A dog is not a slave, but a friend. It’s important to remember that its shorter life should be rich and full like ours. That miraculous nose bringing in hundreds of times as much information as ours does, should be allowed to plumb the pleasures of this gift when we walk together. We shouldn’t just shuttle right home after the dog has peed and perhaps quenched the quirky curiosity about pooing which many of us have retained since childhood.

Half a century ago like children, dogs used to enjoy the freedom to roam all over town without being noosed by an animal-control officer into a caged van. Our own freedoms are less explored afoot than in cyberspace nowadays. Thus a dog’s life, too, is not lived out in the woods and fields, but shrink-wrapped indoors, keeping us company in a Facebook world where we otherwise lack hands-on friends, warm to our touch and flesh and blood.

As we live longer, they climb into bed with empty-nesters, childless couples and solo operators who “eat at the sink,” as one bachelor described his existence to me. Dogs observe us closely in our pack-boss role, yet simultaneously as we become dependent upon their companionship, our focus is also shifting toward a “virtualized” reality where animals don’t go. Will we want them as security blankets, therapy adjuncts, rather than comrades in our animality, fellow citizens of the animal world.

Dogs live for the moment, not speculating about this afternoon. That’s one reason we like to come home to their company after an occasional day spent with gabbling schemers at work. They’ll jump into the car for a jaunt or lie near us in the back yard while we weed, having trusted we would return when the sun got low and that’s what counts: leadership, a schedule and a life that is reasonably interesting. Spontaneity requires discipline, however, as it has learned and the dog will “take a bullet for you,” if necessary, when it loves you, or crawl toward you with a broken back, for that matter, when whacked by a truck on the road.

We grieve. Friends and family scatter like buckshot across the country, whereas we fingered and stroked that dog and slept in its attentive presence every night even though it stayed on the floor. The call of nature was in its eyes, not “the call of the wild.” Too many millennia have passed for that. And nature is seldom wilder than twisted humanity. When dogs and children were free to roam throughout small-town America, so much of nature was left that it was safe for them to do so. A dog’s nose, eyes, paws, coat and instincts maintain glints of what already has been lost. Just as the animal may serve us as a foster child, it provides a relic thread of nature in the house.

Obedience becomes a hobbyhorse for newbie owners as well as control freaks. “Does she obey? Does she heel? Does she sit when you offer her a treat?” And indeed dogs must mind, be housebroken, leash-friendly, child-tolerant, human-dominated, et cetera. But the point of enjoying comradeship with a dog should not be a slave-mastership or picayune demands exacted from a helpless beast. The delight is in the love and chumminess plus a widened spectrum of the world. Homo sapiens is not a be-all or end-all. You can see the richness of the rest of creation abbreviated in a dog’s rhythmic lope and soft eyes.

Nature is not a lawn. Nature is a stalking cat or our own breathing when sexually aroused. Nature is when that tame shade tree outside begins to swing in the wind as though it might drop a limb on the house, but also the balm of a dog’s wet nose seeking your palm. When you have “been through the wringer” — to evoke a phrase from the era preceding washing machines — there’s nothing quite like petting a dog, or maybe a horse nuzzling your cheek for the salt sweat has left there. If you whip a horse or a dog, they’re not likely to nuzzle you. Dogs learn to grin from us, so give them reason to.

Edward Hoagland is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of essays. He lives in Edgartown.