One Size Does Not Fit All

 

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our Dogs are distinct, one-of-a-kind individuals, not one can ever be duplicated in the history of the universe.  They are as unique as snowflakes – no two are ever alike. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to our relationship with them would be unfair and disrespectful.  Then how is it that so many “professional” trainers and behaviorists try to fit our Dogs into specific categories and boxes, and subscribe to“canned” answers to behavior problems?  A single technique is applied because they are not seeing our Dogs as friends and equals that we need to connect with, only as pets and property that need to be managed and controlled.

We live in a culture that expects instant gratification and immediate solutions to problems.  We “google” our way through troubles and difficulties, usually settling for lowest common denominator solutions and quick-fixes.  Many Dogs are abandoned, surrendered to shelters, abused and neglected because we attempt this pre-packaged approach with them.  We create expectations based on pages in a random book, or what some “expert”, who often only only sees our Dogs in specific situations and for a very brief period of time, says we should.  These expectations not only blur our vision, but they often prevent us from seeing all the great things about our Dogs, because we filter our vision through these limited expectations.  Our Dogs, as with other living creatures, must be seen for who they are – without prejudging them on their breed, gender or history.  If we are to achieve the connection with them that we really want – as friends – then we have to have an open mind, be flexible in our approach with them, and understand completely that the Dog in front of us is not just a statistic in some book, but a living, breathing, thinking and feeling miracle.

It all begins with appreciating, accepting and loving our dogs for who they are, not just what we want them to be.  It means seeing them as an “objet trouvé”, (art that is found as it is) as opposed to “objet d’art” (created art).  This defines unconditional love and acceptance – not contingent upon any behavior or action that we desire.  This is the root of any meaningful and deep friendship, what Aristotle called “friendship of the good”, the highest form of friendship as opposed to friendship based on contingencies and conditions.

True friendship continues by allowing our Dogs to be themselves as we support their autonomy so they can grow to their fullest potential – what true friends would want for each other, as opposed to a “what-can-you-do-for-me” attitude.

This also requires effective and compassionate communication, what I call the “effectiveness zone”, which is different for every Dog, and in every situation.  Here’s how it works:

Picture two horizontal lines, one above the other.  The top line represents the upper limit of effective communication and the bottom line represents the lower limit.  In between the lines is where our communication with our Dogs is most effective and most compassionate.  It’s like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  We want to find what’s “just right”.   Here’s an example:

If our Dog was about to run into the street when a car was approaching, obviously we would need to communicate to her that this would be a dangerous thing to do.  If we become too emotional and too extreme, (above the upper line), then she may not get the message and become panicky and fearful, possibly running into the path of the car.  If we are too laid-back with our communication, (below the line), then she wouldn’t get the message either and might run into the road.  We need to be somewhere right in between.  This is also true for positive communication, not just negative ones.  If we have asked our Dog to “sit” instead of jumping on us when we walk through the door, then too little praise, (below the line), will not be enough to tell him we appreciate his action.  If we over-praise and get him too excited and worked-up, (above the line), then he will likely jump up again.  

So how do we know when we are communicating in our Dog’s effectiveness zone?  We need to be sensitive to the feedback they give us at that moment, and not blindly follow some technique or method we read in a book or a “professional” trainer told us.  We need to connect and look at our Dogs and see if they understood what we were trying to tell them.  It’s the same thing we would do with a friend.  If we communicated with our friend, we might ask, “Did you understand?”, in order to know if we need to say it in a different way.  If we see that our Dogs did not get the message in the way we intended, we must change our approach.  This is how friends act with each other, an organic and not a mechanical process.

I always begin work with my clients by helping them understand that working with their Dog is a dialog and a conversation – not a monologue and a lecture.  It’s a respectful and compassionate back and forth “dance” where each partner has a say and where we share the role of leadership.  If we want a deep and vibrant connection with our Dogs; if we want to live with them in harmonious resonance, then we must treat each other as friends and equals, not as owner/pet.  We must see beyond the artificial and one-dimensional labels and boxes we put them in.  Only when we have removed the barriers of inequality and categorization can we effectively communicate with our Dogs, and fully connect with each other.  This requires us to appreciate each other for the individuals we are, and therefore “custom make” our friendship.  We can’t find that on the “one-size-fits-all” rack.

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National Dog “Equality” Day?

There are no friends in animal shelters – only pets.

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“Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time.”
~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Today is National Dog Day, a commemoration that increases awareness of Dogs that need to be rescued.  It also is a celebration of how Dogs throughout history have helped Humans lead happier, healthier and safer lives.  The day brings attention to the “plight of animals”, yet it falls short in bringing awareness to the fact that although we call Dogs our “best friends”, our relationship has been one of owner/pet rather than true friends.

Today is also Women’s Equality Day commemorating the nineteenth amendment to the constitution in 1920 prohibiting states from denying women the right to vote. This celebrates the equality of all humanity regardless of gender (as if that ever had to be questioned in the first place).  

 National Dog Day should take a page from Women’s Equality Day to encourage genuine and equal friendships between Humans and Dogs.  The founder of National Dog Day, Colleen Paige, speaks about why so many Dogs are surrendered to shelters and given away: 

“Millions of dogs are killed each year because they’re simply unwanted, says Colleen Paige, founder of National Dog Day. They’re unwanted because no one realized how to properly care for the demands of the breed. They’re unwanted because they were bought as a Christmas gift for a child that didn’t keep their promises about caring for the dog…unwanted because they shed too much…unwanted because they bark too much. UNWANTED…simply because someone changed their mind…”

Although I agree in with her in part, she’s missing the bigger picture.  She’s describing  the symptoms and NOT the disease. The root cause of Dog surrenders is that Dogs are seen as less important than Humans.  Their lives are seen as less valuable, less deserving, and less equal.  Yes – we call them our friends, but do we walk our talk?  Friends never abandon friends. 

There are no friends in animal shelters – only pets.

By exploiting Dogs for our own selfish amusement and utility, they may become manipulated, dominated, neglected, abandoned and sometimes abused.  That is not how friends treat each other.

We selectively breed our supposed “friends” for physical abnormalities that can shorten their life and cause suffering, e.g.: bulldogs, great Danes, teacup poodles, etc.  We “install” behavioral drives that create perpetual frustration. For example, we breed in strong predatory drives not based on hunger, which can never be satisfied, so the dog is condemned to live with an itch that can never be scratched.  We perpetuate “fashion” breeds to suit the whims of people who want to own the newest creation.  Being true friends with our dogs means ending the genetic manipulation and breeding for our own pleasure and nostalgia.  Most purebreds are never involved in the tasks they were originally “designed” for, and are being bred now because of our desire for a specific “style”. This serves our pleasure alone and does nothing to serve the Dogs.  (Shame on you AKC). 

If we are to truly respect and honor Dogs, as so many claim to, then we have to treat them with equal consideration.  In other words, we have to walk our talk and treat them as friends.   This does not mean only babying them or indulging them with fancy beds and tons of toys.  That stuff is great, but does not replace treating them as equals with respect, appreciation and dignity.

This also means putting an end to coercive tactics and “dominating” our Dogs.  We are not a pack of wolves; we are friends.  Humans and Dogs evolved together and helped to domesticate each other. Our relationship began as equal friends and partners and not as master and slave.

 In addition, we also need to end our lust for control and stop micro-managing and manipulating our Dogs solely for our own enjoyment, even under the guise of “humane” training.  Would you treat your friend as an object and use manipulative Skinnerian “puppeteering” to get your friend to “obey” you?  Of course not.  If you did, you would not be a friend.  

As a society we need to open our doors to Dogs more, and allow them to accompany us to more places such as stores, National parks, restaurants, and other locales that discriminate based solely on species, and NOT on behavior.  Landlords need to recognize that Dogs can be good tenants, and be more accepting of them in rental properties.   There should be a universal code of conduct in public places.  If everyone adhered to this code of conduct, then it wouldn’t matter if they were Dog, Cat, Human… if they violated the code of conduct they would be asked to leave instead of basing it only on species.  I have been many places where the Dogs were fine, but the Humans were acting inappropriately.  This does not mean simply being a “good citizen”.  That implies blind conformity and obedience – Rosa Parks was not considered a good citizen, yet she she was one of the greatest influencers of freedom in history.  It means being respectful, accepting, and tolerant of others as equals.

I’m amazed that we Humans actually need an amendment to our constitution that gives one gender the same rights as another gender.  It boggles my mind that equality is something that has to be legislated.  It’s even more boggling that even today, this equality is still something that has to be fought for.  The idea that one person is less “equal” because of their gender, culture, religion, race, or even economic status is a shameful commentary on the collective consciousness of many Humans.  Sexism, racism, and class discrimination are symptoms of self-absorbed, self-serving and ignorant minds.  So is speciesism.  We are better than that.

 I am advocating for Dogs to be treated as equal friends, and not as pets.  Friends in the truest sense, as in Aristotle’s highest form of friendship: the “friendship of the good”.  It is only between those who can give each other equal consideration and not put themselves above or below the other, that a true friendship can form.  If the relationship is unequal, one-sided, and based on utility or amusement, then it is not a true friendship, it is ownership.  This requires continuous attention to our own actions and feelings, in addition to our Dog’s behavior, to ensure this equality.   Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer of feminism once said: “Friendship and domestic happiness are continually praised; yet how little is there of either in the world, because it requires more cultivation of mind to keep awake affection, even in our own hearts, than the common run of people suppose.”

With all we know and understand about non-human consciousness, it’s hard to grasp the fact that we treat animals as less deserving of consideration than us, simply because they are a different species. This includes Dogs.  I had a spiritual teacher who always said, “All life is precious.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Our Dogs, who have stood side-by-side with Humans for tens of thousands of years, deserve to be treated with equal consideration.  They deserve (as do all non-humans) to be treated as equal friends – not just in words, but in actions.  When that day comes, National Dog Equality Day will also be a day worth celebrating. 

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An Organically Grown Friendship

 

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“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
~ William Shakespeare

 

In my professional life, my focus has been helping people who are dissatisfied with their Dogs.  Most often we lay the blame at the Dog’s feet.  The common thought is that “lack of training” is the cause, and that is why my clients initially seek out Dog trainers, behaviorists, and other professionals.  Whether they look for the so-called “positive only” trainers (which is really a misnomer) or more traditional dominance-based trainers, or behavior “modification” trainers, the truth is that they are barking up the wrong tree. Focusing on the Dog’s behavior and taking a reductionist rather than a holistic approach is the problem, not the solution.  The truth is, the problem lies in how we relate to each other, not in how our Dogs behave. 

 Furthermore, it is obvious that traditional mechanistic approaches to behavior have failed.  Yes, there are many “trained” Dogs out there, but at the same time the animal shelters and rescue organizations are overflowing.  Many of the Dogs that are surrendered are also well-trained, yet they suffer and die in these shelters every day.  In addition, there are an untold number of neglected and abused Dogs that go unreported in homes that once had high hopes for a successful relationship.

   What we need is a new paradigm.  We need to grow our friendships organically and naturally, rather than attempting to manufacture them artificially.  The Path of Friendship is a naturalization of this important relationship.  It grows the friendship from the inside-out, organically, as a fruit tree grows from the ground.  From seed to fruit, our friendship with our Dogs develops inherently and naturally.

SEED: 

As in all growth, we begin with a seed.  This is the seed of Faith.  It is faith in our Dogs, faith in ourselves, and faith in our friendship, which has been a part of Human/Dog existence for tens of thousands of years.  It is the unshakable belief that our relationship with our Dogs will grow to its fullest, in spite of any obstacles that may arise.  This is different than hope, which contains a bit of uncertainty.  Faith has no room for doubt and uncertainty.  With out this faith, the relationship is doomed before it even begins to sprout.

SOIL:

The ground in which we plant this seed of faith must be firm and rich.  This is our Commitment to our relationship with our Dogs.  Commitment is the “terra firma” in which the friendship grows, with the emphasis on “firma”.  All growth will face difficulties and obstacles.  If we give up when problems arise, we will never enjoy the sweet fruit of a successful friendship.  Our commitment to our Dogs and our friendship must be unshakable.  “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” should be our mantra.  When we walk the Path of Friendship with our Dogs, the ground beneath our feet must be firm and true.  Otherwise, we can never progress along the path.

ROOTS:  

A tree cannot survive a storm unless it has deep roots.  This is our unconditional love and acceptance for our Dogs.  When we make our love for our Dogs contingent on “good behavior” (whatever that means) or obedience, we create insecurity, anxiety and detachment.  Techniques such as love withdrawal, time-outs, and other Skinnerian-based manipulations may serve to gain control, but do so at the expense of connection.  When we tell our Dogs, “I’ll only love you if…”, if they obey our commands, if they behave they way we want them to…, then our Dogs learn that the friendship is not with who they are, but only with what they do.  This destroys their spirit, and prevents us from experiencing a relationship and a friendship that is deep and nourishing to our souls.  As friends, we must strive to be each other’s sanctuary.

TRUNK:

From these strong roots,  a tree grows big and strong, provided it has the space to grow.  When we micro-manage our Dogs behavior we never allow them the freedom to be who they are.  We must support their autonomy and give them the room to grow and become themselves.  All life strives for self-determination and self-realization.  If freedom is restricted, we create an atmosphere of oppression, deviousness and depression.  As Leo Buscaglia once said, “Nothing can grow in the shade.”  Our Dogs must be free to make their own choices and to be themselves in most situations. If we only want to share our life with a Dog to feed our lust for control, we’d be better off buying a robot.  Of course, when their safety or happiness is in jeopardy, we can guide them on how to be safe.  But they must also know that they are free to make choices.  When our Dogs feel constantly manipulated and controlled by us, resentment, fear and insecurity arise.  Autonomy is not capricious individualization.  It is the freedom to be one’s self in the context of cooperation with others.  Which brings us to the next part:

BRANCHES:

If we are to grow deep and meaningful friendships with our Dogs, we must live in an environment of collaboration and cooperation.  We must respectfully integrate with each other.  As our Dogs are enjoying the freedom to branch out and be themselves, we must also be able to enjoy the same freedom.  Therefore, we need to communicate boundaries and limits to each other.  There will be times when each of us must say “No” to something.  Teaching our Dogs to respect what is important to us, AND learning to respect what is important to our Dogs is essential if we want our friendship to grow.  We must help each other become good friends, and learn to be sensitive and receptive to each other’s needs.  This is based on equality, rather than a top-down, “I am always the boss” relationship.  If there is no equality, there is no true friendship.  When the relationship is unequal, what we may call a “friendship” is really “ownership”.  Setting limits and boundaries are what enables us and our Dogs the freedom to be ourselves within the context of a friendship.  If we are equal partners, we must respect and integrate with each other.

LEAVES:

Our Dogs and us have very different skill sets.  Although we are equal members of our friendship, we are not the same in terms of understanding and ability.  This difference is why we fit together so well, and have enjoyed an inter-species relationship for thousands of years.  When we share our wisdom and learn to give each other compassionate guidance, we nourish this friendship so it can grow and thrive.  Our motivation for this must be for the benefit and growth of the other, and not for our own selfish desires.  Trusting each other’s abilities is essential.  We must aim to help each other self-actualize and become fully functioning individuals.   If my Dog does not understand that a speeding car is dangerous, then as a friend I will share my wisdom with her and give her guidance on how to be safe.  In turn, when I become lost on a backwoods trail, I will trust my Dog’s wisdom and take her guidance on how to find my way home.  This is what true friendship is all about.  It is not about obedience, compliance, and self-serving/selfish desires.  It is about two individuals helping each other thrive and become fully functioning individuals..

FRUIT:

When we have a seed of faith, plant it on the soil of commitment, have the roots of unconditional love and devotion, allow the trunk the freedom to grow, integrate with branches of respect, nourish each other with leaves of wisdom and compassionate guidance, the our friendship will grow to fruition and we will enjoy the fruit of kenzoku, which is the Japanese word for a deep, connected and self-transcendent friendship.  This organically grown friendship is not always free from difficulties and problems, but those obstacles are never the cause of despair.  We learn to join with our Dogs to work through those difficult times together, as friends. The goal becomes to deepen the friendship, not to control each other.  This is what being true friends really means.  And each time we savor the fruit of our relationship, we find that it continues to deepen and grow as we walk the Path of Friendship with our Dogs together.

“If control is your goal, you’ll empty their soul; but if love’s what you nourish, their spirit will flourish.”

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Stop Texting Your Dog!

EE366B26-8BE1-4BF9-A6B4-42401496982C“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

Schweitzer’s words, written over 60 years ago, ring truer today than at any other time in our history.  In our age of endless social media, texting, Skype, and emails, we have lost the art of physical and intimate connection.  We’ve replaced genuine laughter with “LOL”, a pat on the back with a “thumbs up” symbol, and our authentic emotional responses with smiley faces, sad faces, and a cacophony of emojis.  Symbolism is beginning to overtake reality as we become more and more separated from each other.

  Our Dogs can be the antidote for for this disconnected and lonely way of living.  By connecting with our Dogs, we can relearn how to better connect with each other.  

When was the last time you sat next to your Dog and pet her?  I’ll bet it was rather recent.  When was the last time you recall sitting and petting your Dog, without the television playing in the background, or your smart phone turned on?  Probably a lot longer.   In fact, I’m willing to wager that more often than not, we physically engage with our Dogs while we are distracted by other things such as watching television, checking our emails, or seeing how many “likes” we got on our photo of last night’s dinner plate we that just posted.  When we do this, we are missing one of life’s most precious gifts: the ability for two living beings to connect with each other.   

The benefits of a one-to-one connection are too numerous to count.  Touching helps our brains produce the neurotransmitter oxytocin, with is a natural antidote to stress.  Physical contact allows for the bi-directional flow of feelings. We get immediate feedback from another living being when we touch, as opposed to a one-way output via a smiley face emoticon and a “thumb’s up” response.  Even talking to our Dogs and having a conversation with them where we can look into each other’s eyes is more engaging, more satisfying, and more complete than typing on a plastic keyboard and staring at a glass or plastic screen.  (Recent studies have shown that talking to our Dogs is a sign of intelligence.)

There is an an art to this, and it is fast becoming a lost art.  We can use the the acronym A.R.T. To help guide us through the process and help us remember what we knew when we were children. A time when a “tweet” was the song of a bird in a tree.  

A.R.T. Stands for:   Awareness/Appreciation — Respect — Trust

Awareness/Appreciation:

If we remember that our dogs are constantly changing, dynamic individuals like us, then awareness and appreciation will come naturally.  Living things are not static.  Our dogs are different moment to moment, and to look away is to miss the miracle of the moment.  Einstein said:  “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”   This is exactly the way we must look at our Dogs.  If we are to fully connect with them, we must see them as a miracle in each moment.  The practice of Mindfulness is a great way to enhance our view.  Mindfulness is simply experiencing and engaging with the present moment without judging or evaluating.  It is not a “means to an ends”, but the ends themselves.  When we are with our Dogs, our attention should not always be on what to achieve with them.  It should be pure awareness of them right now. This will allow us to appreciate the miracle.  It’s like listening to a symphony — there is no goal but the enjoyment of the music itself.

The next time you are with your Dog, be aware of all the little things you may have missed because you were distracted.  Notice how their fur feels under your touch.  Pet them slowly so you can, as one of my teaches used to say, “feel each individual strand of fur.” Look into their eyes when you talk to them.  Do their eyes change?   As you touch them, notice any spots that make them tense up, or that make them melt into relaxation.  Listen to the sounds they make, smell their scent, feel their feelings.  A great exercise to do is Shared Mindfulness, and you can learn more about that here.

Respect:

As Aretha Franklin said, a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way in creating a solid connection.  This means we are never going to force our dogs to sit with us and engage with us.  Dogs are self-determined beings and must be treated with the same respect we would want for ourselves.  If our Dogs do not want to be touched, then we don’t touch them.  If our Dogs want to chew their bone, nap, or get involved in another activity rather than sitting with us, that is their right and we are not to interfere.  When we are with them, we must be sensitive to the places they are not happy being handled.  If they don’t want their feet or face or ears, etc. touched, then we avoid doing that.  We should always ask the question, “Do we have our Dog’s consent?”  This respect is the foundation of trust. 

Trust:

As we become more present with our Dogs, and connect deeper, then trust will grow.  Trust is not something that can be forced, it is an organic process, and any forcing will surely kill it.  We wouldn’t pull on the stem of a flower to force it to grow faster.  The more we are aware and appreciate our Dogs in each moment, the more they will feel appreciated and validated.  Like us, they have the desire to be recognized and accepted.  The greater our respect is for them, and the less we act as owners and more like friends by allowing them their freedom and space, the closer they will get to us.  Trust is something sacred to all life.  The greater the trust, their deeper the connection.  It should never be taken for granted.  We must always be honest with our Dogs.  We should never use our moments of connection as a “training” exercise, or to try to cut their nails, etc.  Connection is never to be used for the purposes of control.

Trust, once broken, is difficult to repair.  Fortunately, our Dogs are much wiser than we are when it comes to trust, and are pretty forgiving.  That is a truly amazing gift they have, and one we must cherish and never abuse.

Modern technology has been a great benefit to us in so many ways, but it is a double-edged sword.  And as with anything, extremes can be damaging. We have to balance the digital world of instant gratification with the intimacy of a one-to-one connection.  Our Dogs are a great way to help us find this middle way.  We all know how to do this, we just need to be reminded.  Our Dogs are willing teachers.  We must make the time every day to truly connect with our Dogs, our Human friends, and the world around us.  This way, the next time we hear a “tweet”, maybe instead of staring at our phones, we’ll close our eyes and listen to the birds.

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Wisdom or Obedience? For Friends, the Choice is Clear.

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“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.”
~ C.G. Jung

 

From the New Oxford American Dictionary:
 Wisdom: noun
the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
Obedience: noun
compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.

 

Would you rather teach your Dog wisdom or obedience?  

There is too much emphasis on training Dogs to be obedient, and to conform, and not nearly enough on helping them to become wise and have insight.  The differences between obedience and wisdom are vast, and defines the difference between ownership and friendship in our relationship with our Dogs.  

When Humans and Dogs (Wolves) first found each other, we became partners and friends. (Schleidt, Shalter, 2003We shared each other’s skill sets and learned from each other — first by observation, and then through collaboration.   We shared our wisdom.  At some point in our history, our Human desire for ultimate control and conquest took over, and the relationship we had with our canine partners changed from friendship to ownership.  Somewhere along the way we were no longer interested in what we could do for them; we only focused on what they could do for us.  We confused utility and amusement with genuine friendship.  The millions of abandoned, abused and neglected Dogs that exist are a stark reminder of this fact.  If we are to truly see our Dogs as friends then we are obliged to share our wisdom with them so they can become fully functioning, self-realizing individuals, rather than mere obedient “pets”.

What then, is the difference between obedience and wisdom, and how do we teach our Dogs (and perhaps ourselves) the latter?   

The dictionary defines “wisdom” as: “a quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” However it requires much more than that.  Wisdom is grounded in knowledge and experience, which needs a high degree of awareness of one’s self and surroundings.  This is something that our Dogs excel at naturally.  Their neuroanatomy is designed to be tuned-in to what is happening at this moment, instead of being lost in memories or thoughts, the way our Human brains operate.  Their ability to detect movement, high frequency sounds, and their incredible sensitivity to chemical compounds (scent) is legendary.  We have used (exploited?) these abilities for centuries for our own benefit, but we can help our Dogs use their natural talents to make wise judgements and choices, too.

Wisdom means also being sensitive to the feelings of others, and having a high degree of empathy.   It is widely believed that our Dogs have “mirror neurons”, which are neurons that fire not only when our Dogs act, but also when our Dogs observe the same action by another.  In other words, that part of their neural network “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the Dog observing were itself acting.  We can help our Dogs use this empathic ability to make wise judgements that will help them become happier, and be better friends. For example, rather than just getting our Dogs to obey us, we communicate to them how their actions effect us so they have an intrinsic desire to help us be happy.  This is much different than extrinsic rewards or punishments to shape behavior.

How do we help our Dogs utilize their natural talents which are so conducive to wisdom?  Since wisdom is based on knowledge and experience, we must allow our Dogs to learn and experience their world.  This means giving them the freedom to explore, discover and participate in life and not to micro-manage everything they do.  We should support their autonomy and encourage them to be self-determined.  This does not imply they are to be completely independent of us.  They live in a world of cars, people, and other dangers.  Our job is to guide them and help them discover their limits as well as their freedoms.  Autonomy and freedom are not the same as total independence.  I am free to drive the type of car I want, free to go to the destination I choose, and free to choose the route to get there, however I still have limits. I cannot go through stop lights, drive too fast or cross a double yellow line without suffering consequences.  These limits are in place not only for my safety, but for other’s safety, so they may enjoy the same freedoms that I do.  Total independence is a disregard for these limits.   Autonomy is freedom that is integrated with concern for the well-being of others.

We must share and effectively communicate our wisdom with our Dogs so they gain the experience and knowledge of the dangers and the pleasures of their world, then step back and trust in their intrinsic ability to make wise choices.  Wisdom requires this autonomy.

Now contrast this with that of obedience.  The dictionary defines obedience as: “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.”  This is the opposite of freedom and autonomy.  This is blind obedience to authority, regardless of the Dog’s preferences or desires.  Anyone who is familiar with experiments done by Stanley Milgram will see how dangerous to the well-being of an individual this can be.   Obedience, whether achieved through coercion or the so-called “humane” methods of Skinnerian manipulation, only serves to satisfy our desire to control our Dogs, rather than to help them become fully functioning, self-realized, free and genuinely fulfilled beings.   As much as we spin it as “love”, it is no more than an iron fist in a velvet glove.  It comes from a relationship of owner/pet rather than that of true friendship and is self-serving.  True friendship is the sharing of wisdom and communicating with compassion for the betterment of the other.  It is selfless.

These are the differences between Obedience and Wisdom:

Wisdom:

  • Intrinsic; internal.
  • Dynamic, always growing.
  • Self-reinforcing.
  • Dialectic.
  • Collaborative.
  • Autonomous.
  • Empathic.
  • Sensitive.
  • Focused on: “What can I give?”

Obedience:                                                                

  • Extrinsic; external.
  • Static; lifeless.
  • Must be externally reinforced.
  • Didactic.
  • Authoritative.
  • Controlling.
  • Indifferent.
  • Mechanistic.
  • Focused on: “What can I get?”

It is an incredible privilege to share our lives with Dogs.  It is a friendship that goes back tens of thousands of years.  As Humans and Dogs (wolves) “grew up” together, we learned from each other how to be safe, successful and happy.  It was a relationship based on equal respect and trust, yet somewhere along the way we lost our way.  Control and obedience replaced connection and wisdom.  As a result, many Dogs suffer abuse, abandonment, and neglect.  We owe it to ourselves and to our Dogs to revive that relationship that was built on an equal friendship.  

The good news is that this is easily achieved.  By sharing wisdom with each other, and treating each other with dignity and respect, our friendship will be renewed.  The truth is, it has never left.  It has only been obscured by the desire for obedience and control.  However, our pursuit of ultimate control is simply a exercise in futility.  Trying to create a friendship with our Dogs through obedience is the same as chasing our tails — our friendship will constantly elude our grasp.  However, wisdom teaches us that by simply walking the Path of Friendship together, friendship will follow us everywhere..

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…The Bombs Bursting in Air…

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“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance.  It’s the illusion of knowledge.”
~ Stephen Hawking

Its that time of year again — outdoor celebrations, picnics, and, of course, fireworks.  It’s a festive time for Americans, but for many, especially for those with four legs, it can be a time of anxiety, stress and fear.  

Loud noises cause stress.  You may call it various names, like ligyrophobia, acousticophobia, sonophobia or phonophobia.  Whichever name we choose call it, the effects are the same.  When our dogs are exposed to sudden loud sounds, there is a release of adrenaline and an increase of the hormone cortisol, as well as changes to their amygdala, hippocampus, and parts of the frontal cortex of their brain.  In other words, brains change as a result of loud, anxiety producing noise.  Our dogs are especially vulnerable to this effect during the summer months when thunderstorms prevail and during Fourth of July celebrations, where fireworks are set off in some neighborhoods all day and night.  

 I see advice from well meaning “experts” about how to help your dog if they suffer from noise anxiety that may actually cause more fear and stress, negatively effecting your dog’s well-being.  Advice such as, “Don’t allow your dog to hide”, or “Don’t coddle or comfort them.”  The reasoning behind this is that doing so will supposedly “reinforce” their anxiety, and thus increase it.

The archaic idea that “comforting your dog when they are stressed will reinforce their feelings” is an outdated, Skinnerian, mechanistic approach that views dogs as one-dimensional machines, rather than complex, multi-dimensional, fully conscious beings that strive for self-realization.

Study after study show that allowing our dogs to “tough it out” and endure their stress can create the above-mentioned neurological changes that may lead to PTSD or PDSD.  Much of this stems from the old and outdated Watsonian/Skinnerian ideas that have been proven, based on evidence from modern neuroscience, to be damaging to babies, such as allowing them to cry and not responding to their needs.   In addition, denying your dog comfort in these situations may create insecurity in their relationship with you (Bowlby, Ainsworth, Schore) that can lead to a vast array of more anxiety issues, such as separation anxiety, confinement/barrier anxiety, and further noise anxiety.   In short, to withhold your love and kindness when they need it most will not solve the problem, it will exacerbate it.  

 I’ve also read a few suggestions that advise you to “Take your dog outside during the fireworks” in order to get them used to it.  This machismo attitude is extremely risky and can often destroy any sense of security your dog will ever have.  It borders on cruelty.  I have also heard the suggestion of putting your Dog in a crate.  This will only work if your Dog feels that this is a safe place and it is their choice.  Otherwise it will have the effect of making your Dog feel trapped and unable to escape.  This is unspeakably damaging to your Dog’s sense of safety and security.

The best thing we can do for our friends when they are stressed is to allow our dogs the dignity of choosing their own coping strategies that will help them, as long as they aren’t harming themselves.  Our Dogs are intelligent, self-determined beings that can find coping strategies to help them deal with fearful situations and regain a sense homeostasis.  We don’t always know what’s best for them. (“Kindly let me help you or you’ll drown”, said the Monkey putting the Fish safely up a tree.)  We should also make sure our Dogs know that we are there for them — to comfort and protect them, and most importantly acknowledge their concerns, and not disregard their feelings.  

We can help our Dogs cope with the noise by distracting them with play, providing we don’t add additional stress by attempting to “train” them.  If we can interest them in chasing a ball, or a game of tug without coercion, it may help them shift their focus away from the noise and towards play.  That will change their emotional state, as what they pay attention to determines how they feel.  That said, if it becomes a “training exercise”, we may be adding more stress to the situation.

One of the best ways we can help comfort our Dogs is through touch. Gentle, easy massage is a great way to stimulate oxytocin, which is a natural antidote to adrenaline.  Technique is not that important. It’s just the close, loving physical contact that helps.  This is precisely what those “compression shirts” on the market attempt to simulate, but they can’t come close to the genuine experience of your actual loving touch and connection — one living being to another, as friends. 

Another great way to help your Dog through these tough times is Shared Mindfulness.  This is something I highly recommend all year long, and not just under stressful conditions.  It is a wonderful way to deepen the connection between you and your Dog, and you can learn more about this great experience here.

Although this time of year can be difficult for you and your Dog, there is a bright spot.  When you connect with your Dog by putting into practice some of the suggestions above, you may find that sharing this experience brings you a closer, more trusting relationship.  By helping each other through this tough time, you further deepen your friendship.

So, the question arises, why limit this connection to the Fourth of July?  Our friendships with our Dogs need to be nourished every day of the year so we grow deep, connected roots.  And, if the roots grow deep, even the strongest storm can not do us harm. 

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No Room At The Inn

 

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“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
~ Mahatma Ghandi 

 

Take a trip to your local animal shelter and you’ll soon notice that there are very few, if any, empty cages.  You might see Dogs and Cats in makeshift pens and crates stacked up in corners, hallways, and lobby areas, too.  It seems that space for unwanted animals is a rare commodity. 

Before we explore the reasons for this, let me begin by saying the solution to this problem is unequivocally and absolutely NOT to kill animals to make more room.  The outright murder of healthy, conscious, self-aware beings, no matter how it’s spun with words like “euthanasia”, or “mercy killing”, is a shameful and inexcusable act of violence.  This is not the point of this article.  I am simply asking the question: “Why are there so many unwanted Dogs and Cats?”  According to some research, it’s simply a matter of dissatisfaction with the relationship (Collison, 2015).  However, there are specific reasons that contribute to relinquishment.  What follows is an incomplete list of these possible reasons why, and my hope is that it will begin to get you thinking more about our relationship with non-humans. 

  1. Too Many Dogs and Cats.

This seems an obvious point.  However the question is why are there so many?  The answer is simple:  We continue to create them.

Whether it’s the deplorable practice of puppy and kitten mills that mass-produce animals in the cruelest and most vile conditions, just to make a profit – or the elite show-Dog or Cat breeder that exploit their animals for fame and money – all breeding must come to an end.  It is morally reprehensible to “manufacture” conscious life for amusement and profit.  Unfortunately, organizations such as the American Kennel Club continue to promote “responsible breeding” (whatever that means) for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the breeds.  These are not automobiles, where continuing to build Volkswagen Beetles is a nostalgic undertaking.  Most of the breeds that have been manufactured are no longer serving their original intended purpose.  We have created Dogs with strong predatory drives that are no longer based on hunger, and therefore live with constant frustration from an itch they can never scratch. We’ve genetically constructed Dogs and Cats with distorted faces and skeletal structures that create chronic health issues (just look at a bulldog or a munchkin cat),  Dogs have been genetically manipulated to behave in ways that are not acceptable in our (uptight) culture, such as herding Dogs or livestock guardians.  This is not the fault of the Dog, we made them that way, and then we set up the rules in opposition to the very drives we installed in them in the first place. We make more and more and more – and at the same time there are so many discarded lives in need.  All for our own use and pleasure.

2. The “Disneyfication” of Dogs and Cats.

Turn on your television at any moment, and you’re sure to see a commercial for Dog food, Cat litter, or some other pet related product.  Do the animals in those commercials really behave that way?  Probably not.  Sure, the manufacturers of those products would like you to believe if you buy their product your own Dog will become that way – just as the Marlboro Man image was used to sell cigarettes (and we all know how that worked out).  This imagery paints an unrealistic picture of living with animals and creates unrealistic expectations.  When reality hits, we give up on the animals.  It’s the same with popular movies, books, TV shows, etc.  They present Dogs and Cats, even when they are mischievous, in an unnatural way (Beethoven, Marley and Me, That Darn Cat, etc.).  To me, this is disrespectful.  If we love Dogs and Cats, then we should love them as Dogs and Cats, not as caricatures.  

3. Ego-Centric Animal Shelters.

Where I live, in Northeast Pennsylvania, there are two animal shelters within close proximity, and like Charles Dicken’s  ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  One shelter is run smoothly, efficiently, and most importantly, compassionately.  They put the needs of their animal guests first, and the egos of the staff and management last.  They are True Friends to the animals.  

The other one has been riddled with problems.  It is run by leadership that has, at times,  put control over compassion and procedure over purpose. 

Running an animal shelter is not an easy task.  I lived it – I was the Director of Operations and Behavior for five branches of the Pennsylvania SPCA for a few years, and spent the past 35 years consulting to shelters across the Northeast U.S.  It take a tremendous amount of time and dedication, and it means being selfless – always putting the mission of the shelter above your own needs.  Therefore, when a shelter is not managed in a compassionate and effective way, the animals suffer.  Fewer adoptions are made and morale of the staff, volunteers and the animals sink.  It becomes a vicious circle that ends in misery for everyone.

4. Speciesism.

I’m going to tread lightly here, as this topic deserves a much more in-depth discussion, but I will express a few relevant points.  Speciesism is: “the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals.”  When we feel that our lives matter more than that of our Dogs and Cats (or any sentient being), we have no problem “disposing” of them if our relationship with them isn’t perfect.  Our society doesn’t value Dogs or Cats as much as people.  

Statistically, the number one reason animals are surrendered to shelters is economics,  where someone’s living situation has changed and they can no longer afford to keep the animal.  We don’t give up our children, spouses or family members in these situations, yet our culture views Dogs and Cats as less important, so the available financial help is non-existent.  This is putting one species above another.  It has been shown that the relationships between a human and and animal is just as emotionally binding as that as human to human (Smolkovic, Fajfar, Mlinaric, 2012) , yet our politicians, landlords, etc. don’t see it that way or they just don’t care.  Therefore, when tragedy strikes, once again it is the Dog or the Cat that suffers, and in many cases, the Human suffers just as much.  

5. Avidya.

Avidya is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “ignorance”.  “Vidya” (the root of our word vision) means “to see”, and the prefix “A” means “non”.  So Avidya literally means “not to see”.  So what is it that we don’t see that contributes to the over population of unwanted animals?  

As I eluded to in the previous section: Speciesism.  We don’t see Dogs or Cats or any non-human as our equals.  When we see them as pets, or tools, and when we see ourselves as owners instead of friends, then we devalue their lives.  We separate ourselves from them and lord over them.  We have traded connection for control.

Some of this perception comes from the dominion mandate, but that concept has been debated even among theological scholars.  All life, whether it’s life that we “manufactured” (domesticated), or wild life, is part of, and has, as Henri Bergson describes, an “Elán Vital”; a Vital Spirit or Life Force.  Every living creature that walks, swims, crawls or flies – has consciousness (The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness).  They may be different in how they manifest that consciousness, but it makes it no less important than our own.  Suffering is suffering is suffering. 

So, what can we do? 

1. First, STOP ALL BREEDING!  I know this is a lot to ask, especially with the multi-billion dollar pet industry that benefits from the mass production of “pets”. It begs the question, Is the money worth the suffering?   “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)  We need to devote our energies to caring for the ones that are already with us, and stop making more and more.

2. Enjoy watching the movies and television shows that present Dogs and Cats in an unrealistic light, but remind ourselves that it’s not reality.  Give our Dogs and Cats a hug and tell them we love them ‘Just the way they are’.

3. Support animal shelters and rescue groups that really care about the animals.  There are so many that need help.  Do Your Homework!  Adopt, Foster, Donate, Volunteer.

4. Patronize those business establishments that are welcoming to animals.  Enlighten and educate those who are not.  Try to refrain from using animal products, and avoid those companies that test on animals.  Send a message that their lives are as important as ours is.

5. Lets end our obsession with control, and strive for connection.  Rather than trying to forcibly thrust away the darkness, all we need to do is bring in the light.  If we truly open our eyes and see that non-humans are equal to ourselves – that they suffer, aspire, love, feel, and think; that they are self-aware and self-determined – then the lives of millions and millions of Dogs, Cats, Horses, Birds, Cows, Pigs, etc, etc. will be greatly improved.  And since we are all connected – we are all part of a great interrelated continuum – our own lives will be improved as well.  Then, perhaps, animal shelters will become only a distant memory, because everyone will have a home.

 

 

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The Friendship Scale

 

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Have you ever thought about where are you and your Dog are on the Friendship Scale?  Followers of my blog know that the ultimate relationship with our Dogs is that of friendship and not ownership.  However, there are varying degrees that can take us from Ownership to Friendship, and beyond.  I call it the Friendship Scale, and it can be a useful guide help you and your Dog navigate the Path of Friendship together.

OWNERSHIP GUARDIANSHIP PARTNERSHIP FRIENDSHIP KENZOKU

Ownership:

In this relationship, the Dog is a something rather than a someone.  The Dog is a possession, and the owner is in total control.  The sole purpose of the Dog is to serve and please the owner.  This relationship is one-directional, and there is a great separation between owner and Dog; almost no integration.  All communication is limited to lectures and monologues from the Owner.

Guardianship:

Here, the guardian has a minimal understanding that the Dog is an individual, but still feels that the foundation of the relationship is control.  Often, this manifests itself where the Dog is thought of and treated as a Human child, and the Guardian feels as if they are the Dog’s”parent”.  There is love and care for many of the Dog’s needs, to be sure, but the Dog is often not permitted to be a “Dog”, and the Guardian sees things only from their own perspective. The respect for the Dog just being a Dog is not always present. This is also a one-directional relationship, but there is less separation and more integration.

Partnership:

This relationship is based more on mutual benefits to both the Human and the Dog.  There is a sense of both give and take, although it is more akin to a business relationship than a personal one.  The level of respect for the Dog is increased, and she is seen more as an equal, in that her point of view has equal consideration.  This relationship is bi-directional, and both partners maintain a level of dignity.  Here, there is more integration in the relationship and although there is still a feeling of separation, there is a beginning sense of unity.  Communication begins to become a dialogue, rather than a monologue.

Friendship:

This is the most natural relationship between Humans and Dogs.  Here, the lines of separation are porous, and there is a real feeling of unity.  The focus is mostly on how to help each other and make each other happy, and far less on personal gain.  It is a fully integrated relationship where collaboration, respect, trust, compassion and equality are the ingredients.  Communication is a dialogue.  It is a selfless relationship, and there is no sense or need for one to control the other.

Kenzoku:

This is what we strive for with our Dogs.  It is a relationship where there is no separation, only a fully integrated and unified connection.  The relationship becomes its own entity.  Here, there is no need for control or no need for manipulation.  You and your Dog are one “being”.  Communication is often unspoken, where you and your Dog just “know” what the other wants.  This is the ultimate, fully functioning relationship.  This takes time, and may not be possible with every relationship.  However, when you’ve achieved Kenzoku with your dog, then real growth for both of you takes place.

Relationships are never static.  Like a flower, they are either growing or withering.  To help the relationship grow, all we need to do is to provide fertile soil, nourishment, and abundant light.  This is simply a matter of removing the barriers that prevent growth.  Devotion, Appreciation and Compassion create the environment for fully a functioning relationship.  Cooperation and collaboration rather than Skinnerian manipulation, holism instead of reductionism,  focusing on what we can give and not on what we can get – these remove the obstacles to growth.  And if we can learn to be friends with our Dogs, we may find we can be better friends with ourselves, too.

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Treating Our Dogs With Dignity

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“Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.”
~ Laura Hillenbrand

The other day I was hiking with my dogs Bhakti and Bodhi, when we came upon a mountain biker riding toward us.  I called the Dogs off the trail and had them sit while I waited for the biker to pass.  He stopped and exclaimed, “What good dogs!”, and then he rode off.  I was struck by the idea that to many of us, when it comes to Dogs, “good” has become synonymous with “obedient”.  

Every day, social media is filled with photos and videos of Dogs being obedient, but I often wonder, who is this for?  Is it for the Dog’s benefit or the Human’s?  The answer seems obvious – it’s for the Human.  We love to show off to the world how much control we have over our Dogs.  We feel proud of ourselves when we can make our Dogs “sit”, “give paw” and “roll-over”.    We use our Dogs to boost our egos.  We are filled with what psychologists and sociologists refer to as “B.I.R.G.” – Basking In Reflective Glory. 

“Roll-over” is the perfect symbol for what we are actually doing to them.  We are making them subservient and submissive. yet we call them our “Best Friends”.  If a person treated me that way I certainly wouldn’t consider them a friend at all.  

Organizations that make millions of dollars from the promotion of genetic manipulation and production of Dogs, such as the American Kennel Club, have contests that showcase how much Humans can make Dogs conform. An example is the AKC Good Citizen Award. I wonder if Rosa Parks or Ghandi had been these “good citizens” what our world would be like today?

 Entire industries and professions exist for the sole purpose of canine conformity. I’ve witnessed this for 30 years as a former professional dog trainer and an animal behaviorist.  The tools and techniques, especially the Skinnerian behavior modification “brainwashing” methods, are all designed to achieve blind obedience, like something out of a George Orwell novel.  Again, I ask the question: For who’s benefit?  

There are many who will rationalize that it’s “good for the dogs – it keeps them safe.”  I used that line myself for many years.  However, turning your dog into a mindless subservient robot is a steep price to pay for this safety, especially when there are more respectful and effective ways to help our Dogs live happy, productive and self-determined lives. 

Instead of teaching them to conform, our goals with our Dogs should be to empower them.  That’s what friends do.  We need to be respectful and not coercive.  We must strive to be friends and not owners.  Rather than ask our Dogs to be obedient, we should work together in cooperation and collaboration.  To help them to be “safe” we should share our wisdom with them and build a friendship based on trust and respect.  As the educators Jean Piaget and John Dewey suggested, learning is best when it is the sharing of ideas.   Our focus should be on creating well-being, not performance.  This is treating our dogs with the dignity they deserve. 

Donna Hicks, Ph.D., an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, speaks of the “Essential Elements of Dignity”, and when they are violated they can destroy relationships.   These elements should be applied to our Dogs every day.  The following are her10 Essential Elements of Dignity.  Although Dr. Hicks is referring to Human to Human dignity, we can include Dogs (and every non-human) in these ideas:

  1. Acceptance of Identity: First thing you need to do when you want to honor peoples’ dignity is to accept that they are neither inferior nor superior to you. By virtue of being a human being, we all have the same inherent worth and value and the same human vulnerability. Everyone should feel free to express their authentic self without fear of being judged negatively. When you have an interaction with others, start with the orientation that no matter who they are, or what their race, religion, gender, class, or sexual orientation, it is your obligation to humanity to accept them as your spiritual equals and to do them no harm.
  2. Acknowledgment: People like to feel that they matter. Acknowledgment can be as simple as smiling at others when they walk by to formally recognizing them for something they have done for which they deserve credit. It is especially important to acknowledge the impact of your actions on others when you violate their dignity, instead of trying to save face by diminishing or ignoring the harm you have caused.
  3. Inclusion: No one likes to feel left out or that they don’t belong. When we are included, we feel good about who we are. When we are excluded from things that matter to us, we feel an instant reaction of self-doubt. What is it about me that I wasn’t included? This is an affront to our dignity at all levels of human interaction, from the political, when minority groups feel left out of the political process by the majority, to the interpersonal, when we’re not included in the decision-making that directly affects us.
  4. Safety: There are two kinds of safety that are important to dignity: physical and psychological. Physical threats need no explanation but psychological threats are more complicated. Honoring others’ psychological safety means not shaming, humiliating, diminishing, or hurtfully criticizing them, especially, but not limited to, violations that are public.
  5. Fairness: We all have a particularly strong knee-jerk reaction to being treated unfairly. If we want to honor the dignity of others, we need to ensure that we are honoring agreed upon laws and rules of fairness—both implicit and explicit—when we interact with them.
  6. Freedom: A major dignity violation occurs when we restrict people and try to control their lives. Honoring this element of dignity requires that people feel free from domination and that they are able to experience hope and a future that is filled with a sense of possibility.
  7. Understanding: There is nothing more frustrating than to feel misunderstood, especially when you are in conflict with others. Extending dignity means that you give others the chance to explain themselves, actively listening to them for the sole purpose of understanding their perspective.
  8. Benefit of the Doubt: Treating people as though they were trustworthy—giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are acting with good intention—is honoring their dignity. This is, paradoxically, especially important when people are in conflict with one another where the cycle of mistrust is difficult to break. Treating others as though they were trustworthy, as difficult as it is, often interrupts the negative expectations, creating opportunities for a change in the relationship.
  9. Responsiveness: We all want to be seen and heard. Treating people as if they were invisible or ignoring them by not responding to their concerns is a violation of their dignity.
  10. Righting the Wrong: When we violate someone’s dignity, it is important to take responsibility and apologize for the hurt we have caused. It is a way for us to regain our own dignity as well as acknowledging the wrongdoing to the person you violated.

Donna Hicks
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Harvard University
January 30, 2009

When we treat our Dogs with dignity, and view them as someone rather than something, not only will our friendship grow beyond our expectations, we will grow as individuals as well.  Then, and only then, will we be able to truly say we have “good Dogs”.

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Ownership Vs. Friendship

 

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“Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.”
~ Lundy Bancroft

 

There are profound differences in how we relate to our dogs whether as owners or as friends, and the two are not compatible. There cannot be a “happy medium” between them, because a friendship is based on equality whereas ownership is based on inequality.

Yesterday, I was reading on the American Kennel Club’s website about “responsible dog ownership”. I wasn’t surprised to read this from an organization that makes millions of dollars every year from the mass production of genetically manipulated organisms (dog breeds). What I didn’t find anywhere was “responsible dog friendship”, which implies a relationship based on equality and respect, rather than control and ownership.

This attitude of ownership is rooted deeply in the idea of human superiority and speciesism.  In our culture, as in many other cultures, the ownership of non-humans is a legal term. However, can one sentient being ethically and morally own another sentient being? And, if so, what would be the consequences of this arrangement? This is easy to answer. Just look at the millions and millions of unwanted dogs, cats and other non-humans that populate our shelters every year. Look at the thousands upon thousands of animal abuse and neglect cases that human officers have to deal with, not to mention the untold number of those that go unreported or unseen. This stems precisely from the idea that we (humans) are the owners of these living creatures, and since they are possessions, we can do with them as we please. The problem lies in the fact that possessions are for the pleasure of the possessor. Once the pleasure ends, we try to control or “fix” the possession, and if we can’t, we dispose of it. This is exactly what we do to dogs when we feel that we are their owners, not their friends.

Friendship is the natural path to take with our dogs, as that is how humans and dogs evolved together for thousands of years. Ownership is a recent distortion of that relationship. If friendship is the natural way that Humans and Dogs “grew up” together, and anthropologists and ethologists find that it most likely was, then ownership is an unnatural, contrived and manufactured relationship, compared with the growth of a friendship. It takes longer to grow something than make something, and in our culture of instant gratification, we have lost the virtue of patience. We want everything NOW. But any good gardener or farmer will tell you that genuine and healthy growth takes time. If we pull up on the stems to make the flower grow faster, we kill it.

Ownership is control-based. Therefore, it is dualistic. That is to say that we see ourselves as very separate from our dogs; and it is reductionist – we break the relationship into irreducible “parts”, like a machine, compared with the organic and holistic nature of a friendship, which is non-dual, and integrated.

Ownership is one directional: Top-Down. It is based on a hierarchy, where friendship is bi-directional and horizontal and is based on equality.

The approach with ownership therefore is control: mechanical and Skinnerian – where the only thing that matters is what the dog does. It’s a business transaction: “Do this, and you’ll get that.” It’s a monologue and a lecture. Friendship, by contrast, is humanistic, that is to say it takes each other’s feelings and aspirations into account. It works on growing the relationship. It’s a dialogue and a conversation.

An owner “does” training to his dog, where friends collaborate with each other and trust and respect each other.

And finally, ownership is often externally and extrinsically motivated, “What can I get from my dog?” Friendship is internally and intrinsically motivated, “What can we give to each other?

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Ownership is a self-serving relationship. It exists to please the owner, not the possession. If we are to end the continued mass production, and consequently the mass disposal, abuse and neglect of dogs, our supposed “best friends”, then we must strive to actually be their friends, and not their owners. We owe them that.

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