My dog seems to know I like to be gazed at, as I know he likes to be touched. His intense attentiveness gets rewarded with a touch, and every time I reach over to touch (especially) the top of his head, he gazes into my eyes with the ardor of a moony lover.
I do not think the dog is surprisingly smart or well behaved (though, I think, he is a little ahead of the curve in intelligence and sociability). He has been around me for fourteen and a half years, so perhaps he knows me better than anybody else ever has. That's not to say he understands me (or I understand him).
I feel guilty about not spending more time with him when I am working--or traveling. Like all dogs, he is a pack animal, and our relationship, whatever to call it, is just a substitute for having a pack to belong to. And whatever fondness he feels for me, the truth is that he never chose me. He may love me, if that's the appropriate word, but he did not decide at age eight weeks to spend the rest of his life with me. And he stays with me because I am what he knows--not that he has options. (On the other hand, in the wild, he would have no choice of packs either. He would take and accept what is available to him.)
I credit him with a lot of moral goodness, even wisdom. Right now I admire his contentedness with things as they are. Maybe he lacks the mental resources to imagine things being different--but, then, he does dream, and his dreams do appear to concern things that are not actually happening, so I can't say. His ability to live in the moment seems untainted by a desire to understand--mere knowledge and familiarity seem to be enough for him.
The past, for instance. Do dogs have anything resembling nostalgia? They seem to grieve when something or someone is taken away from them, but couldn't that be more a knowledge of what is NOT, as opposed to a fond consideration of what used to be? They remember things, but do they have regrets? I am almost certain that they do not--even though they whimper and cower sometimes when they sense their human companions' displeasure--or when they know, without our knowing anything, that things are not as they usually are. They seem to know (as well as any of us know) things that have happened in the past, but perhaps they do not pine for or repent of them. Their histories, to the extent that they have any narrative capacity, seem to merely contain all that has put them where they are today. They are apparently as unconscious of free will as they are of fate.
But if he is anything, my dog is a realist. He knows and accepts things as they are. If he has ideals, I cannot comprehend them. What he values is what he is used to--but he is easily adaptable to changes (within boundaries--he seems to accept change only insomuch as it involves a carry-over of a good many things he's familiar with: me, a toy, his bed--and I or somebody like me--a human provider--seems to be the irreducible good for his sense of well-being).
But what I love about my dog most is how mysterious his mind seems to me. Knowable, to a certain extent, but incomprehensible. What does he think of music? Not much, apparently. And he seems neither amused nor alarmed when I get up on my feet and dance to something I like. (Is it just that he has better tastes than I do?) And this morning, after looking lethargic all morning--and having earlier agreed to an only perfunctory walk to relieve himself--though the morning was shining and beautiful--after defining the words "hang dog" all morning, he came running to me with his toy in his mouth. He wanted to play--out of nowhere this urge to amuse himself and me--and so, careful not to let him hurt himself, I tussled with him for a bit with his toy. It took only a minute or so to reach the game's end, but I was so touched by the spurt of life energy in him that tears came to my eyes. It was the happiest I have been all week. That minute was better than all of Thor in 3-D.