happy, coupled with the fact that we need to eat some of them. But that’s just the way nature works. Something has to die so that you can live. You shouldn’t feel any more guilty than a lion does. Though I do think we owe it to the animals we eat to give them a full life to a nice relatively old age before we eat them, and kill them relatively painlessly.

  9. Nice post Mark and a topic not often discussed.

    I connected with this post on 2 levels. One being an avid hunter and one who just carried out a successful spring turkey hunt (can anyone say Primal Wild Turkey Tortilla-less Fajitas??) I intimately understand the bond between predator and prey. It requires a living sacrifice in order for us to live another day. Our neolithic lives have separated us from that fact. I personally thank God for each animal he provides my family and I. I have been well blessed this year.
    I am also grateful for the animals ultimate sacrifice. I don’t think many understand this element of the hunter/prey relationship.

    As an extension of this I also keep dogs which are a tool for me in the field. They not only search out and retrieve game, but act as a tool of conservation by reducing lost game. But, my dogs are more than a tool and are companions and friends. No living thing looks at me the way my Deutsch Drahthaar, “Maggie” does.

    I agree we have “humanized” (infantized) our pets possibly beyond what is healthy for them. Interestingly enough, my Primal journey has led me to seek out a more natural, ancesteral diet for her that is free from modern processed pet foods. It was much easier because real data on wild dogs is prevalent, rather than speculative info on pre-modern man. But going along with this is time to behave like a dog, not a well groomed pet. She is not bathed. She is allowed free time off leash (but supervised) in rural areas. She is permitted (even encouraged) to dispatch small game. She is fed a grain free diet, rich in raw protein, fat, nutrient dense raw bone and offal.

    Maggie may actually be more “Primal” than I am….

    1. I actually just switched my cat over to a grainfree diet. It will be interesting to see what happens.

      I agree with you about letting animals be animals. Yes, they aren’t allowed to jump on furniture and do whatever the hell they want…..BUT they aren’t my children and should be allowed to engage in innate behaviors and have an accpetable outlet for them. I think some people let their “sensibilities” get in the away of letting their dogs do this in little ways, that ahve a great effect on the animals psychology in general. For example – my SO doesn’t like his dogs sniffing eachother’s behind’s. I don’t care – it’s dogs doing dog things that don’t impact my life in a harmful way. He doesn’t like to see it though and will tell the dogs to knock it off. I think that one of the ways animals are good for us is it because it causes us to get over some of our sillier sensibilities and be more honest and forthwright. But first, we have to accept that animals are NOT people, have different needs and desires.

  10. Living in the country in the past, meant always having cats and at least a dog. Also meant many strays wandering in and some nt healthy or territorial ( like killing my cats or attacking my dogs) those were usually put down or run off. But it also meant fewer rodents in our house and the bird populations in our trees never dwindled with the cats even keptthe grackles at bay. We often found our local o be the abandonment zone for cats and dogs. So many people abandon cats to the outdoors when the poor cat was never raised on how to hunt. They often didn’t realize mice are food not just toys. These abandoned animals often ended up injured, sick and attacked by loacl animals just guarding their territory/pack.
    I live in the city now and only have one dog. This dog is definitely not a country dog lol. And not a social able dog either much prefers people. But he makes a great companion and copilot for me here in the city.

  11. One thing I hate about the modern domestication of animals is when people get their cats declawed. I think it’s unnatural and cruel. Would you (people who have declawed their cats) like someone to pull out your finger nails so that they never grow back? And not give you a choice in the matter? I imagine it would be worse for a cat since they naturally use their claws a lot more than we use our finger nails. If you’re worried about cats scratching up your furniture, don’t get any cats!
    I’ve had plenty of cats, 3 at the moment, and they all seemed/seem the most lively and happy playing with the small animals they’ve caught, and eventually eating them or just killing them for sport or out of instinct. This has also greatly reduced the number of mice and snakes that get in the house. Anything that detracts from a cat’s natural hunting ability is a cruel thing to do to it.
    They have definitely provided good companionship over the years. Even if one of them is just sitting beside me I feel happier than if I’m totally alone.
    They clearly have “personalities.” They have their own likes and dislikes, differing relationships between the three of them, and they even respond to my facial expressions.
    I have a golden retriever as well and she is a great compainion and workout partner(if a bit needy, demanding, muddy, and uncooperative at times). I like running with her a lot more than running alone. She likes to be chased and since she is more energetic than me this is good for my endurance. It also allows me to feel and move about like I’m on the hunt in the forest because I have to quickly climb or jump over or around or duck and crawl under things that she can get past easily due to her size and four legs. Sometimes the neighbours’ dog, which likes to hang out outside of my house waiting for me to let out mine when I wake up, comes along as well. There’s no keeping up with her though.. I live in a rural area with fields and forests directly outside the house so going out there with the dogs feels like a primal activity. I’ve gone back into cow fields and chased cows with them, which is a lot of fun. One time there was only one cow in a whole field with its calf (I guess the farmer was giving that calf extra time to grow up free range before taking it in for the winter) and I chased the two through a sparse forest with both dogs, which ended up running around them in circles to keep them in one spot. They didn’t try to hurt the cows but just wanted to play. The neighbour’s dog, crazy mutt, even tried to see how close she could get to the mother cow and then backed up quickly when it tried to run over her, a few times. When the cow was just standing there, not willing to go anywhere because of the circling dogs, I got its attention and held out one arm towards it and slowly approached it until my hand was right infront of its nose. It sniffed my hand, then I touched its nose, and it seemed a lot less scared than when we began the chase. I then led the dogs away after that brief interesting encounter.
    One other encounter with an animal I want to mention was with a full grown wild fox. It was very interesting. I was sitting down just inside the edge of a forest and it slowly trotted by me 15 to 20 feet away. Maybe it was investigating the herbal smell wafting into the forest, or maybe it was used to seeing people so it didn’t bother avoiding me on the way to wherever it was going, I don’t know. Anyways the whole time it trotted past me it looked back right at my face and it looked entirely unconcerned and when it turned it’s head forward again I swear that I could notice that it was smiling, as its lip was curled up, the same way that domesticated dogs smile.

    1. I agree, it is totally cruel to declaw a cat. You can teach them not to claw furniture. Most of my cats have had an opportunity to go outside (they were spayed) and hunt so they had an outlet for their “itch” to scratch. My last cat I had to keep inside, my street was too dangerous. I gave him appropriate things to scratch and kept him from ruining the furniture. He was a great pal, he was siamese and I swear he could talk.
      Like one of the previous posters I’m catless now as my SO is violently allergic.

      1. Yeah, it’s wrong to deprive creatures of normal body parts – declawing, wing-clipping, circumcision, cutting off dog tails.

        It’s all wrong. I want to own a bird, like a lovebird, or caique, but I would feel horrible keeping them caged up most of the time. I think any bird that can’t fly freely is suffering.

    2. Totally agree about declawing… but did you know they don’t actually pull out the claw? They amputate at the first knuckle. So, your kitty has basically 2/3rds of a toe. Leads to many problems.

  12. -had a thought…lol…If you are eating more intelligent animals, would that make you smarter? (Maybe I should lay off of the chickens???) lol.

  13. Nice post, Mark. I love my two dogs. People may scoff because they’re small, but they are the best canine companions we’ve ever had. I can’t imagine living without dogs. They bring so much joy and comfort to our lives.

  14. I grew up on a farm. When I was 6 I helped with the first chicken ‘culling’. We had a number of livestock animals – pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, sheep. They weren’t our pets. They were food. They were always treated humanely, with respect and dignity.

    We met someone not so long ago who acquired a dog for his daughter, who is going blind. His demeanor to the dog was indifference. His belief was that dogs (and all other animals) do not have a soul, do not have feelings, cannot think, have no memories, etc. He was not a good owner and eventually gave the dog back to the society who provided her.

    While we humanize our pets, too many people still believe that animals are inferior creatures and therefore can be treated without so much as a thought to their well-being – physically and emotionally.

    People who treat animals this way are not people I like to spend time with. I find there is much lacking in their understanding of the natural world, and their interactions with other people. A dog has emotions. Have you seen a dog dream? All limbs going, barking in his sleep, growling, making faces, etc. A dog feels. Why else would he wince when in pain? Or wag his tail like mad when his human companion comes home from work, or is offered a piece of bacon?

    While we should not humanize our animal companions too much, we must also realize that they have many of the same needs and affections we have and should treat them with respect, love and understanding.

    1. I totally agree with “lacking in their understanding of the natural world”.

      I’ve never understood people, yet nobody has taught me a thing about dogs but I can read them like a book. They DO feel, and THINK, and react emotionally. My dog dropped his favorite toy down a deep ditch and the face he made while it happened was clearly ” Oh f…I can’t believe I dropped it.” I climbed down and rescued his toy…he was so excited while I climbed down and SOOO freakin happy when he had it back. I could really feel his appreciation for what I’ve done for him til hours afterwards.

      I never see any of this in humans…they might act it, but I just don’t buy it. They expect it. Humans are fake, malicious and true friends don’t exist. Everybody always has an agenda.

  15. About 11 years ago, I saw an article in a newspaper in Gallup, NM. I didn’t get a chance to read the whole article, but I got the basics in my head and they never left – the wolf domesticated itself and adapted to us by choice.

    Here is an article that reaffirms that:

    Not a bad argument. I think a lot of our hierarchical social structure is very similar to wolf social structure, so it makes perfect sense that humans may have observed this structure in wild wolves and subsequently adapted it to their own society.

    I live on 5 acres in a rural environment. Our dogs do not roam the neighborhood, but they do roam our acreage. My wee dog is the hunter, and she has quite discouraged the moles from tunneling around the yard. The others (much bigger) are the guardians. Everyone has a job, and we humans are the pack leaders. We are not infantilizing the dogs; we have actually adapted to their social structure and try to communicate with them in a way they understand. They remain with us, with their pack, because the pack is safe and they get their food from the pack leaders. (Well, the wee one tries to help with providing mole-flesh.)

    And they have adapted to us. I believe a recent Nova episode called “Dogs Decoded” talked about how dogs have adapted to us, learning how to read our facial expressions and gestures! Neat!

    And of course, we humans get companionship that rivals any human loyalty I can imagine, and it’s not just docile obedience. Personally, I prefer smart, independent dogs. That means their affection is true and genuine.

  16. Animals have entirely become “living tools” whether to eat, ride, play with, hunt for us, accompany us, clean up after us… You make me think too much Mark.

  17. I have a small dog with a big attitude! I find especially with small dogs that you can pick up, people ave a tendency to coddle them. I do love my Echo like a child and let her sleep on the bed but when we go for a hike or climb a mountain she is like a wild dog running and swimming in streams and chasing small animals, even deer, although what she thinks she’s going to do with a deer if she ever caught one I don’t know! And she can run up and down the mountain 3 times before I can get to the top! I call her my little mountain goat 🙂 her enthusiasm and playfulness keeps me going and makes me laugh every time!

  18. I just lost my 10 yr old English
    Bulldog, Koko. Sigh. She always preferred a nice nap or a leisurely roll in the grass, to actual exercise. But that dog was loyal to the bone, and loved the kids that came after her. My kitty turns 17 in a few weeks…
    Not only do I think that children have an affinity for animals,but animals instinctively know when they are dealing with “little people”…

  19. It’s true! 10,000 years ago, when it’s theorized that humans crossed the land bridge (there was a brief window of time when the glacier path opened and the bridge was still there), they came with dogs. And the megafauna like giant beavers and mastodons that lived in North America went extinct over the next few centuries as humans hunted them– they couldn’t have done it without dogs.

  20. I hate people.
    My husband and I decided to not have kids and just adopt pets in need.

    It’s been very full filling mentally. We live in a neighborhood where every household has 3+ kids. Nobody else has dogs…all the kids end up on my drive way and front lawn playing with my 4 dogs ..and their bikes and toys are left along the side walk…LOL.

    They borrow my dogs, I borrow their kids…everybody is happy:)

    1. It doesn’t sound like you really hate people, lol. Sounds like you get along with people pretty well. Good for you.

  21. I have dogs and horses. Too many of both lol. But they keep me sane and I think they are in my life for a reason and I am in theirs for a reason. I do my best to provide the best care and environment possible for them. Those are my pet/relationship animals. We also buy and fatten sheep and pigs for eating, but they don’t get names, although they do get cared for just as well as the rest and offered respect as living creatures we have chosen to pen up for our own use.

  22. As far as I’m concerned, when it gets down to it, I agree that today’s modern setup (especially cities!) makes it very difficult for animals to maintain their “working” status at times and are too dependent on their owners. However, even more importantly, there are still far too many people out there who don’t appreciate animals for what they are. So if owners sometimes “coddle” too much, so be it. Too much love and caring is a helluva lot better than careless, cruel, irresponsible treatment of animals who can’t always just pick up and leave.

  23. I think companionship is as important for pets as it is for us. I can’t say I’ve seen pampered, well-fed, domesticated pets and thought that they really seemed miserable being so comfortable and cared for. Whereas if you go to a shelter or pet store, the animals who haven’t yet found their homes seem sad and lost.

    I think there’s been an evolutionary shift for pets as well as for us. They’re in individuation mode. Once brought into a home and freed of the constant need to scavenge for food and survive, they’re able to individuate and develop personalities. If you have pets for a long time, it seems their personalities really have a chance to expand and become more unique.

    I appreciate thoughts of the complexity and importance of roles animals play in our lives, but I don’t think it’s wise to romanticize how much happier they’d be “in the wild” (this attitude I think causes some people to not neuter or spay their pets because it makes them “wusses”). And there are lots of creative things we can do to nurture their wild playfulness, and I think they can bring that out in us as well.

    Animals have souls too, wouldn’t they aspire to incarnate and develop as individuals rather than just being pack animals scrabbling to survive?

  24. Allergic to cats and dogs. Was willing to endure a dog for my wife and kids, but when it became just me cleaning after and feeding it I give it to my wife’s friend.

    Domesticated animals become burdensome for owners. Friends have left parties to walk the dog or had issues with travel because they had no place to house the pet. Too much for me. I like the idea of a big dog to bond and loaf around, but until my kids are older and can take care of it, I don’t think we’ll have a family dog, soon.

    The idea of domesticating animals as living tools is an important part of our evolution. I am amazed at seeing-eye dogs and police dogs. Not a fan of zoo’s save the actual science that goes on in them.

    I appreciate the “participant in the sacred game of life” idea. Very deep.

    1. Ah yes, the “I have to leave to go take care of the dog” excuse. I have used that many times, always when I wanted to go, because I preferred her company to whoever was at the party 🙂

      On a more general note, my dog has been my best friend for 12 years now. I think I am somewhat less guilty of over-domestication than some because she spent several years living with me on a farm and still gets to go out to the barn with me every day, and hiking every week. (Apparently horse poop is a key part of her ancestral diet.) I try to get her to be cuddly and domesticated, but she has a very strong independent streak and usually refuses. I admire that she remains a dog despite my best tries to anthropomorphize her. She’s a fantastic creature. Bright, friendly, kind, loyal, and beautiful.

      I have a similar bond with my horse. I feel really sorry for people who have never been able to have the kind of relationship I have with her. I have taken her out galloping on trails and just closed my eyes and hung on and trusted her with my life. It’s a special thing.

    2. Owning a pet is a commitment by the WHOLE family. Giving up and giving away a pet so fast is a real lost of a life lesson of responsibility that your children will no longer experience because of your stubborness and anger.

      1. Stubborness, anger, and…oh…allergies, too. My kids were two and three at the time. Also, that joker didn’t respect nap time either. The yelping!

        I get it. You love them. I do, too, which is I why I said I’d reconsider an allergic reaction (is Benadryl primal?) so my kids could experience that life lesson of enslaving another life for my pleasure…just kidding…sort of.

  25. So if I talk to my dog, telling it stories and such, does it mean I’m mentally more like a caveman? Because I’ve been trying to teach Odysseus history.
    He’s already learned etiquette.

  26. One of the most relaxing things I do is to sit with my parent’s herd of goats in the pasture. Did this on a warm February day this year and they just lay down next to me. And then just grunt as they were all very pregnant. I haven’t been back to the farm since and need an animal fix soon. In an apartment so no dog. Can’t wait to finish up here and move someplace where I can get a canine companion!

  27. I don’t know what I would do without my one-eyed Boston Terrier. Ive spent most of my life owning a dog. It sure will be different without one. This will be the case in just a couple of months.

    Dogs are great pets. But, what does everyone think of birds? I mean, birds are supposed to FLY! A bird that lives in a cage can’t fly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Toad–

      I knew a guy who owned a parakeet that he took everywhere with him. No cage, no leash of any kind. The bird was imprinted on him and wouldn’t go more than a few feet away from him. It was entirely free to fly and would do so when this guy road his motorcycle–it would fly right next to his head! It was free to leave at any time but chose to stay with his owner. I guess he looked at his owner as his “flock” (not sure if parakeets live in flocks in nature.)

      I would say that’s a pretty happy bird and a pretty kick-ass pet!

      1. That’s cool. Did this guy wear an eye patch and speak with Shakepearean flair? I would and overuse the term “aye” when possible.

  28. I like animals (and animals like me), but I’m neutral-to-negative on the subject of pets, especially pets as baby replacements (which is what they are in most American households). I don’t think it’s healthy for the pet or the owner. Animals need to have their own lives, just like any other living creature – they shouldn’t spend their lives as living teddy bears with nothing to do, no companions of their own species, no family of their own, no “pack” of their own, and no role in life except that of teddybear. It’s a very unnatural existence.

    Yes, humans domesticated animals for their own use, but I imagine that the “use” for which these animals were domesticated wasn’t that of teddybear – it was to keep dangerous intruders away, to aid in hunting, to give milk, to give wool, to lay eggs, to kill mice and other vermin, and so on.

    1. People are social animals and need other people, much like animals. The human family is their pack. It’s unfair for you to generalize that pets are baby replacements, which they are not; nor, or they “teddy bears”.

      1. Um, I’m not sure what you meant by the first two sentences of your comment. Yes, people are social animals and need other people. Now imagine that you are all alone, almost from birth onward, surrounded by animals of a different species that you only partly understand. You never see other members of your own species, you never experience the natural world in a way that you yearn to do, you never have a family or raise your own children. Is that a life you’d want to live? This is what your dog is living. Dogs are social animals, meaning that they need other dogs. They need a pack that is composed of dogs – not humans.

        As for “pets are baby replacements” – I personally know a ton of people who decided to have pets instead of children. For them, pets are literally baby replacements. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s none of my business what other people do with their lives – but it is what it is.

        As for teddybears, the way kids interact with their teddybears is remarkably similar to the way adults interact with their pets. They hug and pet the teddybear (and it’s nice and soft and pleasant to the touch), they talk to it when they need a friendly listening ear, they keep it nearby for a friendly comforting presence – basically, this is what pets are for. And you don’t have to feed teddybears or take them to the vet.

  29. The thing I love about Rupert my cat is that he’s a complete mirror for my emotions and behaviours. When I’m stressed or worried, so is he. When I’m feeling good, he has a glint in his eye and is chucking a toy mouse around the room. So it’s just like having my own personal therapist in the house, although possibly cheaper, more fun and nicer to stroke!

    I love watching Cesar Millan for the very same reason; to watch people transforming their own behaviour, which is then mirrored in their dogs (I love the amazement on people’s faces when they suddenly ‘get it’!). I get ‘calm and assertive’ just watching the programme and am determined to act in that way the next day.

    Some years ago I trained as an equine shiatsu therapist, as well as a human shiatsu therapist. It was interesting that often the owner and the horse had the same imbalances. Because the horse is a herd animal and is always picking up the energy from its fellow herd members (that includes us) if I worked on the owner’s imbalances, the horse often just sorted itself out.

    These animals are good for us in so many ways.

  30. I guess I’m guilty of thinking of my dog as a big teddy bear. She sleeps on the bed, hangs out in the house listening to music, eats a primal diet, gets petted a lot, and runs on the treadmill when I get home. She can go out the doggie door to the back yard, but usually stays inside. What kind of life is that for an animal? A better one than she had at the dog pound.

  31. great post…

    my dog is actually who started me on the paleo path. i just was so impressed with his ability to go from dead sleep to full sprint and back again.

    also, i don’t know how many of you have seen the documentary BABIES but i highly recommend it just to watch A) the incredible contentedness of the baby raised closest to our ancestral past and B) the moment that she interacts with a dog on its terms. it’s like the best three seconds of the documentary!

  32. If it was up to me, I would have rolling fields of land and 700 dogs. Dogs make me very happy and content. But I also agree, they need more outdoors… just like we do. They don’t want to be caged up all day or crated in their houses… they want to be sniffing, and digging, and eating gross things that only dogs can eat.

  33. I used to have a phobia of dogs, now I can’t wait till the day I own one, there’s something deep within me that would tells me I would benefit far more from a dog than a big tv even though the former is less affordable.

  34. I have never had a pet, yet my fiance is a huge dog lover and grew up with them. We debate over the topic of getting one because I do not see the point and look at it as more responsibility.

    She will eventually get her way and I am sure once I experience it I will share most peoples love for their pets.

  35. Mark,

    I agree pets are great companions. My family has a lab retriever as well and we all enjoy being around him and taking him for walks. With all the hassles of modern society, spending time with pets can be a good stress reliever.


  36. My best friend leads a wonderful example of one who has understood the relationship of her dogs to herself, and has trained them to the point of appearing that she has “jedi mind control” over them. It’s really quite remarkable how much they know and they obey her every word, well most of the time. Occassionally they’ll be distracted, but she is always quick to reaffirm what she wants. She lives in a rural area and often walks her dogs without a leash. It’s amazing to watch as they’re several hundred feet away sniffing and running and playing where they may, careful never to run too far, and at her command they come running to her heels, or sit where they are. Awareness of the surrounding streets and knowing when cars are coming are always in the back of her mind, should a vehicle, pedestrian, biker, come near, she tells her dogs to heel and in an instant there right there, happily walking along either side of her. I’ve always wished that every dog owner could take the time to truly train their beloved dogs to that degree. If one cannot take that necessary time to train them from the beginning even half of what she’s accomplished with them, then one should re-consider owning a dog. I’ve seen way too many incidences where dogs completely over-run their owners. There’s no respect, no direction, no social hierarchy, and the dog(s) run a muck, taking leadership into their own paws, wreaking havoc on their owner, neighbors and passerbys.

    On another note; I for one absolutely agree that animals can connect us to our greater selves. I am biased towards the equine variety of animal, and love them dearly. Horses have a special relationship with humans in that they have helped us evolve into what we are today. They allowed us to travel farther than ever before passing knowledge across greater land masses, encouraging the further evolution of imagination, curiousity, and experimentation creating new tools based on old tools. Horses offered a new advantage in warfare, and were used extensively up until War World II, and as recently as the gulf war taking troops over terrain vehicles couldn’t reach. Today horses (and absolutely other animals) are used to lift disabled people to new heights, giving them confidence, unsurpassed happiness, and a feeling of independence. Horses take us on a spiritual journey of true awareness of ourselves.

  37. I believe there is a very strong, innate, bond between animals and humans – wild and domesticated. I also believe that some people are more in tune to that connection than others, more primal maybe. I grew up without pets until after my 15th birthday. Yet somehow I had always been drawn to animals in spite of it… Animal books, shows, other people’s animals – barnyard and pets. As a child I would ask friends and neighbors if I could walk their dogs and/or feed them. Most animals were drawn to me immediately too. To this day, my parents have no idea how I came to have such a need to be around animals, while my older sister still has no pets to this day and will not allow her kids to have pets.

    I live 20 miles out of town on a very-secluded 25 acres where our closest neighbor is half a mile away. My husband and I have no need for TV since we have 3 cats, 2 dogs, and I ride and help train horses. All the animals are outdoors, with the exception of the smallest cat, who can can also come and go from the house as she pleases (right-no litter box, and she’s never scratched the furniture). If we’re outside, she’s outside. If we’re inside, she’s on someone’s lap. The dogs are loose unless we are gone for an extended period of time. They all choose to stick around and be “domestic” and love their brushing, petting, feeding time. They are all fed the best, grain-free, chow I can afford and also get our leftover tidbits occasionally. However, they can also all feed themselves quite well, and regularly do so, except for Jackson, the Irish Wolfhound. Not sure he’s ever killed anything in his life (only aided in a squirrelicide once), but coyotes and bears fear him, which is a good thing. He knows that deer are no threat though, which is why we have to have a fence around our garden. Gimley, the stray pup that Jackson adopted, was SO excited when we were butchering a deer this winter. I could see his primal instincts in his eyes… “Wow, you guys got a BIG one!!!” (He wanted it all for himself and has killed a young one himself once.)

    I’ve learned so much from every beastie I’ve ever spent time with, and yes, they DO know facial expressions – the cats, dogs, and horses. I’m pretty sure the indoor/outdoor cat also knows a surprising amount of English and frequently tries to talk back. The Wolfhound knows your every mood without you saying a word. It’s almost spooky. I smiled at 2 coyotes I met when driving up the driveway, and they stopped and looked me in the eye. But when I noticed they weren’t scared, my smile disappeared, and they ran off instantly. I sure wish people were that observant.

    Animals are great therapy. If I was told I had to live without the company of all my critters and the wildlife whom we encounter every day, I’m sure you’d just have to lock me up in a loony bin.

    But, then again, everyone is different.

  38. My college roommate had a pet dog that was fiercely loyal to him. She often slept with him, and if you opened the door while he was sleeping she would growl, no matter how much she liked you at any other time. You were NOT to enter that room.

    One time, when my roommate had been spending lots of time away, because he just had a new girlfriend, I came home, and the dog was pissed off with me. She was doing the thing then the sides of her mouth curl up and more teeth show – the things dogs do when they are REALLY pissed/scared.

    I acted very calm, and I think I had a few stern words with her, just to let her know what she was doing was not OK. A minute later, she relented, and walked very slowly towards me, with her head hung very low. It seemed as if she was extremely ashamed for lashing out. Her owner was spending too much time away, and she missed him terribly.

    For some reason that experience made me like that dog much more. I haven’t seen her in years and she’s getting very old. I hope I get to see her again before she dies.

  39. Interesting discussion – funny to me how in a group of animal eaters the talk centers mostly around dog and cats.
    I’ve got a nine year old (human child) and eleven year old (same) who are learning about animals as food. My daughter has her first 4h steer ( yes, we’re feeding this one grain. We’ve done the grass fat thing – this is … well – a story for another time.) My son raises chickens for eggs to sell as another 4h project. It’s been transforming (and difficult!) to watch and help my kids understand that we can indeed love animals… and eat them. I think it’s a vibe (concept?.. strength, maybe) that used to be commonplace among humans, but is nearly lost.

  40. Wow, awesome blog format! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you make blogging look easy. The entire glance of your site is great, as well as the content!

  41. I was walking along a river recently and startled a blue heron and pair of ducks into flight from the side of it. They’d been sitting together and flew off together.

  42. I had a couple more interesting animal encounters recently.
    First I saw a family of stray cats in a little junkyard: a mother and three kittens, all black and white with blue eyes. I got my hand close to one kitten but it hissed and tried to scratch me so I went back to what I’d been doing, searching for empty beer cans.
    There was a young raccoon at night climbing on my bike, which was leaning against a tree. Maybe it thought by sitting on the bike it could ride it. When I approached it climbed around to the other side of the tree and I held my hand to it so it was more of a threat to me than I to it. It didn’t do anything and I left.
    Then there was a raccoon that came to my campsite, noticed me, but didn’t look too worried as I was sitting relaxed so I threw it some pork meatloaf. It looked appreciative. I’ve seen it since and it keeps its safe distance but doesn’t head away from me.
    Same with some rabbits that I often pass by on bike or foot. At first they would run away and hide but since I’ve gone by them so many times they stay still and just watch me.
    I saw a turtle above a bank beside a stream that I was traveling along. I gave it a wide berth and it didn’t seem overly concerned. I ate what I think was a reptile egg (spherical, soft shell) from that stream last year so I think it was probably one of that turtle’s eggs.
    In a forest I saw two small brown animals quickly running through the undergrowth and grunting in what sounded to be a happy way. I assume they were porcupines, since
    While I was biking I saw a young small porcupine just outside a forest and got off my bike and got really close it. It seemed to portray intelligence. It bristled its spikes but stayed where it was, even though it could have withdrawn into the dense foliage on the edge of the forest just behind it. I held out my hand to it and it snarled and lunged so I got back on my bike and left.