My Review: Carnivore Minds by G. A. Bradshaw

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I have several books that I keep on the top shelf of my bookcase, so I have easy access to my favorites. Included in these are: “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas Hofstadter, “The Seven Mysteries of Life” by Guy Murcie, “The Laws Of Form” by G. Spencer Brown, “The Wisdom Of Insecurity” by Alan Watts, “The Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra, and “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, as well as others. Now, I am going to make room for “Carnivore Minds” by G. A. Bradshaw.

In “Carnivore Minds”, G. A. Bradshaw, the founder of Trans-Species Psychology, takes us on a journey with some of Humankind’s most misunderstood and feared creatures, not as a casual observer, but as an active participant. At the end of this journey, we transform our misunderstandings into clarity, and our fear into affinity.

In an informative and very readable style, G. A. Bradshaw dispels many common cultural myths we have about the nature of carnivores. We discover what the scientific community has discovered: that humans and non-humans share an empathic, emotionally intelligent and self-aware mind. The idea that nature is “red in tooth and claw” is shown to be not only an inaccurate statement, but an ignorant one. Citing numerous scientific data from diverse fields we begin to see clearly how all life has a symmetry, and share a common “humanity”.

Among the chapters, G. A.Bradshaw shows us the diverse personality of sharks, and that they have much more of a thinking and feeling mind behind those, as quoted from the movie Jaws: “…lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.” (Jaws, 1975). We learn that often feared Grizzly Bears are “…masters in the art of secure attachment parenting…”, Orcas have diverse cultures, not unlike our own, and that a Rattlesnake is “…a psychologically attuned individual who feels and thinks in empathic relationship with his prey.”

The relationship between Gilberto Sheddon and Pocho the Crocodile illustrates the “humanness” of reptiles and their ability to form lasting friendships, how the majestic Puma can suffer, just like us, from PTSD. And, like me, you will be brought to tears from the tragic story of Amber, the Coyote, and know that emotional and psychological trauma knows no specific boundaries.

The importance of this book cannot be understated. In these pages, the ideas, the facts, the science and the stories not only speak to all non-humans, for me it speaks very loudly about our relationship with our Dogs, the carnivore that we share our homes with. I have always known our Dogs are much more than mechanistic creatures that blindly respond to external stimuli, but I found it fascinating that non-mammals such as fish and reptiles share many of the same qualities. The Path of Friendship is about changing the anthropocentric relationships we have with our dogs to a more inclusive, equal and holistic view. After reading Carnivore Minds, I strongly believe that vision must extend beyond the limits of the leash.

G. A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., Ph.D. is the director of the Kerulos Center (www.kerulos.org), author of “Elephants On The Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity”, nominated for the Pulitzer prize (and is also on my top shelf), “Minding The Animal Pysche”, “The Elephant Letters: The Story of Billy and Kani” (great for kids and adults), and numerous articles, research publications, and is regularly featured in diverse media. She is the leading scientist on wildlife psychological trauma, and her discovery of PTSD in Elephants launched the new field of Trans-Species Psychology.

I highly recommend this book, and I’m sure you will find it not only enlightening, but inspiring as well. In full disclosure, I am proud know Dr. Bradshaw personally, and I’m honored to call her my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.

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The Great Divide

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I had a conversation this week with a Dog trainer, and I began thinking about the contentious division growing between different schools of thought of how to motivate our Dogs. It seems as divisive as politics in our country; a very disturbing notion.

One one side of the motivation aisle we have the behaviorists that base their methods on stimulus/response techniques. This began with Ivan Pavlov (who, incidentally, was brutally cruel to the Dogs in his experiments), John Watson, and B. F. Skinner. The behaviorists claim they know the only humane way to train. Yet this achievement-based training can create stress and anxiety in dogs.

On the other side of the motivation aisle, we have the pack theorists. Their theories are based on the observations of ethologists like Lorenz, Schleidt and others on wolves, which dogs are very closely related (there is growing evidence that Dogs and Wolves are not different species, just different phenotypeypes). The pack theorists claim dominance is the natural way to train, but it has been shown that dogs do not see humans as other dogs or pack leaders.

The behaviorists are claiming that pack theory is debunked, however that is not entirely true. The pack theorists claim that behaviorism only works with passive dogs and that, too is not accurate. Each side spins their propaganda and selectively cites experts that support their own views. Sounds like politics, doesn’t it?

So, what is the truth? The truth is that both philosophies are at the same time correct and incorrect. It all depends. Anyone who claims that one way is the only way is either ignorant, uninformed or trying to sell you something. Claiming that pack theory is completely wrong, or claiming that behaviorism is completely wrong suggests that the trainer should consider going into another line of work. These people will try to make a Dog conform to their way of doing things rather than being flexible enough to adapt to the Dog and the situation. Both ways, however, are focused solely on control and training, not on a relationship.

There is another approach, and that is what Path of Friendship™ is based on. It comes from various fields in psychology such as Cultural/Relational Therapy, Trans-Species Psychology, Humanistic Psychology, Attachment Theory and Social Psychology. It is based on the premise that mutually satisfying and secure relationships with others are necessary for one’s emotional, physical and behavioral well-being. Rather than excluding behaviorism and pack theory, it incorporates them into the larger framework of the relationship. This is the known as Canine Relational Therapy, or Ca.Re. Therapy. (Path of Friendship is actually mindfulness-based canine relational therapy). It works primarily on one of the three broad motivational systems used for survival, called the “Tend and Befriend” system.

There are three broad motivational systems (Siegel):

1. Fight or Flight (threat system):
When we or our Dogs sense danger, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and our bodies are prepared to run, fight or freeze. This involves activation of the amygdala and the production of the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. This system is sometimes used by the pack theory trainers.

2. Achievement / Goal-Seeking (drive system):
This happens when we are striving, competing and working our way through different challenges and tasks. We are chasing positive emotions and fleeing negative emotions. This system operates on the neurotransmitter dopamine and involves the activation of the nucleus accumbens, which is the same area of the brain that is activated by addictive drugs. This system is what is used by the behavioristic trainers.

3. Tend and Befriend (compassion and empathy system):
This system is activated when surrounded by friends and loved ones, and we and our Dogs experience feelings of connection and security . It involves the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is generated largely in the pituitary. This system is mostly used by Canine Relational Therapists. However, it is easily overridden by the other two systems unless cultivated and “exercised”.

At best, strict behaviorist trainers will help you control your dog. At worst, they are puppet masters and engage in behavior engineering.  At best, the pack theorist trainers will also help you control your dog. At worst, they are task masters and they will engage in monarchical intimidation.

So, this begs the question: which method is best? Adrenaline-based? Dopamine-based? Oxytocin-based? The answer, as I’ve stated before, is that it depends. It all depends on what you want from your relationship with your Dog. Both behavioristic and dominance based training will achieve an “obedient” dog, but is that all you really want? Or do you want to create a deep and connected friendship?  All three will always be a part of any relationship, but which one is the predominate one will depend on your feelings on who your dog is to you. Do you view your Dog as a pet, tool, or friend?

That’s for you to decide.

 

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Know Each Other, Part 3: Friendship Is Not A Spectator Sport

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“Ideas are clean. They soar in the serene supernal. I can take them out and look at them, they fit in books, they lead me down that narrow way. And in the morning they are there. Ideas are straight-


But the world is round, and a messy mortal is my friend.
 Come walk with me in the mud…..”

~Hugh Prather~

In my last two blog posts, I shared ways for you and your dog to truly know each other. First, we talked about how the over use of classification, labeling and categorizing our dogs creates not only a deep chasm between us, but prevents us from really seeing each other for who we are. I also suggested adopting a “beginner’s mind” with our dogs; viewing them without preconceived ideas, prejudices or expectations; seeing them as ever changing, in constant flux and unique. Today, I’ll talk about the final and most effective way to truly know each other: Participation.  If you want to truly know your dog, you must be more than an observer, you must be an active participant. True friendship is not a spectator sport.

In order to have a fully functioning and fully connected friendship with our dogs, we must strive to remove the artificially imposed barriers between us. In the beginning, humans and dogs shared a mutual domestication (Schleidt, Shalter), and we enjoyed a participatory relationship. We were hunting partners, companions and friends. It was an equal and horizontal relationship, rather than a top down, dog-serving-human relationship.

We had an intersubjective connection. Intersubjectivity is defined as: “The sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals.” (Scheff). In other words, participating in shared attention, emotional attunement and shared purpose. This is precisely what we want to experience with our dogs, but popular models of human/dog relationships fail to recreate this experience. Even some professionals who have attempted to move away from traditional dominance based-relationships still fall far short of achieving true friendship.

Much has been written about “reward-based” training and becoming aware of your dog’s feelings, and while that sentiment is on the right track, it is being exploited and distorted in order to “gain control” of our dogs. It is, in a way, what con-men do to gain trust; still nothing more and nothing less than manipulation. This is not what we should be doing with our friends. This is not participation.

Participation with our dogs is not simply taking them to the dog park and watching them play. Nor is it engaging in activities such as Agility training, where we set the rules and “train” our dogs to comply. True participation is joining in with your dog and making the rules together. It is seeing the world through your dog’s eyes, and having her see the world through yours.

There are a few ways we can begin to get a feel for who our dogs really are with some basic participatory exercises. The first is quite simple. Just spend a few hours doing exactly what your dog wants to do. Rather than you always calling the shots, let your dog be “King or Queen for a Day”. If they nap, then you nap with them. If they want to go outside, follow them out and explore where they explore. If they want to play, let them make the rules. We have become obsessed with always being in control, but true friends share experiences. Try not to judge their behavior, and be open to the new experience. This can sometimes lead to unexpected benefits. Once, while I was participating in my dog Cosmo’s explorations (following him in the woods), I found a platinum ring that I still wear to this day.

Another way to actively participate with your dog is Shared Mindfulness, especially awareness of the breath, called “anapanasati”. I have written a blog post about this and how to do it here.
This was recently the subject of an article in the Bergen record, which you can read here:
https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/columnists/christopher-maag/2018/01/04/dog-trainer-empathy-breeds-obedience/909927001/

 

The best and simplest way to join with your dog is to have a attitudinal shift. Rather than assuming we are superior to our dogs, we need to always remind ourselves that although we are different, we are still equal. Equality removes all barriers. A great exercise to help with this is the “Just Like Me” exercise that was created by the buddhist monk Pema Chodron, and that I learned from my time at Karme Choling Meditation Center in Vermont. Although it is designed to help people have more empathy for one another, it can equally be applied to our dogs. It has been established in the scientific community that dogs (as well as every other non-human) have a full spectrum of feelings and emotions. By looking at your dog and saying to yourself, “Just like me, my dog is feeling sadness….”, or “Just like me, my dog is experiencing joy…”, we can attune our affect (emotional state) to theirs, and thus participate in their inner most domain: how they feel.

Full involvement in our dog’s lives can bring a whole new dimension to our friendship. It brings us face to face and heart to heart, and doesn’t allow room for self-serving relational models. Participation is the only path to a fully functioning and deeply connected friendship. It is the only way to Kenzoku.

 

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Truly Know Each Other, Part 2: Observation Without Evaluation

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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”
~ Shunryu Suzuki

Many years ago when I was immersed in studies of Mindfulness, Zen and Taoism, my teacher and I were standing by the Waits River in Bradford, VT. “What’s this?” he said, pointing to the water.
“A river”, I answered.
No, NO!”, he said, “River is a word.” “See it, experience it, with Shoshin.” (Shoshin is the Japanese word for “Beginners Mind”.)
As I looked, I started to notice the myriad of all the details: the whirlpools, the ripples, the various textures of the water… I began to see and experience the river, which I had passed hundreds of times before, for the first time as an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic and dynamic being. I then realized that the word “river” was a poor representation of this wondrous entity.

In our last post, we discussed the limits of naming, labeling and classifying our Dogs. Today, we will explore seeing and experiencing our Dogs with “beginner’s mind”.

People often tell me that they know their Dog, but I wonder if this is really the case. I’m sure they know the classification they put their Dog in, but when was the last time we really saw them? Our Dogs are like the river. They are an ever-changing and dynamic flow of energy. They are not the same moment by moment, so to say we know them is to try to fixate them. Over 2000 years ago, Heraclitus said, “You can never step into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and you’re not the same person.” He could have also said, “You can never pet the same Dog twice…” and he would have been accurate. We must see them fresh each time we are with them without assuming we know them.

There is a Chinese word “Li” that can be translated as “organic pattern.” It is used to describe the grain in wood, the markings in jade, or the patterns of water in a river. For us to truly know our Dogs, each time we see them, we must see their “li” – their natural and organic patterns.

There are a few ways we can get in touch with our Dog’s “li” using mindfulness as a guide:

  1. The next time you are with your Dog, take a few moments to clear your mind. Allow all the chatter of your thoughts, expectations and evaluations that are going on inside your mind to quiet down. To help you with this, focus your attention to your breathing for a few minutes. Each time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  2. Look at your Dog and see her as if you were seeing her for the very first time. In fact, see her as if you were a baby who has not yet learned to speak, with no pre-conceived notions and ideas. You don’t know what a “Dog” is, you only see this unknown being in front of you. You maintain your sense of wonder.
  3. See your Dog not as a separate thing “in” the environment, rather see them as a part of an ecosystem. Your Dog does not end at the boundary of her skin, but she is an integral part of her surroundings. Notice the overall pattern.
  4. When seeing your Dog, avoid evaluative terms such as “aggressive”, “shy”, etc. Rather, just notice the movements and actions as a pure empirical exercise. Nothing is either “good” or “bad”, it is just what is happening now.
  5. Use all your senses in your observation. The more dimensions you observe, the more nuances and subtleties of your Dog’s “li” you will notice.

Our Dogs are with us for a very brief period of time. By seeing them new in each moment, we can see their true selves at each moment. Therefore, each moment will be like the first moment. The excitement and wonder will always be a part of our friendship.

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Truly Know Each Other, Part 1: The Limits of Classification

 

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“The map is not the territory.”
~ Alfred Korzypski

Ms. G. contacted me about her dog, Max. “I’m at my wit’s end.”, she said. “I’m about to surrender him to the shelter. He keeps biting me.”
I sat down with Ms. G. and asked her to tell me about her Dog. She had previously worked with a Dog trainer and then with an animal behaviorist, and proceeded to share a litany of classifications that they had told her Max “is”:
“He’s a Schnauzer mix, he’s a male, he has fear aggression, separation anxiety and resource guarding. He is also shy, sneaky and spiteful. I also think he is stupid. His name is Max.” As I looked down, sleeping peacefully under my chair was Max. He was lying there quietly and seemed to be completely oblivious to the boxes he had been put in.
I gave Ms.G an exercise that I often have my clients do. I had her print out a photograph of Max and then with a felt tipped marker, write every name, label and classification she had for Max right over his photograph. She agreed. Once she was done, we both looked at the result. Neither of us could see Max anymore, just the words and labels she had given him. I then turned her attention to the small, sleeping Dog lying at her feet. “Point to the resource guarding.”, I said, “Show me where the fear aggression, separation anxiety and hyperactivity is on Max so I can remove them.”
“He’s not being that right now”, she said, “He’s only that way sometimes.”

To have a deep friendship with our Dogs, to achieve Kenzoku, we have to know and understand each other on the deepest of levels. However, sometimes our understanding never gets beyond the surface and we miss the opportunity to have that deep connection. Continue reading “Truly Know Each Other, Part 1: The Limits of Classification”

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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”

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The Roots of Devotion, Part 3: Devotion of Time

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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”

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

 

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“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”

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

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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”

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Open Spaces

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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”

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