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The book! Part Two: The power of negativity.

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All we have to fear is fear itself.

Our brains are hard-wired to fear the things that could harm us. It’s an essential legacy of our early days when spiders, snakes and other harmful creatures, too numerous to list, could kill us. The part of the brain that protects us in this manner is the amygdala, an area of our brain that could be seen as our “fear centre”. It is an essential part of the body’s panic response system and numerous studies have shown that it lights up when people get scared in response to frightening situations. (Although recent research suggests that it may not be as simple as the amygdala being the direct source of our fear. I’m referring to a paper published in Nature Neuroscience in February, 2013.)

But whatever the precise human biological process in dealing with frightening situations, it doesn’t alter the fact that, to a very great extent, our lives in the twenty-first century are hamstrung by this ancient reflex action we all carry. What I have in mind is how we all tend to react to bad news as compared to good news. How our attention is much more likely to be grabbed by something frightening or sensational than by something positive, with the media headlines being the prime candidates of this.

A web search for classic newspaper headlines brought to light some wonderful old-timers. What about the English newspaper The Sun that ran a now infamous headline ‘Freddie Star Ate my Hamster‘ on its front page on March 13, 1986. The story was untrue, by the way!

Or the Australian Daily Telegraph in 1974 that announced: DARWIN TERROR STORM: 40 DIE!
Or The Washington Post of Monday, July 28th, 1952 that proclaimed: ’Saucer Outran Jet, Pilot Reveals’.

The advertising industry knows full well that making people feel needy, even if only very temporarily, is essential to generating a sale.

Not just the advertising industry. I well recall when I was a humble office equipment salesman for IBM in the UK in the early 1970s and helping spread the acceptance of the IBM Selectric typewriter, or golfball typewriter as it was often called, that when in front of a potential customer, one tried all sorts of questions that focussed on the limitations of the conventional electric typewriter. Asking questions such as how frequently did the typebars clash, or was there ever a need to have a different typeface?

Now these are quaint, almost charming examples of stirring up fear. Utterly trivial when compared to the heavy stuff. Around the time of writing the first draft of this book, in October 2014, the International Business Times ran a headline: US-Russia Nuclear War Could Wipe Out Humanity – Nuclear Physician Warns. The story opening:

A nuclear war that will deplete the ozone layer, emit radioactive pollution, form massive fire storms, and a nuclear winter could ignite between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician, an advocate of citizen action to address nuclear and environmental crises, the founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a 1985 Nobel Prize nominee warns that the Cold War has returned and could escalate into a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. “It’s an incredibly dangerous situation. … If there’s a nuclear war tonight, that’s the Northern Hemisphere (of the entire world) gone,” she said at the National Press Club Newsmaker press conference.

If there’s a nuclear war tonight, that’s the Northern Hemisphere (of the entire world) gone,”

Now that’s negativity of the first order, and if you detect a slightly light-hearted tone to my words, then that is not intentional. It is just that it’s almost impossible, in my humble opinion, to have any serious, rational response to such a news item. We have no control over the ‘games’ being played by the superpowers, we can do nothing to prevent such an event, and were it to happen there is no practical response one could take.

Still the negativity has the potential to be increased by more extreme dire warnings. And the dire warning of all dire warnings is the one about mankind’s impact on this planet: climate change; loss of natural resources; over population; et al. Again, to a very great extent, we have no control over the ‘big picture’. The difference between a nuclear Armageddon and climate change is that most people can see the signs all around them. That’s a powerful source of personal fear.

There was an article in Psychology Today written by Dr. Alex Lickerman (Alex Lickerman, M.D., is a general internist and former Director of Primary Care at the University of Chicago and has been a practicing Buddhist since 1989.) in October, 2011 under the title of How to Reduce Negativity. Dr. Lickerman made the point that, “Though we all have negative selves, there seem to be only two basic reasons they appear: one is as a result of a lack of self-confidence, or belief that we can solve a particular problem; the other is simply out of habit.

If that is read quickly, it’s easy to take it as “one is as a result of a belief that we can solve a particular problem“, as I did. Then on re-reading it, the meaning became clear. One of the reasons our negativity can appear “is as a result of a lack of belief that we can solve a particular problem …” I underlined a part of the sentence because it needs to sit squarely on the shoulders of our consciousness.

Once one has understood the ease with which the wider world, and especially how it is reported, affects us then we are armed, so to speak, to actively counter any negativity that arises in us.
Now I quoted Dr. Lickerman from a little way into his article in Psychology Today. But his opening words are extremely valuable for all of us to consider.

In one sense, the battle to be happy is a battle against negativity. Bad things happen all the time but how we internalize them, how we react to them, is what ultimately determines their final effect on us — and over that we have simultaneously more and less control than we realize. More, because we assign the meaning of events, not the events themselves, even though it feels as if that meaning is somehow assigned for us. Yet less, because we can rarely simply decide when confronted with a negative life event that is is, in fact, actually positive. To do that, we have to find a way to actually believe it, and that requires a process of continual self-reflection and attitude training; a program designed to strengthen our life force, so to speak.

Later on in Part Four there are a number of chapters that explore the power of positive thoughts and ways of countering the negativity that is so often in our faces.

1,124 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

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Written by Paul Handover

November 10, 2014 at 00:30

Picture parade sixty-nine

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Breathtakingly beautiful planet of ours!

National Geographic’s annual photo contest brings in some of the most extraordinary images from around the globe. Professional and amateur photographers alike submit shots in the categories of people, places, and nature and deliver a visual feast of the world in all its splendor.

Winners of the competition will be announced later this year, but in the meantime, here are some of the striking scenes (along with captions from the photographers) that Nat Geo was kind enough to share with us. Have a look.

"In the Strezlecki desert of Australia, a flock of galahs replenish on the only small water available at the base of this lonely tree. It’s a rare photo opportunity to get such a clear and symmetrical shot of these beautiful birds in flight in the middle of the desert." Location: Strezlecki Desert, Australia.

“In the Strezlecki desert of Australia, a flock of galahs replenish on the only small water available at the base of this lonely tree. It’s a rare photo opportunity to get such a clear and symmetrical shot of these beautiful birds in flight in the middle of the desert.” Location: Strezlecki Desert, Australia. Photo by Christian Spencer.


"I was finishing up a photo shoot when a wild kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded onto the lake, as if walking on water. This, along with the picturesque sunset combined to create an absolute visual treat!" Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia.

“I was finishing up a photo shoot when a wild kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded onto the lake, as if walking on water. This, along with the picturesque sunset combined to create an absolute visual treat!” Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Dave Kan.


"An early morning ride through Yellowstone National Park in the winter is always a treat. On this very chilly morning, hardly a sound was heard as this herd of bison reminded us that we are the visitors in their land." Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States.

“An early morning ride through Yellowstone National Park in the winter is always a treat. On this very chilly morning, hardly a sound was heard as this herd of bison reminded us that we are the visitors in their land.” Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States. Photo by Karoline Sleichter.


"This disorienting photo was taken from a cliff overlooking Lake Louise. Two people are enjoying a canoe ride on the lake's turquoise waters. Even boulders the size of large cars seem like pebbles from a high vantage point." Location: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Ben Leshchinsky.

“This disorienting photo was taken from a cliff overlooking Lake Louise. Two people are enjoying a canoe ride on the lake’s turquoise waters. Even boulders the size of large cars seem like pebbles from a high vantage point.” Location: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Ben Leshchinsky.


"Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground." Location: Brevard, North Carolina. Photo by Spencer Black.

“Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground.” Location: Brevard, North Carolina. Photo by Spencer Black.


"Before dawn [and] 25 degrees below zero. Just a short while [earlier], the rabbit seems to have walked across the snowy field." Location: Biei Hokkaido JAPAN. Photo by Mitsuhiko Kamada.

“Before dawn [and] 25 degrees below zero. Just a short while [earlier], the rabbit seems to have walked across the snowy field.” Location: Biei Hokkaido JAPAN. Photo by Mitsuhiko Kamada.


"I headed out one night to photograph the Milky Way. As I reached the top of the mountain, this magnificent scene presented itself to me. I immediately wanted to photograph it in all its glory. After trying out a few different exposure times, I settled on duration of roughly 16 minutes. This allowed me to capture the intense glow of the fire along with the surreal star trails seen in the sky." Location: Advancetown Lake, Gold Coast Hinterland, Australia. Photo by Dave Kan.

“I headed out one night to photograph the Milky Way. As I reached the top of the mountain, this magnificent scene presented itself to me. I immediately wanted to photograph it in all its glory. After trying out a few different exposure times, I settled on duration of roughly 16 minutes. This allowed me to capture the intense glow of the fire along with the surreal star trails seen in the sky.” Location: Advancetown Lake, Gold Coast Hinterland, Australia. Photo by Dave Kan.

Utterly stunning photographs.

Written by Paul Handover

November 9, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Three: Mankind in the 21st century

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Challenges of the present times.

In Part Two, I set out to show two things. Firstly, that we, mankind, are part of nature in every conceivable manner and that unless we recognise that pretty damn quickly then …. then I can do no better than repeat what Professor Dirzo and his colleagues spoke about in July 2014, namely that he and his colleagues :

… issued a warning that the present rate of what he called “defaunation” could have harmful downstream effects on human health. Professor Dirzo explained that despite the “planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error being the highest in the history of life.” we may have reached a tipping point.

The warning explained that more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates had become extinct since the year 1500 and that, since then, “Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.”

Professor Dirzo further went on to explain that “while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity.” He even gave this era a name: the era of the “Anthropocene defaunation.”

Secondly, in Part Two, I wanted to offer as much information as I could find on the science of the evolution of the dog and how long the dog had been part of mankind’s history. Simply to support the argument, OK my argument, that we humans are so perilously close to “shooting ourselves in the feet”, so close to the massive annihilation of millions of us, that we need a new era of hope; not tomorrow but now!

Implicit in that last sentence is the feeling that we humans have to look outside of ourselves to find the inspiration and the motivation needed to make the changes in the sort of short timescales our present circumstances demand.

Let me expand on this.

We live in very challenging times. Widely acknowledged for it seems rare these days to meet someone who doesn’t sense, to one degree or another, a feeling of vulnerability to today’s world. A sense that many aspects of their lives are beyond their control.

These are also times where it is widely acknowledged that the levers of privilege and money are undermining the rights and needs of so many, that there are unprecedented levels of deceit, lying and greed; all enveloped within an abuse of power.

That’s even before we embrace the matter of climate change and whether or not there is a potential “end-of-world” tipping point; the so-called beat of the butterfly’s wing.

Yes, these are challenging times. As we are incessantly reminded by the drumbeat of the doom-and-gloom news industry every hour, frequently every half-hour, throughout the day. A symphony of negative energy.

Yet right next to us is a world of positive energy. The world of dogs. A canine world full of love and trust, playfulness and relaxation. A way of living that is both clear and straightforward. Albeit, far from being simple, as anyone will know who has seen the way dogs interact with each other and with us humans.

In other words, dogs offer endless examples of positive behaviours. The wonderful power of compassion for self, and for others, and of loving joy. A way to live that we humans often crave for. A life full of love, hope, play and positive energy. A way to live for the millions of us that desire a positive, compassionate attitude to our own life, and to the lives of all the people around us.

604 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 8, 2014 at 00:30

Posted in Art, Communication, Dogs, People, Writing

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The wonder of dogs.

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An article from Mark Derr that is just beautiful.

Yesterday, on my blog post about the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, a kind reader commented, “So beautiful and such interesting information! Thanks so much for sharing your research! :)

Mark Derr

Mark Derr

That was very motivational for me because Part Two of my book, being driven along by NaNoWriMo!, is much tougher and requires significant research.  Research to a much greater extent than I have been used to. Thus it was that my research wanderings  brought me to the magazine The Bark and thence to an article written by Mark Derr back in 2006.  I had previously heard of neither.

It was such a fantastic article, of such relevance to what I was writing about, that I took a deep breath and emailed Mark asking if I might have his permission to republish; both in the book and here on Learning from Dogs. Promptly, Mark replied in the affirmative. :-)

I’m still deliberating how it will be included in the book but have no hesitation in publishing it here for your enjoyment.


The Wolf Who Stayed

A domestication that went both ways

By Mark Derr

That the dog is descended from the wolf—or more precisely, the wolf who stayed—is by now an accepted fact of evolution and history. But that fact is about all that is agreed to among the people who attempt to answer fundamental questions about the origins of the dog—specifically, the who, where, when, how and why of domestication.

Dates range from the dog’s earliest appearance in the archaeological record around 14,000 years ago to the earliest estimated time for its genetic sidestep from wolves around 135,000 years ago. Did the dog emerge in Central Europe, as the archaeological record suggests, or in East Asia, where the genetic evidence points? Were they tame wolves whose offspring over time became homebodies, or scavenging wolves whose love of human waste made them increasingly tame and submissive enough to insinuate themselves into human hearts? Or did humans learn to follow, herd and hunt big game from wolves and in so doing, enter into a complex dance of co-evolution?

Despite the adamancy of adherents to specific positions, the data are too incomplete, too subject to wildly different interpretations; some of the theories themselves too vague; and the physical evidence too sparse to say with certainty what happened. Nonetheless, some models—and not necessarily the most popular and current ones—more clearly fit what is known about dogs and wolves and humans than others. It is a field in high flux, due in no small measure to the full sequencing of the dog genome. But were I a bettor, I would wager that the winning view, the more-or-less historically correct one, shows that the dog is the result of the interaction of wolves and ancient humans rather than a self-invention by wolves or a “conquest” by humans.

Our views of the dog are integrally bound to the answers to these questions, and, for better or worse, those views help shape the way we approach our own and other dogs. It is difficult, for example, to treat as a valued companion a “social parasite” or, literally, a “shit-eater.” To argue that different breeds or types of dogs represent arrested stages of wolf development both physically and behaviorally is not only to confuse, biologically, description with prescription but also to overlook the dog’s unique behavioral adaptations to life with humans. Thus, according to some studies, the dog has developed barking, a little-used wolf talent, into a fairly sophisticated form of communication, but a person who finds barking the noise of a neotenic wolf is unlikely to hear what is being conveyed. “The dog is everywhere what society makes him,” Charles Dudley Warner wrote in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1896. His words still hold true.

Since the dog is both a cultural and a biological creation, it is worth noting here that these opposing views of the dog’s origin echo the old theory that the sniveling, slinking pariah dogs and their like—“southern breeds”—derived from jackals, while “northern breeds”—Spitz-like dogs and Huskies—descended directly from the wolf. Darwin thought as much, so did the pioneering ethologist Konrad Lorenz until late in his life, when he accepted that the wolf was the sole progenitor of the dog. In the theories of Raymond Coppinger and others—and I think this transference is unconscious—the scavenging jackal becomes a camp-following, offal-eating, self-domesticating weenie of a tame wolf. In turn, those wolves become the ur-dog, still manifest in the pariahs of India and Asia, from which the dog we know is said to have emerged. It’s a tidy, convenient, unprovable story that has an element of truth—dogs are accomplished scavengers—but beyond that, it is the jackal theory with a tattered new coat. In dropping humans from the process, the scavenging, self-domesticating wolf theory ignores the archaeological record and other crucial facts that undercut it.

Fossils found at Zhoukoudian, China, have suggested to archaeologists such as Stanley Olsen, author of Origins of the Domestic Dog, that wolves and Homo erectus were at least working the same terrain as early as 500,000 years ago. The remains of wolves and Homo erectus dating to around 300,000 years ago have also been found in association with each other at Boxgrove in Kent, England, and from 150,000 years ago at Lauzerte in the south of France. It seems more likely that this omnivorous biped, with its tools and weapons, lived and hunted in proximity to that consummate social hunter, the wolf, through much of Eurasia, than that their bones simply fell into select caves together. Who scavenged from whom, we cannot say.

Wolves were far more numerous then than now, and they adapted to a wide range of habitats and prey. On the Eurasian steppes, wolves learned to follow herds of ungulates—in effect, to herd them. Meriwether Lewis observed the same behavior during his journey across North America in the opening years of the 19th century; he referred to wolves that watched over herds of bison on the Plains as the bisons’ “shepherds.” Of course, those “shepherds” liked it when human hunters attacked a herd because they killed many more animals than the wolves, and although the humans carried off the prime cuts, they left plenty behind.

Ethologists Wolfgang M. Schleidt and Michael D. Shalter refer to wolves as the first pastoralists in “Co-evolution of Humans and Canids,” their 2003 paper in the journal Cognition and Evolution. Early humans, they argue, learned to hunt and herd big game from those wolves; thus, the dog emerged from mutual cooperation between wolves and early humans, possibly including Neanderthal. There is no evidence yet of Neanderthal having tame wolves, much less dogs, but the larger point is that when modern humans arrived on the scene, they found wolves already tending their herds, and they immediately began to learn from them. That was long before humans began, in some parts of the world, to settle into more permanent villages, some 12,000 to 20,000 or 25,000 years ago.

Schleidt and Shalter based their model on wolf behavior and on genetic studies that have consistently shown that dogs and wolves diverged between 40,000 and 135,000 years ago. The first of those studies emerged from the lab of Robert K. Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who had already made headlines by showing definitively that the dog descended from the wolf alone. In a paper appearing in the June 13, 1997, issue of Science, Wayne and his collaborators said that dogs could have originated around 135,000 years ago in as many as four different places. They also argued that genetic exchanges between wolves and dogs continued—as they do to this day, albeit in an age during which dogs have become ubiquitous and wolves imperiled.

Since that paper appeared, the dog genome has been fully sequenced and provides a time frame for domestication of 9,000 generations, which the authors of a paper on the sequencing in the December 8, 2005, issue of Nature pegged at 27,000 years. But except for that, subsequent studies of mitochondrial DNA, which is most commonly used to date species divergence, have pointed to a time frame of 40,000 to 135,000, with 40,000 to 50,000 years ago looking like the consensus date.

Most of this work has been conducted in Wayne’s lab; in the Uppsala University lab of Carles Vilà, his former student and the lead researcher on the 1997 paper; and in the lab of Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, another collaborator on the original paper.

A signal problem with the early date is that it doesn’t appear to match the archaeological record. The dog is not only behaviorally but also morphologically different from the wolf, and such an animal first appears in the fossil record around 14,000 years ago in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany. Archaeologists nearly universally peg the origin of the dog to that time.

Wayne, Vilà and their supporters have suggested from the start that behavioral change could predate morphological change, which would have occurred when humans began to create permanent settlements, thereby cutting—or at least reducing—their wolf-dogs’ contact with wild wolves. People might also have begun attempting to influence the appearance of their dogs at this point.

But those Germans get in the way again. Bonn-Oberkassel, site of the consensus first fossil dog, is not a permanent settlement.

Trying to square genetic and archaeological dates, Peter Savolainen resurveyed the mitochondrial DNA of dogs and wolves, recalibrated the molecular clock and proposed in a paper in Science, November 22, 2002, that the dog originated in East Asia 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. It was a good try, but now it appears that his “40,000 years ago” date was more accurate. Also, the earliest known dog appears in Germany, not East Asia, a region to which other genetic evidence points as well.

In many ways, the dispute over dates and places is just a precursor for the debate over how that happened. Archaeologists and evolutionary biologists who want the first dogs to look like dogs have tended to argue that the transition is a result of a biological phenomenon called “paedomorphosis.” That basically means that the animal’s physical development is delayed relative to its sexual maturation. It produces dogs with more domed heads; shorter, broader muzzles; and overall reduced size and slighter build than a wolf. Accelerated physical development relative to sexual maturation (hypermorphosis), on the other hand, produces dogs larger than the progenitor wolf.

When maturation is stopped early enough, the resulting animal is said to resemble a “neotenic,” or perpetually juvenilized, wolf. Coppinger and others have carried the argument further to argue that behaviorally, the dog resembles a neotenic wolf, with some breeds being more immature or less developed than others. There is general agreement that, beginning in the late 19th century when the dog began to move into the city as a pet, breeders sought to soften and humanize the appearance of some breeds to make them look like perpetual puppies. But beyond that, it is more correct to view the dog as an entity different from the wolf.

Currently, many researchers like to invoke an experiment in domestication launched in 1959 at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Siberia, by Dmitry Belyaev and continued after his death by Lyudmila Trut and her colleagues. Belyaev selectively bred foxes for “tameness” alone, defined as their level of friendliness toward people. He ended up with foxes that resembled dogs. A number of them had floppy ears, piebald coats, curly tails and a habit of submissively seeking attention from their human handlers with whines, whimpers and licks. (I wouldn’t want such a dog.)

Anthropologist Brian Hare tested the tame foxes in 2004 and found that they, like dogs, had the capacity to follow a human’s gaze, something wolves and wild foxes, not to mention chimpanzees, won’t do.

A number of researchers have embraced these tame foxes as a template for dog domestication. While they doubtless cast insight on the problem, I doubt that they will answer all questions. Arguments by analogy are suspect science and should be even more so in this case, since the selection criteria for these foxes were also against aggression—hardly the case for dogs—and foxes clearly are not wolves.

That said, the experiment does appear to confirm that selective breeding for behavior alone can also produce morphological changes similar to what the wolf experienced in becoming a dog.

Coppinger has invoked the fox experiment to support his theory that wolves that became dogs self-domesticated. As humans in some areas moved into permanent settlements, their refuse heaps became feeding grounds for wolves who were tame enough—or least-frightened enough—to feed near humans. Subsequent generations became more tame, and people began to allow them to wander their camps, eating feces, hunting rodents. From that group, people took some animals for food. Then, when the animals were thoroughly self-tamed, people began to train them to more wolfish behaviors, like hunting.

What he and others overlook in citing the fox experiment is that those animals were subjected to intense artificial selection by people. They also ignore the fact that the first dog appears in a seasonal camp, not a permanent settlement.

In their book, Dogs, Coppinger and his wife, Lorna, argue that these early protodogs would have resembled the ownerless dogs of Pemba Island, a remote part of the Zanzibar archipelago. As a model, Pemba suffers numerous problems, as does Coppinger’s theory. It is an Islamic island, and Islam has scarce place for dogs, believing them filthy, largely because they scavenge and eat excrement.

Beyond that, Pemba was a wealthy island in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its clove plantations, which were worked by African slaves and overseen by Arabs. The plantations have long since fallen into disrepair, on an island populated by the descendants of free slaves, where poverty is the rule. Attempting to read the past by looking at the present is a well recognized form of historical fallacy. It can’t be done, especially in a place where there is no strong cultural tradition.

Elsewhere in the developing world, free-ranging dogs are often more than scavengers or food. Some are fed; they protect territories or vendors’ carts. A few might be taken in, but, again, these dogs must be studied and understood in their current context and then placed in a broader historical context, if possible.

Moreover, Coppinger ignores the entire tradition of dogs and people in Europe, Japan and Korea—wherever dogs were employed from an apparently early date for a purpose, including companionship and ritual. Archaeologist Darcy F. Morey clearly demonstrated in the February 2006 issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science that people have been burying dogs and treating them with reverence and respect from the beginning, hardly the fate of scavengers.

People will argue, but I think the question of whether the dog is a juvenilized wolf is best answered with this observation: The dog follows human gaze, according to Hare, and is so attentive to people that it can imitate them, according to Vilmos Csányi, and it does so from an early age. No wolf of any age can replicate that basic behavior. It is far better to look at the dog as a differently developed wolf than as a developmentally retarded wolf.

Similarly, until shown otherwise, it seems more accurate to view domestication as a dynamic process involving wolves and people. At a time when the boundaries between human and wild were much more porous than now, people doubtless took in animals, especially young animals of all kinds, especially wolf pups, since in many places, they were hunting the same game and perhaps scavenging from each other.

As those pups matured, they returned to the wild to breed, with the naturally tamest among them denning close to the camp where they had been raised and, yes, could scavenge. Over the past year, researchers have shown that the area of the brain known as the amygdala is quite active when “fear of the other” begins to develop. In 2004, a team of researchers from Uppsala University, including Vilà, reported in the journal Molecular Brain Research on changes they had found in gene expression in the frontal lobe, hypothalamus and amygdala of wolves, coyotes and dogs. More than 40 years ago, J.P. Scott and John L. Fuller showed that the dog pup had a lengthened socialization period before fear of the other set in, compared with the wolf pup.

No one knows how fast the change happened, but in some places, tame wolves—dogs—resulted from this process. They provided territorial defense, helped with hunting (which they do well), scavenged, and were valued for companionship and utility. Some could be trained to carry packs. That early dog probably remained nearly indistinguishable from the wolf except in places where their gene pool became limited by virtue of some isolating event. The smaller gene pool forced inbreeding that, along with changing environmental conditions, somehow “destabilized” the genome.

Vilà and two colleagues suggested in an article published online on June 29, 2006, in Genome Research, that domestication relaxed “selective constraint” on the dog’s mitochondrial genome, and if that relaxation extended to the whole genome, as it appeared to, “it could have facilitated the generation of novel functional genetic diversity.”

European and North American breeders have taken full advantage of that or some other mechanism to create the most morphologically diverse mammal around. But other cultures did not follow that path.

There are other theories afloat in what is an exciting time for people who study dogs. But the one that succeeds will reflect the dynamic relationship between human and dog.

Copyright © 2006, 2014 Mark Derr

This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 38: Sep/Oct 2006

Mark Derr is the author of A Dog’s History of America, Dog’s Best Friend, The Frontiersman: The Real Life and Many Legends of Davy Crockett, Some Kind of Paradise, and numerous articles on science, environment and transportation.


Thank you, Mark.

Time and time again, I marvel at how this modern, wired world creates such beautiful connections.

Written by Paul Handover

November 7, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Two: The dog’s ancestor.

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Mankind, Nature and Dogs

The dog’s ancestor: the wolf.

When we look at some breeds of dogs, for example the smaller breeds such as the Chihuahua, it beggars believe that thousands of years ago there was a common ancestor to the dog and to today’s wolf. Of course, not so if one looks at, for example, a German Shepherd dog (GSD). Many GSDs look like they are first cousin to a wolf!

However, when we look at the Latin binomial nomenclature for the wolf and the dog it all becomes clear irrespective of the specific dog breed. I am, of course, referring to canis lupus for the wolf and canis lupus familiaris for the dog. For those, like me, that had to refresh their memory of this naming convention, the first part of the name identifies the genus to which the species belongs; the second part identifies the species within the genus. For example, humans belong to the genus Homo and within this genus to the species Homo sapiens.

Thus both the wolf and the dog belong to the same genus. Conforming to the widely held view that the domesticated dog is a direct descendent of the wolf.
So far, so good!

When we turn to the history of how the particular species lupus familiaris split away from lupus then it all becomes much less clear.

Let’s take a little trip along that particular journey.

The widely held view was that sometime during the Mesolithic period, or around 10,000 years ago, when humans started settling down, turning their backs on hunting and gathering, there was contact with humans and wolves that led to (a few) wolves living their lives in and around humans and from thence the long evolutionary journey to the dog.

But it is an understanding that is not fully shared by all in the field.

Take, for example, husband and wife team, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger. In their book Dogs[ 2001 - The University of Chicago Press] , they challenge this view[ page 41] :

The widely popular view is that people created dogs by artificial selection. People took the pups from wolf dens and made pets out of them. They tamed them, trained them, and took them out hunting. After many generations of this regime, the wolves evolved into dogs.

The biological implausibility of this leads me to flights of fancy, and I tend to call it the Pinocchio Hypothesis.

What the wolf-pup-into-dog hypothesis is really depending on is that wolves are related to dogs (true), that dogs easily form associations with people (true), and that therefore wolves must have formed relationships with people in the past (not true).

The Coppingers go on to write[ page 51] that, “There is no archaeological evidence that Mesolithic people had a big enough population of trained or tamed wolves living among them.” Severe doubt is expressed about the connection between wolves and dogs.

Even if Mesolithic[ Page 49 of the book Dogs] people were able to tame generations of wolves, and then train some of them to obey simple commands (for example, to come when called, or sit), still the burning question remains: What changes wolf genes into dog genes?
When tamed wolves reproduce, they get wild pups (oriented away from human activity). When dogs reproduce, they get tame pups (oriented toward human activity). The two species are intrinsically, instinctively, generally distinct, one from the other, in this respect.

The Coppingers proposition is that there was a common ancestor to both the wolf and the dog, details of which have not been discovered. That this common ancestor goes back much further in time, sufficiently far so for the differences between wolves and dogs that we see today. Or, indeed, saw back in those earlier days.

Let me return to the Mesolithic period simply because many readers may again share my lack of detailed understanding of when that period was. A quick web search came up with the answer[and others]!

The Mesolithic period is generally regarded as that time period between the last glaciation, at the end of the Paleolithic era, some 12,000 years ago, and the start of the Neolithic era, some 7,000 years ago. In other words, between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago. This was the period where man evolved from a hunter-gather existence, when humans learned to hunt in groups and to fish, when farming communities began to be established as people first discovered how to cultivate crops and began to learn how to domesticate animals and plants.

Strikes me as perfectly reasonable to see this period as the most significant single development in the history of humans.

Returning to the differences between wolves and dogs already apparent as humans entered the Neolithic period one can quite reasonably infer that the split came about many thousands of years before.
That the domesticated dog is originally from the wolf genus is not beyond doubt even if the period when it occurred is unclear.

Dr. George Johnson wrote an article that appeared on the website ON SCIENCE that explored the evolution of the family dog. He found himself wondering about the origins of his dog, Boswell, who had recently died.

This week I found myself wondering about Boswell’s origins. From what creature did the domestic dog arise? Darwin suggested that wolves, coyotes, and jackals — all of which can interbreed and produce fertile offspring– may all have played a role, producing a complex dog ancestry that would be impossible to unravel. In the 1950s, Nobel Prize-winning behaviorist Konrad Lorenz suggested some dog breeds derive from jackals, others from wolves.

Based on anatomy, most biologists have put their money on the wolf, but until recently there was little hard evidence, and, as you might expect if you know scientists, lots of opinions.

The issue was finally settled in 1997 by an international team of scientists led by Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. To sort out the evolutionary origin of the family dog, Wayne and his colleagues used the techniques of molecular biology to compare the genes of dogs with those of wolves, coyotes and jackals.

Dr. Johnson went on to explain that Professor Wayne and his team collected, “blood, tissue, or hair from 140 dogs of sixty-seven breeds, and 162 wolves from North America, Europe, Asia, and Arabia. From each sample they extracted DNA from the tiny organelles within cells called mitochondria.

He went on to write:

When Wayne looked at his canine mitochondrial DNA samples, he found that wolves and coyotes differ by about 6% in their mitochondrial DNA, while wolves and dogs differ by only 1%. Already it smelled like the wolf was the ancestor.

Wolves had 27 different sequences in the control region, none of them exactly the same as any dog sequence, but all very similar to the dog sequences, differing from them at most at 12 sites along the DNA, and usually fewer.

Coyote and jackal were a lot more different from dogs than wolves were. Every coyote and jackal sequence differed from any dog sequence by at least 20 sites, and many by far more.

That settled it. Dogs are domesticated wolves.

Dr. Johnson’s penultimate paragraph addressed the question of when dogs first appeared.

The large number of different dog sequences, and the fact that no wolf sequences are found among them, suggests that dogs must have been separated from wolves for a long time. The oldest clear fossil evidence for dogs is 12,000 – 14,000 years ago, about when farming arose. But that’s not enough time to accumulate such a large amount of mitochondrial DNA difference. Perhaps dogs before then just didn’t look much different from wolves, and so didn’t leave dog-like fossils. Our species first developed speech and left Africa about 50,000 years ago. I bet that’s when dogs came aboard, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors first encountered them. They would have been great hunting companions.

The scientist, who writes under the nom-de-plume of Patrice Ayme, wrote an essay in April, 2014 under the title of Neanderthal Superiority. Towards the end of that essay he explains:


Some of the arguments against Neanderthals have been outright ridiculous: not only we were told, without any evidence, that they could not talk, but that the superiority of Africans came from eating shell fish, about 70,000 years ago (along the East Coast of Africa).

However, it has since been discovered that Neanderthal cavemen supped on shellfish on the Costa del Sol 150,000 years ago, punching another torpedo hole in the theory that only Africans ate (supposedly) brain-boosting seafood.

Neanderthals also used coal, as long ago as 73,000 years. Once again, making a fire in present day France, then suffering from a pretty bad glaciation, made more sense than trying to stay warm in the Congo.

Earlier and earlier prehistoric art has been found. It’s getting ever harder to claim that Neanderthals had nothing to do with it. Neanderthals also domesticated, and genetically engineered dogs, from European wolves. That’s very clear.

How do I know this? Simple. The Goyet dog, pictured below, was dated around 32,000 years. In 2010, an even older dog was found in the Altai mountains. Both dogs were derived from Canis Lupus Familiaris, the European wolf, but were quite distant from it, genetically, they had been evolved probably on a time scale of more than 10,000 years, thus well before any arrival of Sapiens Sapiens from Africa.

Those dogs were completely compatible with people, just as contemporary dogs are. Proof? Ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog deep in the Chauvet Cave, France. (OK, by then Neanderthals have been just deemed “extinct” by some… However, these are still the same dogs Neanderthals invented.)

In that essay, Patrice included a link to an article that appeared on the NBCNEWS website.

An international team of scientists has just identified what they believe is the world’s first known dog, which was a large and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago and subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer, according to a new study.

The discovery could push back the date for the earliest dog by 17,700 years, since the second oldest known dog, found in Russia, dates to 14,000 years ago.

Remains for the older prehistoric dog, which were excavated at Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggest to the researchers that the Aurignacian people of Europe from the Upper Paleolithic period first domesticated dogs. Fine jewellery and tools, often decorated with depictions of big game animals, characterize this culture.

There was study published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal in March 2013 where the lead author, Dr. Robert Losey [Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta], explained:

Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,

If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals. Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions.

The PLOS ONE paper went on to report that researchers found that most of the dog burials occurred during the Early Neolithic period, some 7,000-8,000 years ago, and that “dogs were only buried when human hunter-gatherers were also being buried.”

The strong implication being expressed by Dr. Losey is that the relationship between humans and dogs was as close and intimate as we modern-day humans know; to the point of almost taking it for granted. A relationship that had had thousands of years to become the way it was, and still is.

Back to Dr. Losey: “I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves, even at a spiritual level. At this time, dogs were the only animals living closely with humans, and they were likely known at an individual level, far more so than any other animal people encountered. People came to know them as unique, special individuals.

If dogs had already been part of our lives for some considerable time by the time we humans had turned away from hunting and gathering and started settling down, then we are lead, inexorably, to the question of how did it all begin? What were the circumstances of early man befriending a wolf or two and how from that relationship did it evolve into the tameness that was the start of the dog journey?

Maybe a true story from recent times offers us an insight into the answer to that question. This story was told to me by DR when I was 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, a 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 in a rough shack on the mountain. The shack was simply a plywood shelter with an old couch and a few blankets for the cold nights. The dog was companion, 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.

Anyway, 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 awoken to to the noise of the owner of the ‘tongue’ and saw that it was a large, female grey wolf.

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.

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[ DR showed my an unaltered photograph taken in 2006 showing Tim lying back on a blanket with his dog across his waist and sitting on its haunches just behind Tim and the dog was Luna the wolf.] 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.

DR also recalls,

I remember 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.

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.

I would close this particular chapter by pleading that whoever you are, wherever you are, if you hear the howl of a wolf 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. Keep that image in your mind for many reasons, not least so for this one. For those of you that have dogs in your lives and know what it feels like to gaze deeply into your dog’s eyes, then next time you are bonded eyes-to-eyes with your dog sense that first Tim cuddling up to that first Luna.

2,911 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 6, 2014 at 00:30

Posted in Art, Communication, Dogs, People, Writing

Tagged with

A short essay on leather dresses!

with 2 comments

Enjoy this mid-week giggle.

A very timely item sent to me by neighbour, Dordie.

I say timely because it was nearly 6pm before I stopped writing ‘the book’.  It was a tough day of research and cross-checking and seeking permission to republish essays from other authors and magazines.  That’s the reason that my next NaNoWriMo chapter is not being published in thirty minutes time.  Still waiting for some of those permissions.

So ‘thank you’ Dordie.




Do you know that when a woman wears a leather dress…


a man’s heart beats quicker…


his throat gets dry…


he gets weak in the knees…


and he begins to think totally irrationally…



Ever stop to wonder why?


It’s because she smells like a new car

Written by Paul Handover

November 5, 2014 at 00:00

Posted in Art, Culture, Humour, People

Tagged with

The book! Part Two: Understanding the dog’s world

with 4 comments

Mankind, Nature and Dogs

Understanding the dog’s world

A Dog is Man’s Best friend, but is Man a Dog’s Best Friend?

In the Prologue I offered a fictional, dreamlike story of how early man and wolf came together and from that special place in our history did flow the everlasting relationship between man and dog. I will return to that but first let’s get an idea of just how many dogs there are.

In 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that there were over 43 million [ 43,346,000] dog-owning households in the USA. That translated to over 36% of the total households in America. With an average of 1.6 dogs per household that came to the astonishing total of 62,926,000 dogs. In just one country!

It is therefore beyond doubt that millions and millions of people, of all ages, all around the world, understand what it is like to have a dog close to them. Likewise, those millions of dogs know what us humans are capable of. But of those millions of humans who have dogs in their lives, how many understand, really understand, the world of the dog?

In the next chapter after my Prologue, the Puppyhood chapter, I spoke of the circumstances that brought me into contact with Angela Stockdale of The Dog Partnership in Devon and how from that association I became aware of the three roles that dogs could be born into: mentor, monitor and nanny. How, generally speaking, out of every 50 dogs born there were just three carrying those roles, if ‘carrying’ is the correct description, and that the bulk of dogs born were straightforward pack members. Irrespective of the fact that we don’t normally own anything like the number that would constitute a natural pack of dogs in the wild, around 50 animals, that doesn’t alter the fact that when a puppy is born it’s social place, from a pack perspective, is hard-wired into the puppy.

I am indebted to Angela Stockdale for granting me permission to republish her descriptions of the mentor, monitor and nanny that are available on her website. In terms of man understanding the world of the dog, these descriptions are invaluable.

What is a Teaching Dog?

A Teaching Dog is a dog who has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs in their learning canine communication.

A Teaching Dog helps other dogs develop their canine communication skills by displaying different body language to convey different messages. Such as lowering their heads and curving on approach as a polite way to introduce themselves. These essential etiquette skills are invaluable in preventing social issues.

A Teaching Dog teaches dogs canine etiquette to other dogs so they develop their communication skills as they go through the natural ageing process i.e. the transition from puppyhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. At these essential times, their pupils develop their skills in canine communication to a high level, hence again preventing social issues.

A Teaching Dog has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs who find communicating difficult. If a dog has an established social issue, a Teaching Dog will actively incite interaction with them in order to teach them how to relax and communicate with them. They will assess how the other dog feels and react accordingly. Keeping their distance if the dog is concerned and approaching thoughtfully when the dog relaxes. I say thoughtfully because that is really important to understand; they think about how to work with a dog.

When a Teaching Dog works, whilst there are some elements of instinctive body language, in the main they will consciously use appropriate body language for the specific situation. They will always maintain control of an interaction but will change their posture from assertive to more inviting in accordance to the other dog’s behaviour.

On sighting the dog they are working with, they will first watch and assess them. This can be done from quite a distance with an experienced Teaching Dog. Eye contact is made but the eyes are averted intermittently whilst the Teaching Dog decides how assertive they need to be, or not as the case may be, with that particular dog. What follows from thereon is purely dependent on the other dog and that particular Teaching Dog’s way of working.

Do all Teaching Dogs teach in the same way?

No. Different Teaching Dogs have different teaching skills and different preferred roles. It is essential to recognise the role each particular Teaching Dog prefers to take. There are three primary Teaching Dog roles – Mentor, Minder and Nanny.


A Mentor is normally quietly assertive by nature. They rarely play unless flirting with the opposite sex. However, they generally build the strongest bonds with high ranking dogs of the same sex.

As a Teaching Dog they are passively dominant. They always meet a dog with assertiveness but never hostility. They tend not to use body language to relax a dog as such but often just their presence has a calming effect on most dogs anyway.

If working in a group, they watch from the sidelines and only become involved if absolutely necessary. Mentors can be quite lazy! They will support other Teaching Dogs where needed, showing by example what to do in difficult situations if the other Teaching Dog is not coping.

Other dogs reaction to Mentors vary. Some dogs take great confidence in a Mentor and whilst not necessarily submissive towards them, they are very respectful. Some dogs find a Mentor intimidating and will avoid making contact with them.


A Minder is totally different to a Mentor in their interaction with dogs they are teaching. When a Minder meets another dog, they actively approach with the intent of interacting with them. A Minder is also naturally assertive but not as strong as a Mentor. When they meet another dog, in the Teaching Situation, they assess the new dog as they approach and use appropriate body language in accordance to the other dog’s reaction to them.

They are more generally more demonstrative than a Mentor and will actively seek interaction within a few minutes of meeting a new dog. This does not necessarily mean that they invite play. If they feel the dog is not ready for that level of interaction, they will converse with them in a more subtle manner.

If the other dog is worried but shows signs of being ready to rush at them, the Minder will stand firmly with their head side on to the dog. Eye contact is made intermittently as the Minder ascertains whether the other dog is calming down or intending to rush at them.

They can stand firm and openly display assertiveness if they need to. Once ‘control’ of the situation has been achieved, a Minder will generally incite status based activities from the other dog. These can be by marking then walking away allowing them to investigate their scent. Or they may invite the other dog into a status game, often instigating a chase.

If the other dog shows signs at trying to drive them away, the Minder will turn their head towards them and eye contact becomes stronger. They do not reposition the rest of their body. If the other dog shows signs of moving away, the Minder will totally drop their body language and move away. They will then reassess the other dog from a distance, before approaching again.

In a group situation, a Minder will monitor the group closely and interrupt any unsociable or unruly behaviour. They interrupt unacceptable behaviour by physically placing themselves between the dogs and will remain there until the tension has reduced. When the dogs in question have calmed down, the Minder will usually walk away and monitor them from a distance. They tend not to interact with the other dogs after harmony has been restored. In effect, they police a group.

Other dog’s reaction to a Minder is either respectful or challenging. Most dogs recognise a Minder as a strong dog and usually respect them. Sometimes polite status games may be played when they first meet.

As the Minder does not naturally command respect in the way a Mentor does, some dogs who have limited canine communication skills and/or adolescents can challenge them. Once the dogs have learned how to ascertain status in a polite manner from the Minder, they will usually then settle and look to the Minder for guidance in future situations.


The Nanny is the most amazing of all the Teaching Dogs. Although not their preferred choice, a strong Nanny can take the role of a Minder or Mentor if they need to. They are unique.

They are extremely generous dogs and are at their happiest when everyone else is happy, including other Teaching Dogs. They work very differently to a Mentor and a Minder.

They not only relax a dog who is uncomfortable or anti-social but they also help relax any Mentor or Minder in a group. Few Mentors get overly stressed in a teaching situation but Minders tend to take their job quite seriously, unless really experienced and so can become tense when working.

If they see another Teaching Dog, usually a Minder, showing stress they will also consciously use body language to reduce their tension as well.

Being happier working on a one to one basis or in a group is down to each dog’s personal preference. Although, of all the Teaching Dogs they are more likely to be equally happy in either situation.

When meeting a new dog, they will observe from a distance before making a thoughtful approach. Thoughtful being the operative word as everything a Nanny does is done with thought. The Nanny tends to assess a dog in more depth than the other Teaching Dogs. This means they often take longer in their approach. They rarely communicate with instinctive responses but with conscious body movements, using the eyes in particular, when conversing with another dog.

If a dog is confrontational with them, they will remain strong in their attitude but will incite play, in particular chase games. The game of chase can be a challenge, like the ‘Chase me Charlie’ game children play. Or a game of chase can be used to loosen up a dog who is so stressed they feel unable to move.

The Nanny knows exactly what distance to keep between them and the other dog. If they feel the other dog is too close for comfort or who is becoming too unsociable, they will stop and face the dog and take control again. Once they see the other dog is more relaxed, they will stop running and attempt to converse with them again. They repeat this routine until the other dog stays relaxed and sociable with them.

In a group situation, initially they will monitor from the edge of the group and then actively walk up to each dog individually and check they’re comfortable. This also gives the other dogs confidence as they know the Nanny is there for support should they need it.

Once they have seen every group member, including any other Teaching Dogs, they will then focus on the dogs that feel the most uncomfortable, this is not necessarily the dog who shows outwardly unsociable behaviour.

It could be a dog who becomes withdrawn because they are so stressed. Sometimes they will simply follow and walk alongside a dog who is not comfortable and other times they may invite play. It totally depends on the other dog and how, at that moment, they are feeling. The Nanny may walk alongside another dog and then invite play.

The Nanny will resolve conflict by approaching in a calmer manner than a Minder usually to interrupt the unsociable behaviour. Not necessarily by physically splitting the dogs. They may bark and then play bow and/or literally pat them on the shoulder to attract their attention. A strong confident Nanny will split if they need to but prefer to resolve any conflict by mediation.

When other dogs meet a Nanny, if they have a good command of the canine language they will greet them in friendly, but not submissive manner. A Nanny’s first response to a dog displaying aggression, is to increase the distance between them. But they do not turn their back on the other dog. This would show vulnerability.

They will move away at an angle and stand sideways on to the other dog. This indicates to the other dog that whilst they are not offended and are not going to retaliate, they are also not intimidated. Initially, this can be most confusing for the other dog.

A Nanny excels at being able to recognise signals of stress in other dogs. They will only advance towards the dog to the level the other dog can cope with. As the dog learns that the Nanny will not be coming close enough to pose a threat to them, they begin to relax. In time, the other dog will take confidence from the Nanny and will look to them for guidance in difficult situations.

Is a Teaching Dog the same as the Alpha, Beta and Omega in a wild dog pack?

No. The Teaching Dog is unique to the dog world. Whilst a Mentor is usually a dog of natural Alpha status, an Alpha is not necessarily a Mentor. In fact, many dogs of natural Alpha status can not or do not want to teach. They can not be compared to wolves or any other wild dogs. Teaching Dogs working together are not a pack. They can not be compared to dogs living in a group at home. Some Teaching Dogs do not want to work together with their own group but enjoy working with dogs they know from another family. All Teaching Dogs have equally important roles. There are situations where a Mentor is better able to resolve a conflict and another time a Nanny may be the better dog to the resolve the situation.

How can I find out more about these amazing dogs?

It may sound that it is impossible for dogs to consciously work in this way, particularly the Nanny. Seeing is believing and even then it is almost unbelievable. I run a four day introductory course on the world of the Teaching Dog. On these courses, participants can bring along their own dog for assessment. But it is important to understand and to recognise that this is not whether your dog can teach but do they want to.

You will see experienced Teaching Dogs in practice. And also those who are at the beginning of their career. I can not, of course, guarantee how they will work as I have not met their pupils yet! You will learn about the Teaching Dog as an individual, see experienced and apprentice Teaching Dogs working on video as well where you can study their conscious body language in different teaching situations.

At this first level, we will cover identifying Teaching Dogs and offering them the right learning ground to develop their natural skills. You can not train a Teaching Dog. A Teaching Dog is born a Teaching Dog. It is dependent on their life’s experiences and living environment as to whether they develop to their full potential. Many allegedly aggressive dogs are actually true Teaching Dogs. In domestic society such dogs have not been able to do what they were born to do; help other dogs without the interference of people trying to tell them how to speak their own language. Their life of frustration has resulted in aggression. Once given the time and freedom to develop their natural teaching skills, any aggressive behaviour disappears.

Time to stop talking and start listening to the real teachers – The dogs themselves

Thus one of the key learning aspects that Angela offers us humans is that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses). This was observed countless times by me when Pharaoh was working as a minder teaching dog and using his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and breaking up squabbles between dogs.

Before moving on, some closing words from Angela.

I consider myself so lucky for dogs alone to have been my teachers. I learnt from watching how my own dogs responded to another dog’s body language and vice versa their language. Watching, learning and working with Teaching Dogs was the only way I knew. Seeing how these special dogs change the lives of less fortunate dogs, who never had the opportunity to really understand how to communicate with their own species.

I was and always will be in awe of a Teaching Dog’s ability consciously to adapt their body language in accordance to how the other dog was feeling. The result being that they could relax nervous dogs but at the same time maintain control of a problem situation. Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.

It came as quite a shock to me when I learnt about other approaches. It seemed foreign for people to have so much input in resolving what were described as ‘ behavioural’ issues. For me, working with these dogs was far more than resolving a behavioural issue. It was about improving the quality of lives of dogs who were not coping with everyday life. If they found dogs or people worrying, sometimes this was shown in displays of aggression. It is important to understand, these dogs were not aggressive, they simply displayed aggressive behaviour.

How on earth to follow that, you might be wondering?

Very simply! By recognising that as much as we have had dogs in our lives, for thousands of years, we do not understand their world, how they truly think, what they feel, and we probably never will.

2,958 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover includes Copyright © 2005 Angela Stockdale

Written by Paul Handover

November 4, 2014 at 00:30


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