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3/18/09
The Psychology of Dog Walks

So Mia and I were going for a walk today when I noticed something. Dog-lovers are crazy social people. I've lived in my neighborhood for five years, and other than the people in the houses directly on either side of me, I couldn't pick my neighbors out of a police lineup if my life depended on it. Sure, if they happened to be out getting their mail when I drove by, we'd do that little nod thing with our heads that means, "I don't really know you, but I don't want you to think I'm a total jerk either so I'll nod", but for the most part I ignored them and they ignored me. And life was good.

But you start walking a dog? Suddenly there's neighbors coming out of the woodwork! And they all want to know if my dog is a boy or a girl, and what her name is, and oh yes, they used to have a German Shepard too when they were growing up, and he was just the best. dog. ever. until he died, oh, it must have been twenty years ago now, can you believe how time flies? but really he was just the sweetest dog and so good with children too! And meanwhile I'm going "uh-huh, uh-huh, you don't say?" while backing away slowly because suddenly all these people who have been happily ignoring me for years want to tell me all about their life stories. (And honestly, the whole thing freaks me out a little because I'm just not comfortable with radical unexpected changes in my established social patterns). But Mia seems to be a conversation starter for dog-lovers everywhere. One woman even went as far as to chase me down the street to tell me about her dog.

Cat people would never do this.

If one cat-lover sees another cat-lover's cat, he or she may say something along the lines of "nice cat" (or, if they are feeling particularly friendly, "I used to have a cat like that") but to chase someone down to tell stories about their cats? Nonononono. We have blogs for that.

Maybe outgoing people are drawn to dogs because they're social pack animals too? Maybe they just got used to it because they were all out walking their dogs together? Maybe the cat people have learned not to talk about their cats to others for fear of being labeled a "crazy cat lady"? I'm not sure. All I know is that a) I'm an introvert, b) my cats are introverts, and c) none of them forces me to walk down the street and talk to strangers. And I like that.

Of course, it's not Mia's fault that she attracts all this attention. Personally, I think she's an introvert too. She's a very easygoing dog that doesn't require a lot of small talk on her walks. Before the neighbors saw us, we were having a perfectly wonderful walk, just ambling along in our respective contemplative silences and enjoying the scenery.

And before you get all up in arms and tell me about how you're a very introverted dog-owner or a very extroverted cat-owner, or even one of my now insulted neighbors who was just trying to be friendly, let me just say that it was just my experience on one day with one dog that people who have dogs will attempt to talk more to other people who have a dog with them, even if they've never said anything to that person before.

And despite me being an introvert and being a little taken aback at our sudden popularity, I do enjoy my walks with Mia. I don't even mind saying a polite hello to passing neighbors. But I think the next time we go out, I'm telling everyone that she's just a really really big cat.

3 comments:

AZ Dog Mom said...

I've heard dog parks are indeed hot spots for canine-owning singles. Dogs usually have that friendly open look that just says "Come on over and love on me" so people happily oblige. And that just opens the door to talk about said dog, leading of course to talk about every other dog under the sun. They serve as a non-threatening gateway to connect with another person in a day and age when approaching strangers is no longer seen simply as just a friendly gesture but rather something to be suspicious of. I'm getting deep, sorry. As the owner of multiple dogs, though, I have had this same experience. What's really interesting is to see how differently those same people will react depending on the dog size or breed.

tootie said...

It seems like dogs and babies are sure-fire conversation starters.

And your line about cat lovers was too funny! "...but to chase someone down to tell stories about their cats? Nonononono. We have blogs for that." haha :)

Nora said...

One of the things I love about my boyfriend is that, no matter where we are or how socially-inappropriate it is, he will go out of his way to visit with every single cat that crosses our path. Even when it's actually in a window. Even when it's after dark and peering into windows and making funny faces is not within the realm of the socially acceptable. This is what I get for introducing a dog person to the joys of cat-ownership.