Dancin' to the doghouse rock

Is any creature more optimistic than a dog?

No matter how often we disappoint our dogs, they maintain a sunny outlook, especially when it comes to us, their humans. They expect us to do our best by them, every time. And, they're quick to forgive and forget -- just because you didn't offer a snack this time doesn't mean you won't the very next time you get up from the sofa.

You could argue that dogs simply have faulty memories, that their jellybean-sized brains don't allow for disappointment. Hope springs eternal when you can't remember five minutes ago. But I prefer to think of it as optimism.

Take our dog Elvis. (Please. Haha!) He's always delighted to go for a ride in the car, though the destination almost always is somewhere he hates. The vet. The kennel.

(Note: Both destinations are in the same building. The drive from our house to the "pet hospital" takes, oh, 40 seconds. We only use a vehicle for this trip because we live on top of a precipitous hill and the pet hospital's at the bottom. Also, we're usually running late for our appointment.)

If you or I had a similar history with automobile rides, you couldn't get us anywhere near the garage. But Elvis happily leaps into the car, sniffing seats and slobbering on the windows, apparently never making the connection that, in 40 seconds or so, he'll get reacquainted with a rectal thermometer.

Even after we arrive at the familiar pet hospital, he's excited, running around, sniffing all the places where other critters have "been." Only when someone unveils a hypodermic needle does he think this trip was a bad idea. And those misgivings only last a few seconds. Because, as soon as the vet's done, I say, "Elvis! Want to go for a ride in the car?"

Hurray! Another ride! Leap, sniff, slobber. Back home in less than a minute.

Whew, what an outing! Such a long car ride! To recuperate, Elvis must now have a snack, then sleep for the next 17 hours.

I'm convinced we could do this same routine, up to and including the shots, every day, for the next 125 years, and Elvis still would get excited to go in the car. Because he's an optimist. This time, his jellybean tells him, could be different! We could go someplace fun! Maybe a field trip to the snack factory! Yay!

The only thing Elvis loves more than a car ride is to go for a walk. It's his chance to go out into the wider world of the neighborhood and sniff all the local "bulletin boards." Always a new and exciting experience.

He knows which sneakers I wear for our walks, so if he sees me put them on, he starts to get excited. And if I put on my sunglasses, hoo-boy, he spins in crazed anticipation. If I then shut him in the backyard and go somewhere without him, he might be momentarily confused, but not truly disappointed. He knows I'll come back eventually. And maybe then we'll go for a walk! Or a ride in the car! Yay!

Wouldn't it be nice if people could so easily forget disappointments? Alas, we humans (with the exception of some members of Congress) do not have brains the size of jellybeans. We remember the bad times as well as the good.

But maybe we could take a lesson from our pets: It's as easy to be optimistic as it is to be negative and cynical. Try it!

If you do, I'll take you for a ride in the car.

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