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Money, votes and psychiatry are going to the dogs
Mary Jean Kempner
May 11, 1964
Dogs used to be just dogs, but today they are an integral part of the economic, emotional—and even political—life of the U.S.
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May 11, 1964

Money, Votes And Psychiatry Are Going To The Dogs

Dogs used to be just dogs, but today they are an integral part of the economic, emotional—and even political—life of the U.S.

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Just as dogs seem to need humans around them, so the pressures or absence of this companionship sets its mark on canine adjustment. Evidence indicates that neither people nor dogs are born neurotic; they both get that way under certain circumstances, and reasonably early in life. (It may take a little longer in people, but both the Freudians and the Catholic Church lay infinite stress on the importance of early-life experience.) Working on the premise that "one sort of social relationship which can be set up between men and dogs is essentially the same as parent-offspring in either species," Dr. J. Paul Scott, a psychologist, made a study of young dogs at the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Me. He wanted to find out what kind of early experience produced insecure puppies, theorizing that such an inquiry might illuminate areas of maladjustment and emotional stress in young children. Experiments in his puppy nurseries proved to Scott and his associates that although the dogs' social instincts were nil in the first three weeks of life, in succeeding days the pups developed so fast that by the time they reached seven weeks their mental and emotional capacity almost equaled that of an adult dog. Of course, they still lacked experience—that refined third dimension of all knowledge. But in those crucial four weeks of their social development their psychological attitude toward men and dogs became firmly fixed.

Four impeccably controlled situations were devised for testing the 3-week-old puppies for the duration of their critical development. One group remained snugly ensconced with littermates and bitch, exposed to kindly human care which included regular sessions of talk and handling. As might be expected, this group formed permanently well-balanced relationships with men and dogs. Group No. 2 lived in somewhat similar conditions, but without any demonstration of human affection, or as Scott termed it, "socializing." This strictly dog-oriented world produced an abiding indifference to people. A third group isolated a single puppy from bitch and littermates, but replaced this companionship with intensive human attention. The result, a puppy permanently man-oriented even to the point of avoiding other dogs: however, this puppy still seemed acceptable to his littermates when he returned, with considerable dignity, to the family circle. Finally, a fourth way of life invariably produced gravely maladjusted puppies. Isolated from littermates and bitch, silently fed and watered by unseen human hands, these singletons often grew bigger and sleeker than the others. But when such a maverick returned to the clan, the puppy's defensive behavior was so eccentric and neurotic that he or she was ostracized by the family. Such dogs rarely adjusted to the society of man or dog.

At six months, apparently, a dog's personality is established irrevocably. Human companionship or the lack of it contributes to the dog's approach to life, love and general adjustment. Situations of stress often produce patterns that in the most evenly balanced adult dog seem neurotic, but a bit of probing usually reveals that these were the result of the dog's adjustment to its owner's neurosis and inconsistencies. For instance, a dog will bark incessantly when its owner is oppressed with loneliness or suffers from abiding fears and insecurities. Nipping friendly and familiar visitors is a form of subtle reassurance and flattery for the jealous and possessive owner. Psychosomatic ailments (asthma, for instance) can be a canine complement to a neurasthenic owner. In the expedient philosophy of dogs, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Man and dog are not a new team—as everyone knows, their association was enjoyed by primitive man, who probably shared a small sense of comradeship with his hunting associate. One of the world's great naturalists, Konrad Z. Lorenz, author of Man Meets Dog (and the better-known classic, King Solomon's Ring), traces dog genealogy back to wolves and jackals, Canis lupus and Canis aureus. ( America's five million poodle owners may well become rabid at the idea, but their fashionable pets stem from jackal-blooded lines.) Lorenz proposes, however, that a jackal ancestry provides intuitive sensitivity to human emotions, which he contrasts to wolf-blooded breeds (the Samoyed, for instance), whose aloof, one-man loyalty reflects the wolf's loveless respect and obedience to the pack leader. As ultimate evidence of his supersensitivity theory, Lorenz tells of his jackal-blooded German shepherd dog: "If ever I had drunk a little more than was good for me, so perturbed did she become over my 'illness' that her concern would have been enough to prevent my taking to drink, even if I had been inclined that way." So speaks an eminent scientist. Who can tell? Seeing-eye dogs today, maybe Alcoholics Anonymous dogs tomorrow. Who knows what man's best friend will pull off next?

Who, in fact, knows how L.B.J.'s beagles, Him and Her, will interpret the earlift? As aggression? As friendship? Or just as politics?

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