In the one-hour Nature special Why We Love Cats and Dogs (PBS, premieres February 15), animal behaviorists, evolutionary biologists, trainers, and scores of dog and cat owners take a close look at the bonds we forge with our furry housemates. One of the program's resident experts, animal trainer Sarah Wilson (author of Dogology: What Your Relationship with Your Dog Reveals About You), gives us a preview:
The right pet emboldens us. "People who think of themselves as socially inept often choose dogs who are very socially assured. I've heard from so many people who say, 'I was always painfully shy, but my whole life has changed because of the confidence I feel with my dog by my side.'"
Forget the "crazy cat lady" stereotype. Try "compassionate cat guy" instead. "The male cat owners I've worked with are incredibly empathetic, sweet, intuitive, tender people." The Prophet Muhammad may have been the earliest Cat Guy: "His cat fell asleep on his sleeve, and when he had to move, he cut the cloth rather than wake the cat—he couldn't bear to disturb it. Any cat lover can relate."
Stop wagging the dog… "Do you love your animal, or do you love loving your animal? If you treat your dog like a dress-up doll, chances are that its needs aren't being met, because you're projecting a fantasy. There are times when I just have to tell my clients, 'Put the dog on the floor!'"
…and let the love in. "In all of our relationships, we need not only to give affection but to see that affection reflected back to us—we want to know that the other being enjoys it. So a dog wagging his tail or a purring cat closes the relationship loop for us in a very profound, nurturing way."