Can Dogs Love? A True Story

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Can Dogs Love? A True Story

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IF YOU WANT TO CAUSE A COMMOTION IN ANY PSYCHOLOGY department or any other place where animal and human behaviour is studied, all that you have to do is to claim that your dog loves you. Skeptics, critics, and even some ardent supporters will pour out into the halls to argue the pros and cons of that statement.

Among the skeptics you will find the veterinarian Fred Metzger, of Pennsylvania State University, who claims that dogs probably don't feel love in the typical way humans do. Dogs make investments in human beings because it works for them. They have something to gain from putting so-called emotions out there. Metzger believes that dogs "love" us only as long as we continue to reward their behaviours with treats and attention.

For most dog owners, however, there is little doubt that dogs can truly love people. Take the story of Rocky and Rita from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, near Rochester.

Rocky was a solid 65-pound Boxer, classically colored with a chestnut brown coat and a white blaze on his chest. At the time of this story, Rocky was three years old and Rita was his eleven-year-old companion. Rocky had been given to Rita when he was ten weeks old, and she immediately bonded with him, petting him, handfeeding him, teaching him basic commands, and letting him sleep on her bed. Whenever she was not in school, the two were always together and within touching distance. The family would often fondly refer to the pair as "R and R."

Rita was a relatively timid and shy girl, and as the dog grew in stature he brought her a sense of security. When Rocky was next to her she felt confident enough to meet new people and to go to unfamiliar places. Rocky took on the roles, not only of friend and confidant, but also of defender.

When encountering strangers, he would often deliberately stand in front of Rita, as a sort of protective barrier. He seemed to be without fear, such as once when Rita was about to enter a store and two large men dressed in biker outfits burst out of the door, yelling at the shopkeeper and nearly knocking Rita over. Rocky rushed forward, putting himself between the frightened girl and the two threatening men. He braced himself and gave a low rumbling growl that carried such menace that the men backed off and gave the child and her guardian a wide berth.

There was, however, one flaw in Rocky's armour. It was a fear of water that was so extreme that it was almost pathological. Boxers are not strong swimmers in any event, and are often shy of the water. However, Rocky's fears stemmed from his puppyhood, when, at the age of seven weeks, he was sold to a family with an adolescent child. The boy had emotional problems and acted as if the attention bestowed on the new puppy somehow meant that he was less important. In a jealous rage, he put the puppy in a pillow case, knotted the top and threw it into a lake. Fortunately, the boy's father saw the incident and managed to retrieve the terrified puppy before it drowned. He scolded the boy and returned to the house. The next day the horrified parent saw his son standing waist-deep in the lake trying to drown the struggling puppy by holding him under water. This time Rocky was rescued and returned to the breeder for his own safety.

These early traumas made water the only thing that Rocky truly feared. When he came close to a body of water, he would try to pull back and seemed emotionally distressed. When Rita would go swimming in the lake, he would pace along the shore trembling and whimpering. He would watch her intently and would not relax until she returned to dry land.

One late afternoon, Rita's mother took R and R to an upscale shopping area. It was located along the edge of a lake and featured a short wooden boardwalk which was built along the shore over a sharp embankment that was 20 or 30 feet above the surface of the water. Rita was clomping along the boardwalk, enjoying the way the sounds of her footsteps were amplified by the wooden structure. It was then that a boy on a bicycle skidded on the damp wooden surface, hitting Rita at an angle which propelled her through an open section of the guard rail. She let out a shriek of pain and fear as she hurled outward and down, hitting the water face down, and then floating there unmoving.

Rita's mother was at the entrance of a store a hundred feet or so away. She rushed to the railing shouting for help. Rocky was already there, looking at the water, trembling in fear, and making sounds that seemed to be a combination of barks,whimpers, and yelps all rolled into one.

We can never know what went through that dog's mind as he stood looking at the water-the one thing that truly terrified him and that had nearly taken his life twice. Now here was a frightening body of water that seemed about to harm his little mistress. Whatever he was thinking, his love for Rita seemed to overpower his fear and he leapt out through the same open space in the rail and plunged into the water.

One can thank the genetic programming that allowed the dog to swim without any prior practice, and he immediately went to Rita and grabbed her by a shoulder strap on her dress. This caused her to roll over so that her face was out of the water and she gagged and coughed. Despite her dazed state she reached out and managed to cinch her hand in Rocky's collar, while the dog struggled to swim toward the shore. Fortunately the water was calm, they were not far from shore, and Rocky quickly reached a depth where his feet were on solid ground. He dragged Rita until her head was completely out of the water, and then stood beside her, licking her face, while he continued to tremble and whine. It would be several minutes before human rescuers would make it down the steep rocky embankment, and had it not been for Rocky, they surely would have arrived too late.

Rita and her family believe that it was only the big dog's love of the little girl that caused him to take what he must have considered a life-threatening action. This certainly casts doubt on Dr. Metzger's theory that dogs don't love us but act only out of self-interest. Why should Rocky behave in a way that he certainly felt would risk his life? Surely, if he was evaluating the costs and benefits of his actions then he would have known that, even in Rita's absence, the rest of the family would be around to feed him and take care of needs.

Marc Bekoff, a behavioural biologist at the University of Colorado, has a different interpretation. He notes that dogs are social animals. All social animals need emotions, in part as a means of communication-for instance you need to know to back off if another animal is growling. More importantly, however, emotions keep the social group together and motivate individuals to protect and support each other. Bekoff concludes that strong emotion is one of the foundations of social behaviour and is the basis of the connection between individuals in any social group, whether it is a pack, a family or just a couple in love.

Recent research has even identified some of the chemicals associated with feelings of love in humans. These include hormones such as oxytocin, which seems to help people form emotional bonds with each other. One of the triggers that causes oxytocin to be released is gentle physical touching, such as stroking. Dogs also produce oxytocin, and one of our common ways of interacting with dogs is to gently pet them, an action that probably releases this hormone associated with bonding. If dogs as social animals have an evolutionary need for close emotional ties, and they have the chemical mechanisms associated with loving, it makes sense to assume that they are capable of love, as we are.

Rocky's fear of the water was absolute, and never did abate. He continued to avoid it for the rest of his life and no one ever saw him so much as place a foot in the lake again. No one, at least not Rita or her family, ever doubted his love for her. He lived long enough to see an event occur which would not have happened had he not cared for her as much as he did. When Rita graduated from high school, she posed for a photo in her cap and gown. Beside her sat a now much older Boxer. The smiling girl had an arm around the dog, and her hand was cinched in his collar, as it was the day that Rocky unambiguously showed her just how much he loved her. ■

Dr. Stanley Coren is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of many books on dog behaviour, including The Intelligence of Dogs and How Dogs Think. His website is stanleycoren.com.

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Comments (30)

I know dogs love too. You just have to look at my mum and her dog Jack .. Jack can't be away from her for 5 minutes! When she's upset or hurt, its like he is hurting too he crys, licks her face until she has that smile back. My mum loves her dog and we all no Jack loves her back dearly!
Mon, 05/14/2012 - 13:07
How long did it take you to make up that story brah? I give you props though no doubt
Sun, 06/17/2012 - 09:32
There is no creature that is capable of loving the way a dog loves Love cannot be measured by studies, it can be felt with your heart!
Thu, 06/21/2012 - 05:29
What ever the phenomenon humans have that we call love, has ensured our survival and evolution through time. Dogs have this ability as well. Therefor we relate to them and they to us. Hence the enevibilty of the creation of the term, "Man's best friend."
Wed, 02/19/2014 - 07:56
True, I think the problem with humans is that we're always trying to find ways to explain everything through science and reason when the truth is, some things are not meant to be explained, or even fully understood, only felt. And even their precious research has shown that animals sometimes go against the grain and develop inter-species friendships that don't particularly benefit their survival...So let it go research people. Maybe if you spent more time around dogs and their people (or any pets and their owners) you would see how these bonds just work beyond all reason.
Thu, 11/06/2014 - 08:49
Dang it, I'm crying now. lol Of course, my dogs are surrounding and supporting me with kisses. Ugh, what would we do without dogs?! They are just the best!
Thu, 07/12/2012 - 23:36
Beautiful story! I love my dog, but that little boy in your story can thank his lucky stars that I'm not his dad.
Tue, 01/29/2013 - 16:40
Amen... That boy would be sent off to psych ward.
Wed, 01/15/2014 - 11:15
Yeah same as above, made me shed some manly tears too.

Also, this website really needs some comment moderation.

Get a life, commercial spammers!
Mon, 09/23/2013 - 09:51
I am carissa from USA, i want to share a testimony of my life to every one. i was married to my husband, i love him so much we have been married for 6 years now with two kids. when he went for a vacation to France he meant a lady called Marian, he told me that he is no longer interested in the marriage any more. i was so confuse and seeking for help, i don't know what to do until I met my a friend of my and i told her about my problem. she told me not to worry about it that she had a similar problem like this before and she introduce me to a man called Dr.swami from indian who cast a strong spell to bring him back to her after 3days. then my friend ask me to contact Dr. swami. I contacted him to help me bring back my husband and he ask me not to worry about it that he is going to bring him back to me within 3days. He also told me by three days he will re-unite me and my husband together. After three day my husband called and told me he is coming back to sought out things with me, I was surprise when I saw him and he started crying for forgiveness. Right now I am the happiest woman on earth for what this great spell caster did for me and my husband, you can contact Dr.swami on any problem in this world,if you need any restore in your relationship contact Dr. swamitemple@yahoo.com He is the best spell caster i have ever seen.
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 15:33
I'm sorry Carrisa, but your so called husband does not deserve you. Anyone who decides to leave you for someone else does not belong in your life. I rather have lice in my life than to have someone like your husband.
Tue, 01/21/2014 - 13:59
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Tue, 01/28/2014 - 16:47
Oh my God, I'm so glad to tell everyone the real thing that happen to me...My name is EMILIANO BABARAH. If i refuse to share this testimony it means i am selfish to my self and to people i love so much whom might have similar problems, March 16th about something 7:23pm after taken our dinner my husband got crazy started calling a lady name Melisa I love you, i was so mad and started crying like a baby...then my husband left home then for the idiot called Melisa, and never return back home then i believed when he understand his self he will surly come back to apology, but instead he left me So i complained to my friend she told me she was having such problems in her marriage until she was introduce to DR ORIOMON who specializes in bringing back broken homes and broken marriages DR ORIOMON cast a spell for me in May 4th surprisingly my husband came home May 6th apologizing that i should forgive him that it will never happen again, i was so glad and gave the thanks to DR ORIOMON who save my marriage, if you are having similar problem you can contact him and His email address is (oriomonspiritualtemple@yahoo.com) you can still save your marriage if u really love your husband.
Thanks EMILIANO BABARAH_USA
Fri, 01/31/2014 - 08:49
Unfortunately it is not illegal in my State to chain a dog.
I am trying to create awareness, and tug on heart strings to change the laws. I hope to someday see it be illegal to chain a dog. It is so cruel! With colder than normal temperatures this year, there is a lot of suffering going on because of this!
Please share! Thank you!
"Dog On a 10 Foot Chain" on You Tube
http://youtu.be/SeQbZ3u_KPo

Nothing to look forward to
Watching cars go by all day
Nothing to play with, nothing to do
Shivering in the cold hard rain

They forget to bring me water
They forget that I am here
They don’t know how smart I am
They don’t even see my tears

What did I do wrong, what did I do?
I just want someone to love me, because I love you
Whatever it is I did wrong, maybe I can change
No one knows how hard it is, how hard it is to be………. a dog on a 10 foot chain

Sometimes it’s hard to stay cool
On a blazing hot summer day
I dream of crossing the stream
And catching a fish as the sunlight fades

It’s hard to stay warm in the winter
Some nights it’s hard to be strong
I dream of chasing butterflies
And rabbits all day long

Bridge:
The world is big and beautiful
But I’ll never see it all
Maybe when I go to Heaven
Someone will throw me a red ball
Sat, 02/01/2014 - 09:16
What ever the phenomenon humans have that we call love, has ensured our survival and evolution through time. Dogs have this ability as well. Therefor we relate to them and they to us. Hence the enevibilty of the creation of the term, "Man's best friend."
Wed, 02/19/2014 - 07:59
I could not use a vet who had the thought "that dogs probably don't feel love." Wonder what his theory is on if dogs feel pain. Work on my dog, who has a heart just like a human does ?? Don't think so! Nicely written article tho.
Sun, 03/02/2014 - 12:30
I won't split hairs about how they feel; my dogs make me feel better, absolutely. Here's what I know: http://www.amazon.com/Dumb-Things-We-Say-Dogs/dp/1495249565/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391088956&sr=8-1&keywords=dumb+things+we+say+to+dogs
Mon, 03/03/2014 - 09:32
Such a good story! I believe that dogs are, emotionally speaking, a lot more evolved than we give them credit for. Perhaps they are like people in that they like some, love some and even dislike some. We are all creatures of God and only He knows what any animal - or person - is thinking or feeling at any time. But some animals are just heroic, this is a fact! Like people, one just has to be blessed enough to get a good dog.
Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:28
Good story indeed. Although we are all creatures of evolution, well the probability is quite high based on all available facts regarding this matter. But we are free to believe what we want, stating anything as a fact however can seem as quite ignorant, after all, it's 2014 and the generation of publicly available information in great numbers. I don't get why we still stick to disproved beliefs instead of dropping them and moving forwards to the true answer to our genesis and other universal questions. Don't get me wrong though, I'm neither denying the fact that it is a higher intelligence behind our creation and evolution, nor confirming it. Because with all available facts and information we have today it is impossible to do so, however the common belief of Christianity can and have been disproved several times, and to state anything as a fact based on what we know so far is as said, impossible. But since you use the word "evolved", I assume you at least accept the evolution as a credible theory.
Sat, 05/24/2014 - 05:38
What a wonderful article the human animal bond is such an incredible and beautiful thing. A new product that helps animals to release oxytocin is something you should consider writing about, I use it for my Gracie and it really works. It's called The Rein Coat. www.TheReinCoat.com
Sun, 06/22/2014 - 11:55
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Fri, 06/27/2014 - 00:07
I think our cava-Tzu bitch is actually IN love with my husband david. shes all over him all the time, kissing and cuddling him, even tries to kiss him on the lips,, its amazing to watch.
Fri, 07/25/2014 - 10:32
Rocky's name is Millie, a wonderful golden retriever-rescue,who has been with me every day for the last 6 years. The stories are too numerous but she has saved me and many others,many times.
Thank you for the Rocky story, inspiring and heart healing. I am a psychotherapist who has her dog companion with her almost always.8rl3r
Fri, 08/15/2014 - 08:40
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Wed, 09/03/2014 - 18:52
Me & my boyfriend was planning to get married last month, just last week we had some argument that made him get angry on me just because of the argument, he said we will not be married again and the next day he left me and we broke up. I still loved him and I wanted him to marry me, for me to get him back i had no choice than to contacted Dr Agbalazy via; Olorunoduduwaspiritualtemple@gmail.com to help me and he helped me to bring my lover back to me so we can continue our plan to be married. he came back after 3 days. thanks to Dr Agbalazzy
Fri, 09/26/2014 - 17:48
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Wed, 10/01/2014 - 20:30
Amazing the dog overcame his fear to save his girl. I honestly believe that my Belgian Malinois rescue would go thru whatever to save me.
Thu, 10/16/2014 - 19:37
My name is Cleo Evans from chicago USA .I am here to give testimony on how I got my husband back. My husband left me for no reason 3 years ago. He moved in with another woman, I felt like killing myself, my life became very bitter and sorrowful. Then 1 day, a friend of mine told me about a great spell caster that is very good and, he said he gave him some lucky numbers that he played in a lottery and he won. I didn't believe it because I've worked with so many of them and it didn't work. He begged me further so I decided to try this great spell caster called DR EZE. I still didn't believe. I used the spell he gave me and the next day I received a call from my darling husband Thomas last month. He apologized and came back to me. He even gave me 10,000USD as a means of compensating me. I'm very happy now. Thank you DR EZE, You can reach him via email:(drezeaguigbudu@gmail.com)
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Sat, 10/18/2014 - 15:45
!!! I Sarah Post This Testimony Coz My Husband Is Back Thanks To Dr.Ukaka

My name is Sarah am from Texas, am a woman who love and cherish my husband more than any other thing you can imagine on earth continent. My husband was so lovely and caring after 3years of marriage he was seriously ill and the doctor confirm and said he has a kidney infection that he needed a kidney donor, that was how I start searching for a good Samaritan who can help,doctor has given me a periodic hour that he will live just 26hours left, that was how I ask the doctor if I can be of help to my husband that was how he carried out the text,the confirming was successful, I was now having this taught that since 3 years now we got married I have not be able to get pregnant can I be able to get bring again? That was the question I ask the doctor, he never answer his response was did you want to lost your husband? I immediately reply no I can't afford to loose him. After the operation my husband came back to live and was healthy I was also ok with the instruction given to me by the doctor, after 3months my husband came home with another lady telling me, that is our new wife that will give us kids and take care of us, that was how I was confused and started crying all day, that was how my husband ran away with his new wife cluaralle. Since then I was confuse don't no what to do that was how I went back to the doctor and tell him everything, he told me that, this is not just an ordinary it must be a spiritual problem that was how he gave me this email (freedomlovespell@hotmail.com) that I should tell her all my problem that she can help that was how i contacted her and I do as instructed. After 3days and I have done what she ask me to do, my husband start searching for me and went back to the doctor, that was how we well settle she also told me not to worry that I will get pregnant, this month making it the fifth Month I contacted her am now 3months pregnant. These great spell cater is a great man, if you are any kind of problem you can contact him here on his email (freedomlovespell@hotmail.com) website address: freedomlovespelltemple.yolasite.com

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 00:32
thank to Dr odudu for bring back my lover back in just 48hours am happy today is the help of this great man called Dr odudu who restore back my lover please you can contact him on oduduspell@gmail.com or call +2348051913076
am nana from USA
Tue, 10/28/2014 - 03:34

Dog of the Week!