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.