The Roots of Devotion, Part 4: Devotion of the Mind

“The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.”
~ Richard Moss

Recently, my wife and I went hiking in Moab, Utah. One evening we decided to have a nice dinner out. While sitting at the restaurant (it was an outdoor patio, and our Dogs could dine with us) a young family of four sat at the table across from me. After giving the server their order, each one of them immediately pulled out a phone and became immersed in whatever the tiny screen offered. That went on for the entire meal. Although they were sitting together, they were all in their own separate worlds. I couldn’t help thinking about how this happens all to often with our dogs.

In my last post, Devotion of Time, I stressed the importance of taking the time to be with our Dogs. However, physically being with your Dog is not enough. We must be attentive and focused on them as well. Sitting next to them while we are checking our smart phones, binge-watching the newest mini series or catching up on the latest viral-video on social media is not really being with them at all. If our spotlight of attention is elsewhere, our Dogs will know it and feel it.

Continue reading “The Roots of Devotion, Part 4: Devotion of the Mind”

The Roots of Devotion, Part 3: Devotion of Time


She said, “As long as we’re with each other…”
“We know we’re in exactly the right place,” he finished.
~ from Once Upon A Marigold, Jean Ferris

I sometimes hear from my clients who experience disharmony in their relationship with their Dog, “I’d spend more time with my Dog if we would get along better.” To this I always respond that it is the converse that is true – if they spent more time together, they’d be better connected.

It seems that the more time goes on, the less of it we seem to have. There is always something that is competing for our time – work, family, responsibilities, shopping, chores, and, oh yes, the Dog. According to a survey, 75 percent of people walk with or spend time with their Dogs only two times or less each day, and 87 percent of those walks are 20 minutes or less (Gallup, 2006). This begs the question, is that enough to create a friendship? The short answer is, no. Continue reading “The Roots of Devotion, Part 3: Devotion of Time”

The Roots of Devotion, Part 2: Devotion of the Spirit




“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
~ David Farragut


In the United States, 6 to 8 million Dogs and Cats are surrendered to animal shelters every year (Humane Society of the U.S., 2013). This staggering number reflects the lack of what keeps a relationship strong: determination and commitment. When we decide to bring a Dog into our lives, we are taking a leap of faith. The stronger the spirit of determination and commitment is, the more the relationship can weather tough times that inevitably arise, and the greater the chances for success.

According to an article from the American Journal of Applied Psychology, Pet owners’ “commitment to their Dogs follow the same psychological factors used to explain people’s commitment to [Human to Human] relationships: satisfaction, investment size, and perceived quality of alternatives, with satisfaction being the number one factor effecting commitment level.” (Brian Collisson, 2015). Let’s take a closer look at each of these: Continue reading “The Roots of Devotion, Part 2: Devotion of the Spirit”

The Roots of Devotion, Part 1: Devotion of the Heart

My dog, Bhakti.  Bhakti is a Sanskrit word meaning Devotion.

“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”
~ Malaysian proverb

Great relationships are not made, they are grown. They are not an assemblage of various replaceable parts, but rather an organic and holistic process where each part contains the whole. Our friendships with our Dogs grow the way a Tree grows: with roots of devotion, a trunk of respect, branches of understanding and leaves of compassion to bear the fruit of true friendship, or what is known in Japanese as Kenzoku. In my next few blog posts, I will be discussing what anchors our friendships together: the Roots of Devotion.

There are four roots of devotion:
1. Devotion of Heart.
2. Devotion of Spirit.
3. Devotion of Mind.
4. Devotion of Time. Continue reading “The Roots of Devotion, Part 1: Devotion of the Heart”

Open Spaces


These past two weeks, my wife, our three dogs and I took a cross-country road trip to hike in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and South Dakota. One thing that really struck me, in contrast to Northeast Pennsylvania, the vast and openness of these places. Driving mostly secondary roads, there were stretches that went on for a hundred miles without one gas station, one billboard; not even power lines. Out there the land and nature were allowed to remain original, without any interference or control from anyone. Except for the road we we driving on, the environment was untouched. As we drove through, I realized how breathtakingly beautiful land is when it is left alone. This got me thinking once again about how we are with our dogs. Very few of us leave our dogs alone to be themselves. Continue reading “Open Spaces”

My Teacher: Thor

The phone call came from a family whose young Rottweiler had just bitten someone — severely. And since this was his second recorded bite, he faced euthanasia. Rehabilitation was the only hope of saving his life. As a cocky young dog trainer, I was energized by this challenge.

My first meeting with the dog was with the intention of helping him change his outlook so he could survive and be happier. What I didn’t know then was the effect he would have on me.

When I arrived at the home, a father, mother and teenage daughter greeted me. Angry barking came from a crate that was violently bouncing around in the middle of the room. As I looked inside, I was met with growling, gnashing teeth and eyes that revealed both fear and hate. This was Thor.

Sitting down with the family, I asked some basic questions. Gradually, I realized that they had no interest in working with Thor. They only wanted to find him another home so he wouldn’t be put to sleep. Finally, they asked, “Can YOU take him?” Continue reading “My Teacher: Thor”

Setting Your Dog’s Emotional Thermostat

I’m sure many from you share memories of your childhood when you were warned not to touch the thermostat in your homes. I remember my dad always yelling when we set it too hot or too cold. Now, years later, I find myself equally as concerned about a different kind of thermostat, this one in my dog. Her emotional thermostat.

All too often, we place too much emphasis on our dog’s behavior and not enough on their emotional state. The truth is that our dogs’ actions are a direct result of their feelings – and if we can help them to regulate how they feel, we can help them to behave in ways that will ensure their long term happiness. In other words, we can help them keep the emotional thermostat set at a perfectly comfortable level. This is what friends do for each other. They help each other to feel better and to be happy. Continue reading “Setting Your Dog’s Emotional Thermostat”

The Way of Shih-Tzu



“Lots of people talk to animals… Not very many listen though… That’s the problem.”
~ Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

“What’s the meaning of life?”, I asked Cecil as he lie snuggled between the cushions of the couch.
“It’s just this,” he answered as he closed his eyes and napped.

Cecil is my 7-year-old male Shih-Tzu that I adopted six years ago from one of the shelters I ran.  He is also a Taoist sage.

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy based the book Tao Te Ching, supposedly written in the fourth century BCE by Lao-Tzu as a manual on the art of living. Whether or not Lao-Tzu was an actual person is up for debate, but the wisdom in this short book of eighty one chapters has lived on through the centuries. Later, Chuang-Tzu elaborated on these ideas in a book, the way of Chuang-Tzu. Lao-Tzu, and Chuang-Tzu are considered two of the great minds of the Taoist way of life. I would take the position that Cecil, the Shih-Tzu, is right beside them. Continue reading “The Way of Shih-Tzu”

Synchronicity: Good Vibrations for You and Your Dog


The year was 1656. On a cold winter night, Christiaan Huygens looked at two of his newly invented pendulum clocks hanging on the wall. The pendulums swung at different rates and rhythms, and as he watched them, he soon fell asleep. A few hours later he awoke, rubbed his eyes, and squinted to see clearly through the dying candlelight. Suddenly his eyes opened wider and he could clearly see that the two pendulums were now swinging in unison – they were synchronized. This is because, as Huygens discovered, the vibrations of each clock influenced each other; they “sympathized” with each other. A similar phenomena also happens with stringed instruments. When one string is vibrates, the other strings begin to vibrate as well. This is known as “sympathetic resonance.” Although he didn’t know it at the time, the sympathetic synchronization that Christiaan Huygens had witnessed is an example of what we should strive for in our relationships with our dogs – kenzoku.

Kenzoku, a Japanese word that means a deep and connected friendship, is an effortless relationship. When kenzoku exists between ourselves and our dogs, we have a seamless and harmonious connection that is free from stress and conflict. Everyone can achieve this, but it requires openness and acceptance and the letting go of ultimate control. Sometimes this relationship happens immediately, however most of us must go through a few stages in order to reach this level of friendship. I achieved kenzoku with my dog Cosmo before he died, and I am well on my way to achieving kenzoku with my present dogs, Bhakti and Bodhi. Continue reading “Synchronicity: Good Vibrations for You and Your Dog”