Dear Pepper is a monthly advice-column comic by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to email@example.com. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.
I love my dog—a miniature schnauzer named George—very much. But, because he has been bred to have a cute but stern expression, I often question whether George loves me back.
My best guess is that he feels an instinctual dependence, a kind of love I can never understand.
But will history one day judge me? When the dogs take over, will I learn that I was constantly curtailing George’s freedom, thwarting George’s chance to massacre squirrels? Will I find out that his cute gesture of putting a single paw on my forearm, like a little gentleman, was just a performance of love?
I figure that as a dog you might know more. But I also understand if it’s just further unpaid dog labor to try to explain canine emotions to humans.
Dear Only Human,
When you humans make pets of animals you’ve domesticated for millennia, there is certainly a power imbalance, but to me it doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad thing. This is a human world, and your dog, who has been bred to live with humans, wouldn’t survive (or thrive) in it by himself.
At the same time, you’re right—the love you and your dog have for each other is not a love between equals.
There are all kinds of dark corners in your dog’s love for you that you will never understand, and vice versa.
But that doesn’t mean your bond isn’t real or deep.
It’s complicated, and it sounds like you’re interested in delving into the complication and understanding what it’s like to be your dog. I suggest that you approach George with curiosity, and read up on the subject (I️ recommend Ed Yong’s “An Immense World” and Alexandra Horowitz’s “Inside of a Dog”).
And don’t let your guilt toward your dog—if you’re feeling any—dictate your life. Or, better yet: when you start feeling guilty, dole out some treats.