Every dog owner understands the meaning of a “special connection” between you and your pooch. It is a unique bond that only you and your dog will understand and has been built on the foundations on the highs and lows of life that you share together.
That feeling of when you come home from a bad day at work and your dog wants to sit by your side and gives you more attention than usual doesn’t happen by coincidence.
A study titled “Dogs recognize dog and human emotions” has been conducted to test this theory where researchers worked with 17 healthy, socialised, adult family dogs of various breeds and presented them simultaneously with two different sources of emotional information.
These included pairs of “grey-scale gamma-corrected human or dog face images from the same individual but depicting different expressions (happy/playful versus angry/aggressive),” which were shown on two screens at the same time as a sound was played. The sound was either “a dog bark or human voice”, depicting a positive sound versus a negative tone from the same individual.
The “Animal behavior” researchers found that dogs showed a “clear preference for ‘congruent face'”, as in, the face that matched the sound in 67% of the trials and that the dogs “looked significantly longer at the face whose expression matched the valence of vocalization.” They concluded that these results suggest that “domestic dogs can obtain dog and human emotional information from both auditory and visual inputs, and integrate them into a coherent perception of emotion.”
We recently caught up with renowned author, L.A. Davenport, about his journey of writing the novel “My Life as a Dog”, which goes into depth about the emotional connection he had with his rescue miniature dachshund, Kevin. His book has become a place to store the memories of his faithful companion when they are no longer around.
What inspired you to write ‘My Life as a Dog’?
"I first thought of writing a book about the life I shared with my charming and extremely idiosyncratic black-and-tan dachshund when my wife was pregnant with our first child.
Getting to know Kevin, the adopted name of my canine companion, was one of the most profound experiences of my life, and my connection with him was one of my greatest joys.
I knew the coming of a new life, my own flesh and blood, would not only take up all my time and my energy, but also, I feared, supplant my recollections of Kevin and push him into the background. I did not want Kevin to disappear into the shadows of my mind, which I’m sure is a feeling most owners of pets who have passed feel.
So, I set about coming up with a way I could ensure those treasured memories would never be forgotten, and indeed could spread out into the world and be enjoyed by anyone.
Indeed, I could barely think about him without welling up. Yet I referred to him in conversation on an almost daily basis. I was hardly alone in this."
What was Kevin like?
"Kevin was a very popular dog. I loved hearing the memories of him that people wanted to share with me, and to offer my own little observations, or to recount hilarious episodes in which his strong personality, his earnestness, his boisterousness, his sheer cheek, as well as his kindness and sensitivity, would shine through. Kevin engendered such love and devotion in people, including passersby, that it seemed his very existence on this earth was designed to bring delight to all who encountered him.
In this way, he lived forever. But eternal life is only guaranteed if a flame is kept alive."
What challenges did you encounter writing the book?
"At first, I didn’t know where to begin with writing a book. How can you distill down 13 years of life into a few stories? He was complex and interesting, and very special, as every dog is to their owner. How could I say that without coming across as sentimental, or worse as a disillusioned owner who cannot see that their adored companion is, in fact, an animal? However, I realised that was the point. Kevin was, yes, a dog, and understanding that, and the limitations it implies, made him and his capabilities seem all the more exceptional.
He was, more than many people, able to connect with others, and yet he remained a dog above all else. I think this is partly because I didn’t expect him to be anything more than that, but I did encourage him to express himself to his fullest. And through that we grew together as individuals, until we were so close, I could sometimes barely tell us apart.
It was that story I wanted to tell through a few selected episodes from our long life together. By the time my baby was born, I had almost finished writing, and I knew Kevin’s flame would burn forever.”
For those who are keen to read more about the bond between L.A. Davenport and Kevin, My Life as a Dog is now available from online retailers to purchase. The follow-up book, More Life as a Dog, is out in December 2023.
Book your place at Goodwoof next year and listen to more dog related stories in the tranquil setting of Literary Corner. 2023’s event saw readings from many famous faces such as Clare Balding, Hugh Bonneville and Tracey Corderoy. Plus, save £5 with early bird tickets which are now available.