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Can Your Dog Teach You About Love?

Can Your Dog Teach You About Love?

3 Mins
March 23, 2016

March 23 is National Puppy Day!

While Ayn Rand was famously a cat person, her protégé Nathaniel Branden wrote charming philosophical thoughts about his dog, Muttnik, in The Psychology of Romantic Love.

"The Muttnik Principle," as Branden explains, is part of his psychological theory of “visibility,” in which individuals selfishly enjoy interacting with other entities because of our own characteristics as living beings with consciousness. Interacting with others, even animals, is an affirmation of the struggle of life. It brings our abstract ideas about our own identities and our role in the universe to the perceptual level, which we enjoy.

Branden explains,

“At this point, I wish to give an account... that [was] crucial for my understanding of love and human relationships. [...] I sat on the floor playing with my dog, a wirehaired fox terrier named Muttnik.

We were jabbing and boxing with each other in mock ferociousness. What I found delightful and fascinating was the extent to which Muttnik appeared to grasp the playfulness of my intention. She was snarling and snapping and striking back while being unfailingly gentle in a manner that projected total, fearless trust. The event was not unusual; it is one with which most dog owners are familiar. But a question suddenly occurred to me, of a kind I had never asked myself before: Why am I having such an enjoyable time? What is the nature and source of my pleasure?

The key to understanding my pleasurable reaction to playing with Muttnik was in the self-awareness that came from the nature of the feedback she was providing. From the moment I began to “box,” she responded in a playful manner; she conveyed no sign of feeling threatened; she projected an attitude of trust and pleasurable excitement. Were I to push or jab at an inanimate object, it would react in a purely mechanical way; it would be responding to me; there could be no possibility of its grasping the meaning of my actions, of apprehending my intentions, and of guiding its behavior accordingly.

What is significant and must be stressed is that Muttnik was responding to me as a person in a way that I regarded as objectively appropriate, that is, in accordance with my view of myself and of what I was conveying to her. Had she responded with fear and an attitude of cowering, I would have experienced myself as being, in effect, misperceived by her and would not have felt pleasure. [...]

While the example of an interaction between a human being and a dog may appear very primitive, I believe that it reflects a pattern that is manifest, potentially, between any two consciousnesses able to respond to each other.”

Hopefully, on national puppy day, you can enjoy playing with a dog and test the Muttnik principle out for yourself!


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