Do Even Dogs Need Ritual?

Dog-in-santa-hatHumans are liturgical beings. The rituals and rhythms of our existence give meaning to life. They help us know our our place in the world.

Have we inherited the need for ritual in the genetic code that we share with our animal kin? Is it literally built into our DNA?

My dog demonstrates a strong need for ritual. Let me give you three examples. When I leave for work, he follows me into the garage and jumps up to put his front paws in my chest before I get in the car. It’s not primarily about affection; he seems more interested in taking a look down the street than in anything that I am doing. When I return home, he jumps on the bed to lean against me when I take off my combat boots. After supper, he carries his own leash when we walk home from the mailbox.

He repeats his rituals in the same way, at the same time, day in and day out. He becomes upset and insistent if he thinks that he’ll be unable to complete them. They don’t put food in his bowl or provide any other tangible benefit. They are just a part of his expected daily rhythm.  I don’t think that they convey “meaning” in the human sense, but I do think that their repetition makes him comfortable about his existence and his place in our home.