Lesson of the Day: ‘Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love’

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Featured Article: “Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love” by James Gorman.

Clive Wynne, a psychologist specializing in dog behavior, contends that what makes your furry friend special is not its intellect but its ability to bond with you. In fact, dogs’ ability to bond across species — with animals including sheep, goats and even cats — makes them an evolutionary success story.

In this lesson, you will consider what makes dogs special and learn about how and why dogs form powerful emotional bonds with humans. In a Going Further activity, you will create a meme to capture the remarkable relationship we have with our canine friends.

Do you have a dog? Are you a dog lover?

Before reading the featured article, take a few minutes to make a list of the qualities that make dogs unique, lovable and special.

Afterward, share and discuss your list with a partner.

Reflect and discuss:

  • Which qualities do you like most? Which do you like the least?

  • Which qualities do you find unique among pets and other animals?

  • What do you think best explains the special capacity of dogs’ bond with humans? Do you think it has to do with their cognitive abilities, such as the ability to follow human commands? Their sociability? Is it a genetic predisposition? Or something else?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. The article begins:

Xephos is not the author of “Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You,” one of the latest books to plumb the nature of dogs, but she helped inspire it. And as I scratched behind her ears, it was easy to see why.

What evidence does the Times science writer James Gorman observe to support this statement? What does he mean when he writes, “Xephos’ shameless and undiscriminating affection” captured Dr. Clive Wynne’s “heart and his thinking”?

2. How do Dr. Wynne’s theories about dogs and their relationship to humans differ from Dr. Brian Hare’s theories? Why does Dr. Wynne believe that dogs’ thinking ability is not central to their capacity to form deep bonds with people? How persuasive is his argument?

3. How did wolves become dogs? Why are dogs “an astonishing evolutionary success”?

4. What does it take for a dog to become socialized and comfortable with humans, according to the article? How does the article’s assessment compare to your own experiences with dogs?

5. What do studies of dogs’ brains and genes reveal about their capacity to connect with humans? Give at least two examples.

6. Mr. Gorman suggests that Dr. Wynne’s theories about the love between dogs and other animals might disappoint some dog owners. Do you agree? How does your understanding of dogs’ relationships with other species impact your understanding of the bond between man and dog?

7. Compare your writing and reflection from the warm-up activity to what you learned about dogs from the article: What was most interesting, memorable or surprising in the article? Does it change how you understand dogs and their behavior?

Choose one or more of the following three activities:

1) Tell us about a meaningful relationship you have had with a dog — or another animal.

2) Put forth your own theory to explain the bond between humans and dogs — or other animals.

The article focuses on the special capacity of dogs to form bonds with humans. Now, flip the question around: Why do you think humans are able to bond so deeply with dogs and other animals?

Feel free to use your own lived and observed experiences to form your hypothesis or use some additional sources here, here or here for research.

If you were offered extended time to explore your theory further, how would you go about studying or proving your theory?

3) Create a meme that captures a special quality that allows dogs (or another animal of your choice) to bond with humans.

Where would the internet be without cats and dogs? It seems that nearly every day one of them is featured in the latest viral video or meme (see here and here as examples).

Here’s your chance to make your own — funny or philosophical — meme that captures or illustrates the special qualities of dogs.