What is a Heart Dog?

I hear a lot about the concept of “heart” dogs. Even Patricia McConnell talks about Luke, her canine soul-mate. To be honest, I don’t really get it. I have never felt a super-natural connection with an animal. The idea is sweet but it isn’t one I am sure I can wrap my brain around.

Clearly, I love my dog. I wouldn’t spend this much time babbling about her if I didn’t. But unlike many other dog owners I know, I wouldn’t call her my “heart dog”. Not even remotely. There are times I wonder whether we have any sort of connection at all, usually after she has blown me off for the fifth time in favour of bird seed. Our relationship is something I have to work on constantly. I will admit, for the first two or three months, I wasn’t even sure I liked her very much.

I wasn’t sure she liked me.

I joke a lot about Shiva being my little protector. Before my practically husband returns home in the evenings, she sits beside me on the couch and stares at the door. The instant it is open she is off and barking, even if it is my PH on the other side. I think it is hilarious. However, I don’t know if she is doing it for my benefit or her own. I can’t be sure she isn’t rushing to protect herself. Especially given her history of fearful reactivity. Shiva is not a selfless dog.

That’s okay. I am not a selfless human.

Perhaps these things take time. Our current rapport is obviously much better than it was even six months ago. By the time she is a sleepy, old senior maybe I will be thinking differently. Maybe I will get what everyone is talking about.

And then again, maybe not. Shiva just may not be it for me. Which is fine. I don’t need her to be. But I am curious as to what the whole concept means.

Have you experienced life with a “heart dog”? What does the phrase mean to you? Do you even believe such a connection is possible or do you think it is just maudlin sap? If you do have a “heart dog”, how did you know?

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44 Comments on What is a Heart Dog?

  1. sara
    March 10, 2011 at 8:03 am (3 years ago)

    Oreo is certainly not my heart dog! He is quite self absorbed.

    However, I did have a sheltie I do consider my “heart dog”. He was very in tune to me and my emotions. I don’t know why, but we had a very deep, soulful bond. Hard to explain,but when you experience it, you will know.

    I don’t believe you will only have this relationship with one dog. I believe that type of connection can happen again, but it hasn’t for me….yet.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm (3 years ago)

      Shiva is pretty much self-absorbed 100% of the time as well. I don’t mind that, because she’s a dog. But if she were a human, I doubt we would ever be friends!

  2. georgia little pea
    March 10, 2011 at 8:07 am (3 years ago)

    If I remember correctly, Shiva is your 1st Very Own Dog? I think you might need to have a few and then, 1 or 2 might start to stand out for you. It may be Shiva and it may not. I’ve had 2 special ones out of 10. My very first, Cookie, and Jordan. I don’t know if I would call them soulmates since I’m not a maudlin sap, but I certainly loved and still love, miss and think of them.

    You’ve had Shiva 6 years???

    P.S. Congrats! You got it! In fact, I think I might have misunderstood your 1st comment. Maybe you got it right way back then and I was the confused one. Typical foggy old brain :p

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 10:43 am (3 years ago)

      Nothing wrong with being a sap, I say. Especially if it’s about your animals.

      6 years?? No, not even two years yet. Our anniversary will be in April. Did I say six somewhere?

      No, I am still the confused one. So they ARE statues? Or are they stuffed? LOL. I can’t believe one photo can have so many possibilities. I think the owner of the truck would find all this hilarious!

  3. Pamela
    March 10, 2011 at 8:24 am (3 years ago)

    I think we have different feelings about different dogs. I think parents have different feelings about different kids. All that “I love everyone the same” is hooey.

    I had a very deep bond with my childhood dog Duchess who was a vicious killer. And also with Agatha who was neurotic. For some reason, we just feel a deeper connection with some creatures than with others. Maybe it’s chemical.

    But I don’t think we need to have that deep connection with every dog to get great joy from having them in our lives. I love Honey very, very much. But she might be too perfect to ever form that kind of bond with. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens as we grow together.

    I think it’s a neat thing to think about. I’m looking forward to reading all the comments on this one.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm (3 years ago)

      Maybe it is chemical, just as they say it often is with human relationships. Why not?

      And I agree, it is total “hooey”. My parents never treated my sister and I exactly the same. They loved us both equally but thought about us very differently.

      I agree also that the deep spiritual connection is not necessary. Sometimes I don’t understand my dog at all. But she still makes me laugh almost every five minutes.

  4. priscilla
    March 10, 2011 at 8:30 am (3 years ago)

    I’m not sure I’ve any ‘heart’ dogs either but I did love a dog seriously. She’s Hana, Eva’s mother. I loved her since the first day she stepped into my life and although the time we were together was indeed very short, I loved her a lot and still miss her a lot. Then I also realised time isn’t an issue at all when it comes to the relationship with our pets. I only had three months with Hana but she touched my heart and she’s the type of dog that I wanted all the time. My eyes are teary now and it’s just because I’m talking about her here.
    I guess one day you will find your ‘heart’ dog. Who knows, Shiva might be the one too.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm (3 years ago)

      That’s so sweet. The story of Hana always makes me cry a little. I am so glad you got that time with her, even if it had to be so brief. That just makes it all the more precious.

  5. Stumpy and Cyndi
    March 10, 2011 at 9:37 am (3 years ago)

    You’ll know when you have that once in a lifetime dog. I’ve had two, which totally shocked me. Shiva may well be your heart dog, too. And the two of you just haven’t realized the depth of your connection.

    Sometimes, I feel bad, because Stumpy and I don’t have that connection. but she’s an independant little shit and prefers for me to think I am an afterthought, she’d do fine with out me. Plus, I think she really wants a boy or man of her own. She does love the men! When my son is around I might as well be dead.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm (3 years ago)

      LOL. I am pretty sure my dog would do fine without me as well, as long as there is someone to feed her she would survive. Hopefully this person would also have less rules and wouldn’t keep that toy box so far out of her reach. ;-)

      It’s interesting, the difference between my relationship with Shiva and my husband’s. It may be worth a post of it’s own.

  6. Ettel E
    March 10, 2011 at 10:18 am (3 years ago)

    Charlie is my heart dog. My mom brought him home when I was 13 and in bad shape (emotionally – as you could imagine for a 13 year old, though we did have more serious issues going on at home). He and I clicked almost immediately and we never left each other’s sides. In some ways, and this sounds incredibly cliche, he saved me. To this day we read each other without thinking. We know how we feel. He’s very intune to my emotional state and very supportive. He really seems to be almost an extension of me – it’s a very natural feeling.

    Emma’s only been with us for eight months, but the difference in our relationship is marked. Granted she has a LOT of abuse/neglect to get over and has made huge strides, the relationship is still very different. I snuggle and mush with her all the time, but we’re just not in sync like Charlie and I am. She wants to sleep all day, Charlie’s ready for any adventure that I can come up with. She’s also a bullheaded brat sometimes and Charlie’s incredibly respectful.

    It’s difficult to explain. Part of it may be that Charlie came to me as a puppy.

    What I do know is that when he goes, I will be absolutely devastated. I’m terrified to think about what that experience will be like. I’ve had nightmares about it. He really feels like a piece of me, and I’ll lose that piece when he’s gone. Ugh I’m tearing up as I’m writing this.

    OK that’s the best I can do =-)

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm (3 years ago)

      It is difficult, but I really appreciate your thoughts. I am so glad Charlie appeared in your life at just the right time. And you in his. Comments like these just prove that Shiva is so NOT my soul mate. We are definitely not in sync. But that’s okay as I do see her as my rescuer in a lot of ways. She is my teacher, my guide for life. Without her I may not have discovered my passion. That is more than enough, I’d say.

      Thanks again. I certainly didn’t want to make anyone cry! I was hoping for a warm and fuzzy angle. Thanks for being brave and sharing such a big part of yourself. Give that Charlie a hug for me.

  7. ashley dewey
    March 10, 2011 at 10:25 am (3 years ago)

    Bailey is certainly my heart dog. Like the other reader above he came to me at a rough time in my life. We have an unbeleiveably close connection that I don’t have with any of my other dogs. I love my other dog Peanut but I know she would be fine living with out me. I feel Bailey would truely miss me if he went to live with someone else.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm (3 years ago)

      That’s interesting. I am so glad people were able to find themselves again after finding a dog. It’s a lovely thing. I am grateful to Bailey, and to you, for having the courage to love so much without fear.

  8. Kim
    March 10, 2011 at 10:31 am (3 years ago)

    Chai is definitely my “heart dog.” I think I see a trend, but Chai also came to me when I was at rock bottom. I needed her to literally survive. I got up in the morning to be a good dog mom. I went to bed at night knowing she would need me tomorrow and the next day and the next. She can sense when I am upset about something, even if I don’t even know yet and she sits patiently by my side until I’m ready to cry it out or until I need a good snuggle.

    I think she would be heartbroken not to have me around and I feel the exact same way. Mak, on the other hand, would probably be happy just so long as he was getting fed.

    I dunno… maybe I’m misunderstanding what a heart dog is, but for me, I’d say Chai pretty much encompasses what I imagine a heart dog to be.

    Oh, I love my snuggly black ball of fur.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm (3 years ago)

      I certainly know what that is like. I was going through a rough mental time before we adopted Shiva. She gave me inspiration and drive like I have never had it before. She definitely changed my life. For that I will always owe her one. But I still don’t feel that “in sync” feeling.

      I love your black ball of fur as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. What would we do without the mutts?

  9. Roberta
    March 10, 2011 at 11:07 am (3 years ago)

    For me, the term “heart dog” goes beyond feelings for a particular dog – they have affected me deep in my spirit. So far, I have had two, both passed with horrible regret and pain still tender. If Louie, a Beagle, had been temperament tested by the shelter, he never would have been adopted out; he bit me more times than I can count but I was dumb, too – on a great learning curve. He was the smartest dog I have yet to meet. When I would drive into my driveway, the other dogs would be barking and watching at me; Louie would be looking into the garage where I was GOING. He also set up other dogs. He would plant a chew toy in a door way, then wait for some unsuspecting sap to try to play with it, pouncing and denouncing said shocked dog for taking “his” toy. Penney I still can’t talk about – she was my shadow, alter ego, …ach.

    • According to Gus
      March 10, 2011 at 11:25 am (3 years ago)

      This is so interesting, Roberta! When I read about Louie looking at the garage instead of the car, it instantly made me think of Gus. He does the same thing when he sees us one of us pull into the driveway…he heads straight for the garage door into the house.

      • Roberta
        March 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm (3 years ago)

        See? Some dogs just GET you and are so smart, it is scary. What I forgot to say was Louie became so bonded to me, had such a tough time adjusting to others, though was a good dog :), that my vet (whom he bit) and I agreed, should I die before he, she would gently send him to heaven. Trying to re-home him with all his quirks, endearing as they became to me, would have been cruel. Sadly, he left this earth before I.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm (3 years ago)

      I understand, I actually have a difficult time talking about my childhood dog. I keep meaning to write a post about her but every time I think about it tears form. Even after six years I am still not ready.

      It doesn’t really get easier, does it? I am so sorry if I made you cry.

  10. Crystal (and Maisy)
    March 10, 2011 at 11:19 am (3 years ago)

    I believe that Maisy is my heart dog, but I’m going to need to think more about what that means and why I believe it. Unlike others, I didn’t get her at “rock bottom.” But she has completely changed my life. Completely.

    • Kristine
      March 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm (3 years ago)

      I know exactly what you mean. My life will never be the same again either. But I do envy your relationship with Maisy; in your videos she never takes her eyes off you.

  11. jan
    March 10, 2011 at 11:56 am (3 years ago)

    I’ve loved a lot of dogs in my life–a lot. But one special relationship is on a plain alone. There are no words, but it is there.

  12. Brooke Lowry
    March 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm (3 years ago)

    I believe it is entirely possible, because I’m living it, but it took me thirty years on earth, and a number of wonderful dogs I loved deeply, to find it, and I don’t know that I ever will again. I loved my childhood dogs dearly. I loved Dakotah, my deceased Malamute, about whom I’ve written on my blog, passionately and for the better part of two decades, and he was much to me. I adore Phoebe. Tucker is just different. He’s a different dog, and I’m a different person because of him. He is not perfect, though I think he’s as close as it gets, but he just GETS me, and I get him. It’s largely unspoken, and it’s been there from minute one. As others have said – when and if you experience it, you’ll know. It might be Shiva. It might not be. That doesn’t negate the strength of your bond or the work you’ve done together.

  13. Theresa
    March 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm (3 years ago)

    Nandy is truly my heart dog. Just looking at her shelter listing online I knew there was something special about her and that she’d be mind. I’ve never felt a connection with a dog like that before. In his books, Jon Katz describes them as ‘lifetime dogs’ :)

  14. Kari
    March 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm (3 years ago)

    Baily is my heart dog. I love the other two but my bond with Baily is something profoundly special.


  15. kathi
    March 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm (3 years ago)

    I have had two “heart” dogs. They both grew into the spot, or more likely, it was me that did the growing. Heidi came to us as a puppy. I don’t think I was her “heart” person – that would be my husband – she was a real daddy’s girl. But she was truly one of my “heart” dogs. Jake came to us as an adult. He definitely didn’t like me at first, and I was pretty sure I made a huge expensive mistake in buying him, until we got accustomed to each other and found the road we could take together. Jake has been gone for over 8 years and Heidi for over 7. I would trade a year or maybe more off my own life to see either one for just one more day.

  16. veryvizsla
    March 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm (3 years ago)

    Is Jersey my “heart dog”? Hmmm, that’s a good question. There are aspects of her personality, like her unwillingness to complete certain tasks, that say no. BUT she is my number one snuggle bunny and loves to “share” her treats with me, so that says yes. She travels everywhere with me and were are together for about 20 hours a day. So yes, I guess that she is my heart dog :D

  17. Ruff Toy Reviews
    March 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm (3 years ago)

    My first dog Seamus was definitely my heart dog… I got him as a puppy the year my Dad passed away, and he really did keep me going during a very hard time. Perhaps the feeling that you are as important to your dog as your dog is to you creates this bond, but we were such a team. I did all his training, was with him most of the day since I work from home, and we even did our volunteer therapy work together. It was wonderful to have him be so much a part of my life, but the truth is I spent his entire life absolutely terrified that I would lose him one day. For his 13 years, I dreaded his death, and that broke my heart. When I finally did lose him, I was devastated. I think after that, I had to change a little, and with my two dogs now, even though I love them just as much, and they very much are a huge part of my life, I try to just enjoy them for every day we have, without getting all co-dependent if that makes any sense. Having two dogs and a husband also helps because it spreads the love around a bit.

  18. Two Pitties in the City
    March 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm (3 years ago)

    The term “heart dog” is kind of new to me, though I did write about dog soul mates before. I just thought that there were strange and unusual circumstances that brought me to find and adopt Miss M. For me, part of it was the shock that I would actually want to adopt a pitbull that maybe made my investment more intense. Plus, since I was a single girl at the time, that kind of strengthened things. Maybe it was just because she was my roommate, but we do have a different kind of bond, and I invested so much energy in her. Of course I like Mr. B, but it just isn’t the same.

  19. one person's view
    March 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm (3 years ago)

    Our Best Friend is not my heart dog, even though I’m very attached to him. He stresses me out too much. My heart dog belongs to my best friend. We used to babysit her all the time, but now it’s gone down to once or twice a year. She is the BEST dog in the world. She never barks, she comes instantly when called (once when she was nose-to-nose with a skunk!), is perfectly gentle and submissive with everyone, and looks at me with such love in her eyes.

    However, I do believe that we are OBF’s heart people. If I gave him away tomorrow, I don’t think he’d get over it. When we leave him with a babysitter, he doesn’t eat for a day or two. We get unbelievable love from him. If we ever get his anxiety levels down to something normal, and curb that insane barking, maybe he can become my heart dog.

  20. Trude
    March 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm (3 years ago)

    Hmmm I don’t know if I would call Dante my heart dog, even though he probably meets all the criteria. Maybe it’s because he’ll jump into any car with an open door? ;) But I wasn’t even sure if he was my protector (all 18 pounds of him) until one day when my ex and I got into a bit of a tickle/wrestling match, and Dante went after him. It sounds crazy, but I was so proud! But in the sense that I feel like I can really read his emotions and expressions, and he usually gets mine, then he is definitely a dog after my own heart. :)

  21. GreyhoundsCANsit
    March 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm (3 years ago)

    I’ve written a post about this a few months ago too, and also recently commented on another blog that posed this question and even after reading the comments here I still don’t know the answer to the question! Which makes me think that perhaps I’ve never had a ‘heart dog’?

    I’ve had about 15 dogs and only had the one I didn’t like. She didn’t stay but went to a far more suitable home:) All the rest I have loved deeply and unconditionally. And they’ve loved me the same:) But some just have a way of getting under my skin more and deeper into my heart.

    Take Frankie and Beryl. Beryl is a much easier dog to have around, probably the easiest dog I’ve every had. Frankie is way better than when he was a youngster (I got him at about 10 months old) and still is likely to get up to mischief and cause me some grief. But he has this way of looking at me, very intense and ‘knowing’ like he’s looking into my soul that sets him apart. They both fill my heart but Frankie does something to my brain, lol:)

  22. Shauna (Fido & Wino)
    March 10, 2011 at 6:32 pm (3 years ago)

    I don’t know if one of my dogs is more of a “heart dog” over the other. People always comment on how much Mickey loves me… spending all day every day with them both really makes me feel like those two turkeys are my best friends. I am crazy about my dogs… I can see that Kayloo really has something special with John though… maybe Mickey is my heart dog? I feel bad saying that though, even though of course they are “just” dogs and would never know I said that one over the other.

    Wow. Babbling ;)

    So… I dunno. I know I adore my dogs :)

  23. Vicky
    March 10, 2011 at 7:30 pm (3 years ago)

    For me, a “heart dog” is the dog who was once yours and what you’d like all your future dogs to resemble, though it will never happen.

    I think it’s impossible to know who your heart dog is until after they have passed, for he or she tends to be the one that remains forever at the uppermost in your heart…the one whose name you still accidentally call your other dogs, long after they’re gone.

  24. belleofthecarnival
    March 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm (3 years ago)

    Sadie is my heart dog and I missed her so much while we were on vacation. I worried about her not getting enough attention or giving her sitters a hard time. But she was great!

    We have a close connection and she always senses when I’m having a bad day. She is also very protective of our kids and keeps a close eye on them when they are playing outside.

    I think “heart dog” has a different meaning. My very first dog was my best friend he went everywhere with me as a child and it was very sad the day he died on my graduation day. He was also my heart dog, and was always there for me.

    Sadie and I have the same connection. She is our fur baby and we love her even when she eats all of my shoes :)

  25. Ryker/Sandy
    March 11, 2011 at 12:47 am (3 years ago)

    I think that heart dogs or cats, at least for me, are the ones that seek to spend time with you when there is no benefit to them. No treats, no play, just the shear joy of being with you, snuggling close, licking your face, and staring into your eyes. Reaching out and laying a paw across you and drifting off to sleep.
    My heart cat used to come and snuggle with me when ever I cried. Even if he was on the other side of the house. When I lost my Dad he was with me constantly. He slept on my headboard and would dangle his paw down and rest it on my head and go to sleep, he did that till he passed away.
    Ryker loves to snuggle, he has great eye contact and gives crazy kisses. I think if given half a chance if he isn’t playing or eating he would like to be physically touching me. That is so endearing to me, even my husband is a bit jealous. We have a very close bond and I consider him my “Heart Dog” although I’m not particularly found of that title. Soul mate doesn’t work for me either. I’m not sure what to call it but it feels good!

  26. 24 Paws of Love
    March 11, 2011 at 3:56 am (3 years ago)

    I had 3 dogs before I had my ‘heart dog’ Brut. I had never heard of anything about before, but there was something different about our relationship than I had with any other animal before. For me, Brut is like my arm or leg. It is the strangest but most beautiful thing in the world. We just get each other. I don’t have that uniqueness with any of my other dogs.

    When you have a heart dog, you will know. There will be no questions about it.

  27. Heather
    March 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm (3 years ago)

    I believe in the concept, yes. The first dog I adopted (Sophie) when I moved out on my own is who I consider my heart dog, even though I only had her in my life for a little under 2 years. I say she is my heart dog probably because of how much she taught me – she taught me to be selfless and I credit her with teaching me how to be a mom. Sophie was sick and I spent 99% of my time with her learning all I could about her sickness, taking care of her, spending every single spare cent on her care, and spending every single spare emotion on learning how to cope with a sick dog. When I adopted my second (and one of my current) dogs, Ava, it is because of Sophie that I know how to take care of her – what to look for, how to plan for unexpected things with her, what to do when she gets sick, what makes her tick and how to react to the things she does. When Ava got super sick and needed round-the-clock care and visits to specialists, I was almost prepared. While it still took every spare cent and ounce of emotion to bring her back from the brink, I had been through it before and knew I could handle it. I was strong for her and a great mom to her. And I learned how to do this because of Sophie.

  28. Lara Elizabeth
    November 6, 2013 at 3:49 am (9 months ago)

    Catching up on popular posts, and this is a good one.
    I have had all kinds of animals in my life, and in the horse world, there are “heart horses” as well. That one is easy for me – I have had my gelding for twenty-one years, his name means “heart” in Spanish.

    Dogs are tougher…how to choose? Several childhood and family dogs, my two old girls that I lost this year, and my new little firecracker that I’ve had for all of three months. Even between my previous girls, the doggesses Lasya and Freya, they both live in my heart in different but equal ways. They each have their own lessons to teach us, and I believe Ruby may teach me the most of all.
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  32. Sue
    February 17, 2014 at 11:35 am (6 months ago)

    Funny you should ask that question because I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. “What makes a dog one’s ‘heart dog’?” I’ve decided that there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Each dog that’s been a part of my life has been very special to me in her own way. I’ve loved them all equally, but for different reasons. Still, my first dog that was truly mine (and not Mom’s first) was Kissy; and she and I shared a bond that I haven’t shared with any dog before or since. She was my baby, my “surrogate child”, and definitely my heart dog. I cried for four months after sending her to the Rainbow Bridge. And I still cry at times when I think of how sick she was at the end. It just breaks my heart. But she is always in my thoughts and heart, so while I miss her physical presence, I know she’s still right here with me at my side.
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