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Exploring the Human-Dog Bond in Our Dogs, Ourselves

Is there anything better than coming home after a long day to the sweet face and full-body wriggling of a dog? If you answered “no,” you’ve come to the right place. Alexandra Horowitz, author of OUR DOGS, OURSELVES, is a college professor who has spent years studying the mind of man’s best friend. In the video above, she shares her thoughts on the singular bond between dogs and humans, and in a special selection from her book below, she reflects on the thought and care we put into naming our dogs.

What’s in a (Dog’s) Name?

Before Finnegan was “Finnegan” he was “Upton.” We’d liked the name, and relished giving it to him, but we didn’t know much about our dog yet. So we tried it out for a week—calling after this small new slippery form racing through piles of fallen leaves; cooing it at him while bending down for an ears-back face-licking greeting. It just . . . wasn’t him. This dog was a Finnegan, and once we changed the name, it was clear how well it suited him.

Five years later, though, we met our Upton. Well, he was “Nicholas” at the shelter, and another name before that. A grown dog with a goofy smile, no experience with leashes, and an urgent need of ACL surgery, he had been returned to the shelter from which he’d been adopted years before. We have the photo from his first adoption, showing a sweet-faced long puppy who we only would come to know as a sweet-faced tall adult. This time the name took and we had our Upton.

Today, a dog’s name, like the dog behind it, is no longer an afterthought. The very particularness of your pup is matched by the particularness of their name. In some cases the name fits the dog, and in others, perhaps, the dog comes to fit the name. In both cases, the name is a set of spectacles that zooms you in to the fact of the animal’s singularity. You begin to see what it is that is specifically “Xantippe”- or “Teddybear”-like about the dog, to notice their fears and pleasures, to see their habits and quirks. Some suggest that a name predestines a person to a certain life; the same may be true of dogs as well. For a dog is that paradoxical creature who is at once created in interaction with their person, and is also their own dog. When I imagine future dogs I hope to know in my life (and I do), I imagine their names. A dog gets her name, and she becomes one of us.

For more eye-opening, informative, and entertaining insights about the human-dog bond, pick up a copy of OUR DOGS, OURSELVES by Alexandra Horowitz.


If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: 7 Steps to Stop Your Dog from Jumping on People


Excerpted from Our Dogs, Ourselves by Alexandra Horowitz. Copyright © 2019 by the author. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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