Sunday, December 27, 2009

Walks That Love

I often receive emails from people who read my blog. They share with me the ways that they've found themselves waking up in the company of a dog. Melissa Bachynski is one of them and her recent message to me is one that I'd like to share with all of you.

Two things have recently changed in my life: first, a dear friend of mine sent me a gift of an Ipod. I'm finally in the 21st century with the rest of the world. I love listening to all types of music and now that I'm bussing to work, I can enjoy that love while in transit. The other day I was prepared with my Michael Bublé as I approached the bus stop, ready to enjoy the 20 minute wait for my connection. As I put an earphone in one ear, the woman beside me started up a conversation. So much for Bublé. Because I'm of Irish decent, I cannot pass up a conversation...ever. This woman recently emigrated from Iran and we discussed the cultural differences between her home and her experience in Canada thus far. We eventually started talking about food (primarily because it was close to lunch, but I imagine the fast-food restaurant next to our bus stop helped). She expressed disgust for fast food, but not because of the nutritional value. Instead she said, “It has no love, no attention. There is no connection between the person that made it and you. You don't even know that person. There is no love.” It struck me as an odd concept, food that loves. Her point was that the person that made the food didn't care about the person eating the food. And, given the sheer numbers of burger-toting teens at the stop, they made the food quickly without paying attention to it. She said this was why the food was so bad for us. Interesting.

What does this incident have to do with dogs and Ipods? The second thing that has changed in my life is my sweet dog; he has lost almost all his hearing and his vision is at about 50%. We are learning to cope. When I realized his hearing was going, I started to teach him hand signals. The most important one of all has been the “yeah, you're fabulous” signal. Since he can't always distinguish my facial features, the "yeah” signal (which is the ASL sign for applause) is dramatic and obvious. When I got home after my discussion with the bus-stop woman, I suited my dog up for a walk. I thought I would take the Ipod on our walk to finally indulge in my Bublé desires. I've seen many people out walking or running with their dogs while plugged in to an Ipod, and, given my boy cannot hear me babbling away to him anymore, I thought listening to music wouldn't make a difference. We stepped out the door and headed towards the park. Within about two minutes I realized my dog was heeling beside me, staring up at me with a look of consternation on his face. Something was definitely wrong with him. I turned off Bublé and squatted down, which earned me a giant sloppy lick only a Boston can deliver. He started trotting ahead of me, and then turned back as if to say, “Aren’t you coming?” It was at that moment I realized I wasn't treating our walk as an important bonding moment, but as just another thing I had to do that day. There was no love in our walk, no attention.
Once again, my dog has taught me in actions what a person told me in words...and the actions made a larger impression than the words.

I now leave the Ipod in the stereo dock for impromptu dancing sessions with my dog while cooking, as well as keeping a careful watch of those humans around me while waiting for the bus. But Bublé can always sit on pause because I don't intend to miss an important moment in which I can connect with another being in a positive way.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect...

--E.M. Forster, Howards End

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Holiday Miracle

I once erected a Christmas tree which I adorned with a whole society of little grey mice ornaments - all dressed in colorful period clothing. The dog with whom I shared my home pulled it down the first night. She decapitated the mice, undressed them, ripped body parts, and tore the tree asunder. I called in sick from work that morning and triaged the patients. I sewed and glued them back together, working them back into their tiny hats, coats, scarves and muffs. There were some casualties but I retrimmed that tree and it looked just as fine as the evening before. I woke up the next morning to the same tragic scene.

I remember being plenty mad at that dog. I'm sure I shouted and made ugly faces at her which she couldn't possibly connect to the carnage she had carried out hours before. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to close the bedroom door. I gave that tree and those cute little mice to the dog not once, but twice and because I didn't think, we both had tons of stress and upset over the situation. I was quite aware of my stress, of how bad it felt and of the need I had to relieve it. But I wasn't aware of the dog's stress and me trying to relieve mine only made hers worse.

Today's dogs are exposed to a variety of stressors that are unconsidered and therefore, invisible. They can cause dogs to live on the edges of their tolerance and coping. They include endless hours in monotonous environments, the lack of stimulation, engagement and excitement, constant punishments or negative attention, illness, injury, exposure to toxic environments and extreme stylizations that present anatomical challenges. And for many dogs, the most significant source of stress in their lives is our own.

We too are living with stressors that interfere with equilibrium. Our daily routines are often tedious, without meaning and can be quite overwhelming. Stress is accompanied by the release of hormones that excite certain systems within the body and suppress others. When it is significant enough in frequency and/or severity that the ability to cope or adapt is lost, physical, mental and emotional systems exhaust, the immune system is weakened and “adaptation diseases” arise. While promising to bring out the best in us, the added stress of the holidays can actually bring out the worst.

As our schedules change and our activities and responsibilities increase, things also change for the dog. Many will experience increased inactivation, social isolation and long hours in confinement. Strangers will arrive. Food will be left within snatching distance. New things will appear in the environment and not realizing and not being taught that they can't interact with them, many dogs will interact and this will plunge us both into stress and upset. Without thinking, our "ho, ho, ho" becomes the dog's "no, no, no."

This year, as we embark upon our traditions and contemplate our sacred connection to the wondrous essence of life, let's resolve to give the dog the greatest gift of all – our full and present awareness. Even for just five minutes here and there. If we've never seen magic, we'll see it firsthand as this simple change causes the dog to explode with possibility and crackling excitement. If we've never experienced a holiday miracle, we will when we realize that the peace, love and joy that the season promises are actually ours any time that we are present and aware enough to consciously choose them. And for the love of Dog, if the tree is so alluring that the canine in your home can't leave it alone, give it to someone who needs it and put a smaller tree on a table out of reach. (Bless you Lori for being the model of such accommodation.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dressing Ghosts and Goblins

I had a honcho biggie Chihuahua in my life once. He was a rugged, fearless dog and almost daily for over ten years, he followed Josh and I on hiking, climbing and mountain-biking trails. We were always in the woods, even during the winter when we'd sometimes follow deer tracks through freshly fallen snow, day and night. Josh and I would be bundled up against the cold but Kaya never was.

I put a sweater on him once. It was a fancy red sweater with leggings attached. I thought it was so cute and I had visions in my mind of how adorable Kaya would look in it. The sweater was a little tight and difficult to get on but I was too intent on my own desire to see him in it to take note of how much he disliked being handled in the way necessary to get the thing on, or to even consider his thoughts and feelings on the matter. I wanted what I wanted! After I got the sweater on him he just stood there, frozen. With lots of encouragement, he finally took a step with a front leg. It lifted up high and quickly like it was being pulled by a string. Then a hind leg raised in the same way, then the next front, then the next hind. He looked like a little red bug with fused knees doing a forced march. Josh and I nearly fell over laughing that kind of abdomen-spasming laughter that happens only rarely in life. After I regained my senses, I looked at Kaya and immediately recognized how unhappy and uncomfortable he was. He didn't know what a sweater was or why it was all over him, squeezing his beefy little body from all angles! I immediately took it off and never put it on him again. To the end of his days he would wear only his own fur as he slogged through snow and ice and endured the cold just to follow us into the wild as he did during the summer.

Kaya's few minutes of fear and discomfort did a lot for Jack. Italian greyhounds can begin to shiver when temperatures drop below 80 and they are very cute in outfits. Jack has a lot of shirts and house jammies that he wants to wear when he's cold. These are "his costumes." He also has quite a few outfits that I want him to wear but him...not so much. These are "my costumes" and for them, I have a special plan. I introduce the various parts of my costume to him dozens of times, associating them with food, fun and play and getting them closer and closer to being on in the process. I click and give him pieces of chicken liver and treat him frequently while he is wearing it but the removal of the garment is the real reinforcer. He gives me short-term acceptance of my costume and I give him its removal. By the time he is actually wearing it, he is emotionally jazzed about the process of getting into it. The costume has become associated with happy, playful interactions and with his favorite treats.

These costume-conditioning sessions are easy and they can be some of the most fun things we do with dogs. When we take the time to let the little goblin emerge willingly, the dog is having just as much fun as we are and we both have the opportunity to be completely delighted with the outcome.

Some dogs don't mind what you put on their bodies. Others will show their reluctance and insecurity in their faces. With facial expressions very much like our own, they'll look concerned and fearful. If you are planning to turn the canine in your life into a ghost, goblin, pirate or fairy princess this Halloween, there's still time to follow my special plan. Show the costume, piece by piece, clicking, treating and retreating. Touch the costume to the dog and do the same. Hold the costume on the dog longer and longer; put one leg in, snap one snap, and open and close Velcro here and there. Celebrate each step, play like a child and enjoy this time with the dog so that the dog can enjoy her time wearing "your costume."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Prayer for Peace

I don't watch the news. I don't read the newspaper. I am training the mind and these things are not good for it. First I'll tell you how I'm doing this and then I'll tell you why and then I'll tell you what this has to do with dogs.

Through a sheer act of will I'm becoming more and more acutely aware of what the mind is doing and that allows me to operate it as I consciously choose. It keeps the mind from operating me. When I AM its supervisor, I have control over old and long-practiced habits of response; I don't have to do them any more. I can loosen the mind's restrictive and often irrational beliefs, explode its crazy biases and release its insane thirst for representations of fact – information and/or knowledge that it often identifies with so completely that it thinks it is that. I AM something much more grand and eternal than the mind's conceptual framework and the little story of "me" that it has concocted. Like Dorothy, I have seen the Wizard behind the curtain operating some complex machinery that creates and maintains an illusory reality, and every moment that I become aware, I'm tapping my heals like crazy.

Newspapers are filled with stories of greed, injustice, cruelty and savagery and these are like a drug to the mind. It will latch on to horrifying ideas and images and replay them constantly when the I AM is not supervising and willfully directing thought. This streaming replay delivers us into states of upset and enmity whether we are conscious of it or not. Stop for just a moment and see what the name Michael Vick does to the mind you're familiar with. Did it flip some switches that filled you with feeling? If it did, that body of yours is having a biological stress response and its heart and brain have already telegraphed it far and wide.

Every influence that enters the mind is immediately radiated into the noosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, geosphere—the ALL—as electromagnetic energy. When we feed the mind words like "cruelty," wretched stories of neglect, or images of dogs being horribly and brutally abused, the energy that we radiate is not harmonious. It is incoherent and chaotic. It does not resonate with our truest natures and deepest desires. These discordant emanations immediately and directly affect the mind, body and the whole of reality in some unintended and very unfortunate ways.

When our news-watching, horrifying-picture-seeing, unsupervised mind replays a reality that we do not like or want, over and over and over again, it affirms the existence of the very thing we resist. When we consciously think about what we don't want, when we see it in the mind, we feed it energy; we agree with its truth and its inevitability in the world. When we hope and wish that it were not so, the mind affirms that it is so and that it's opposite isn't and the force of our resistance and desire actually keeps what we want at bay. None of this helps us create a world in which these events are less likely to occur. It keeps us all locked in a bad dream of our own making.

To make matters worse, when we become aware of an injustice, neglect, brutality or abuse, the mind will help us to transfer the intensity of our emotions onto a perpetrator who will become a symbol of cause and guilt. We will assign to it all responsibility for the unwanted event showing up in our reality. The mind will attack the symbol again and again. Toward it, we will direct forceful feelings of hate, revulsion and contempt and we will feel right and justified to wish for its cruel punishment and even its demise. Unbeknownst to us, the identification of a perpetrator actually works against us. It feeds very strong energy to the deed that was done, the very thing we don't want. Violence doesn’t correct violence; it perpetuates it.

As part of its training, I feed the mind pictures and stories of what I do want to see in the world and direct it to have thoughts and see visions of that reality. I have to tell you that it doesn't want to do this because it is so contrary to the mind's very purpose and its conditioned and habituated history of operation. At any moment that I AM is not watching, it plays and replays its program.

For all of the reasons outlined above, I shield the mind from images and stories that represent cruelty toward animals. I don't want to expose it to the scarred and damaged faces of dogs who are fought for sport, the mutilated victims of unimaginable crimes and the emaciated bodies of animals left by people who moved on and left them. This is not an attempt to evade responsibility or languish in apathy. I AM aware that all I experience and perceive is what mind has made and I direct it so that I can use its power.

It is time that we took control of our most powerful tool and used it to create the reality our hearts desire. This is not work that lies in the future; it is an opportunity that's present now, in every moment of the living experience. It does not exist "out there" somewhere; it exists within. Let's direct the mind to think of and envision peace, safety and care for all of the creatures in the dream. Let's harmonize with the reference state of love. We may not be able to reach out and catch every hand that would strike against a dog but we do have the power to create a reality in which such acts will vanish. We can control our thoughts, our mental pictures and our feelings. With a little training, it's amazing what the mind can achieve. After all, it created the very same reality that we live in today – the one that we resist and wish was different.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Potty Humor

I belong to a number of Internet groups and forums and about a month ago a person on one of them posted a link to some of her clicker-educated dog's theatrical accomplishments. Just a couple days ago, a friend of mine who is "fifty-something" and who is not on that Internet clicker list, or any list for that matter, and who does not know the person or the dog, told me about this very funny video she saw recently. Two dogs are sitting together when someone asks "who farted?" and one dog points to the other. That was Chris Puls' canine partner Coyote! You can find his medley of tricks on her YouTube channel, click here.

That video sure got around in a month and I'm certain it's because of that little "who farted?" piece at the beginning. Why is it that we are so in love with potty humor? You'd think that we would grow out of it but I guess we never do. I have to admit that right after watching Chris' video I got an idea to teach a similar bit to Jack – our unique little version of potty humor that's just slightly beneath our sense of dignity and style. It involved a hind leg lift – his, not mine.

I contemplated how I could set up an education session in which Jack would voluntarily lift a hind leg and I could click then reinforce it. I got him moving around using hand-targeting but we were not connecting on the idea. I stopped to rethink my education plan and realized that when we wipe paws at the front door, Jack raises his hind legs as I approach them with the towel. So I started to teach the lift by first moving a towel toward his hind leg (he is left-pawed so I began on that side), clicking and reinforcing even the slightest raise until the leg could be cued up without the towel. I'm chaining another behavior to the leg-lift now and will film the whole thing when it's finished. You may want to subscribe to Jack's video channel so you can see it when it's available.

But I didn't write this article to make a point about shaping Jack into a hind leg lift. And I didn't write it to examine our attraction to scatological humor. I wrote it because I've noticed that so many of us seem to approach our education sessions with dogs as though we're preparing for an important exam or global competition. We are often too success-driven and serious to have fun and it's pretty certain that if we aren't enjoying ourselves, the dog isn't very likely to either. A dog can learn so much more if he's having fun and we can have so much more fun – something we seem to forget to do as we mature. Maybe that's potty humor's special appeal. It gives us a way to giggle like children and have fun without having to actually do anything or spend any money.

So to my friends and followers I issue this Potty Humor Challenge...Come up with an idea for a hilarious little trick with a theme that will make people laugh out loud. It doesn't have to be off-color but if it is everyone will love it! Start thinking about how you can shape, click and treat your canine student to perform it and then get started. When you have a finished product, post a link as a reply to this article. Here are the rules: You must giggle like a child, thoroughly enjoy yourself and make sure the dog is having as much fun as you are – even more. After all, he can keep right on learning for the rest of his life and he will if you make learning fun.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Black Dog Syndrome

Throughout ancient mythology and folklore dogs are commonly associated with death, as guides of the spirit or guardians of the underworld, but the black dog holds a special status as a universal symbol of malevolence and death. Black Dogs are phantoms, ghostly apparitions who appear at night on dark lanes and foothpaths, in thunder storms, at crossroads and gateways and at places of execution. They are said to simply vanish or fade from sight and to disappear into the earth or in a flash of light. They sometimes walk on their hind legs and through solid objects and no one dares to venture past them; they are associated with the Devil and if they cross your path at night, they may set you ablaze.

In some places the spectral Black Dog is known as "Shuck" and is said to be headless. Shuck or "Shock" is derived from the Old English scucca, meaning 'demon.' They were also called Black Shag, Trash, Skriker, Padfoot, Hooter and Barguest – from the German bargeist or 'spirit of the funeral bier.' In 1127 big and loathsome Black Dogs were seen with black hunters who were riding black horses and goats. Such packs of spectral hounds—with or without hunters—are reported to have been seen all over Europe, and are generally known as the Gabriel Hounds or Gabble Retchets – from an old word for 'corpse.' Thought to be the restless dead or the souls of unbaptized children, these phantom black hounds were huge, with big eyes that glowed in the dark.

Some people deny the existence of what is referred to as "black dog syndrome" – a term that has become common in animal shelters. It predicts that dogs with black fur will languish without attention while dogs with lighter fur not only get attention, they get adopted. And black dogs get the lethal injection and an end to their lives. This does happen and it happens in shelters everywhere and people who are partnered with large, black dogs will tell you that others don't receive them with the same eager affection they do smaller dogs with lighter fur coats. What is it that operates on adopters as they go down a row of cages, passing by those that contain black dogs? Are myth and folklore a part of our genetic make-up, perhaps somehow encoded in our DNA? I suppose that's possible but I think that something much more simple and basic influences us. I think it is a single, powerful word.

From Old English, the word 'black' was first associated with dark or malignant purposes in 1583. It is defined as a color lacking hue and also as gloomy, pessimistic, dismal, sullen, hostile, threatening, evil, wicked, deliberately harmful and boding ill. It indicates disaster, misfortune or potential danger and the illegal and misleading, treacherous, traitorous and villainous. It symbolizes ambiguity, secrecy, and the unknown. It is equated with the sinful, inhuman, fiendish, morbid, grotesque devilish, infernal, monstrous, atrocious, horrible and nefarious. Black has come to symbolize death, mourning and bereavement. Bad guys wear black hats while good guys wear white ones and villains are dressed in black. Black magic is destructive or evil and black days are sad or tragic, like the Black days in 1929 when the Stock Market fell and fell again. This word has a lot of baggage and a lot of power.

As our eyes fall upon a black dog, we don't consciously run through these associations – they act upon us behind the scenes, unconsciously, and this is exactly how we relate to most of our waking experiences in life. Our minds are full of illogical and superstitious beliefs and some, while seeming completely rational to us, can be truly insane. I encountered a man walking two Yorkshire terriers a few days ago. When they saw Jack, both strained on their leashes to get to him. The man began to shout "No Running!" as one little dog sounded the telltale honk of a collapsed trachea. The three dogs circled and sniffed. The man grabbed the honking dog, opened her mouth and forced his very large finger into it and down her throat. She squirmed in distress. It didn't help her but somehow, he thought it would.

Have you ever really examined the beliefs you hold about dogs? I admit that this is hard to do without bias and prejudice but if you could do it you'd probably be humbled and amazed. Have you ever become fully conscious as you interact with a dog to learn what you are thinking about in that instant and to see what those thoughts would have you do next? Some of us have, of course, but we don't do this routinely. We don't do it very often with family members, friends or co-workers either. That's just the way we roll!

In The Conceptual Dog, readers will practice a type of hyper-awareness – the kind that dogs still employ. We'll set our determination to make conscious living a habit. We'll start noticing and controlling what we think and be in control of how we react, and we'll stop leaving our minds to the influence and energy of the unexamined words, thoughts and beliefs that lead us into enmity and conflict. We'll make sure that every interaction we have with a canine is compatible with our truest natures and this will naturally honor theirs. Basically, we're going to begin to wake up. The dog has been waiting a long time for this and it can't happen soon enough!

(c) 2009 Madison Moore, The Conceptual Dog. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Curious Reality

I have gotten so many responses to my posts about non-verbal communications with dogs that I decided to provide some excerpts from The Conceptual Dog to enhance our understanding of how such an ability is not only normal and quite natural, it's something we can all experience.

Electromagnetic Harmony

Consciousness is a quality that lacks any clear and collaborative definition, its neurological basis is unknown, but it is measurable, at least in part, as electromagnetic energy. When we think, whether or not we are conscious of our thoughts, we produce energetic emanations that are measurable. What we say and think about provokes negative and positive feeling responses that are communicated throughout the body via electromagnetic field interactions. The structures that originate these electromagnetic waves are the brain and the heart. The heart generates the body’s most powerful and extensive electromagnetic field – estimated to be 5,000 times stronger than that of the brain. It has been found to have its own “brain” which enables it to independently learn, remember and make decisions. Research demonstrates that the heart’s pulsing waves of energy affect the body’s organs and influence the function of higher brain centers involved with perception, cognition and emotional processing. These waves of energy change as our thoughts and feelings change. When we have thoughts that inspire feelings of frustration and anger, the heart’s rhythmic pattern is erratic, disordered and incoherent. When we have thoughts that lead us to feelings of love, peace, joy and appreciation, its pattern is smooth, ordered and coherent. And in this state of coherency or electromagnetic harmony, our physical and mental functions are enhanced; the body’s systems show an increase in efficiency and compatibility. Our perceptions of stress decrease while our emotional balance, mental clarity and cognitive and intuitive acuity increase. We experience a marked reduction of internal mental dialogue and greater awareness of and sensitivity to others.

This state is referred to as "psychophysiological coherence” – the harmonious nature of mind and body and as we will soon see, the effects of our words, thoughts and feelings reach beyond our physicality.

Where is Mind?

Humans and canines inhabit very similar physical structures; both have hearts and brains. And both species demonstrate thought, perception, memory, imagination, reason and understanding – this generally describes “mind.” Most people believe that there is a distinct difference between body (or matter) and mind. In the philosophy of mind, this is known as dualism. But a growing body of evidence from multiple fields of study demonstrates that mind and body are not separate. The mind, previously thought to be focused in the head or even to be the brain itself, has been found to actually disburse throughout the body by way of signal molecules to which most of our cells are receptive. Our thoughts can also transfer by means other than the five classical senses. There have been many reports of instantaneous non-verbal communications between humans, between humans and animals and between animals. We can now operate computers, wheelchairs and artificial limbs using only our thoughts. This might suggest that things other than bodies, including the “space” in between things, is also mind or receptive to mind. In fact, modern science seems to be arriving at realizations that ancient societies recorded on stele and in pictograms, creation myths and sacred texts. There aren't separate "things" here, each possessing a separate and individual "mind."

One or Many?

It was once believed that consciousness was a secondary phenomenon of material reality. In other words, it emerged from materiality or existed as a result of bodies and things. It is now understood to be the field of energy that is antecedent to all phenomena – coming before, as source. Therefore, mind and body are manifestations or expressions of a single, all-encompassing field of conscious energy. We constantly affect this field with our words, thoughts and feelings, feeding it waves of coherent and harmonious energy or incoherent and chaotic energy. In fact, the effects of our verbal, mental and emotional creations can be measured some distance away from the body and they have been found to have an immediate impact upon the inert things and living beings within that distance. In a very real sense, as Nicola Tesla suggested in the late 1800's, our bodies simultaneously act as energy transmitters and receivers.

Over the past 300 years, our understanding of the universe as an entirely physical phenomenon has changed. Quantum physics has demonstrated that matter can be simultaneously defined as solid and as an immaterial force or field of energy. "Things" are nothing more than waves of possibility until they are observed by a conscious being when they "collapse" into space-time phenomena. Reality became quite curious with the discovery that essentially, there is no distinction between something we think of as real and the space between “real” things. Within the scientific world, the duality of mind and matter as separate constructs has collapsed into singularity. All known phenomena are actually waves of unlimited potential, existing in multiple places at once, denying the laws of the known reality. We and the world we inhabit are a web of interconnected and inseparable energy patterns. In this understanding of reality, there would be no such thing as a separate or individual “part.” There is no difference between a thought form and a human form. All are waves of energy. Albert Einstein recognized that energy and matter are the same when he concluded that E = mc2 (energy is matter or mass multiplied by the speed of light squared). Max Planck, the Nobel-Prize-winning father of Quantum Theory, describes all matter as originating and existing “only by virtue of a force…we must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind."

We arise from a creative and conscious field of energy and we influence it. Our current ability to know the full range of that influence is limited by the limitations of our current measuring capabilities. But scientists, spiritualists and metaphysicians agree with ancient understandings – our thinking, feeling energy emanations extend every "where" and to All - to beings, things and no-things, to the whole of the universal reality. There is one mind here, a unitive force imagining.

Our material-reality worldview issues from the concept of a mechanical universe of “things” reacting in response to certain immutable laws. We perceive a subject-object split and understand ourselves to be separate from all else. Our adherence to these tenants has erased our ability to perceive the interplay between our thoughts and feelings, this conscious field of energy and the world of matter. It has detached us from the divine energetic essence of our reality. It has created in us a separation from nature, from animals, from other humans and from all else. Science proves the existence of a single unitive force that creates the world and gives it meaning. But we have gotten into the habit of "knowing" by looking outside ourselves. We gain "information" about the dog through the flat reality of a computer screen and the pages of a book. We develop understandings and interpretations of the dog that are developed and guided by conceptual understandings and by rational thought and inference and all of this relies on what’s already “known.” We follow our avatars of canine behavior and education philosophy and application and all the while, the real master lies prone at our feet, waiting for interaction.

Other ways to "Know," "Be" and Gain Wisdom

We seem to have forgotten that "knowing" can arise through introspection – a reflective looking inward, and through intuition or quick and ready insight. It can be gained through inspiration – the divine influence and reception of sacred revelation. These origins of wisdom become acute when we are willing to release our propositions of fact – our coveted beliefs and the things we think we know, and when we enter states of psychophysiological coherence or electromagnetic harmony. They can become acute when we practice them and when we train our minds to be receptive to them. They are not weird or magical powers to which only gifted individuals have access. They are natural and organic, ancient and innate. And it is through them that we can experience unity, oneness, the one mind and...the genuine dog.

(c) 2009 Madison Moore, The Conceptual Dog. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thinking Out Loud

An amazing thing happened a few months back. I was walking with Jack around the lake, following a route that we have taken most mornings for the past five years. There is a point where we can choose to turn left to access a road that borders the lake or go straight to walk along the main road. We had never gone straight; we had always turned left and I really don't know why. One morning as Jack and I were approaching our turn-off, he stopped to sniff out an interesting aroma and I gazed down the main road. I thought about the row of mailboxes stretching into the distance and about all of the dogs who lived along that road. I had a vision in my mind of us going straight one day and Jack stopping to inspect the new urine-inspired mailboxes with great excitement. We walked a few more yards and as we came to our turn, Jack went straight! He did not hesitate. He did not look left. He went straight on down that main road and collected pee-mail with great excitement, just as I had imagined.

A couple of weeks went by and during those weeks, we turned left as we always had. Jack never looked down the main road again and did not hesitate at the turn. I had been thinking about what happened that day and decided to try another experiment. As we approached our turn, I began to envision us walking down the main road. I saw Jack taking in new smells, nose to the sidewalk as we went straight ahead. When we came to the turn, Jack went left. It looked like my intentional experiment didn't work. But then, he took a couple more tiny steps, stopped, turned around and headed down the main road. This was only the second time we had taken that route.

The next day, I envisioned us going straight and Jack went straight, not hesitating at our turn. In the middle of the block, I looked across the street and imagined the smells on the mailboxes over there. We had never walked on that side of the road and I held a picture in my mind of us crossing it and continuing on the other side. Three driveways later, Jack turned to the right, crossed the road and we walked to the end on that side.

I have used this visualization technique frequently since then. We have taken different routes, turning in places we never considered or even noticed before. I can think of playing with a toy and Jack will show up with it in his mouth. I can picture our reunion when I'm on my way home and my husband will report that he goes to the door several minutes before the garage door raises.

Can we have nonverbal communications with dogs, the kind that comes from what we envision, think of feel? There is actually a growing body of evidence to prove that we can and do. Rupert Sheldrake's book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, provides research findings and anecdotal evidence of the unitive mind. The Institute of HeartMath has been studying the impact of thoughts and emotions, the electromagnetic energy they generate, and the instantaneous way in which this transfers between beings and things. They have been able to demonstrate that what we think influences our surroundings and those around us. And when beings are in close contact with one another, as we are with the dogs in our lives, what we feel, what our heart signals, actually registers in our partner's brain waves.

Don't take my word for it; try your own experiment. Clear your mind of its unconscious streaming feed by willfully inserting your intent to create a vision. Create one that the dog will surely enjoy, like joining you in the kitchen for a nice piece of sausage. Concentrate on that vision, seeing it in full detail. If you aren't a visual person, think the words that you would normally say out loud, calling the dog by name, asking if he would like a treat. Don't give up if it doesn't work the first few times. Dogs have to tune out the constant parade of thoughts and visions that our minds produce. Just like tuning a radio with subtle twists of the knob, one day, you'll establish a clear channel and be on thinking terms with your constant companion. Go try it now and let me know how you do.

For related information, read other articles in the communication section.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Can Fight You

Put 'em up, put 'em up! Which one of you first? I can fight you both together if you want. I can fight you with one paw tied behind my back. I can fight you standing on one foot. I can fight you with my eyes closed.”1 In what can only be described as a screaming, slobbering, teeth-baring bark, Jack would issue this challenge. Standing on his hind legs, straining against the leash, his front paws raked the air frantically. For clear and obvious crimes, the “others” would have to be dealt with. He would show them no mercy. They had come too close and one of them had made the mistake of being big, and dog.

From my perspective at the time, Jack’s aggressive outbursts seemed to come from nowhere. One minute, we would be tootling along enjoying our walk, another dog and person would appear on the horizon, we’d all get closer and then suddenly, Jack would erupt into a full-blown primal reaction. He’d appear to be angry, menacing and mean.

Even though I was on the Jack side of the leash when the violence erupted, and that was distracting beyond all reckoning, I did manage to take in the reaction at both ends of the leash just ahead. Any reasonable person, and perhaps even canine, knows that an eleven-pound dog probably can’t overtake an eighty-pound dog, but fear isn’t rational. And they seemed fearful. And Jack wasn’t rational, but it took me a while to figure out that a loss of courage was the reason he was acting the way he was.

Unconscious Enabling

All I could think of was that he had been psychologically damaged by prior incidents in which big dogs had chased him. One of them was quite frightening. I came to rely on my stories about those experiences – using them to explain his behavior – and in a weird way, that reliance prevented me from actually helping him to modify it. During this period of unconscious enabling, I hate to admit it, but I developed a case of big-dog prejudice. I even came to look unfavorably upon the people they were attached to. We were your worst nightmare duo to encounter on the daily traipse through the neighborhood.

Without realizing it, I became a partner in the insanity. The mere sight of an approaching big dog and human would cause me to stiffen, take up slack in the leash, grit my teeth and resist the inevitable. To Jack, my actions were a confirmation of his suspicion that all dogs of a certain size were dangerous. Too caught up in the drama to think, I would continue to walk right toward them. Jack would explode and I’d try my best to keep him from being defensively eaten.

It finally occurred to me that Jack was extremely uncomfortable and that I really needed to do something to help him. Not long after, I got the nudge I needed. One day at a crowded dog event, Jack got too close to a largish dog and lost it. The event’s photographer, a friend of mine, heard the ruckus and turned to see who was causing it. In a voice that sounded like that of the Almighty’s booming down from the heavens, she proclaimed “I don’t believe it….that’s the “trainer’s” dog!!!” Quiet fell across the land and all heads turned in our direction. Funny what it sometimes takes to wake us up.

Getting Courage

The next morning, I began a rehabilitation program in earnest. I realized that there was a zone of sanity, a distance at which Jack could see the other dog and still keep his wits about him. I began to test this distance and failed on the first few attempts. There was no sidewalk or shoulder big enough for any encounter. We would have to cross the street. There, Jack could only mange to keep from shouting and pulling. His body, stiff and vibrating was cocked like a loaded gun. Squatting in front of him, I tried to block his view but he simply couldn’t take his eyes off the monster. I realized that we were still too close.

I aimed for a distance where he could actually sit and where his head and neck weren’t going to stretch to enormous “Alice-in-Wonderland” proportions so he could see around me. Those big dogs looked really small from where we started – like toy breeds. This gave us a great advantage. We could both dispassionately look at them. Since I have a brain a little bigger than Jack’s three-ouncer, I would initiate some calming conversation. I’d comment on how normal and even friendly the pair looked. Jack took it all in, we both came to believe it, and we slowly moved closer.

For months, we probably made people feel bad by avoiding them like they had a pox and that was mostly my fault. If the roles had been reversed and I was the non-verbal reactor, Jack would probably have shouted a friendly greeting…“Sorry, but the human’s got a confidence issue. Don’t take it personally. Hey, by the way, there’s a flattened toad in the road just ahead; it smells fabulous.” Eventually, I did begin to explain what we were doing and was happily surprised when a familiar pair would see us coming and volunteer to cross the street themselves, waving and asking how things were going.

I learned a lot of Jack-speak during those months as a psycho-doggie therapist. I noticed that hesitation with a paw-raise and lip-licking were dog talk for “I’m not too sure about this.” The full-frontal freeze, eyes, ears and tail up, stiff and forward was a way of saying “Come any closer and I’ll fight you both together.” All of these signals preceded a blow-up but I had never been aware enough to catch them before Jack became overwhelmed by his feelings. I am now! I’m still not certain what caused this to happen. It may have been those prior chasing incidents and it could just as well have been Jack’s lack of contact with dogs larger than a matchbox car.

By creeping closer and closer, sitting and talking, and perhaps enjoying a piece of lamb lung, Jack and I not only saved our dignity, we added a few days, months or maybe even years to our lives by eliminating some incredible stress. Today, Jack will approach any dog. He has acquaintances who are Weimey, Goldie and Rottie and I have a few new friends too. Life is good!

1. Spoken by the Cowardly Lion, a character in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 American musical-fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz, based upon a 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Misbehaving Dog

I was at a dog park the other day and heard one woman tell another “He’s got to learn not to do that.” She was referring to the dog she brought with her, the one she said “misbehaves” and “tries to get away with things.” Like so many of the words and phrases we use to talk about dogs and our relationships with them, these statements left me with an overwhelming feeling of incongruity.

Why didn’t the woman say “I’ve got to teach him not to do that” or “I’d like to teach him (the opposite of that)? Obviously, there is an underlying belief that the dog is somehow responsible for what he does and does not learn. Yet, he bides his life almost completely in our homes, care and company. He has little freedom of will or action. The dog is unable to discern what he must know about our world. He can not devise an education plan or teach himself something we’d like him to know but have not taught him. When we make a dog responsible for something over which he has no power or authority, he will fail. We will fail to recognize that the responsibility is ours. And the dog will never learn what “he’s got to learn.”

Does a dog really misbehave? To "misbehave" is to conduct oneself without regard for good manners or accepted moral standards. To behave is to conduct or comport oneself in a proper manner. Dogs behave in the ways that are natural and proper to dogs. The problem with this is that most of us don’t really know what proper doggish behavior is; many of us have never have even contemplated it. Instead, we have opinions, beliefs and concepts that we gather from lifetimes of influences and we set out to impose them upon the dog. Sometimes, when we’re done, there’s very little doggish left.

The accepted standards of conduct, the “good manners” by which we expect a dog to behave are guidelines that we create and think a dog can uphold. The dog does not know them and can not know them unless taught. Even then, if they run counter to what it is to even be a dog, he may not be able to demonstrate them. The responsibility for setting realistic standards is ours. This can be done in a couple of ways. We can turn off the mind’s chatter program – the one that feeds us only history and makes us believe that we know it all – and observe the dog from a fresh and vigilant perspective. Dogs aren’t too much different from people in the ways they feel and express their feelings so we can learn a lot about them just by being aware, open and receptive. Or, we can soak up information on ethology, behaviorism and canine education practices. Either way, it is our responsibility to teach a dog how to meet the standards we conceive. Therefore, any dog who "misbehaves" is a dog who has not been properly educated and this is certainly not a failure that can be attributed to the dog.

And what about trying to get away with something? Do dogs really do this? This sounds like dogs are attempting to foil, overthrow or usurp us by conniving or conspiring against our standards or wishes. It implies falseness – tricking, misleading or deceiving. Fortunately, dogs aren’t that complicated. If a dog knows the rules, he plays them to his advantage. This isn’t something he deliberates about; it’s part of his canine constitution. We either teach him the rules, as we’ve already learned, or we don’t and he just does what serves him in the void. There’s nothing conniving or false about this. In fact, we do the same.

When we truly don’t know much about dogs we will fix them with human models of conduct and comportment. This will lead us to create unreasonable standards and expectations – like making a dog responsible for learning something we have failed to teach. When we truly do know dogs, we actually don’t believe very much about them. We just continuously discover the wonderful ways in which they doggishly happen.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Problem with Confinement

Belief as Reality

We construct the canine’s reality with our thoughts and beliefs. And as we impose it upon him, we will be unaware that our concepts are not natural, innate or providential. We are not born with them; they are not given. They are learned and fabricated as we go through our lives.

The problem is that much of what we come to believe and to think of as knowledge is flawed, incomplete, and may be just plain wrong; even our memories can deceive us. Our belief system doesn’t differentiate or judge, it simply accepts as truth what we feed it. We have long forgotten the sources of our beliefs and “knowledge” and in many cases, we never bothered to test the accuracy of the underlying theories that formed them. We are completely unaware of most of our deeply held beliefs. They are not only the product of a lifetime of conditioning, they are the sum total of our long-forgotten decisions, declarations and proclamations. They are the evolution of what we as groups, societies and cultures have collectively agreed to.

Many have heard the story of a mother who trimmed her pot-roasts into square shapes before putting them into the oven. When her daughter asked why she did this, she couldn’t say. She did know that her mother had always done the same. When she was asked why she trimmed pot roasts this way, she said that she had to do that to fit them into the only roasting pan she had at the time – a square pan.

An Unexamined Practice

We seldom ever question the ideas, beliefs, or “knowledge” that forms the basis of our most routine canine-care and keeping practices. We just do them. We do them because others do them so they seem normal and right. If we were to seriously question what’s really behind them, we might realize that we don’t have any idea why we do some of the things we do. We might find that we do them for the sake of convenience. We may uncover a long list of other ideas and beliefs that seem to justify doing them. This is a good first step, because if we don’t question why we do what we do to dogs, we won’t ever ask ourselves…How does what we do affect the dog?

Let’s explore a practice that we appear to believe in, one that has become so commonplace in this country that few of us would ever question its suitability. And let’s look at it from the standpoint of how it does affect the dog. In this and subsequent articles, we will examine the effects of confinement which is usually attended by social isolation and forced repose or understimulation. We’ll try to get at the root of what we believe about the practice and then learn a little about its impact on canine minds and bodies, particularly those that are developing.


Confinement is the physical containment of a dog’s body within a crate, kennel, or small room or area. The dog’s movements and liberties are restricted, often severely so. Behavioral opportunities are narrowed to a functional minimum. Depending upon the location of the confinement unit and the circumstances, social access and sensory input are also significantly reduced.

Every year, millions of infant canines enter homes that are empty for many hours each week day. They will spend this time confined and alone. Some will spend their nights confined as well. This is a fairly new practice; one that became popular when dogs transitioned from the outdoors to spend their lives inside our homes.

When asked, people report that they confine dogs and puppies for safety reasons because there are many things inside a home that can be dangerous, particularly to a teething, exploring infant. They say that they crate them to prevent damage to their furnishings and belongings and to keep them from urinating and defecating in the home. Some believe that a small crate is similar to a dog’s den and that dogs and puppies actually feel more safe and comfortable inside of one. And many agree that because everyone else seems to do it that it must be the right thing to do. So we generally believe that confinement is best for the animal and best for us and our belongings. This tends to settle the matter in our minds, to such a degree that we don’t consider that confinement has a big down-side.

Effects that can last a Lifetime

Neural organization, emotional stability, physical development and learning ability are compromised in puppies who are denied environmental access, social contact, and opportunities to play, explore and develop. Confined puppies lack opportunities to establish a full range of behavioral repertoires and their behavioral flexibility, motivation and control diminish. They are unable to develop general perceptual frameworks into which novel stimuli might be assimilated. They can not relax or positively express themselves. They are easily provoked and alarmed. When released from confinement, puppies demonstrate hyper-stimulation, increased motor activity, shifting emotional responses and easy frustration and distractibility. They disassociate with stimuli in the environment, fail to make social contact and demonstrate extremely impaired coping ability. Confined puppies are generally less socially active, and less assertive. They develop cognitive impairments, become slow learners and demonstrate poor problem-solving abilities.

As they get older, these canines demonstrate a diminished ability to cope with stressful situations and become neophobic, overacting emotionally when they encounter novel situations. They often develop lifelong fearfulness, becoming rigidly inhibited and/or offensively aggressive. They seek safety and become psychologically dependent upon and addicted to a particular person. The affects of confinement endure for some time after the restricting circumstances have ended and they can last a lifetime.

Confinement causes fear and panic and exposure to persistent or frequent stress states has been shown to result in sensory processing disorders. It impairs stress-coping ability, and leads to maladjusted behavior responses to aversive or conflict-inducing situations. The stress hormone cortisol can alter hippocampal functions, affecting short-term memory. It inhibits vascular function, blood flow and oxygen and disrupts the function of the hormone/neurotransmitter dopamine. It can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis – a major part of the neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates the immune system and many other body functions. Many canines who experience these emotional, physical and developmental maladjustments are not successful in a home and their problems are almost never related to the root cause.

We Did Not Know

For the best chance of maturing into successful, well-adjusted and confident individuals and family members, puppies must be provided with near-constant access to a responsible care-giver. As they move through important developmental stages, they can be exposed to a variety of environments, objects, people and experiences. They can be acclimated to the sensory stimuli that occur in and around the environment in which they live and will be taken. They can be provided with canine interactions that will teach them how to be a social animal and how to communicate. The care-giver can manage the puppy’s day, mixing periods of play, exploration and education with periods of rest.

If you are already in a situation where the dog in your life is confined or crated during the work week, see if you are willing to imagine some alternatives to that arrangement. Perhaps you can utilize a canine day-care facility. Maybe an acquaintance who is home during the day lives with a dog who would enjoy some stimulation from a visiting companion. Maybe a friend, family member or dog-walking service can be arranged to provide the dog with a mid-day outing. Perhaps you can begin to work at home or take the dog to your workplace.

If you are away from your home during the work week and are contemplating bringing a puppy into your life, perhaps you will reconsider your choice until you have found some alternatives to physical confinement.

Please e-mail me if you would like to receive a list of the references consulted for this article. If you are a subscriber and would like to make a comment on the post, go to the blog's home and click on COMMENTS.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Allowing the Dog to Produce Something Good

The dog saw the bird fly into the greenhouse. He followed. The bird flew against the top and the sides of the glass and then back and forth. She was unable to find her way back out; she appeared to panic. Her wings beat wildly and feathers floated down as the dog watched. He was vibrating with excitement. Eventually exhausted, the bird fell to the ground and the dog grabbed her just as the man entered the greenhouse. The man was disturbed at the sight; he didn't want the dog to kill the bird. He asked the dog to “drop it.” He did not. With every muscle fiber tight and twitching, the dog stood clutching the bird in his mouth. The man asked him to “give it.” He did not. He asked him to “leave it” and he did not. Finally, the man spotted a colander sitting on the potting bench. He grabbed it and thrust it forward. He asked the dog to “put.” The dog took a couple steps toward the man and with his tail wagging furiously, he placed the bird into the colander.

The dog in the story is my canine partner Jack. He gave up the bird for the opportunity to do his most favorite activity – "put." Jack created the “put” behavior in a single education session and because of the way that it was reinforced he came to put any object he could handle “inside,” “up,” “down” and wherever directed.

This is how it all happened. Jack was shown a box and was encouraged to play a game in which any new behavior he created with it earned him a mark (click) and a reinforcer. Jack looked inside the box, he touched it with his nose and then with his paw, he jumped over it, went around it and created several more novel interactions with the box. Eventually, he spotted his favorite toy a distance away and went to get it. In the spirit of the game, I marked and reinforced that. He immediately picked up the toy again and moved toward me; he was marked and reinforced. At this point, I realized the opportunity that lay before us. I threw the toy off a short distance and put the box between Jack and I. He picked up the toy and made a few steps toward me and the box. I got so excited that I nearly threw the whole bag of treats. On the next toss, Jack had figured out that the game involved the box. He took careful steps closer and closer to the box and I marked and reinforced him with an excited celebration. On the next toss, he walked right up to the box with the toy in his mouth. As I hoped, when he was marked, the toy fell into the box. A bonanza of chicken liver pieces rained into Jack's experience. My normally squeally voice went into hyper mimi-mouse mode. We played and tugged and jumped around like clowns. On the next trial, Jack walked right up to the box with the toy and I simply waited. All time stood still. Jack stood there. I could almost see him thinking, and then he dropped the toy into the box. The “put” game was on and before the day was over, he had put everything he could find and everything I gave him into that box.

For a dog whose education revolves around learning opportunity, learning becomes a skill that is practiced and perfected. When he is given the opportunity to create behavior in an atmosphere where there are no wrong answers, he will. And when he does create a behavior that earns him the equivalent of a big-money jackpot, he’ll not only remember it, he’ll repeat it with happy excitement.

French philosopher Rene’ Descartes (1596-1650) reasoned that dogs did not think, that all the things which dogs are taught to perform are only expressions of their fear, hope and joy and as such, could be performed without any thought. The reliance upon prompting and cueing to solicit behavior produces a dog who is an agreeable model for Descartes unthinking machine. By attempting to put learning into the dog, we limit her potential for intellectual accomplishment. We deny her the opportunity to think and to produce something good on her own. Do we do this because at some level, we believe that she really can’t think and that she can’t create worthwhile behaviors or responses to our interactions and our shared experience? When we really examine what's at the root of some of our patterns of thought, action and reaction, we often find concepts that are so opposed to our true nature and intent that we are shocked to find that we harbor them.

When we prompt a dog and she doesn’t immediately respond, we feel compelled to take action. We literally give her no opportunity to create a response before we have prompted again, intervened physically or changed course. The need to do something is so strong and so impulsive that the only aspect of canine education most people find challenging is that of suspending themselves and just observing the dog. Why can’t she be given the time she needs to think things through and come up with a response? She may be just ready to offer an inclination toward action that we squash with our own reaction.

I ask my dog-partnered students to make an agreement with themselves that they will follow each cue or prompt with the purposeful suspension of their thoughts and actions, placing their full and complete attention on the dog. I ask them to notice everything they can about the dog’s mental and emotional state, as expressed through the body. Notice if she displays hesitancy or excitement. Watch for even the slightest movement and be ready to immediately let her know if that movement is going in the direction you want it to go. If it isn’t, happily move on to another exercise. Most of all, I ask them to intend to learn from these raw and genuine experiences. Learn how to improve the dog’s chances of success. Learn how to turn the education game into an opportunity to have unrestrained fun and excitement. Learn how to allow the dog to think and create on her own.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Last Free Dog

Lola died today. She was barely a year old. She ran across the street to greet some passing joggers and was hit by a car. It happened so quickly. Like most dogs living in the modern world, Lola didn’t know anything about cars. In a way, that’s a strange reality. Back when we had far fewer cars, dogs knew that they were dangerous and could skillfully avoid them. I’ve known these dogs. In fact, the last one I came to know—the last free dog—was the one who marked the standard for what the natural animal might become.

Chigger Road

There were no leash laws and the open range had been closed only three years prior to me finding myself in a small town in Oklahoma. The dogs I came to know there lived either on ranches and farms or in and around town. In either case, most were free to go where they wished and to do as they pleased. I spent time on working cattle ranches where dogs served in a variety of useful roles. Through their own natural inclinations they invented many of their jobs, like keeping opossums out of the barn and assisting in the herding of beef calves for vaccination and castration. They followed the ranch hands who rode out daily to check on stock and when they weren’t otherwise engaged, they would often explore the vast acreage together. The dogs who lived near me, closer to town, were also explorers. Most were in some way attached to a house or family but few were ever allowed inside. Some were lean and some looked as though they enjoyed some dinner scraps. Most were dirty and heavy with ticks each spring and fall. There were a variety of sizes and only a few resembled any particular breed. They roamed the environs in and around Chigger Road and made use of what they could find to satisfy their interests and stay alive. I offered incentives to encourage introductions, as I had done with the free-roaming suburban dogs of my youth. Word spread fast that I was giving attention and edibles to those who happened by and the shade of my front porch became a popular destination.

Among those who made use of my generosity was a black-and-white, freckled hound-of-a-dog. He was tall and lean, with flopped ears and a long, straight tail. I can’t say that he was handsome; he wasn’t. He would take food and sit next to me but would suffer no touching of any kind. I watched what I could of his activities and noticed him in a variety of places as I drove or rode my horse around the outskirts of town. He was independent and resourceful, wise and confident. No one I asked knew for sure, but a few thought that his name was Sando or Sandy.

The Canine-Created Life

Independent life presents its own pressures and one is the weather. Outdoor dogs often don’t survive the icy cold Oklahoma winters. Some of the Chigger Road dogs managed to stay warm by burrowing under a house or sneaking into a barn. I’d look for Sandy on the coldest nights and invite him inside for warmth and a meal. In the days that followed, he would bring things to my doorstep, well-selected items. Gifts perhaps, a way to thank me for my kindness? I would see him coming down the road with a plastic container, ribbon and other objects from trash tins and burn piles and then open my door to find it. While I was sure he was killing most of what he ate and needed to eat what he killed, he also gifted me with freshly dispatched squirrel and rabbit. Sometimes he would be there in the shade as I opened the door to find my surprise but most often he would be headed off on other business.

Having the ability to pass on his befreckeled, houndy appearance to offspring, Sandy often went journeying. The puppies he sired would surely have inherited his natural nature-intelligence, his cleverness and the ability to survive the extremes of hot and cold, lean and plenty, invitation and expulsion – qualities that helped a dog to be successful in a free life. He would return from his amorous adventures more thin then ever and spend long days in the company of the other canine visitors in the shade of my porch. When he was around, he would follow me often and seemed to know my habits, suddenly appearing in the places I regularly visited. He sat beside me in the failing light as I watched my horses in the pasture across the street. With confidence and grace, he became the patriarch of a family of a dozen or so “sooners”1 who found their way to food and affection at the first house on the left, Chigger Road.

I was constantly amazed at the ways in which Sandy imaginatively created and expressed the canine life. He was an explorer of the moment’s opportunities, intensely aware and incredibly involved in the spontaneous unfolding of life. He seemed to miss nothing in his wide world and by watching him I came to know when skunks were under the tack room floor and when the neighbor’s goat was up in the barn trying to pry the lids off the feed bins. He kept track of the movements of the nocturnal animals, following their scent trails in the dewy grass at dawn. If some had relocated into areas where he didn’t want them, he would expel them immediately.

In all of my observations of him, I would never see Sandy reach any type of physical, mental or emotional extreme. He was a portrait of stability and consistency. His range of actions and reactions arose from the confidence one might expect of a being who knows exactly how he fits into the scheme of reality – giving and taking by divine privilege and in divine service. He was a model of harmony and adaptability. His life seemed sure and suspended in some blessed state of neutrality where all was allowed and all forgiven, where each new moment was free of the weight of the one just past. I would never forget these observations. They would influence my journey through life and affect the living reality of the dogs with whom I would come to share it.

The long and unbroken line of resilient survivors that produced Sandy is gone now. In most places, dogs like him were methodically ushered off the streets; done away with or sterilized. Today’s dogs, like Lola, come from generations of forebears who have lived inside of homes where the most significant danger is an angry human. They have been created to meet little more than standards of appearance. These dogs don’t have knowledge of the world that we have made. They are completely dependant upon us to make all their decisions for them.

1. The term “Sooner” was used to describe a settler who entered the unassigned land located in what is now the state of Oklahoma before it was officially proclaimed to be open. The name derived from the "sooner clause" of the Indian Appropriation Act of 1889 which stated that no one should be allowed to enter and occupy the land prior to its official opening time. It came to be used to describe a dog of uncertain lineage, as in “He might just as soon be this breed as that.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fixing the Problem “Out There”

Our models of superiority and domination have their roots in our modern views of the self and its place in the universal whole. Underlying all that we can think, believe and conceive is the notion that we are separated beings occupying or showing up as distinct bodies or “things.” This individualized view contracts us. It separates and divides us from all else. We are disconnected from each other except through certain associations and affections. We feel no real connection to our earthly environment or to the fullness of perceptible reality.

This doctrine of detachment produces some unfortunate illusions. We see the self as “in here” and all the rest of reality as “out there.” Things seem to happen or be done to us and, as a result, we are ever poised for defense and attack. When we feel threatened, displeased, frustrated or irritated, the source of the problem is immediately considered to exist outside ourselves. The dog gets caught in the trap of this irrational thinking again and again.

At any given moment, dogs are demonstrating the sum total of their genetic possibilities, innate inclinations, conditioned patterns and mental and emotional states – just like humans. But when those demonstrations of an authentic canine reality clash with our standards and expectations, our desires, our beliefs, and what we think of as our knowledge, we consider the dog “wrong” or “bad.” We’ll feel compelled to immediately project force and energy to fix or stop her and to thereby relieve our uncomfortable feelings.

Operating from the perception that the dog has done something to us, we will interpret her actions in a variety of insane ways, especially upon recurrence. We will believe that she is willfully disobedient or spiteful. We will believe that she intends to usurp our power, to be our boss. We will think that the dog exacts revenge or punishes us. We will regard her “failure” as an intentional slight or refusal and as disrespect for our ultimate authority. All of these ideas will make our acts of retribution seem justified and necessary. We will deliver what we like to call a “correction.” Yet, to correct is to “lead straight.” To punish, on the other hand, is to “impose a penalty upon; to inflict with pain, loss or suffering for a crime or fault.” When we look closely and honestly at the unexpected, unpleasant experiences that we give the dog to get her to stop doing things that irritate or displease us, we’ll recognize our “corrections” for what they really are.

In truth, a moment of dissatisfaction with a dog is a signal that, if a mistake has been made, it's ours. We’ve missed something; we weren’t attentive or perceptive enough. Perhaps our standards didn’t match the dog’s nature or reality. Maybe our expectations were too high for her level of understanding. Competing stimuli may have overwhelmed her. Maybe we ignored her emotional state or the fact that we had inadvertently reinforced the very behavior we complain about. If we were to willfully change our perceptions and begin to respond in this way, we would reap a benefit too enormous to imagine. We’d suddenly find that we are fully aware and present in a moment of interaction with a dog – free from the skew imposed by our rational, intellectual interpretations. We would be able to intuit her genuine thinking and feeling reality and the very nature of her being. And we could use what we see in that dynamic experience to know how to correct our errors.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Notions of Superiority and Dominance

Our unfortunate beliefs about canine behavior and education lead millions of dogs to lives of constant repression and harsh control. Convinced that canines create societal structures that rely on domination as a means of maintaining order, their guardians assert themselves as rulers and masters. Seeing a structure that’s organized by rank with the most powerful individual in the position of greatest significance, they rule over and “command” their less powerful and less significant subjects. Interestingly, this model of rank, class and order isn’t a completely accurate portrayal of a typical canine family group, or “pack.” This is a human model of hierarchy. We create concepts of value, worth and power and they influence our interpretation of all that we perceive. This wasn’t the way it always was and it isn’t the way it must remain.

A Beautiful Balancing Act

Over 30,000 years ago Pacific islanders were navigating the seas using nothing more than myths or “star stories.” Since star positions change by only one degree in 72 years (that’s pretty much equivalent to a human lifetime), a complete understanding of their movements was only possible through the continuous observations and reports of many generations of skywatchers. On the Polynesian Island of Raiatea, there is evidence that by ancestral connection, the precise northernmost position of the Milky Way Galaxy was known for a complete precessional cycle of 26,000 years!

In this model of society, every tiny generational contribution was vital to the whole. Ancestral archetypes were held in high esteem. The living experience had an eternal, cosmic quality that rooted the soul and expanded awareness and concern outward from the self. This is a natural hierarchy. It can be imagined as a pyramid standing on its tip. Maintaining the topmost position in the structure of the pyramid are the lives of the many and their placement thus maintains the delicate balance. This is no longer representative of our modern world view or of our societal models.

Reality Turned Upside-Down

As a species, we have lost our connection to the natural world, to our traditions and mythology, to the long and unbroken line of our ancestors and to our essential relationship with the greater whole. We have contracted from cosmic awareness to self-awareness, becoming self-centered or egocentric. To indigenous peoples around the world, we are “the wandering ones,” lost in the wilderness, adrift at sea. We create and inhabit artificial systems and conventions built by nothing more than illusions of structure and control. Our models of reality have their foundation in pathological hierarchies. This can be imagined as a pyramid sitting on its base. In the position of prominence are the one and the few at the top. These are the kings, the presidents, the popes, priests, politicians, masters and owners. They are the wealthy, the influential and the intelligent. As the order descends, the “many” inhabit the lowest levels of prominence. This hierarchical model can be seen in all of our modern structures – from the structure of our thoughts and our use of language, to the structure of society, government, religion, and family. It is the model that we unconsciously apply to canine nature and society, and our relationships with them can but fall under its influence.

We all have great affection for the dogs in our lives, but if we were to really look at our beliefs, we’d be surprised by what we find. We generally consider humans to be more significant than other animals. We are more intelligent, more evolved, more important in the scheme of things, and we are certainly more powerful than a dog. We consider ourselves to be superior in the natural order therefore, we possess sovereign authority. We have been conditioned to believe that we have “dominion over all.” Creations of value and significance distinguish the powerful from the powerless. The superior rule over and control the inferior. Through a belief in our superiority we enslave the canine to our will, to our home and to our inattention. We conquer him. Without awareness we deliver him to a life of constant stress and pressure and/or a tedious and empty existence of understimulation and forced repose. And we will be unable to see in him anything that we do not see in our pathological models of worth and value. As one rises to prominence, others must fall; as one obtains power, others must surrender it. The “master” creates a slave. In this portrait of superiority and disunity, the dog will always lose.

Our observations of dogs are filtered through these concepts of rank, class and “top-down” control. We justify this structure and our own acts of aggression and domination by believing in the dog’s dominating and aggressive nature. To believe that canines seek power with the intent to dominate and rule over the many is to believe them to be human. And so is believing that they aggress with intent to hurt or destroy. This isn’t the way dogs live; this is the way humans live. What we think we are seeing in canine behavior is actually just a reflection of our own beliefs and concepts. Until we become aware of their presence and their influence upon us, we have no ability to judge their aptness or to alter or abolish them. We will continue to perceive reality through them, seek their validation, and be blind to and resist that which actually manifests before us.

Finding Our Way Back Home

Hidden behind the veil of these constructs of reality is a clear and present moment of thinking, feeling, being experience. The actual dog exists within this moment and in it, we are the same. But the course of human evolution separated us from this critical axis of life. As our awareness of the fullness of our reality atrophied, we separated from the clear and present moment and from each other. Today, we inhabit a world of intellect, knowledge and reason. We see metaphors of rank and order because we live in them and unconsciously create them. The words we use to speak about canines and human-canine relationships perpetuate them. What we think we see “out there” actually lives within us.

Our ancient ancestors spoke of the primordial “First Time,” when possibility was converted to actuality and the universe appeared. Consciousness arose and in it was the seed of the source. This is the place where we all meet. Truly, each conscious seed is equally significant in the whole story of the stars. It will be us—you and I—who, with our every-day actions and attitudes toward “the other,” will cause the pyramid to once again stand on its tip. And when we do, notions of superiority and dominance will be ridiculous contradictions. They will be attacks on the sanctity of the whole.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Automaton

Our unconscious controlling attitudes toward dogs cause us to regard them almost as René Descartes* described them – as automatons. Descartes argued that because animals do not use language they would be completely indistinguishable from machines built to resemble them. His point was that the use of language is a sign of rationality and only things endowed with minds or souls are rational. All else are mindless slaves. This fallacy persists in the thoughts and actions of many. Instead of allowing a dog to think, to imagine and create, to formulate a plan and to bring forth the resolve to enact it, we command him. And he becomes an automaton – a mindless follower.

The word “command” is the very source of our unconscious controlling attitudes. We use it so casually and so often that we are numb to its meaning and to the ideas it conveys. When we command, we make another comply, we force, threaten and intimidate. One who commands must demand compliance to maintain authority and control. To give away any power to subjects would eventually bring them into conflict with our edicts. The disagreeable, slow and the reluctant-to-obey must be punished.

Yes, there are situations in which a dog’s response is urgently important but research shows that performance latency and predictability degrades in dogs who have been made to comply, particularly when their guardian is not near enough to make good on their threats. There are some very essential conditions under which dogs don’t or can’t give us the response we expect when and where we ask for it but the unconscious processes that follow the intent to command will disallow us any awareness or consideration of them. They will cause us to leap off into immediate corrective action. We will repeat our command again and again, to the point of shouting. We’ll handle the dog’s body. We'll become arbitrary and oppressive, frustrated and angry. We will give threatening facial and body-language signals. We may use our might and force to gain compliance and we might deliver a painful and frightening punishment.

The failure will be regarded as an intentional slight or refusal and as disrespect for our ultimate “pack-leader” authority. The act of commanding gives us an unconscious “do this or else” perspective. We turn the energy of absolute power upon the dog and deliver him unto powerlessness. I don’t believe that we really mean or intend what this word implies.

If we were to issue requests or suggestions instead, we would create opportunities to see how the dog we are communicating with actually feels about the interaction. That surely stands an old paradigm on its head and its something that commanding doesn’t allow. We can learn what makes him happy, what he’ll absolutely flip for and what he considers to be uninteresting. We can give him a chance to think and to create unique responses. In turn, we can alter our thinking and behavior to meet the dog at the place where he is most joyous and most involved. Instead of commanding an automaton, we'd be participating in a creative, happy and inspired partnership. And this experience will kill off another old fallacy – that the dog actually lives to please us.

*A 17th century philosopher, mathematician, scientist and writer considered to be "The Father of Modern Philisophy"

Monday, June 1, 2009

Style Over Substance

Make no mistake; things are changing in our life with dogs. New laws are coming and they are heading our way. Initially, “animal-limit,” “breeder-restriction” and “mandatory spay-neuter” legislation was successfully passed on city and county levels. Now, it is sweeping the country in state-wide initiatives. This week, such a bill will go before the full California State Senate. If it passes, with a few exceptions, all dogs must undergo pediatric sterilization. And if you are partnered with a dog who is an exception, you can be permanently denied the right to ever be again if you are cited for any of a number of local ordinances such as: Allowing a dog to bark, not displaying his license tag on his collar and walking him on a leash that’s longer than the length specified in the municipal code. Similar state-wide legislation has been proposed in Florida; House Bill 451 is heading to the Legislature.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are putting their enormous bankrolls behind these legislative agendas. In an incredible irony, their goal of ensuring the humane treatment of animals will actually cause millions more dogs to be put to death. Upon being confiscated from their people the great majority will immediately fall into the killing hands of the lethal injectionists in overcrowded shelter systems. But, according to these highly respected voices for animal safety, a quick and painless death is a better fate than living with a person who has three or four other animals or one who won’t license or one who, like many medical professionals, are concerned about the side-effects of pediatric sterilization and who will not spay or neuter a puppy.

It is estimated that 10 million dogs are put to death in United States animal-control and sheltering facilities annually. HSUS and PETA contend that overpopulation is the problem. Pointing their long fingers at “puppy mills” they conduct raids, looking like heroes as they pose for photos with the wretched bodies of imprisoned procreators. Sadly, those “rescued” dogs don’t find forever homes; they are destroyed.

But if we were to really look at this tragic situation, we might actually come to realize that other forces actually hold it in place. We are a nation of consumers who demand the right to own what we want. It is we, the American buying public, who drive the demand for dogs. Breeds become popular; colors and cross-breeds come into fashion. We “buy,” “own” and “have” dogs and we will pay almost any price for the look and style we want. A lot of “product” must be produced to fill this ever-growing consumer demand. When you think about it, puppy mills and other breeders-for-profit wouldn’t exist without that demand. If we saw the canine-human partnership to be the privilege and blessing that it actually is, we wouldn’t much care what a dog looked like. We wouldn’t be using them as symbols of our taste, style and success.

Our style-over-substance mentality presents another problem. An estimated 10 million additional dogs are privately euthanized annually due to the cost of their medical care or because of their behavior. Genetic defects and diseases are being bred into dogs at such a rapid pace that the offspring of some breeds can inherit over 50 of them. Fewer than ten percent of these sometimes life-ending problems can be tested for. Breeders pair up dogs and bitches without knowing what heritable flaws they will give to their offspring – that won’t be known until puppies fully mature. But by then, those dogs won’t be able to pass on their genetic hardiness. By law, they will have been sterilized. And so will the dogs who prove to be emotionally stable and affable companions, able to tolerate child’s play, learn the ways of the human world and prove impervious to the behavior extremes and personality changes that result from the stress of social isolation, confinement and understimulation. Those dogs won’t be able to produce more like themselves. If market demand for the pretty, popular, stylized dog endures and HSUS and PETA continue to influence our legislators, the ideal dog—a healthy, smart and well-adjusted canine—will become extinct.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Educating Cats and Italian Greyhounds

I’ll confess that I have not personally attempted to educate a cat. I did try to bathe one once and later reflected upon that decision as the most insane one I’d ever made. Not only did the cat protest with his weapons drawn, he showed up the next day as dirty as he had been before the bath. I have, however, educated Italian greyhounds and I’ve been told that their attitudes toward education are very similar to those of cats. If you try to threaten or force them, they’ll just walk out of the classroom and won’t return for the next lesson.

According to formerly secret documents about the CIA’s undercover operations during the Cold War, cats were trained to act as spies. Equipped with acoustic transmitter/receiver devices, felines would be directed to approach specific people in public places so that operatives could eavesdrop on their conversations from afar. Reportedly, the cats were directed to their targets in busy airports and on crowded city sidewalks. Once there, they would be asked to remain for a period of time and might then be directed to another target or to return to their “home” base.

The key element in the education of these kitty spies was what is known as a “keep-going signal” (KGS). If the cat went straight ahead and that was the desired direction, he would hear a sound – maybe something like “good-kitty, good-kitty, good-kitty, good.” If he veered off of the intended course, the sound would stop. The cat would then try another direction and when he heard the sound again, he would know he was on the right track and would continue on. The KGS had been conditioned as a secondary reinforcer – something that predicted the delivery of a primary reinforcer, like a tidbit of smoked herring or a rousing game of chase-the-wind-up-mouse. So the KGS would come to be thought of as the equivalent of a big, happy, wonderful, juicy YES!!!

Imagine the opposite. The cat veers off course and into his receiver he hears “No! That’s wrong! Stop! Go the other way! Not that way, the other way.” What might that predict? Maybe that when or if he returns he's going to get some kind of CIA smack-down. I can just imagine the look on the little kitty spy’s face at being bombarded with such negative input; in fact, I’ve seen that look before. Who wants to keep playing when the game is no fun?

Early on, I recognized the effect of the word “NO” on my canine partner, Jack. Not only did he seem to receive it as a virtual slap in the face, it was an educational dead-end. It gave him nothing to go on; it flattened his interest and squashed his creativity. I tried very hard not to use it and quickly realized how much a part of our response to life it is. We are always resisting the unwanted, responding to it with amplified feelings and remedial actions. We seem to like to wait until things go “wrong” just so we can become reactive and throw out some “NOs.” I wondered why we didn’t concentrate on ways to say “yes” instead – looking for and commenting on good experiences. Why don’t we tell the people and the dogs in our lives about everything they do that we like and want? To extinguish my inclination to “NOing” I decided to come up with some “Yes” games and ways to use keep-going signals.

Hide Five Treats is a game that Jack and I play often. Although he can certainly sniff out the booty, he has become accustomed to using my “yes” signals to direct him instead. He waits in a room while I go into another and hide five treats; I then release him. When he is oriented in the right direction to find one, I say the word “yes.” As he gets closer to the target, I say it faster; when he is very close, I increase the pitch of my voice and say it so fast that it is almost a single tone. When he hears that, he sniffs out the immediate area until he locates the treat. If he is not oriented toward a treat or begins to go in the wrong direction he simply hears nothing. This prompts him to try something else.

In education particularly, I have practiced eliminating the word “no.” I give some forethought to how I might encourage certain actions, postures or behaviors and I have taught myself to look for tiny things to approve of and mark so that Jack keeps learning and the education game stays fun. The rewards have been tremendous. Jack has a cue library of over 100 words and thespian and comedic achievements that will keep you entertained for a long while. He has mastered object handling and developed the ability to discriminate between same and different, big and little, left and right, up and down, and into and on. And he accomplished all of that through the happy application of affirmatives. (If you want to see an example of his work search for “IggyJack” on

We can actually train ourselves to watch for and even expect what we want when we stop using the word “no.” Our relationships transform from negative refusals to happy affirmations. The dogs in our lives begin to live in an experience of constant celebration. What other simple little change has such enormous positive potential? Try it. “Yes!” And, if you happen to also be partnered with a kitty, you can actually use it to prepare her for a career in clandestine services.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In Love with our Beliefs

(This post is actually the second part of the previous - A Thin Line. To put this in its proper perspecitve, you may wish to read that first.)

Intellectual Evolution

Humans have undergone an unprecedented intellectual evolution in a very short period of time, resulting in brains that are disproportionately big, about 250 percent bigger than that of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. Our intellectual interpretation of the world has diminished our experiential involvement with it. Instead of engaging in actual experience, we prefer to build and then rely on our beliefs about the world and its inhabitants. We read books to learn about dogs while the ones at our side lay prone waiting for interaction. We admire and respect our avatars of canine behavior and education when the most capable teachers are sitting right in front of us.

The ability to formulate beliefs is one of the most basic and vital features of the mind. A belief is a mental state in which we have an opinion, conclusion, take or conviction that a particular proposition or its future likelihood is true. Characterized as being a “propositional attitude,” a belief is a representation or model of fact. Our beliefs play a causal role in every aspect of our behavior. They are the filter through which we interpret and interact with the world. They influence not only our ability to learn but what we can and will learn. They define our limitations and our strengths and affect our likelihood of success or failure. They create our view of reality. What we believe influences what we are able to perceive.

The problem with beliefs is that they can originate in ideas and information that are inaccurate. They can be distorted through representative heuristics, biases, social pressures and fixations. They can sometimes originate through our acceptance of an “umbrella” concept or theory. Often, we won’t have any actual experience or accurate information with which to validate our beliefs. We may even accept and come to believe ideas that we suspect to be inaccurate. We will often accept broad concepts and theories for the sake of efficiency and conformity. In contexts to which they apply, we will behave as though the originating hypothesis was a literal truth.

The establishment and acceptance of a belief will thwart continued investigation and discovery. We will come to see the matter as settled and stop seeking to demonstrate truthfulness. We will forget the conceptual, biased, incomplete, rearward-looking and often false views of reality upon which our beliefs were built. We will look upon the astonishing eruption of unique living experience with eyes that are blinded by belief.

We Become Our Beliefs

We unconsciously become so fond of our beliefs that we are unwilling and unable to perceive anything to the contrary. We find it easier to accept any version of reality that agrees with our opinions, considering them to be more valid and more rational than versions that do not agree. This is “belief bias” and it predicts that we will demonstrate a tendency to distort logic in support of what we think we know.

“Belief perseverance” is another form of irrationality in which we will cling to our beliefs and justify them despite evidence or authentic experience that refutes or contradicts them. A belief in the need to correct, punish and dominate a dog overrides any ability to realize that issuing a forceful jerk upon his delicate neck structures while he is wearing a choke or pinch collar causes pain, fear and even physical damage.

We approach our living reality as our beliefs - we will identify with them as though they are our very selves. This separates and divides us from other beings. It disconnects us from the full and vital reality of living. Our mentally created self-concept will be bolstered by what we think we know. We will compare our beliefs with those of others, trying to convince them that ours are facts. We will appeal, reason, persuade, offer evidence and argue our points. When they aren’t accepted, conflict is the likely result. It is often our habit and more comfortable for us to make an enemy of the disagreer than it is to recognize our beliefs as the mere propositions and possible distortions that they are. When we superimpose our beliefs and knowledge upon an animal with whom we cannot reason, we will simply overpower and defeat him. He will have to squeeze the fullness of his thinking and feeling reality into the smallness of our beliefs. This is how we create The Conceptual Dog.