Monday, March 29, 2010

What Does The Dog Want?

Have you ever asked the dog in your life this question? Seriously! Have you made an earnest inquiry of him to learn what drives him, what thrills him, what he likes and dislikes and what he desires? The truth is that few us have ever thought to ask a dog such questions. We generally believe them incapable of answering and we think that we know everything about them anyway. But this information can’t come from us. It can’t come from a book or from anyone else who lives with a dog. We must go to the source to learn what more a dog wants than a cookie. I can get you started with some questions to ask by sharing what Jack has told me.

The dog in my life wants to smell, investigate, taste, roll in, look at, chase, catch and sometimes kill and in all ways experience the things he finds in nature. He tells me that he feels most alive when he is a critically aware participant in the astonishing eruption of life that spontaneously explodes around him and through him when he is free in the world of living forms. This is not a toxic patch of yard or an over-managed green space he’s talking about. This is scrub and bramble, log and moss; this is where the wild things live and access to it is worth far more than a cookie to Jack.

Jack wants his life to be inspiring, full, fun and rich and if it can’t be lived in nature’s playground, he wants me to fill in the blanks. He wants to do stuff! He wants to find hidden treasures, play action, intelligence and suspense games; he wants to toss, catch and tug. He wants to smell, eat and see new things. He wants to go places where stuff happens. He wants to meet other canines and find out where they’ve been. He wants to engage in social interactions with them – participating in the traditions and communications that have been millions of years in the making. He wants to surf the far ends of polarity, arousing and diffusing in rich play-games with conspecifics. For Jack, these things are worth far more than a cookie.

The dog at my side wants to think independently. He wants to choose actions that serve his canineness, his inclinations and his desires. He wants to express his animal nature and to self-actualize as the being that he is. He can think, decide, choose and make associations, and he gets causality. He wants to react to stimuli as a dog would. He wants the opportunity to answer my petitions for activity, interaction and behavior without being prompted, pushed, handled or managed into an expected response. All of this is worth much more than a cookie to Jack.

Jack wants my conscious awareness when I interact with him. He wants me to have enough attentiveness to really see him. He says that his thoughts and feelings are so transparent that nothing is hidden if I would only look at him in this way. He wants me to be acutely aware of his expressions so I can be an effective guardian of his emotional wellbeing. He wants me to be present when I’ve asked something of him and when we were doing things together so that I can participate with him fully – alive, spontaneous and creatively joyful. He wants to choose whether or not strangers get to put their big mits onto his body and he wants to decide which dogs he'd like to greet while out on walks. He wants all this much more than he wants a cookie.

He wants to be dealt with fairly and kindly. He says that this is easily accomplished if I would always remember that he thinks and he feels and that everything I do, say, feel and don’t do, he perceives; he is not a piece of furniture. If I plan to end our play, he wants a little conclusion ceremony. It’s a real bummer when I suddenly turn my back and walk away. If I plan to turn right while we are walking along tied to each other, he wants me to let him know so that he doesn’t have to get dragged about by the neck. If I must leave him behind, he’d like a little discussion about when I’ll be back because the sounds of certainty and assurance in my gibberish make him feel better about me leaving. If there is something I want him to know that he hasn’t yet learned, he wants me to teach him with patience, giving him lesson plans that are easily accomplished. He wants this type of regard much more than he wants a cookie.

Jack also wants to feel safe and secure when he is inside the cage that I call our home. He wants me to refrain from getting angry in there and from shouting at the other two-legger or at the television. He wants me to modulate my feelings (for both our sakes) and behave evenly so he knows what to expect. He wants our cage to be free of unpredictable, drunk and upset visitors. He wants to know that he’ll have water and food and he wants to eat things that don’t come out of a bag. He wants this more than he wants a cookie.

And, Jack does want cookies. He wants to enjoy them as a being fulfilled. He does not want cookies that are offered as a gesture of apology or as surrogates for all the other things he wants and is not given.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

War or Peace?

In the 1700's, the classification sapiens was established to distinguish "wise" or "knowing" hominids from others in the Genus Homo. Recently, it began to become apparent that intelligence was not an adequate or complete characterization of the species. The prospect of changing the classification or creating a new one altogether began to be discussed. It was suggested that the new species be designated H. aggressus. This is an animal who cannot control his thoughts, feelings or reactions and whose aggressive, destructive acts toward other beings and things are detrimental to the species' ability to survive. If the Genus is indeed split in two, to which group will you belong?

I visit several Internet lists and forums where hominids aggress against each other in frequent wars over a variety of topics. How to educate a dog is a major one with battles and skirmishes that never really settle anything. Fighting will last for days or weeks and eventually die a death of exhaustion. A short while later, it will begin again and all the old arguments will fly forth with renewed vigor. Cesar Milan, shock collars and reinforcement- vs. correction-based education techniques are subjects that call out a host of mighty soldiers. Some employ battle tactics that are so brutal and appalling that one is injured just by seeing their standards waving in the wind.

I often wonder what the beloved dogs are doing as their warriors-for-a-point-of-view slash their enemies with poisoned keystrokes? Most likely they are laying about waiting for interaction and stimulation. And they may as well be laying right in the thick of the battles themselves because they are very directly effected by the emotional amplification, combative, antagonistic intent and the energy of the words their soldier-humans hurl as weapons. The enmity and upset we feel over what we think someone should believe or do and over how we characterize them for what we believe they are thinking or doing is a form of insanity. And this particular type of insanity can inspire aggressive acts that are detrimental to our ability to survive as a species.

The thing that makes the world so wonderfully rich and variable is that everyone thinks, believes, rationalizes and behaves differently. What we consider to be an outrageous act another considers to be an acceptable one. We can fight with them – throwing our arguments out with blood boiling only to feel greater ire when we receive the ones that they throw back (H. aggressus). Or, we can accept, allow, honor and forgive them (H. sapiens). After all, it's really very silly to think that we can force someone to become just like us.

All of our experiences in life are senseless and useless unless they help us to achieve harmony with ourselves, the world and with other beings. If you want your kind, loving and peaceful ideals to spread around the planet, cultivate the ability to control your thoughts and responses to life so that you radiate kindness, love and peace. Detach from your opinions, standards, expectations and points of view – no matter how virtuous or noble. The warriors and their arguments go away when no enemy shows up on the battlefield.

(To learn more about the instantaneous effects that our thoughts and feelings have on the objects and beings in our immediate vicinity, read Curious Reality.)