How the contrasting behaviour of two dogs can give one an insight into brain dominance and enhance understanding of human nature.

Life with my pet canines is not just joyful and entertaining; it reveals to me each day, profound neuro-scientific insights. Carlo, my German Shepherd, is a classic example of his breed; in looks and temperament. A “Master's” dog, his life revolves around my routines. A glance in his direction, slight change in tone, low whistle, all will ensure his immediate compliance with “his Master's” desires. Obedient and devoted to a fault, Carlo is also extremely high strung and anxious, alert to every change in his environment, and protective of it; so much so that I rarely catch him in fitful slumber. Blessed with an uncanny sixth sense for “his Master”, a trait that his breed is famous for, Carlo actually heads for the gate, minutes before my arrival at home from work. Not one to break rules, he will not enter a room or defile a piece of furniture, once forbidden. Natty and fastidious about his appearance, he remains shiny coated through the week, not an ounce of dirt on him, nor a doggy odour.   

Unpredictable and wilful

Contrast this with my later acquisition Coco, a Basset Hound. A handsome specimen with the classic sad and droopy face, jowls et al, Coco suffers from both occasional seizures and frequent mood swings. An approach in his direction, with best intentions, can evoke dramatically different responses: from a friendly, excited, tail-wagging welcome, to total loss of control; sometimes a resentful, even angry growl, bark or snap in the general direction of approach. Unpredictable mood swings from hypomania and hyperactivity to depression and profound apathy characterise his eventful existence. Disobedient, wilful and obstinate, he can be depended on to do exactly the opposite of what is intended, oblivious to “his Master's” pleas, commands and threats. Indeed so agnostic is Coco of his surroundings that he can collapse like a sac, his numerous folds spread around him, in fitful slumber, no matter what the circumstances are. House rules mean little to this brat! Stride he will into any room at will, climb on any piece of furniture that strikes his fancy; and somehow manage at least once in each week to manifest for our benefit the pinnacle of filth; no part of the garden, however muddy, having been spared during his meanderings.

Not surprisingly, he emits a profound doggy odour so striking that dog lovers claim it should be bottled and sold (Chanel by Coco is our private joke). Guests without a fondness for canines, beat a hasty retreat from our abode when he decides to bless our company with his presence.  

The contrasts in doggy behaviour become most apparent in our morning walk together. Carlo, the German Shepherd, needs no leash, walking three to four kilometres on the footpath that runs alongside arterial roads near our home. Rarely straying more than 10 feet from “his Master”, purposeful in his stride, nary a glance asunder, whatever the provocation, Carlo is the epitome of walking propriety, even his ablutions being timed for completion at a certain discreet spot.

Coco, the Basset Hound, on the other hand, treats the walk as a grand exploration of sorts; an opportunity to experience for himself this beautiful world that the good God has created. Constantly tugging at his leash in an angle perpendicular to the general direction of travel; sparing no human, animal or plant form en route from his nasal excursions, Coco is anything but purposeful about his morning constitutional, his ablutions being intermittent and erratic, intruding into the well directed journey of his fellow canine and Master, much to their combined annoyance. No order is heard, let alone obeyed; no single purpose complied with, other than that, which his doggie mind is set on.  

My clinical experience in brain and mind matters has led me to conclude that Carlo, my German Shepherd, is left-brained and Coco, my Basset Hound, right-brained. The concept of hemispheric dominance, i.e. which side of the brain has a more dominant effect in the concerned individual, is one example of how brain function may influence behaviour and temperament.

Left brain dominant individuals tend to be more ideological and philosophical in their approach; more motivated by social and pragmatic, rather than emotional concerns; more diligent, purposeful, capable of greater tenacity and driven more often by a sense of duty.

On the other hand, right brain dominant people have a better appreciation of the world around them, greater creative ability; a proclivity for the finer aspects of life; and tend to be more mood and emotion driven in making their choices; both day to day ones and those that are life-defining. Put simply, left brained individuals think with their heads, the right brained with their hearts; and can be quite a study in contrasts, experiencing great difficulty understanding one another. Little wonder then that many professional and personal relationships run into rough weather; the two parties failing to understand each other's contrasting preferences and predilections.

Unique temperamental attributes

Carlo and Coco have taught me that brain dominance is not an exclusive prerogative of the human race. And love them as I do, equally, I have learnt through them to celebrate rather than despair in these unique temperamental attributes conferred on us by our brain, that marvellous wonder of creation. To understand my family and friends better by observing their brain dominance. To choose correctly my activity companions: left brained for the purposeful and right brained, the hedonistic; and to tailor my expectations of them, appropriately. Carlo and Coco have enhanced my understanding of human nature; and thanks in part to them, I find myself at peace with my fellow men; well most of the time. It is a dog's life, indeed! 

Prof. E.S. Krishnamoorthy is a Senior Consultant in Neuropsychiatry and Hon. Secretary, The Voluntary Health Services Hospital, Chennai. E-mail: esk@nsig.org

RELATED NEWS

Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012