Here's the scenario. You're at dinner with both your family and your significant other's family. The awkwardness that results needs no explanation.
How does the awkwardness go away? From my experience, there are often two main solutions: guys and dogs.
By "guys," I mean the most common link between the two families. (This example can be extended to include two social groups that share some common members but do not often mix.) There is this pressure that guys (if they're the most "common" member of the two social circles) feel to help break the ice. Often times, girls play this role much more naturally. Everyone often looks to whoever it is organizing the event or joint outing for social cues as to what to do with the awkwardness.
And the best way to dispel it is through humor. That's where dogs come in. Having a dog around immediately (for better or worse) shifts the focus of attention away from the social interaction and onto the cuteness or hilarity of the animal. Everyone likes to pet it, ask questions about it, tell stories about its escapades, and that dispels awkwardness and also creates bonding (as the two social circles learn more about each other through their common experiences around dogs). Maybe cats and all pets help serve this function too.
But humor and cuteness need not be solely from dogs. Often funny hats and weird clothes can serve the same function.
I wonder if other guys (or pet owners) out there have felt the same way and what techniques others use to help their guests feel at home. When it's my job, I know that I feel responsible to do this as the guy, and my dog always comes to the rescue to help.
When most people think of the chihuahua, they think of the Taco Bell dog. That certainly made the breed a lot more famous, and I heard it unfortunately created an oversupply of the breed which still exists today.
But Taco Bell wasn't the only place in pop culture that featured this rat dog. Consider Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Though the movie definitely jokes about ultra-luxurious living for dogs (comfy suntanning lounges by the swimming pool, manicures and massages -- how could a modern dog live without these necessities?), it actually does do a bit of justice to the long history and richness of the breed that eludes the eye (which is usually just overwhelmed by the cuteness of the face).
There's a scene in the movie where the dogs meet the powerful, wild chihuahuas that represent the grace, beauty, and fearlessness that the chihuahua contains inside. This is obviously for cinematic effect, but there is some truth to this. Every time my chihuahua is annoyed (such as by being put into a rabbit costume or by having its teeth brushed), it displays the meanest and fiercest set of fangs that are better suited for a lion than a rat.
It is true that the breed possesses a long history and is named after the state in Mexico of the same name. Chihuahuas were the favorite companion of the Toltec royalty and were bred to be small and cute. They are perfect examples of the "toy dog" category.
When I first interacted with a chihuahua, I thought it would be a stupid, small dog (for chicks to carry in their purse). As I spent more time with the breed and got to bond with one closely, I realized that the cuteness was a front, a facade. They use their cuteness to get into your heart and your arms and use you for food, shelter, warmth, and love. Chihuahuas are in fact devilishly clever; I was surprised to see how incredibly smart they are. Their love for people and social nature makes them happy to meet anybody and to play, but each dog has a very unique personality. I can say that there are only 2 things in the world that my chihuahua cares about, so making her happy is very easy: food and being petted. She has mastered several circus animal tricks (she reminds us of Abu sometimes) which she uses to be rewarded with extra treats and petting.
Another part of the animal that I think is neat is its ears. Though they're not as soft, large, and easy to pet as a Neapolitan Mastiffs, they are clearly strategic tools in the limited arsenal of self-defense mechanisms of the chihuahua. When the dog hears something, one or both ears can turn to help it analyze the sound. When it runs, it can slide its ears back into what I call "aerodynamic mode" sort of like a Batmobile changing shape to minimize air friction/drag. This is obviously instinctual and unconscious, but I still think it's cool.
I also think the dog's eyes are deep and full of life. At first, it may appear that they are black, lifeless orbs. In fact, the dog's face and eyes look very similar to monkeys', rats', and even camels'. In this way, every facial expression the dog makes immediately invokes a smile due to its cuteness. However, upon closer inspection, it's clear how deep and complex its eyes can be and how it uses its eyes to convey emotion and excitement (like for food).
Overall, I've enjoyed getting to know this breed and appreciate its more subtle points much more than when I first met it.
First Neo: Mario
My first dog ever was a Neapolitan Mastiff, and I've fallen in love with the breed ever since. Though I currently live with an amazing (but high-maintenance) chihuahua, I wanted to dedicate a quick blog post to the breed that first stole my heart.
My first dog was Mario, a Neapolitan Mastiff we rescued. Since then, my family has rescued two other Neapolitan Mastiffs one after the other. I named Mario after my favorite video game as a kid and because the breed is Italian. We decided to keep Mario's memory alive through Marcello's name, and similarly through Marceza's name, our family's first female Neo.
As you can see from the photos, Mario and Marceza feature the grey color, whereas Marcello the brown color. Those are the two main colors the breed sports. Also, all three dogs feature fairly full tails and ears. It's a tradition to chop off the tails and ears to conform to the official Italian breed style, but we didn't do this. I find that the ears are one of my favorite parts of the dog. I think the dogs would agree, based on how loudly they snore with pleasure when their ears are massaged.
Second Neo: Marcello
The breed is very old, with its name originating from Naples. The history is very rich, with the dog featured in cavemen drawings and playing important roles in both World Wars.
You can read all about it online, including finding tons of photos and videos (I especially love how cute the puppies are). Though the breed is not that well known or popular, it has quite a devout following of admirers. What I want to focus on in this post is what I personally love about the breed myself.
Third Neo: Marceza
Here are the top 5 reasons I love Neapolitan Mastiffs:
1. Super smart: They are incredibly smart and can learn almost anything. All of our dogs have been trained, and though they do have strong personalities at times, they will behave and listen to commands. They also pick up on every nonverbal and situational clue around them, such as when you get dressed or are in a bad mood; they will clearly respond intelligently to this, and that fascinates me.
2. Fun: Though they weigh typically 100-200 lbs., they are extremely fun to play with and not aggressive. They can be aggressive against strangers who surround the home without invitation, but for family and friends, they are extremely fun and gentle. They love to chase balls, play tug of war, chew bones, and perform tricks, like giving a high five or standing up and resting their paws on your shoulders.
3. Loyal and protective: They are extremely protective of their family and will be a great deterrent to anyone considering trespassing. From what I've read of their history, they have helped shepherds and farmers protect their livestock and homes for centuries.
4. Ears: As I mentioned before, their ears are amazing. Oh yeah, they also have great sense of hearing (and smell/nose).
5. Flews: I just learned this word, but apparently that's the name for their mouth/snout/muzzle (the flaps of skin hanging over their lower jaw out of which their whiskers grow). The flews are extremely cute and a hallmark of their look, but they are a double-edged sword. This cuteness comes with a clear price. Though the flews can be very cute while flapping in the wind while the dog is running or sticking its head out of the car window, they are like leaky kitchen sinks after the dog takes a drink of water or is sweating/breathing hard. We keep rags all over the house just to wipe the dog's mouth every time it drinks. It's ok: this price is definitely worth the cuteness.
Overall, I really love this breed and hope others can appreciate it too. Though most people's reaction may be one of hesitancy or fear (because of the dog's size or look), a deeper study and any time spent with the breed will immediately convert you to a lover of the Neapolitan Mastiff for life.