Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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The book! Part Five: Play

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So what can we learn from dogs from the way that they play?

It’s a fair question yet one where it might be perfectly reasonable to wonder if we humans have anything to learn from the playing of dogs. The answers may surprise.

But first, let’s examine what is known about the playing of dogs.

Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is referred to extensively in The Washington Post; May 19th, 2014, in an article written by David Grimm, author of a new book: Citizen Canine.

David Grimm writes about the research undertaken by Marc Bekoff, who studies dog play and that, “studying dog play reveals more than the animals’ emotional lives. It could ultimately shed light on the evolution of human emotions and how we came to build a civilisation based on laws and co-operation, empathy and altruism.

Now that is a fascinating idea; that understanding why dogs play might help our understanding of how our emotions evolved. Up until this point, it had never occurred to me that our emotions evolved in just the same way that the rest of who we are today evolved. Sort of common-sense, I guess!

David Grimm goes on to write in that Washington Post article: “All of this suggests that dogs have a kind of moral code — one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it.

As I read the article it started to dawn on me that possibly the reason that we humans devote so much time, energy, and frequently money, in playing, may have much deeper roots, as with our dogs.

Few people had studied animal play, but Bekoff was intrigued. “Play is a major expenditure of energy, and it can be dangerous,” he says. “You can twist a shoulder or break a leg, and it can increase your chances of being preyed upon. So why do they do it? It has to feel good.

Suddenly, Bekoff wasn’t interested just in behaviour; he was interested also in emotions and, fundamentally, what was going on inside these animals’ heads.

As the article reveals, Professor Bekoff, “wasn’t the first scientist to become intrigued by the canine mind”, reminding us that Charles Darwin was sure that dogs could engage in abstract thought, owned a sense of morality and used language. In Darwin’s lifetime he had thirteen dogs so had plenty of opportunity to become aware of what most of today’s dog owners know: that we humans and dogs can communicate with each other.

But back to emotions.

Back to David Grimm’s article:

Even morality hints at something deeper, however. To enforce moral conduct, dogs must be able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from joy to indignation, guilt to jealousy. They must also be able to read these emotions in others, distinguishing accident from intent, honesty from deceit. And indeed, recent studies by other scientists have shown evidence of these abilities (confirming what many dog owners already feel about their pets).

Scientists have found, for example, that dogs trained to shake hands with humans will stop shaking if they notice that they aren’t being rewarded for the trick although a nearby dog is — a sign, the researchers suggested, that dogs can sense inequity.

Thus from the playing of dogs (and wolves) comes great insight into the emotions and social conduct of humans. I will return to that idea at the end of the chapter.

Like millions of other dog lovers, I know from strong personal experience that dogs have a great sensitivity to how I am behaving and feeling. Even almost taking it for granted that when I yawn, the chances are that one of our dogs will yawn. Or believing, without any doubt, that dogs show empathy for us humans; I can easily recall my Pharaoh licking tears from my face. What I didn’t realise until reading the Washington Post article is that empathy is a rarely documented trait in the animal kingdom.

We know what our dogs are feeling from their behaviour and their vocal sounds. Know instinctively that when a dog nudges me awake in the early hours of the morning, it is because it needs to go outside for a ‘call of nature’ and can’t wait until the normal waking hour.

Our dogs know what we are feeling from our behaviours, our body ‘language’ and our vocal sounds.

We all, all of us dog owners that is, know this and take it for granted. Perhaps not quite in the clarity of Professor Bekoff’s recent work that “suggests another remarkable canine skill: the ability to know what another animal is thinking — a so-called “theory of mind.””

Back to play. Science is suggesting that play, as initially researched with dogs, is very important, incredibly so, to our species. That without play, us humans would have had an impossible task of learning or interacting with the world around us. That our insight into our human emotions and the way we conduct ourselves, in a social context, flows down from learning from dogs.

Leaving one inescapable conclusion, one that so perfectly links to community: never stop playing. Never stop playing with others; humans and dogs alike.

872 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

December 10, 2014 at 00:30

The book! Part Five: Community

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Dogs offer many beautiful examples of the benefits of community. For the powerful reason that their genes, from the days of wild dogs, still guide their behaviours. When dogs lived in the wild, their natural pack size was around fifty animals. As was explained in more detail in the chapter Understanding the dog’s world, only three dogs held positions of status. The leader of the pack, the female alpha dog, the ‘second-in-command’, the male beta or teaching dog, and the ‘omega’ dog, a dog of either gender whose role was to be the clown dog, keeping the pack happy and playful. It should be added that all three dogs of status were born into their respective roles. Their position in the pack was instinctive.

All the other dogs in that natural grouping would be equal participants with no ambitions to be anything else. There was no such thing as competition for a role, as how a dog fitted into his or her pack was a product of birth.

When we see how dogs are as the domesticated animals we humans know and love, we still come across, from time to time, a dog that is an alpha, beta or omega role dog. At the time of writing this, we have nine dogs in the house. Of those nine, two have an instinctive status. Lilly, a very old female dog, was born an alpha dog, and Pharaoh, was born a beta dog.

Let me explain more about Pharaoh and him being a beta or teaching dog.

In my early days of having Pharaoh in my life, I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of occasions when walking him in a public area, with other dogs around, and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.

I was put in contact with an Angela Stockdale who for years had helped owners with aggressive dogs. Helped them by retraining their dogs. This is what she arranged. I took Pharaoh up to her place at Wheddon Cross, near Minehead in Somerset. When we arrived, Angela was standing just by a gate that led into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner of the paddock were two dogs.

Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that the intention was to let Pharaoh into the paddock. I cautioned that Pharaoh could be quite a handful with other dogs and, perhaps, it would be better that I walked him into the area still on his lead. Angela replied that it wouldn’t be necessary. So, as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I unclipped the lead from his neck chain and backed away, as requested.

Pharaoh had hardly taken two or three paces into the grassy paddock when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!

I was astounded and stammered, “Er, er, how can you tell so quickly?

Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came Angela’s immediate reply.

As we both watched the interaction taking place, Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog, Leda, and her male Beta dog, whose name now escapes me. In other words, these two dogs were number one and two in terms of status, so far as dogs see other dogs.

In fact, Pharaoh was utterly subservient to these dogs, in a way that I had never witnessed before. Later on, as Pharaoh relaxed and started playing, Angela said that she thought that Pharaoh was a Beta dog and later was able to confirm that.

Anyone who has the privilege of owning a group of dogs will know without doubt that they develop a community strength that is an incredible model for us humans.

So now to turn to how we can learn from this aspect of dogs.

Many people think more and more that nations, governments, call it what you will, are less and less effective at understanding the needs of their people. I’m not even going to go down the road of the corruption of our leaders, both big ‘C’ and little ‘c’, in terms of power and money. No, I’m thinking of the top echelons in many societies being very disconnected from the needs and aspirations of their people. The widespread sense that representative democracy, as a process, is broken. As a quick aside, I must add an amusing comment that came from a neighbour: If one can bank online, we can certainly vote online! Does make one think about new ways of governing ourselves in this online world of ours.

Yet it would be very wrong to imagine that mankind has no experience of community living. Erik D. Kennedy wrote an essay: On the Social Lives of Cavemen[1]. Under the sub-heading of The Tribe, he offers:

Human beings are no strangers to group living. Call it a family trait. Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off their friends’ backs. While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree. In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being. And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle — things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends. Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone — TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy. It’s no surprise that humans are social animals — but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year — or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

Thus, a sharing, community life is not just some cosy idea, it could be core to the sort of healthy society we need to return to. Erik’s essay continues to expand this idea by quoting the particular case of Roseto in Pennsylvania[2]:

In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of [ii[3]]). Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The circumstances behind the remarkable and uncharacteristic happiness and health for the residents of Roseto came down to one fact: “The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.

That, essentially, Roseto became “an Italian village in the American countryside.

One doesn’t need to reflect for very long before the obvious question arises: If fifty dogs is the optimum number for a pack of dogs, is there a limit to the number of people we can have in the human equivalent of our pack?

Well, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, that number is about 150 persons. Robin Dunbar achieved fame by drawing a graph that plotted primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes. He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and up came the number 150. Beyond that number is past the upper bounds for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Palaeolithic farming villages. More than that, it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for the number of close social ties.

Back to Erik Kennedy:

Regardless of the specific implementation, the point is this: we stand to gain a lot from living in larger, closer groups. That’s how we were kicking it in the monkey days; that’s how we should be kicking it now. I say that not because of a romantic attachment to our Palaeolithic forbearers, but because of the fact that a good deal of health and happiness is ripe for our picking.

Erik Kennedy offers advice as to how to translate that into practical actions. Such as watch less television, live in a bigger group, for example, dine with the same people more often, and always resolve any disputes that you have with close friends. Also, have your children spend more time with trusted adults and, in turn, spend time with the kids of adults who trust you. Not forgetting to mix up age groups and stay close to your parents and grand-parents.

In essence, adopting such a lifestyle is not without precedent; paleo-social lives are common all over the world. In fact, paleo-social lives may not only be common but an age-old wisdom in many other parts of the globe. However, in many parts of the ‘Western’ world chances are good that we have seen very few people living in anything vaguely resembling a tribe; to use the more common vernacular for the term paleo-social.

For one thing is clear: isolation and loneliness is taxing on our mental health. Humans are not designed to be alone.

Just another important way of living to learn from our dogs: the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

1,642 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.erikdkennedy.com/essays/social-lives-cavemen.php
[2] Referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.
[3] I believe one of the surest signs that your lifestyle is aligned with your physiology in some way is that the benefits come in clumps.  Just as the paleo diet helps people with weight, energy levels, digestion, complexion, resistance to illness, and other areas of health, it’s no surprise that a proper paleo social life would be a holistic boon to health.

Written by Paul Handover

December 9, 2014 at 00:30

The book! Part Five: Trust

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A dog offers loyalty, trust and love in exchange for being treated with integrity and compassion.

What do we mean by trust? Roget’s Thesaurus defines the word (in part): “Trust – noun: Absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of another: belief, confidence, dependence, faith, reliance.”

Accepting that this is a book called Learning from Dogs doesn’t prevent me from using two examples of trust from other animals, a wolf and a horse, before offering a personal experience of a dog learning to trust.

This true story was told to me by DR when we were living in Payson, Arizona. An amazing true story of a relationship between a wild wolf and a man. A story of a particular event in the life of Tim Woods; brother of DR.

It revolves around the coming together of a man sleeping rough, with his dog, on Mingus Mountain, and a fully grown female Grey Wolf. Mingus is in the Black Hills mountain range between Cottonwood and Prescott in the State of Arizona, USA.

DR and his brother, Tim, belong to a large family; there are 7 sons and 2 daughters. Tim had a twin brother, Tom, and DR knew from an early age that Tim was different.

As DR explained,

“Tim was much more enlightened than the rest of us. I remember that Tim and Tom, as twin brothers, could feel each other in almost a mystical manner. I witnessed Tom grabbing his hand in pain when Tim stuck the point of his knife into his (Tim’s) palm. Stuff like that! Tim just saw more of life than most other people.”

The incident involving the wolf was when Tim was in his late 40s and, as mentioned, was living rough in an old shack up in the Black Hill mountains. The shack was simply a plywood shelter with an old couch and a few blankets for the cold nights. The dog was a companion to Tim, his guard and a means of keeping Tim in food; the dog was a great hunter. But Tim was no stranger to living in the wild.

DR again,

“Tim was ex-US Army and a great horseman. There was a time when he was up in the Superstition Mountains, sleeping rough, riding during the day. At night Tim would get the horse to lay down and Tim would sleep with his back next to the horse for warmth.

Tim was up on Mingus Mountain using an old disk from an agricultural harrow as both a cook-pan and plate. After he had finished eating, Tim would leave his ‘plate’ outside his shack. It would be left out in the open over night.

Tim gradually became aware that a creature was coming by and licking the plate clean and so Tim started to leave scraps of food on the plate. Then one night, Tim was awakened to the noise of the owner of the ‘tongue’ and saw that it was a large, female grey wolf.”

DR went on to explain that the wolf became a regular visitor and Tim became sure that the wolf, now having been given the name Luna by Tim, was aware that she was being watched by a human.

Then DR continued, “Over many, many months Luna built up sufficient trust in Tim that eventually she would take food from Tim’s outstretched hand. It was only now a matter of time before Luna started behaving more like a pet dog than the wild wolf that she was. From now on, Luna would stay the night with Tim and his dog, keeping watch over both of them.

Not that I doubted DR’s retelling of the account of Tim and the wolf but, nevertheless, the next action by DR had me in floods of tears. For DR then showed me an unaltered photograph taken in 2006 showing Tim lying back on a blanket with his dog across his waist and there, sitting on its haunches just behind Tim and the dog, was Luna the wolf.

DR underlined this miraculous story by saying that he remembered Tim being distraught because, without warning, Luna stopped coming by. Then a few months later back she was. Tim never did know what lay behind her absence but guessed it might have been because she went off to have pups.

Unfortunately, this wonderful tale does have a sad ending.

Back to DR, “About two years ago, what would have been 2007, Tim lost his dog. He was awakened to hear a pack of coyotes yelping and his dog missing. Then tragically some 6 months later Tim contracted a gall bladder infection. Slowly it became worse. By the time he realised that it was sufficiently serious to require medical treatment, it was too late. Despite the best efforts of modern medicine, Tim died on June 25th, 2009, just 51 years young.

DR’s closing words to me were: “So if you are ever out on Mingus Mountain and hear the howl of a wolf, reflect that it could just be poor Luna calling out for her very special man friend.

One would have to go a very long way to come across a better story of such fabulous trust from an animal towards a human.

The second example of trust from an animal other than a dog is from the Spring of 2014. About that time, we decided that we had sufficient acres of pasture to have a horse. We were put in touch with a horse rescue centre, Strawberry Mountain Rescues, near Roseburg in Oregon; about an hour north from where we lived. Soon after arriving at Strawberry Mountain we took a liking to a 15-year-old gelding. His name was Ranger and he had been found abandoned in the Ochoco National Forest in central Oregon, subsequently arriving at Roseburg. Ranger had a delightful temperament plus his age was a bonus as both Jean and I were the wrong age to be taking on a horse that might outlive us.

A week before Ranger was brought down to us, there was a telephone call from Darla, who runs Strawberry Mountain, asking us if we could take two horses.

This other horse, Ben, was a younger horse that had been ‘rescued’ on the orders of Darla’s local Sheriff because of Ben being in private ownership. It turned out that Ben had been subjected to starvation, to beating and there was evidence that he had been fired at repeatedly in the chest with an air-gun. The Sheriff’s office took away Ben and placed him under the care of Darla. Very quickly, Ben had formed a close relationship with Ranger and Darla was in no doubt that Ben’s relationship with Ranger was part of his journey of returning to a healthy, confident horse. We couldn’t say no to taking both Ben and Ranger despite Darla explaining that Ben was a very wary horse, especially nervous of men and that I should never make any sudden movements around Ben, as much for my own safety.

Unlike Jean who had owned and ridden horses in her younger days, I hardly knew the front from the back of a horse. I decided to approach Ben as I would a new rescue dog.

In less than three weeks, Ben had recovered sufficient trust in men to allow me to stroke his neck. Six months after having Ben and Ranger with us, I can put my face against Ben’s muzzle and stroke the area on his chest that is covered in scars from the air-gun pellets fired into him.

If only us humans could learn to trust in such a manner. Indeed, many persons would harbour anger and distrust in their hearts forever.

So now to dogs.

It’s easy for me to understand the trust in a dog when I look at Pharaoh, my German Shepherd. For he has been part of my life since a few weeks after he was born in South Devon, England, on June 3rd, 2003.

So my experience of Pharaoh doesn’t really offer any insight as to how a dog that has been cruelly treated by other people learns to trust a new home. I had to wait until 2010 to learn the lesson of trust from a dog.

I first met Jean, my wife, in Mexico; to be precise, in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. We met just a few days before Christmas, 2007. Despite Jean, as with me, having been born in London, indeed we were born just twenty-three miles from each other, she had been living in Mexico for many years; since Jean and her American husband, Ben, moved down there twenty-five years previously. (Ben died in 2005.)

Very quickly I became aware that Jean was well-known for rescuing Mexican feral dogs. At that time that Jean and I met, she had sixteen dogs, all of them rescues off the streets in and around San Carlos.

In September, 2008, I travelled out to Mexico with my Pharaoh and, subsequently, in the February of 2010, we made plans to move from San Carlos to Payson, in Arizona; some 80 miles North-East of Phoenix. Primarily, because we wanted to be married, and to be married in the USA.

Just a few days before we were due permanently to leave San Carlos with all our animals and belongings and journey the 513 miles (827 km) to Payson, AZ, Jean went outside to the front of the house to find a very lost and disorientated black dog alone on the dusty street. The dog was a female who in the last few weeks had given birth to puppies that had been weaned. That was obvious to Jean because the dog’s teats were still somewhat extended.

The dog had been abandoned outside in the street. A not uncommon happening because many of the local Mexicans knew of Jean’s rescues over many years and when they wanted to abandon a dog it was done outside her house. The poor people of San Carlos sometimes resorted to selling the puppies for a few Pesos and casting the mother dog adrift.

Of course, the dog was taken in and we named her Hazel. Now, rationally, we humans can’t even start to imagine the emotional and psychological damage that a mother dog would incur from having had all her puppies stolen from her. It’s very unlikely that we could imagine the damage a human mother would receive from the violent loss of her young baby.

The one thing that it would be reasonable to assume is that our latest addition to our dog family, Hazel, would initially be a bit wary of ’the species that walks on two legs’!

Once Hazel had been fed and watered by Jean, her coat inspected for ticks and generally checked all over, the next step was to introduce her to some of the other dogs. It all went very smoothly. Then in the evening, when we were sitting down after our evening meal, Hazel came over to the settee and looked up at my eyes. In a way that couldn’t be put clearly into words, I sensed a lost soul in Hazel’s eyes and a desperate need for some loving. Those thoughts were paramount in my mind and, I hoped, available for Hazel to read via my eyes.
Then after a pause of half-a-minute or so, our eyes still locked together, Hazel climbed up next to me on the settee and carefully and cautiously settled her head and front paws across my lap. I caressed and stroked her for much of the rest of the evening. When Jean and I went to bed, Hazel jumped up and went to sleep, and stayed alongside my legs for the whole of the night. Setting a pattern that has continued to this very day.

How did Hazel know to trust me? Only Hazel knows the answer to that one. But ever since that day, nearly five years ago as I write this, the bond between Hazel and me has been perfect. In fact, as I write these words, Hazel is asleep on the rug just behind my chair.

Our society only functions in a civilised manner when there is a predominance of trust around and about us. When we trust the socio-politico foundations of our society. When we trust the legal processes. When we trust that while greed and unfairness are never absent, they are kept well under control.

Having trust in the world around us is an intimate partner to having faith in our world. For without trust there can be no faith and without trust there can be no love.

Unlike the previous chapter on love, no list of behaviours come to mind that allow the growth of unbridled trust. Maybe trust flows from the actions of love. As in one only gets back what you put out.

All that does come to mind is never wavering from offering trust to others and never accepting anything other than trustworthy actions from others.

For eventually that would lead, lead inexorably, to a world where trust was accepted as if it was the air we breathed.

The final thing that comes to mind is always remembering this lesson from our dogs and, by implication, from their ancient ancestor, the wolf.

Returning to that beautiful story of Tim and his wolf, Luna, may I plead that if you ever hear the howl of a wolf, please will you allow yourself to disappear into your inner thoughts for a few precious moments and know that tens of thousands of years ago there was another Tim and another wolf: the start of the long relationship between man and dog.

Or, perhaps, the next time you gaze deeply into your dog’s eyes, sense that first Tim cuddling up to that first Luna and know how far trust has brought us and our dogs.

2,318 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

December 8, 2014 at 00:30

One clever man and his dog!

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A reposting of a fascinating item regarding Ra Paulette.

As is the way of our interconnected world, I clicked on a link in a recent post over on Sue Dreamwalker’s blog that then took me to an item on a new blog site from Vision Keeper called World Metamorphosis. The item was about an American, Ra Paulette, who …

The American artist Ra Paulette has spent the last 10 years carving wondrous creations in the walls of a cave located in Northern New Mexico. For many years now, Paulette has walked to work into the hot desert, with only his faithful dog by his side. After much hard work, Paulette has finally allowed the public to view the incredible masterpiece he has been working on all of this time.

It all began with a mile long walk into the wilderness where Paulette discovered the cave. He has since transformed the everyday limestone walls into gorgeous hallways and spaces that are surprisingly full of light. Learn more about the man behind the carvings and check out the magnificent cave artwork here! (Source: Phoenix is Risen)



Then it was a ‘hop, skip and a jump’ to go across to Ra Paulette’s website, where one reads such glorious details as:



Manual labor is the foundation of my self expression. To do it well, to do it beautifully, is a “whole-person” activity, engaging mental and emotional strengths as well as physical strength.

When digging and excavating the caves I break down all the movements into their simplest parts and reassemble them into the most efficient patterns and strategies that will accomplish the task while maintaining bodily ease. Like a dancer, I “feel” the body and its movement in a conscious way.

I’m fond of calling this “the dance of digging”, and it is the secret of how this old man can get so much done.

Then words that are more poem than anything else:

The Present

the world within the earth and ourselves

My final and most ambitious project is both an environmental and social art project that uses solitude and the beauty of the natural world to create an experience that fosters spiritual renewal and personal well being. It is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.

A mile walk in the wilderness becomes a pilgrimage journey to a hand dug, elaborately sculpted cave complex illuminated by the sun through multiple tunneled windows. The cave is both a shared ecumenical shrine and an otherworldly venue for presentations and performances designed to address issues of social welfare and the art of well being.

In social art, creating the work of art is not the objective in itself, as in an exhibit, but is a means to bring about social change. The response to the artwork is not merely left to its audience as an endpoint in the process but is an element in a larger encompassing creative process. In the analogy of art being one of the colors on the social artist’s palette, the canvas would be society itself, its social conditions in a particular location. In using the aesthetic to address societal suffering, social art is not content with merely decorating the world; its intent is to change it.

Changing the world is a tall order. Art doesn’t attempt to force change through direct action but to catalyze it by affecting the emotional basis from which change can occur.

Begging the question, “How can we change what we do before we change how we feel?” Its underlying premise is that when through wonder and the sense of beauty we move from the emotional realm of our desires and fears to the more expansive and deeper feelings of thanksgiving and appreciation of life with a sense of its sacredness, our actions will automatically be modified, creating a better world – ‘like magic’.

This is the magic of art, music, theatre, and of the beauty of the natural world. We need for that magic to play a more direct role in our lives.

Please, please read the rest of these wonderful thoughts and ideas

Will close with another photograph of Ra working inside the caves.


Written by Paul Handover

December 8, 2014 at 00:00

Picture parade seventy-three

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With grateful thanks to Tricia for sending these on.


The following goes with the picture above. It has been published before but so what! It deserves repeated postings!

“Dogs Welcome”

A man wrote a letter to a small hotel in a Midwest town he planned to visit on his vacation. He wrote:

I would very much like to bring my dog with me. He is well-groomed and very well behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to keep him in my room with me at night?”

An immediate reply came from the hotel owner, who wrote:

SIR: “I’ve been operating this hotel for many years. In all that time, I’ve never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes, silverware or steal pictures off the walls or use them as a coloring book. I’ve never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly. And I’ve never had a dog run out on a hotel bill.

Yes, indeed, your dog is welcome at my hotel. And, if your dog will vouch for you, you’re welcome to stay here, too.”









You all have a great week and keeping loving those dogs of yours!

Written by Paul Handover

December 7, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Five: Love

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It is incredibly easy and, yet, so difficult to write about the love of a dog. Now if that isn’t a dysfunctional way to start this chapter on love, then I don’t know what would be!

Let me try to open this up to a more rational line of thought.

Dogs are so quick to show their love for a human. It could be the wag of a tail, the way a dog’s eyes connect with our eyes, a gentle lean of a head against our legs, curling up on our lap, licking our hands or our faces, and more; so much more. All of these ways make sense to us. For they are familiar to us humans from the point of view of how we show our love to our partner or to our children.

But there are a myriad of stories about a dog offering love to a human that go way beyond anything that we could emotionally understand. Let me offer one that was published on my blog back in January, 2011. It was the story of a Skye Terrier called Bobby.

Namely, that on the 15th February 1858, in the City of Edinburgh in Scotland, a man named John Gray died of tuberculosis. Gray was better known as Auld Jock and on his death he was buried in the old Greyfriars kirkyard situated on Candlemaker Row in Edinburgh.

Bobby had belonged to John Gray, who had worked for the Edinburgh City Police as a night watchman, and the two of them, John and Bobby, had been virtually inseparable for the previous two years.

When it came to the funeral, Bobby led his master’s funeral procession to the grave at Greyfriars Cemetery, and later, when this devoted Skye Terrier tried to stay at the graveside, he was sent away by the caretaker of the church.

But Bobby returned and refused to leave; whatever the weather conditions. Despite the efforts of the keeper of the kirkyard, plus John’s family and many local people, Bobby refused to be enticed away from the grave for any length of time and, as a result, he touched the hearts of the local residents.

Although theoretically dogs were not allowed in the graveyard, people rallied round and built a shelter for Bobby and there he stayed, guarding Auld Jock his late master.

There Bobby stayed for fourteen years, laying on the grave, leaving only for food.

To this day, close by Greyfriars Kirkyard, there is a Bobby’s Bar and outside the bar a cast metal stature of Bobby on a plinth.

The love that a dog shows us is a form of unconditional love that is not unknown in our human world but is not common. I would vouch that few people have truly ever experienced unconditional love or are even clear as to what it is. For although one might define unconditional love as affection without any limitations, or love without conditions, in other words a type of love that has no bounds and is unchanging, the reality of the love of one person towards another, a spouse, lover or child, is that there are limits to how that one person is treated and that going past those limits, regularly and persistently, eventually destroys that love.

Let’s turn to the world of novels. Some book authors make a distinction between unconditional love and conditional love. In the sense that conditional love is love that is earned through conscious or unconscious conditions being met by the lover. Whereas in unconditional love, love is given to the loved one no matter what. Loving is primary: an acting of feelings irrespective of will.

Yet there’s another aspect of unconditional love that relates commonly between individuals and their dogs. That is that our love for a dog encompasses a desire for the dog to have the very best life in and around us humans. Take the example of acquiring a new puppy. The puppy is cute, playful, and the owner’s heart swells with love for this adorable new family member. Then the puppy urinates on the floor. One does not stop loving the puppy but recognises the need to modify the puppy’s behaviour through love and training than, otherwise, continue to experience behaviours that would be unacceptable in a particular situation.

Having explored the concept of love and how dogs offer us the beauty of unconditional love, how should we adopt a loving approach to the world, and why?

It’s the little things that count is a famous truism and one no better suited to the world of love. Little things that we can do in countless different ways throughout the day. Sharing a friendly word and a smile with a stranger, dropping a coin or two into a homeless person’s hands or, better still, a loaf or bread or a chocolate bar. Being courteous on the road, holding a door open for someone at your nearby store, showing patience in a potentially frustrating situation. Continuing, perhaps, with such little things as never forgetting that we have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion, or be more attentive when a loved one is speaking with us, possibly engineer periods of quiet contemplation, understanding that the world will not come to an end if the television or ‘smartphone’ is turned off for a day. The list of loving actions is endless. Or in the words of Nelson Mandela, “No one is born hating another person…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Why this need for love?

Because this world of ours so desperately needs a new start and that start must come from a loving attitude to each other, to the plants and animals, and to the blue planet that sustains us.

We need our hearts to open; open enough to tell our heads about the world of love.

1,001 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

December 5, 2014 at 01:00

The book! Part Five: How humans view dogs.

with 3 comments

The remaining chapters in Part Five are the essence of my story. That our dogs offer us a wonderful vision of how mankind needs to change, element by element, to stand a reasonable chance of surviving as a viable species into the distant future.

The writing of this book has been fuelled and motivated by an enormous amount of research, as has been mentioned previously. In general, what I have read has supported my overall hypothesis that I expressed in the opening paragraph above.

Then I read Jean Donaldson’s book The Culture Clash [1] almost when I had completed the first draft of this book. Whoops! This is what came at me in the first chapter [page 10] of her book:

One reason for our astonishingly poor understanding of dogs might be extremely slow trickle down from experts: trainers educating one owner or one class at a time rather that something on the scale of public service announcements or spots on Oprah.

But there’s a second reason for the slow acceptance of realistic interpretations of dog behavior: simple reluctance to let go of anthropomorphism.

Reinforced on the following page by these two sentences, “Our bond with dogs is obviously strong. But they are not human and so now we are stuck explaining the bond.

The book was a very interesting read and I can highly recommend it to anyone seeking a greater clarity about dogs, especially about dog training. As the back cover announces: “The most thought-provoking book ever written on dog behavior and training.”

The reason I reacted earlier with a ‘whoops’ was that the vision of what we need to learn from dogs, explored in detail in the following chapters, does, without question, leave me guilty of a “simple reluctance to let go of anthropomorphism.”

It doesn’t in any way, well to my mind it doesn’t, however reduce the central proposition of the book. That whether one sees dogs anthropomorphically or not, they represent wonderful and inspiring creatures, creatures that have proved their ability to live in harmony on the planet and that’s a track record that man can only dream of at present.

[1] Published by James & Kenneth, CA. USA. 2nd Ed. 2005

354 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

December 5, 2014 at 00:30


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