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”
“When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.”
~ Anthony Douglas Williams
This week, I’d like to share photos of some of the dogs I have had the privilege of meeting, working with and am honored to call my friends.
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”
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”
“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”
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”
I was at a dog park in New Jersey the other day with my friend Carla, as we watched our dogs play together. We were discussing many dog related topics, and I brought up the idea of “Ikigai” – a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” I suggested that every dog has an Ikigai, and that one secret to achieving a great friendship with our dogs is to help them find their own reason for being. After some discussion, and my usual long-winded streams of thought, Carla, who has a great talent of cutting through the hodgepodge and getting to the point said, “You mean, it’s what makes your dog sing.”
Every dog has an inner song, and one mission of the Path of Friendship is to help us bring it out so that it can be sung loudly and proudly. Unfortunately, finding it is not always so easy. It requires us to step outside of ourselves and set aside our preconceived notions about how things ought to be; what we think our dogs should be. We can only help them to find their song when we allow them to be who they truly are. Continue reading “What Makes Your Dog Sing?”
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
~ Albert Einstein
He failed all the tests. There was no eye contact, and he didn’t even want to face me. When I approached him, he tried to hide and when I took his leash, he went into a panic. When I tried to touch him, he recoiled in horror. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. This was how I first met my dog Bodhi. It was love at first sight.
There is too much reliance these days on temperament tests, compatibility analysis and behavior checklists, and not nearly enough on intuition and chemistry. Every week I read about better methods of temperament testing and “new and improved” behavior analysis. Unfortunately, when we decide to add a dog into our lives, less and less emphasis is put on “love at first sight,” our initial visceral feelings. We are told over and over to think with our heads and not our hearts, but is this really sound advice? Is this the best way to begin and develop a deep friendship? Continue reading “Love at First Sight”
Gates, doors and crates can separate us from our dogs, but often the greatest barrier between us is how we think about them.
“Barrier frustration” is a term used by dog trainers and behaviorists that describe the tension and stress a dog feels by being separated from what he wants to investigate and connect with. This often creates aggressive behaviors and can lead to anxiety issues for both the dog and their human friend. But there’s a bigger issue here. This very principle could describe how many people and their dogs go through life together, missing the incredible joys of a great relationship.
The Path of Friendship is devoted to helping people and their dogs achieve “kenzoku”, the Japanese word for a deeply connected, barrier free friendship. Kenzoku is the connection of two living beings on the deepest level; the natural relationship between humans and dogs, free of obstacles. Continue reading “Breaking Down The Barriers”
When I hear the word orphanage, it conjures up images of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist asking for “more” from the sadistic Mr. Bumble. Did you know that in the United States, orphanages have become obsolete? They have been replaced by foster care programs and private adoption agencies. Also, the availability of education on responsible parenting and child care has increased significantly. The days of institutionalizing children are over, but not so much for dogs. For them orphanages, a k a shelters, still exist.
Having worked with many animal shelters during my professional career, and being the former director of operations for the four branch shelters of the Pennsylvania SPCA, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I have seen shelters that have been “killing factories,” and I have seen shelters where people work like the dickens to find a home for each and every animal there.
The difference between these shelters lies in their basic attitudes, assumptions and culture; their respective dogmas. The shelters that succeed in helping animals in their community know that their job is not to rescue the dogs and cats, but to be a temporary way station until their real rescuer comes for them. Then the shelters facilitate that rescue with every resource available to them. These shelter workers truly believe that every animal deserves a home, and they have enough faith and determination to make that a reality. They scoff at those who claim that a dog is “unadoptable”. While it’s true that some dogs are more difficult to place than others, with hard work and dedication successful matches can be made. I have seen this time and time again. Continue reading “Animal Shelters Don’t Rescue Animals … People Do”