Gazette Vet: Let Me Count the Ways


By Dr. John Andersen, DVM

Boone and Ruby Andersen
Boone and Ruby Andersen

At our church my wife and I regularly attend a Sunday school class where we focus on our marriages and raising kids.  One study we have used to help us understand why are spouses are so difficult…I mean different… is The Five Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman.  He proposes that we all give and receive love primarily in one of five basic ways:  1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) receiving gifts, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical touch.

While laughing about how different we all seemed to be from our spouses, someone asked the leader, “So, what if my spouse just can’t seem to communicate in my love language?”

Quickly one of our friends chimed in: “That’s when you get a dog!”

Then my wife naturally added: “That’s why John’s always spooning the dog!”

Good one, honey.

So how about dogs?  Do they have different “love” languages or do you treat them all the same?

Exhibit A (see photo): Our two Labrador Retrievers, Boone (yellow male) and Ruby (black female). Can you guess whose love language is physical touch?

That would be Ruby always making sure she lies right on top of Boone.

And can you tell that Boone’s love language is really NOT physical touch? If he could speak, he’d be saying “Dad, she’s touching me again!”

Ruby just wants to be all over everybody. If we’re watching TV, she’s lying on our feet or on top of poor Boone. If we’re camping, she’s on top of you. Nothing seems to make her happier than simply getting petted or rubbed down.

Boone’s love language, on the other hand is definitely acts of service. Not my washing his bed or filling his water bowl, but taking him out for exercise. When the leashes start jingling, Boone comes running with such pure excitement that his whole body is convulsing. If we go running together, he occasionally nudges my leg as if to say, “Dad, this is so awesome!” And when we get home from a walk or swim, he is clearly thankful in his own special way.

Our old dog Kaya spoke the language of quality time. She just wanted to be with us. It wasn’t so much the activity or the contact as much as just spending time together. You could tell she was at peace with us and nervous without us. She would follow me from room to room sometimes just to make sure I didn’t get too far away. A good loyal dog she was.

Words-of-affirmation is a tough language to separate because all dogs seem to like to be spoken to sweetly. But I think you can pick these dogs out by their dramatic response to words of yelling and screaming! I can yell at my dogs for digging in the garden or chewing something up and it seems to bounce right off their thick heads. But some dogs are just devastated after getting scolded for something. These dogs put their heads down and rapidly leave the scene, finding a safe hiding place under a bed or in their crate. They may be affected for hours. But these dogs conversely are lifted up by praise and sweet talk in a big way.

Finally, receiving gifts. Does your dog freak out when a new toy is given to him? Are they crazy protective if they receive a rawhide?  Will they do anything for a treat? Not too many dogs refuse a new chew toy or treat, but some dogs clearly seem to be a little more materialistic than others and feel the love if their toy bin runneth over.

Whatever their love language may be, dogs never cease to amaze me in their ability to show us love, faithfulness, and loyalty. As one bumper sticker puts it: “Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am!”