Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can We Actually Make a Dog Come When Called?

Many of us start off really well when we begin teaching puppies to come when called. We play happy recall games, giving the cue, clapping hands and running away to excite a chase. We give lavish attention and throw treat parties when the pup follows and the recall cue becomes one of the most fun words the young dog knows. From a sound sleep, up they leap upon hearing it. Yet, what we meticulously establish can be destroyed so quickly that we are left wondering what went wrong with the dog. What went wrong usually has nothing to do with the dog. It is us who ruin this most important cue and we do it in a couple of ways.

Recall and end the fun or deliver some nasties:
Dogs have their own thinking, feeling experience of life. There are things they enjoy and things they don’t. When we use a recall cue to end the former and deliver the latter, the cue becomes a warning to the dog that her response to it will not only end the fun, but it may give her a case of the nasties. Many of us are aware of this so we make every attempt to refrain from such foolishness. We don’t use our precious recall cue to end a dog’s fun or when we must trim nails, give a bath, or pull some tag-alongs out of his fur. Ouch! We can actually be impeccable with this strategic self-control and still ruin the cue in the other ways.

Consider the cue an edict from the king:
Many canine educators and guardians hold the opinion that you must “make” a dog do what you “command.” Any refusal is seen as willful noncompliance. When our request becomes a sovereign decree, we will not suffer delay or what we think to be refusal. We can quickly feel irritation, frustration and eventually, even anger. Our feelings can be heard in the sharpness of voice and seen in the clenching of teeth. Some of us give a hard look. Fists fly up on hips and we adopt a squared and rigid stance. We repeat the cue with contempt for the challenge. And even if we offer no overt signs or gestures, our feelings permeate the electromagnetic environment. Through it, dogs are immediately aware of our emotional state.

The truth is that our introduction of aversive experience (whether realized or intended) is the very reason why most dogs don’t come when they are called. A prompt or a cue is a request for a particular posture or activity. A command is an edict from the king. When we stop using words of absolute power, we will be a lot more aware of our role in helping a dog to interpret our communications and willingly provide the responses we expect. We will assume responsibility for any failures, reasoning how to fix our mistakes and keep moving forward. We build the energy of partnership and respect when we ask.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Dog in Nature

An Excerpt from The Conceptual Dog...

The dog is a creature of the great natural systems of the earth and his sense of identity is drawn through a deep and abiding connection to them. His ancient role within those systems is part of his genetic material. His utter lack of access to natural environments deprives him fundamentally as it deprives us. Stable ecosystems of field, forest and stream support a wide variety of natural life forms. In some parts of the world, the dog is still one of them. The biodiversity found within natural areas can not only sustain the physical life of a canine, it enhances the animal's entire conscious experience. As they develop, dogs master diverse and increasingly complex social and environmental challenges and they integrate their experiences into a coherent sense of self. The living natural world is rich and variable; it is constantly in motion, always changing and subtlety unique. Dogs will find outlets for their inherent expressions in such environments and the full potential of a canine can be actualized through this exposure. Animals in nature engage with the flow of time with attentive awareness. They continuously orient themselves to their environments and this enables them to structure responses, anticipate consequences and adjust activities accordingly. They demonstrate inquisitive exploration, playful interaction and exploratory manipulation of what is found. They deliberately create opportunities to try out new things and have novel experiences. Their activities demonstrate purpose, enjoyment and an apprehension of life’s meaningfulness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Whose Walk is it Anyway?

For so many dogs, a tethered walk represents their only access to the great wide world and we turn it into an exercise in micromanagement, restriction and control. The walk seems to always be for us. It is done on our terms. Why can’t we allow the walk to belong to the dog? What is the real cost of allowing him to stop and investigate scents, leaving his urine on most things vertical? Isn’t this what dogs seem intrinsically interested in doing? If the dog walks out in front, if he swims from side to side or doubles back to check on something he just passed, why can’t we accommodate him? Many of us believe that this is a sign of insubordination that we can not allow. We provide no actual education on where we want the dog to be in relationship to our body, or how fast or slow we want him to walk. We believe that the dog should know all of this or that he should actually want to walk calmly at our side. We expect dogs to prefer our company and ignore all that stimulates and interests them.

Before you embark on a walk with the dog in your life, intend to determine the purpose and nature of the walk. If the walk is for the dog’s fun and exercise, then see if you can stay present enough to allow the dog to have fun while getting exercise. Declare the walk to be his walk. If the walk is for your fun and exercise and the dog is just coming along, consider the compromises you might be willing to make to ensure that his experience is not one of a constant denial of his interests. If, at places along your route, the dog must be attentive to you and not the environment, happily condition that type of attentive walking. Then free him to his own explorations when you can.

Friday, January 9, 2009

About The Conceptual Dog

The Conceptual Dog, based on the upcoming book by the same name, explores how routine cognitive processes lead us to create a conceptual view of the canine animal that can be radically different from the actual animal. It reveals the words, thoughts, beliefs and biases that trap dogs into artificial lives, denying them fulfillment and the right to self-actualization. It provides a roadmap to awareness and responsibility and liberates the dog in joyous celebration of the wholeness of his animal nature.

A Dog Language Renaissance

The word "dog" elicits thoughts of innocence, nurture, protection, happiness and love. But don't the words we use to describe the dog and our human-dog relationship conflict with these understandings? We "own" the dog. We call the dog an "it." We "get" one, "have" one, even "buy" one, just as we buy "things" for our pleasure and for our home.

We need a shift in consciousness - A Dog-Language Renaissance. When we look into the eyes of the dog, we can see a conscious being looking back. When we consider the inner reality of our union, it is unlikely to be that of an "owner" and a "thing" possessed. Words, like thoughts, powerfully create our reality. Through them we unconsciously regard the dog as chattel and we are lead to acts of suppression and control.

We can learn to willfully align our words with our truest feelings and with the authentic nature of the canine being. Let's replace the lexicon of ownership with that of partnership and watch our relationships evolve into a rebirth of empathetic connection and cooperation.

I am proud to say that I am a dog-partnered human. The dog at my side is a "he" not an "it." I don't "have" him, I share my life with him and in that sharing, we are both blessing beyond measure.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Power of Words Illustrated

Researcher Masaru Emoto has made thousands of images that show the effect words can have on droplets of water. When he freezes them, they might form into perfect crystals resembling beautiful snowflakes.

Sometimes the crystalline shapes are multifaceted and complex but incomplete, broken or deformed. Water can also freeze into brown and grey sludge-like shapes that don’t look like crystals at all. They look more like a mold or virus.

Before freezing the water, Emoto tapes a word or phrase to the side of each container. The words love, happiness, harmony, truth, appreciation and partnership and phrases like you can do it produce perfectly beautiful and quite elaborate crystal shapes. The words hate, sadness, stupid, war, lie, enemy and rage formed into shapes that looked broken, blurry and even putrid. And so did do it. In its meaning, energy and essence this disharmonizing phrase is no different than the word we use to describe the directives we give to the dogs in our lives. It is a command. Isn't it odd that we have chosen this word? Why don't we say that we "ask" or "suggest" a posture, a behavior or an activity? Actually, this word has a long history of use and in The Conceptual Dog, I reveal its origins, how it operates on us and what it can actually lead us to think, believe and do without our even noticing.

When we consider that water constitutes seventy percent of our living body and that water is the messenger medium through which our trillions of cells simultaneously communicate with each other, it is easy to see how our entire being is impacted by the energy and meaning of words we speak, hear and see.