When I was a child, one of my favorite television shows was Gumby. There were two characters on that show that I really enjoyed. One was a yellow dinosaur named “Prickle”, and the other was a blue mermaid called “Goo”. Although they didn’t appear in many of the episodes, I remember them better than any other characters from the show. Later on in life, while I became immersed in my studies of psychology, philosophy and eastern thought, they surprisingly showed up again in a lecture from Alan Watts. When it comes to our Dogs and the people who care for them, Prickle and Goo are not kid’s stuff.
It turns out that Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby, once attended a lecture of Alan Watts, where he first learned of the the concepts of “prickles” and “goo”, and subsequently named his claymation characters after Alan Watts’ conception of the “interchange of two personalities” in the fields of art, philosophy and poetry. Prickle is precise, rigid, mechanistic; where goo is flexible, organic and abstract. Prickly people are always concerned with plans, formulas, recipes and algorithms, whereas gooey people are more spontaneous, flexible, creative and sometimes vague. The prickly people accuse the gooey people of being too nebulous and too etherial whereas the gooey people call the prickles skeletal, with no meat; knowing the words, but not feeling the music. It’s a quarrel that’s as old as time, with no definitive winner in sight.
I find this comparison exactly describes what happens with many people involved with Dogs. There are those who are concerned mainly with behavior – how a dog acts moment to moment. They have certain rigid criteria about what a Dog “should” be like, and try to fit each Dog into this narrow box of conformity. These folks believe Skinnerian behaviorism is the answer to all the problems, having precise formulas, reinforcement schedules and inflexible boundaries as if their Dog was a mechanism that had a set of exact operating instructions. These Dogs appear machine-like in their behavior, but one look in their eyes and you see they lack an inner light. The people who care for these Dogs are prickly.
Then there are those who give no boundaries to their Dogs. Who offer no guidance or direction, and believe that Dogs should be 100 percent free to do as they want. They feel as if their Dogs should have total liberty, disregarding any concern for their safety or the feelings of others. These Dogs are the ones who are always soiling on the neighbors property, and unfortunately are the ones who get lost or hit by cars. The people who care for these Dogs are gooey.
The truth is that neither of these extremes contribute to our Dog’s sense of well-being. The best way, and the way that most of us are, is to be as Alan Watts said, “gooey prickles or prickly goo”. Using elements of both styles is the best way to help our Dogs have emotional wellness.
This idea, then, begs the question: do our Dogs possess the same attributes? Are our Dogs prickly or gooey? I think they are. In fact, with all the so-called evaluation processes that are being used for Dogs, I think that knowing if you have a Prickle or a Goo is the most valuable.
Your dog is a prickles if she is very routine driven, bossy, always on alert, and likes to have her own way.
Your Dog is a goo if he is laid back, very adaptable, has very few concerns, and goes with the flow.
Of course, just like us, most dogs are a combination of both.
I think the most difficult cases I’ve worked with are when there’s a prickly Dog and a gooey Human, or a gooey Human and a prickly Dog. That’s often not a great match, and the two never usually get to what I call kenzoku, the ultimate relationship between people and their Dogs. If you feel that you and your Dog are on opposite sides of this spectrum, there are a few things you can do to make the relationship better.
First, if you are gooey and your Dog is prickly, get in touch with your prickly side; if you are prickly, then get in touch with your gooey side. As I mentioned, all of us have both in us, and if we are open to it, we can see the benefit of being the other way. Second, look for the opposite in your Dog, and help them get in touch with their other side. Finally, remember that a great relationship is when we can learn from each other, so use the differences to your advantage. Friendship is prickly goo and gooey prickles.
I tend to be rather gooey. I believe this stems from my holistic, relational and humanistic view of the world rather than a reductionist, transactional and mechanistic view of things, especially when it comes to dogs and their relationship with us. It’s not that I don’t have my prickly side, however. When I hike with my Dogs, I am a stickler for safety protocol, such as keeping within line of sight, not chasing the wildlife, and not pooping on the trial. My Dog Bhakti is definitely gooey. She tends to go with the flow and be spontaneous, while my Dog Bodhi is much more prickly. He thrives on routines and rituals, and can can become stressed when the unexpected arises. Interestingly, Bodhi follows everything Bhakti does, so that begs the question: Is a gooey Dog more confident than a prickly one? Maybe we’ll explore that in a future essay.
Ok, so this article may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there’s still some truth to it. Just like us, our Dogs have distinct styles and characters, and if we are to truly connect with them, we must know what they are and learn from them. It’s not always about changing who our Dogs are, nor is it always about changing ourselves. An empowering friendship is based on a harmonious interplay between personality types and a deep appreciation for each other as individuals. And that’s not kid’s stuff.