Recently I took one of my 2 golden retrievers, Wilbur, to school.
Once a week I teach violin at a local elementary school. I brought Wilbur to class to demonstrate a musical lesson.
When I walked into the classroom with Wilbur, the kids immediately got excited and began lavishing him with attention. The children were pleased, delighted and surprised. They acted quite differently then when a typical visitor comes to school.
They were experiencing the ‘puppy effect’ — the redrawing of social boundaries in the presence of a puppy.
When we pass strangers on the street, we maintain boundaries. Eye contact or a brief smile is permissible. But striking up conversations with a passing stranger is typically not.
But someone that walks a puppy downtown is inviting interaction with people they pass. People that see this puppy, particularly other dog owners, will wind up talking with people they would have never had a reason to interact with.
On my vacation last week, as I sat on a couch playing music, I met a friendly lobster fisherman from Maine. I met a software engineer who owns an educational software company (a personal interest of mine). I met a young man, my son’s age, who is trying to figure out the next chapter in his life.
Music reaches across social boundaries. It causes us to act differently. Simply by playing music I enjoy, I have made friends and heard stories I would have missed.
Social scientists, psychologists and wise people over a few thousand years tell us that it is relationships which have the greatest influence on our happiness. We are social creatures. Introverts and extroverts alike need connection with others.
As a mob of shy 6-year-olds were stroking Wilbur, I told them how their music will someday cause people to smile and gather together. And while they are too young to appreciate a discussion on the importance of relationships and happiness, they are old enough to appreciate the warm feelings that a dog inspires.