Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Do Dogs Really Fall in Love?

True Love, Yes or No?

"We don't know," says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor in the department of small animal medicine and surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. "I cannot prove it isn't so, but I cannot prove that it is. We cannot evaluate animal emotions."

"You have to call it a bonding thing," says Dr. Patricia O'Handley, a veterinarian with the small animal clinic at Michigan State University. Pets introduced to other pets at critical stages of socialization will form a bond with the other animal: dogs with dogs, cats with cats or dogs with cats. Dogs, who are social animals by nature, bond more easily than cats because of their predisposition to live in packs. "It's companionship, or dependency, rather than an emotional attraction that lies at the root of these pairings," says Dr. O'Handley.

Not so fast, Dr. O'Handley. "I'm tempted to say (pets) can fall in love," says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine and a PetPlace.com consulting vet. "Close relationships between dogs and dogs or dogs and cats are possible, but films like Lady and the Tramp and Air Bud are contrivances of the media."

Friendship Is the Key

The "love" Dodman sees between pets is less the hearts-and-flowers stuff of Valentine's Day than the other stages of love that humans also experience: a mother's love for her offspring or the love of a friend, for instance. "The Greeks, I believe, had seven different words for love - the love for your children, love for your parents, love for a partner, and so on - while we are saddled with just the one word - love - to describe all of these relationships," says Dr. Dodman, who suspects the Greeks would have had a word for the love relationships between pets.

"Romantic love is a stretch of the imagination for dogs and cats, but can they be friends with each other? Yes," says Dodman. "It's well known that dogs grieve when separated from a preferred companion, experiencing sleep disturbances, loss of appetite and general despondency," adds Dodman, who writes about unusually needy animals in the book The Dog Who Loved Too Much (Bantam).

Cats and Dogs Are Promiscuous

Unlike some species that mate for life, cats and dogs breed promiscuously.

As for puppy love, the infatuation experienced by giddy boys and girls in middle school, who wants to put their pooch through that? It's tough enough watching your kids get dumped. Imagine the heartbreak. What then? Probably a letter saying, "Dear Rover, it's over."

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