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The Canine in Conversation
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an illustration of two teenagers, boy and girl, holding hands and pressing foreheads together


puppy love. Immature love, infatuation.

As you can see, puppy love, or young love, has a bad rap. As dramatized, it typically is a pairing that society—or at least the parents—feel is ill-fated or immoral. Class or race differences are the most commonly depicted as contributing to ruinous relationships between young lovers, though feuds (such as the one between the Montagues and the Capulets) have figured large as well.

Perhaps the origins arise from the affect that puppies can have on humans. Puppies appear to be especially lovable for many humans, sometimes more lovable than mature dogs. Konrad Lorenz postulated that certain physical characteristics, such as large eyes and short limbs, evoke parental care responses.reference 1 Some of the more cynical commentators on this subject go so far as to describe this affect as a species survival characteristic that serves dogs far better than it does humans.reference 2 When a puppy followed me home, my parents certainly expressed concerns that echoed those cliché warnings about someone who is “not your kind.”

But is the reputation of puppy love deserved? Policy analyst Kara Joyner and her colleague J. Richard Urdy report that teens who fall in love are at higher risk for depression, alcohol problems, and delinquency than those who don't get romantically involved, with girls at greater risk than boys.reference 3 They note that the level of stress caused by such relationships is also affected by the level of conflict it creates with parents. So, is puppy love bad, or is it the parental reaction that makes it depressing?

On the other side, we have developmental psychologist Nancy Kalish, who has conducted research about couples who were sweethearts in high school who later reunite. Two-thirds of her research participants had reunited with their first loves from when they were 17 years old or younger. Their “success rate” for staying together was 78%.reference 4 Of course, Kalish interviewed only those who chose to seek out their childhood exes; I am not sure that her work says much of anything about puppy love as a phenomenon (not that she claims it does). That aside, the stories she relates are testaments to the lasting potency that early romantic attachments can have.

My own case of puppy love struck at 19 and I confess that I have no interest at all in rekindling that relationship.

1. Lorenz, Konrad. 1982. The Foundations of Ethology: The Principal Ideas and Discoveries in Animal Behavior. 1st Touchstone ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

2. Budiansky, Stephen. 2002. Dog's Best Friend. New York Times, Dec 5, 11.

3. Joyner, Kara, and J Richard Udry. 2000. You Don't Bring Me Anything but Down: Adolescent Romance and Depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 41 (4):369-392.


4. Kalish, Nancy. 1997. Lost and Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romances. 1st ed. New York: William Morrow & Co.



About the illustration: Are these two star-crossed? © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.  
see also: puppy dog Last updated: July 28, 2008
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