Some dogs (if not most) seem to have this innate ability to sense when someone is fragile, either physically or emotionally, and their behavior changes in response. When I was a teenager, my elderly grandmother lived with us. She was frail and a bit unsteady, and while she liked our little scruffy terrier Katie, she didn't want to be jumped on. Katie, a fiesty, mind-of-her-own kind of dog who normally had free run of the house (including all furniture and peoples' laps), knew this. Instead of jumping up on Grandma's lap, she would slide up alongside Grandma's chair, just within petting distance, then curl up and sleep at Grandma's feet. Katie also instinctively knew which house guests were off limits for physical greetings, and she knew our friend Jane was basically a human jungle-gym and treated her as such.
I've always loved this aspect of Baxter's character as well, and it makes me feel all the more devoted to him. When I'm not feeling well physically or emotionally, he is always there and is extra gentle. He knows something is wrong, and he sticks to me like glue (even more so than usual). He tries to bark softly when he knows I'm trying to sleep (that little under-the-breath "voof" is sometimes funny enough to make me feel a bit better). He is also extremely tender with my Mom. He knows she's not as strong as I am, so when he walks he doesn't pull as hard. Oh, he still pulls, but it always amazes me how much he can show restraint when he knows it's necessary (lesson to self re: training).
Studies have shown that the presence of dogs actually has healing properties, such as lowering blood pressure and easing depression. I know this is true. Baxter brings a calm into the room when I'm stressed, and he shows up with bunny and a "wanna play?" grin when I'm down. Just when I'm taking things too seriously, he manages to do something hilarious that reminds me to appreciate the humor in daily life. He is my furry shoulder to cry upon and the playmate who takes me outside my head and back into my heart.
When we are stressing about the toils of daily life in the material world, dogs bring a bit of nature back into our lives; and just by being dogs, they remind us of all the best we can be as people.