“We are in constant conversation with our dogs.”

Oh, how true this is.

AJ has many soft places to put her head, but in Mexico gravel was a favorite resting spot. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This is a quote from Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition scientist and professor. She runs the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College of Columbia University and has written books about dogs.

Dog cognitive science is a real thing, though it wasn’t when Horowitz was getting her undergraduate degree. As a recent speaker with the Aspen Institute she spoke about the bond humans and dogs have.

In part she talked about the importance of dogs during the pandemic. So many adopted four legged companions in the last 18 months. They provide emotional support and licks. Horowitz talked about how when we weren’t supposed to be in contact with others, these canines became that substitute with a head on our knee, allowing us to pet them whenever, and to be cuddled.

Researchers believe the human-canine bond started at least 14,000 years ago. They know this because of dogs being buried with a human.

She talked about how people can get a rush of oxytocin when they interact with dogs, which is similar to a bond parents create with their infants.

I completely related to her description of how people talk to their dogs. I talk to AJ all the time. When I leave I always tell her I love her. We have full on conversations. We talk about the past, the present and the future. I’m sure she understands.

“They’re very sensitive to changes in our emotional state. And there has been interesting research. I mean, a lot of people might assent that when, if you’re upset, say you’re crying, you’re sad, that often a dog will come and provide comfort,” Horowitz said.

She also talked about how dogs can detect illness. My friend, Joy, shared with me how AJ (her dog before she died, my dog now) didn’t want to be near her when smelling her breath while she was getting chemo. When I first became AJ’s mom she would smell my breath at random times. I always assured her I was not dying. Eventually, she figured out I was here to stay for her whole life.

“We know they remember. They remember people they remember places they remember routes, they remember components of things that have happened that we might not have been aware of,” Horowitz said.

This has been true of AJ. She was able to escape the day care place she was staying at in South Lake Tahoe and made it home by herself. When I was gone for more than five months from by black Lab Bailey she was ecstatic to see me; I had been worried she would not remember me. It was good to return to being her mom.

Horowitz’s one piece of advice was, “The more that you can on your walk let them sniff the thing that they want to sniff once in a while, let them get close to that other dog and sniff that other dog because that’s how they say hello. I think the better life they will have.”

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