Category: Dog lessons

Once again, dogs and humans!

Serendipity, or just coincidence?

Yesterday, (it was actually the 22nd February, 2014!) I published a post and called it Dogs and wolves – fascinating research. Then blow me down in yesterday’s online BBC News, there was an article headlined: Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses This is how it opened.

Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses

By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service

Pet dogs took part in the MRI scanning study.
Pet dogs took part in the MRI scanning study.

Devoted dog owners often claim that their pets understand them. A new study suggests they could be right.

By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.

The work is published in the journal Current Biology.

Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”

Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time.

Going across to that Current Biology link, one reads:

Summary

During the approximately 18–32 thousand years of domestication [1], dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment [2]. Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species [3], although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90–100 million years ago [4]. In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.

Back to the BBC news item.

The canine brain reacted to voices in the same way that the human brain does.
The canine brain reacted to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

“There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”

For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 human volunteers in the same MRI scanners.

The scientists played the people and pooches 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and dog vocalisations.

The researchers found that a similar region – the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe – was activated when both the animals and people heard human voices.

“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr Andics explained.

“The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise – it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”

Emotional sounds, such as crying and laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, with an area near the primary auditory cortex lighting up in dogs and humans.

Likewise, emotionally charged dog vocalisations – such as whimpering or angry barking – also caused a similar reaction in all volunteers,

Dr Andics said: “We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”

However, while the dogs responded to the human voice, their reactions were far stronger when it came to canine sounds.

They also seemed less able to distinguish between environmental sounds and vocal noises compared with humans.

About half of the whole auditory cortex lit up in dogs when listening to these noises, compared with 3% of the same area in humans.

Commenting on the research, Prof Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said: “Finding something like this in a primate brain isn’t too surprising – but it is quite something to demonstrate it in dogs.

“Dogs are a very interesting animal to look at – we have selected for a lot of traits in dogs that have made them very amenable to humans. Some studies have show they understand a lot of words and they understand intentionality – pointing.”

But she added: “It would be interesting to see the animal’s response to words rather than just sounds. When we cry and laugh, they are much more like animal calls and this might be causing this response.

For the full report, as it was posted on the BBC website, click here.

Plus, do watch this five-minute video abstract.

Published on Feb 20, 2014

The video presents the first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal. Scientists at MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary found that dogs and humans use similar neural mechanisms to process social information in voices. The fact that dogs can be trained to lie motionless during fMRI tests opens up the space for a new branch of comparative neuroscience.

Paper in Current Biology: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014….

Group home page: http://mta-etologia.elte.hu/

The first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal shows that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains just as people do. Dog brains, like those of people, are also sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, according to a study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The findings suggest that voice areas evolved at least 100 million years ago, the age of the last common ancestor of humans and dogs, the researchers say. It also offers new insight into humans’ unique connection with our best friends in the animal kingdom, perhaps explaining how our two species have lived and worked together so effectively for tens of thousands of years.

“Our findings suggest that dogs and humans not only share a similar social environment, but they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information,” said Atilla Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary. “This may help the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”

Andics and his colleagues trained eleven dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. That made it possible to run the very same neuroimaging experiment on dog and human participants — something that had never been done before. They captured both dogs’ and humans’ brain activities while they listened to dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.

The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs, while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans. The researchers also noted striking similarities in the ways the dog and human brain processes emotionally loaded sounds. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. Andics said they were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.

There were some differences too: in dogs, 48 percent of all sound-sensitive brain regions respond more strongly to sounds other than voices. That’s in contrast to humans, in which only three percent of sound-sensitive brain regions show greater response to non-vocal versus vocal sounds.

The study is the first step to understanding how it is that dogs can be so remarkably good at tuning into the feelings of their human owners. “This method offers a totally new way of looking at neural processing in dogs,” Andics said. “At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”

Although this is the second time this has been shown it is so remarkable, and there may well be many who have not seen it!

Memories of the past.

Angela Stockdale and Pharaoh came to mind!

In the last twenty-four hours I was in communication with a person in Essex, England about dog training (and hopefully there will be a guest post from him) and it caused me to think of Angela Stockdale.

I then did a search on my blog for posts where I had mentioned Angela and came across quite a few in the early days of blogging. Then I thought it would be nice to republish one of them; Four Years Old.

So here it is again.

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How time flies!

Four years ago this day, the first post was published on Learning from Dogs. Here it is again:

Parenting lessons from Dogs!

Much too late to make me realise the inadequacies of my own parenting skills, I learnt an important lesson when training my GSD (who is called Pharaoh, by the way). That is that putting more emphasis into praise and reward for getting it right ‘trains’ the dog much quicker than telling it off. The classic example is scolding a dog for running off when it should be lots of hugs and praise for returning home. The scolding simply teaches the dog that returning home isn’t pleasant whereas praise reinforces that home is the place to be. Like so many things in life, very obvious once understood!

Absolutely certain that it works with youngsters just the same way.

Despite being a very dominant dog, Pharaoh showed his teaching ability when working with other dogs. In the UK there is an amazing woman, Angela Stockdale, who has proved that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses). Pharaoh was revealed to be a Beta Dog, (i.e. second in status below the Alpha Dog) and, therefore, was able to use his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and to break up squabbles within a pack.

When you think about it, don’t kids learn much more (often to our chagrin!) from other kids than they do from their parents. Still focusing on giving more praise than punishment seems like a much more effective strategy.

As was read somewhere, Catch them in the act of doing Right!

By Paul Handover.

As it happens, it feels a little like ‘what goes around, comes around’. Why do I say that?

Because just last Saturday, I sent off a selection of pictures and videos to Angela Stockdale. Stay with me for a while as to the reason why.

Angela trades under the name of The Dog Partnership and, frankly, what she doesn’t know about the behaviour of dogs isn’t worth bothering about!

Just take a peek at the page on her website under the heading of Teaching Dogs. Here’s a little of what Angela writes:

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.

I was and always will be in awe of a Teaching Dog’s dogs ability to consciously adapt their body language in accordance to how the other dog was feeling. The result being, 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.

Now, I would like to introduce you to the world of Teaching Dogs and 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.

Do read the rest here.

Back to why those photographs and videos had been sent to Angela. A couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed an evening meal with friends of friends, so to speak. This other couple owned a beautiful-looking male German Shepherd dog: Duke. Duke was 4-years-old. Our hostess remarked that he was very boisterous and had nipped a couple of strangers who had called at the house. She added that he seemed difficult to control. Duke had been there for about a month and he was a rescue so they had little or no knowledge of past behaviour.

Well, I’m no expect with dogs, that’s Jean’s domain. But there was something about Duke that captivated me. Something in the way he looked at me, his eyes linking so directly with mine, allowing me to see a dog that offered an honest openness.

More or less on impulse I stood up, held my right arm up at 45 degrees, looked Duke in the face and said, “Duke! Sit!”

Duke held my gaze and sat back on his haunches.

I moved my arm in a complete circle, around to the right, and said, “Duke! Lie down!” Duke lay down.

H’mm, I thought. Fascinating. This dog has been professionally trained at some point in the past, using the same ‘command’ system of voice and arm signalling as I had learnt with Pharaoh way back in 2003/2004.

The food was now on the table. I grabbed a small piece of meat off my plate and returned to Duke who had, of course, resumed his pottering around the room. “Duke! Here boy!” Duke came over to me. “Duke! Lie down!” Duke did so. I placed the piece of meat on the wooden floor about three feet in front of him. Duke’s eyes were riveted on the meat. “Duke!” Duke’s eyes reluctantly engaged with mine. “Duke! Stay!” I repeated the Stay command a couple more times as I backed away about 6 or 8 feet.

“Go on, Boy. Take the meat!” Duke gleefully grabbed the piece of meat. Gracious, I thought, this dog is magnificent. I wonder ……..

I took another piece of meat, “Duke! Sit!” “Duke! Stay!” I then backed off that 8 feet again, got down on my knees and placed the piece of meat just between my lips. I knew this was potential madness with a dog I had only met some 30 minutes previously, but there wasn’t an ounce of doubt in my mind. I voiced in my throat for Duke to fetch the meat. Duke came straight over and confidently and carefully removed the meat from my lips.

What a truly fabulous dog! It was a wonderful evening and once home both Jean and I were eulogising about Duke.

Then two days later, our dinner hostess rang me. “You know, I have decided we can no longer keep Duke. He is too strong a dog, I can’t control him. Is there any chance of you finding a new home for Duke?”

Without question, Jean and I would have offered Duke a new home; in a heartbeat. The only thing stopping that was me wondering if this strong-willed, male German Shepherd might be a Beta dog, as Pharaoh was. Or just might be too dominant a male dog to fit in comfortably with our dogs, especially Pharaoh who was at the stage of life where the last thing that should happen is for his happiness and contentment to be disturbed.

I hadn’t a clue as to how to answer that question. But I knew someone who would know: Angela Stockdale.

I rang her, caught up on old times and then explained the background to Duke’s situation. Angela said to repeat the exercise that I had witnessed when I took Pharaoh to her all those years ago, when I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of times when walking him in a public area with other dogs and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.

This is what Angela 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 into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner were two dogs.

Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that Pharaoh was going to be let 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 said that wouldn’t be necessary. So as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I slipped the lead off him and backed away, as requested.

Pharaoh had hardly taken 2 or 3 paces when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!”

I was astounded and stammered, “But, er, er, how can you tell so quickly?” “Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came the reply.

Later Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog and her male Beta dog. Ergo, the two top dogs 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. Mixing some of her other dogs into the group was later able to confirm that.

So back now to present times and Duke.

Thus last Saturday, as Angela recommended, we selected two of our dogs, Cleo our female German Shepherd and the most socialable of dogs, and Casey, a strong but not aggressive male (he had some PitBull in him).

Duke arrived and was allowed freely to nose around the large grassed area some way from the fenced-off horse paddock that we were using for the ‘introduction’.

Duke pottered around and then caught sight of Cleo and Casey in the paddock.

First sighting of Cleo and Casey.
First sighting of Cleo and Casey.

Then the meetings began!

Hello! My name is Duke. Do I smell OK? Mr. Casey?
Hello! My name is Duke. Do I smell OK? Mr. Casey?

And play didn’t seem to be too far off the agenda!

You lead, Cleo, I'll chase!
You lead, Cleo, I’ll chase!

So all the photographs and videos have been sent to Angela, and we will see what the conclusion is!

As Angela put it, “Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.”

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Yes there’s no question that dogs talk dog far better than we do!

Here’s a question?

The future President of the USA.

This article has quite a serious element to it. Namely, about not trusting a person who doesn’t like a dog.

But before I go to the article let me just say to my grandson:

Happy Birthday, Morten!

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Could a dog pick the next president?

By

Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University, March 3, 2020

I’m not sure who first said it, but it’s clear a lot of people agree with the sentiment: “Never trust a person who doesn’t like dogs.” Many pet lovers share the belief that a person’s attitude to dogs reveals something essential about their character.

During the political campaign season, Americans are deciding who has the characteristics, skills and temperament to be president. As a dog psychologist and founder of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, I spend my time studying the relationship between dogs and their people. I’d certainly be happy if a candidate’s attitude toward dogs could offer a simple way to evaluate a leader’s personality, cutting to the essence of a person’s character and clinching my vote without needing a detailed assessment of their policy proposals.

Is it enough just to follow the leash to choose a leader? There must be good people with bad dogs, or no dog at all, and some notoriously bad people who were loved by their dogs, no? But I want to believe that canine companionship can still shed light on human character and help us pick a candidate.

Dogless in the White House

For the past three years, the pup-parazzi have been speculating on President Donald Trump’s dogless existence at the White House. It’s certainly most common for the president to have a dog – perhaps because, as someone reputedly said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

The Washington Post has claimed that every occupant of the White House since William McKinley has had a dog at some point. Just a couple of weeks ago, Trump declared at a rally that having a dog would be “phony.”

The only dog he has expressed any enthusiasm for while in office was the Belgian Malinois involved in the raid that resulted in the death of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As for al-Baghdadi, Trump said he “died like a dog.”

Dog friends

Among the Democratic front-runners, Joe Biden shares his life with a German shepherd, Major. This may be a good move for the uniformed vote: German shepherds are a favored breed of military and police forces. Biden has always preferred German shepherds, but, for his latest – acquired in November 2018 – he softened the image by adopting a puppy that had been exposed to toxic chemicals and was being cared for by the Delaware Humane Society.

Biden might want to be careful of the historical baggage that comes with this popular large breed. The most famous German shepherd in politics must surely have been Blondi, the dog Adolf Hitler himself said was the only being that loved him.

Elizabeth Warren’s dog, Bailey, gets a belly rub from a supporter. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren has a dog with a gentler association. Warren’s stereotypically family-friendly golden retriever, Bailey, is named for George Bailey from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Warren said she named her dog for “a guy who was decent, determined and saw the best in people.” Warren’s Bailey is front and center in all her campaign activities.

Bailey features so prominently in his owner’s social media feeds that Warren might want to be careful not to be upstaged by her pooch. George H.W. Bush’s dog, Millie, published a memoir that outsold President Ronald Reagan’s contemporaneous “An American Life.”

Pete Buttigieg has suspended his campaign, effectively dropping out of the race. He and his husband Chasten already had a shelter mutt, Truman, when they added another – Buddy – to their household in December 2018. Marie Claire magazine considers Buddy and Trumanthe cutest fur babies in all of politics.” Buddy is the ultimate underdog: rescued from a shelter, of no particular heritage. With only one eye, he peeks out from Instagram voicing droll commentary on the goings-on.

Dog-detached?

Other candidates either have no dog or are happy to keep their canine enthusiasms to themselves.

The Facebook group “Pet Lovers for Bernie Sanders” had to photo-edit dogs into an image of Sanders and his wife, who have no dog.

These pets do not actually belong to Bernie Sanders. Pet Lovers for Bernie Sanders Facebook group

Michael Bloomberg was in the “apparently dogless” camp until just the other week when he got into a spot of dog difficulty by shaking a pooch by its snout rather than engaging in one of the more customary forms of interspecies greeting. The dog looked unperturbed, but pet lovers on social media roasted Bloomberg for his maladroitness.

The billionaire’s campaign quickly stitched together a 30-second ad spot of dogs voiced to endorse their candidate – ending with a cute white Lab who “says,” “I’m Mike Bloomberg’s dog, and I approve this message.”

Canine character references

Of course, dogless people get elected all the time – they can always pick up a pooch later. The Obama family did not acquire their dog, Bo, until three months after the inauguration. Having originally indicated an interest in rescuing a shelter mutt, they ended up with a pedigree Portuguese water dog because of their daughter Malia’s allergies. Though often known as the “Big Dog,” Bill Clinton did not acquire a dog of his own, a chocolate Labrador retriever, until his second term.

On Trump’s doglessness, the memoirs of his ex-wife, Ivana, are often quoted: “Donald was not a dog fan. When I told him I was bringing Chappy with me to New York, he said, ‘No.’ ‘It’s me and Chappy or no one!’ I insisted, and that was that.” But two sentences farther on – and far less frequently cited – Ivana adds, “Donald never objected to Chappy’s sleeping on my side of the bed.”

In fact, from 2010 to 2015, the Westminster Kennel Club had a tradition of sending the winner of its annual show to be photographed with Trump at his eponymous New York tower. Images from that time show Trump happily hugging the pooches.

Donald Trump poses with the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2010. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Witness accounts from these meetings, quoted by Snopes.com in an assessment of the claim that Trump hates dogs, recall Trump thoroughly enjoying himself cuddling the prize-winning canines. Snopes concluded that claims Trump considers dogs “disgusting” were just plain false.

Meanwhile, Harry Truman, to whom the claim about dog friendship in Washington is often mistakenly attributed, not only declined to bring a dog into the White House; he actually gave away a cocker spaniel puppy named Feller that was given to him.

Asked at a press conference in April 1947 what had become of the pup, Truman responded: “To what?” On receiving clarification, he lied, “Oh, he’s around.” In fact, Truman had already given Feller away to his physician, Brig. Gen. Wallace Graham.

Much as we might like dogs to tell us whom to vote for, the truth is, dogs are such forgiving assessors of human character that their appraisals need to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. We may just have to do the hard yards and learn about the candidate’s policies. It isn’t easy. Maybe not having to participate in a democracy is what keeps our dogs so happy.

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This is both a lovely and intelligent article. Professor Clive Wynne raises some important points but concludes that we shouldn’t take it too seriously. I, for one, would not trust a person who doesn’t like dogs!

There’s no escaping it!

Getting old is inevitable.

Becoming wiser as one ages less so!

I am minded to start today’s post with that reflection because quite simply it was the way to introduce my republication of Wibble’s post.

The article is about Dexter and is just lovely. It is called Older or wiser.

Enjoy!

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Older or wiser

By Dexter, February 19th, 2020

I’m sitting here and the rain is drizzling down the window. It’s February, its windy, we’ve had two winter storms in quick succession and they are digging up the road outside my house. Do they not know I am trying to sleep. Even more surprising but equally as joyous, Lenny isn’t trying to bite me. Now if you have read some of my recent blogs, you will know I have been somewhat contemplative. If you are hoping for shenanigans in this article, then I fear you will again be somewhat disappointed. Earlier today I was wondering to myself about becoming older and, apparently, wiser.

Being older is a bit obvious really. I have more grey hair, I eat my dinner more slowly and I don’t need to walk as far as I used to. I’ve even missed scenting rabbits and squirrels according to assorted parents I have been attached to when these alleged missed sightings have taken place. I can still play bitey face with Lenny, and give him what for, but I tend to duck out of said prolonged snout jousting after a short time. Being beagles we are docile chaps and even when we are in full cry with sofa covers flying around, furniture being rearranged and rugs being ruffled, we manage to stop for a breather on fairly regular occasions. Sometimes it takes a parent stepping in between us to remind the warring parties that its time for a break but, on the whole, we tend to cease and desist quite readily. I am then happy to retire to one of my six or so beds to snooze. However Lenny seems to have a little extra bounce in his paws although I think that is because he is around eighteen months old and I am, allegedly, going to be ten next birthday. No one truly knows how old I am due to me being a rescue but the wise money is on nearly ten now. I am happy for him to run around a little longer, chew what remains of one of my toys and then fall asleep on the sofa. Usually this is interspersed with trying to bite me but again, being docile, I try and fend him off without sending clear signals that I just want to rest.

Older?

As for being wiser, I don’t really know what that entails. If it means that I have seen things, been places and done stuff, then yes I am wiser. If it means that having done said activities, I have learned from the experiences, then not necessarily. For example I have been on the tube and train to London quite a few times, however I still want to investigate what those wonderful smells are down on the track. Thank goodness for a lead and attached human apparently. Another example, is that I have lived here for seven Christmases and, despite the jolly red faced man delivering me many wonderful things but nothing closely resembling a pizza tasting gift, it is wrapping paper I am still fascinated by. I can’t eat it, I know I can’t, but does it stop me from trying? Of course not. Many winters have I seen here, many dirty puddles have I walked through in a Moses style and many times have I been told “Dex, no, ugh good grief you look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon”. Does it stop me stomping through puddles in the most triumphal fashion? No, of course not. I have stopped chasing pigeons in the garden and that’s not because I am banned from the garden. Far from it, for I merely allow my protege to chase them for me. Young whipper-snapper legs are faster than these old bones of mine. I have stopped chewing my toys to a misshapen soggy jumble of fabric, with an accompanying scene of death and destruction wrought across the rugs. Again I leave the dental lobotomisation of toys to Lenny, as he seems to have picked up the baton fairly quickly and extremely proficiently.

Wiser?

If growing older and wiser means seeing things, going places, enjoying the view, smelling more flowers and generally knowing that I should take my time to appreciate and immerse myself in all the things I rushed to see previously, then I am older and wiser. I still have adventures, I still walk and pull on the lead, stick my head down rabbit holes and try to climb the banks along the lanes and byways I explore. I still look in awe at the beauty of the countryside I visit, gaze at the buildings and people in the city. But I let it sink in now, I actually look at what is in front of me and then usually fall asleep soon after, twitching and dreaming. I am trying to pass on my perceived wisdom to Lenny. He is often too busy bouncing around, trying to sniff everything, meet every fur and being a very lovable pest in as quick a time as possible. I see much in Lenny that I had in my youth and this gives me a warm feeling. I hope I can help him to understand that, at some point, he will sit and watch the world go by, with a peace and calmness that I seem to be achieving more often.

Who knows, maybe that is the secret to being older and wiser.

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Just read that last paragraph again. Especially the first sentence: “If growing older and wiser means seeing things, going places, enjoying the view, smelling more flowers and generally knowing that I should take my time to appreciate and immerse myself in all the things I rushed to see previously, then I am older and wiser.

In my opinion dogs do this so much better than we humans. Yet another lesson to be learned from dogs!

Because both for dogs and their human friends, it’s only a matter of time!

Dogs teach us so much!

But the single most important lesson is integrity.

Again, another post from previous times. Albeit just a couple of years ago.

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Another tribute to dear Pharaoh.

The most profound thing that I learned from Pharaoh is that dogs are creatures of integrity. That goes back to a day in June, 2007. Some six months before I met Jeannie in Mexico in December, 2007. I was sitting in Jon’s home office just a few miles from where Pharaoh and I were then living in South Devon.

It was a key chapter in Part Four of my book where I examine all the qualities that we humans need to learn from our dogs.

So here is Chapter 13 from my book Learning from Dogs. (Written in ‘English’ English!)

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Chapter 13
Integrity

In the Introduction to this book I mentioned how the notion of “learning from dogs” went back to 2007 and me learning that dogs were creatures of integrity. Let me now elaborate on that.
It is a Friday morning in June in the year 2007. I am sitting with Jon at his place with Pharaoh sleeping soundly on the beige carpet behind my chair. I didn’t know it at the time but it was to become one of those rare moments when we gain an awareness of life that forever changes how we view the world, both the world within and the world without.

“Paul, I know there’s more for me to listen to and I sense that we have established a relationship in which you feel safe to reveal your feelings. However, today I want to talk about consciousness. Because I would like to give you an awareness of this aspect of what we might describe under the overall heading of mindfulness.”
I sat quietly fascinated by what was a new area for me.

“During the years that I have been a psychotherapist, I’ve seen an amazing range of personalities, probably explored every human emotion known. In a sense, explored the consciousness of a person. But what is clear to me now is that one can distil those different personalities and emotions into two broad camps: those who embrace truth and those who do not.”

Jon paused, sensing correctly that I was uncertain as to what to make of this. I made it clear that I wanted him to continue.

“Yes, fundamentally, there are people who deny the truth about themselves, who actively resist that pathway of better self-awareness, and then there are those people who want to know the truth of whom they are and seek it out when the opportunity arises. The former group could be described as false, lacking in integrity and unsupportive of life, while the latter group are diametrically opposite: truthful, behaving with integrity and supportive of life.”
It was then that Jon lit a fire inside me that is still burning bright to this day. For he paused, quietly looking at Pharaoh sleeping so soundly on the carpet, and went on to add, “And when I look at dogs, I have no question that they have a consciousness that is predominantly truthful: that they are creatures of integrity and supportive of life.”
That brought me immediately to the edge of my seat, literally, with the suddenness of my reaction causing Pharaoh to open his eyes and lift up his head. I knew in that instant that something very profound had just occurred. I slipped out of my chair, got down on my hands and knees and gave Pharaoh the most loving hug of his life. Dogs are creatures of integrity. Wow!

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Later, when driving home, I couldn’t take my mind off the idea that dogs were creatures of integrity. What were those other values that Jon had mentioned? It came to me in a moment: truthful and supportive of life. Dogs have a consciousness that is truthful, that they are creatures of integrity and supportive of life: what a remarkable perception of our long-time companions.
I had no doubt that all nature’s animals could be judged in the same manner but what made it such an incredibly powerful concept, in terms of dogs, was the unique relationship between dogs and humans, a relationship that went back for thousands upon thousands of years. I realised that despite me knowing I would never have worked it out on my own, Jon’s revelation about dogs being creatures of integrity was so utterly and profoundly obvious.

As I made myself my usual light lunch of a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and some fruit and then sat enjoying a mug of hot tea, I still couldn’t take my mind off what Jon had revealed: dogs are examples of integrity and truth. I then thought that the word “examples” was not the right word and just let my mind play with alternatives. Then up popped: Dogs are beacons of integrity and truth. Yes, that’s it! Soon after, I recognised that what had just taken place was an incredible opening of my mind, an opening of my mind that didn’t just embrace this aspect of dogs but extended to me thinking deeply about integrity for the first time in my life.

Considering that this chapter is titled “Integrity”, so far all you have been presented with is a somewhat parochial account of how for the first time in my life the word “integrity” took on real meaning. That until that moment in 2007 the word had not had any extra significance for me over the thousands of other words in the English language. Time, therefore, to focus directly on integrity.

If goodness is to win, it has to be smarter than the enemy.

That was a comment written on my blog some years ago, left by someone who writes their own blog under the nom-de-plume of Patrice Ayme. It strikes me as beautifully relevant to these times, times where huge numbers of decent, law-abiding folk are concerned about the future. Simply because those sectors of society that have much control over all our lives do not subscribe to integrity, let alone giving it the highest political and commercial focus that would flow from seeing integrity as an “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” To quote my American edition of Roget’s Thesaurus.

Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”

That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is one of the safest forms of transport in the world today. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft. If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet, likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends, and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!

The great challenge for this civilisation, for each and every one of us, is translating that sense of wanting to change into practical, effective behaviours. I sense, however, that this might be looking down the wrong end of the telescope. That it is not a case of learning to behave in myriad different ways but looking at one’s life from a deeper, more fundamental perspective: living as a person of integrity. So perfectly expressed in the Zen Buddhist quote: “Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.” Seeing integrity as the key foundation of everything we do. Even more fundamental than that. Seeing integrity as everything you and I are.

It makes no difference that society in general doesn’t seem to value integrity in such a core manner. For what is society other than the aggregate of each and every one of us? If we all embrace living a life of integrity then society will reflect that.

Integrity equates to being truthful, to being honest. It doesn’t mean being right all the time, of course not, but integrity does mean accepting responsibility for all our actions, for feeling remorse and apologising when we make mistakes. Integrity means learning, being reliable, and being a builder rather than a destroyer. It means being authentic. That authenticity is precisely and exactly what we see in our dogs.

The starting point for what we must learn from our dogs is integrity.

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The face of integrity!

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Dogs don’t lie!

They offer unconditional love!

Their world is relatively straightforward.

That is all that we need to know about them.

How close are you to your dog?

A reflection on our dogs.

I was sorting out some stuff the other day and came across the following. It is the record of a talk I gave some time ago in connection with the publication of my book Learning from Dogs.

As much as I would have expected to have previously published this on the blog I cannot find an entry. So here you are!

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The concept of attributing dogs with human traits is nothing new. In fact the ancient Greeks came up with a fancy word for it around two thousand years ago: anthropomorphism.

As ever, the truth of the matter is not a case of black and white but subtle shades of grey. No doubt in another two thousand years as science advances and we discover more about DNA and the mysteries of the human and canine brains the picture will develop into sharper focus. In the meantime, we must satisfy ourselves with some basic observations.

Let’s start off on common ground. One thing that we all seem to agree on is that humans are at the top of the pile in terms of evolutionary sophistication. For obvious reasons we view ourselves as the being the highest life form (although there is increasing alarm that we have totally lost touch with our basic instincts, if not totally lost the plot, by endangering the very planet that sustains life as we know it).

But I digress – back to common ground. We agree that as children our mental capacity is not fully developed. We survive by our instincts and the basic needs to be fed, watered, sheltered and bonded in a family group where we defer to a natural hierarchy. When you think about it this is precisely how dogs survive.

Like children, dogs display the most basic instincts to rough and tumble, compete for toys and establish a natural pecking order. Inherent in this is the need for a parent or pack leader to set down boundaries and create order and stability out of chaos. Without this both child and dog feel insecure and may well grow to display anti-social behaviour.

You would responsibly bring a child up with love and discipline, have consistent boundaries, teach them what is safe and what is dangerous, what is sociable and what is unsociable.

Dogs too need love and discipline, consistent boundaries, and to learn what is safe and what is dangerous, what is sociable and what is unsociable.

Communicating with a child is not so very different from communicating with a dog. Young children, like dogs, do not have the power of speech so you have to work out alternative strategies to speech in order to get through to them. You will find that if you approach a dog in much the same way as you approach a child, life will be a whole lot easier for you. And the dog! Hopefully you will have realised that praise is a far stronger motivator that punishment.

A positive approach.

Take the example of the puppy that makes a puddle on the floor and the child that wets its bed. Each one of them have not learnt control of their bladder and are simply responding to the call of nature. Neither are being naughty nor are in the wrong.

Yelling at the child will only make it more stressed and, therefore, more likely to continue wetting the bed. In exactly the same way if a puppy has an accident on the carpet being harsh will make matters worse.

How many human ‘sports’ involve chasing a moving object? How many of these games also involve people working as a team to ‘catch’ these objects? Football, rugby, basketball, tennis, badminton, etc. I could go on but you get the idea.

Why do we enjoy these games? Is it not because we too are instinctively striving for a pecking order within the pack and following our predatory instincts.

“No, no no!’ I hear you say. ‘We are a civilised, sophisticated race who have created these games for our enjoyment. They are so different to the throw and fetch games our canine friends mindlessly enjoy.’

Don’t kid yourself. Look also how football supporters revert to uninhibited childlike behaviour. At worst becoming hooligans and behaving, almost literally, like savage animals when they find themselves challenged or threatened by an opposing pack.

Or on a much more positive note how hundreds of fans, unrehearsed, suddenly find one voice and break into a prefect, heart-stopping rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Now that’s a perfect example of the ‘pack call’.

We all enjoy the close relationship we have with our dogs. Maybe sometimes we don’t realise quite how close we are.

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I can’t imagine life without our dogs.

They mean everything to Jeannie and me.

A photo of Pharaoh when he was quite an old fella!

The Fall

And I am not speaking of the Autumn!

To be honest, dear friends, I really agonised over whether or not to republish an item that I saw on The Conversation blogsite last Friday. For it has nothing to do with dogs, nothing to do with learning from dogs, and everything to do with being the ‘wrong’ side of 65 years old.

But then one day last week I was out watching some tree cutting being undertaken by Jimmy Gonzales and his crew and heard the phoning ringing in the house.

I ran for the steps leading up to the deck and missed the bottom step.

I fell but luckily managed to grab the handrails seconds before I could have smacked my head into the steps. However, it did scare me especially when I reflected that it wasn’t even 9 months since my medical emergency following my fall from my bicycle.

It confirmed the sense in republishing the item. Republished within the terms of The Conversation site.

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Before the fall: How oldsters can avoid one of old age’s most dangerous events

September 21, 2018

By four authors:

 Co-Director of Texas A&M Center for Population Health and Aging, Texas A&M University

  Research Scientist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  Regents and Distinguished Professor, Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives, Texas A&M University

  Adjunct Assistant Professor, Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Baby boomers, who once viewed themselves as the coolest generation in history, are now turning their thoughts away from such things as partying and touring alongside rock bands to how to they can stay healthy as they age. And, one of the most important parts of healthy aging is avoiding a fall, the number one cause of accidental death among people 65 and older.

The issue is growing more pressing each day. More adults than ever – 46 million – are 65 and older, and their numbers are increasing rapidly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four older adults will fall each year. Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury deaths among older adults. And, they are costly. Falls are responsible for an estimated US$31 billion in annual Medicare costs. This estimate does not account for non-direct medical or societal costs.

People who fall can lose their physical mobility for life, go into a hospital never to be discharged, require skilled nursing or other caregiver support, or become so fearful about falling again that they dramatically limit their daily activities.

The good news is that most falls are preventable, research has identified many modifiable risk factors for falls, and older adults can empower themselves to reduce their falls risks. This means there are opportunities to intervene in clinical and community settings to promote protective behaviors and improve safety.

A life-changing event

Falls can cause fractures, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that require an emergency room visit or hospitalization. An older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes, and every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall-related injury. About one in four falls results in needed medical attention, and falls are responsible for about 95 percent of all hip fractures. In addition to the physical and mental trauma associated with the fall itself, falls often result in fear of falling, reduced quality of life, loss of independence and social isolation.

shutterstock. Astrid Gast/Shutterstock.com

There is no single cause for falling. Falls can result from issues related to biological aging, such as balance problems, loss of muscle strength, changes in vision, arthritis or diabetes. Taking a combination of several prescription drugs can also contribute to falls. Lifestyle behaviors such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition and poor sleep quality can also increase the risk for falling. Environmental hazards inside the home, such as poor lighting and throw rugs, and outside, such as bad weather, standing water and uneven sidewalks, can create situations where falls are more likely to occur.

It takes a careful village

Because falls can be caused by many things, the solutions must also include a diverse set of systems, organizations and professionals. Toward that end, 42 active or developing state fall prevention coalitions, which coordinate initiatives and serve as advocates for policy development and community action, are in place. Their activities foster collaboration across the aging services network, public health and health care system. They do such things as host health fairs and fall risk screening events, fall prevention programs, and awareness-raising events to inform decision-makers and legislators about ways to make communities safer for older adults.

Here are some of the key objectives that the coalitions are working on to reduce hazards from falling:

  • Enhance clinical-community collaboration for programming.

There are many fall prevention programs offered in communities to promote healthful behaviors and to reinforce positive mental perspectives about falls being preventable.

People concerned about falling should contact their local Area Agency on Aging to find out where these programs are offered and which can be most beneficial. Also, seniors should ask their doctors about fall-related risk factors and what they can do to reduce risk. Communicate your concerns about falls with your health care team and social network, tell them about what you learn during your fall prevention programs, and report back about how they are making a difference in your life.

  • Manage chronic conditions.

About 70 percent of older adults have one or more chronic conditions, many of which can increase the risk for falling. For example, people with diabetes may have vision problems and problems with sensation in their feet. Also, the medications used to treat these conditions can increase fall risk. And, taking five or more medications has been identified with increased frailty and higher risk for falling.

Being physically active can help seniors have better balance and reduce the risk of falls. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

While health care access and utilization are important for chronic disease diagnosis and management, 90 percent of health care happens outside the health care setting. Therefore, older adults need to manage their diseases better. To do this, however, they often need help. For starters, they should discuss the side effects of all medications with their doctors and also how best to adhere to prescribed treatment regimens, such as when to take medications, whether to take with food and whether there are possible interactions of one medication with another. Seniors also can consider enrolling in evidence-based disease self-management programs to improve their knowledge and confidence to manage their conditions as well as enhance lasting skills for goal setting and action planning, such as being physically active for 30 minutes a day for five days a week.

  • Alter the physical environment.

About 44 percent of falls occur inside the home. In-home risk factors for falls can include dim lighting, clutter on floors, throw rugs and ottomans, missing railings, uncovered wires and extension cords, children and pets underfoot and unsafe bathrooms. A unsafe bathroom is one with an inappropriate toilet height, high shower or bathtub walls and no grab rails.

To identify possible risks in the home, the CDC created a user-friendly safety checklist that can safeguard older adults by eliminating environmental hazards.

  • Maintain healthful behaviors.

Daily lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity, nutrition and sleep quality can influence fall risk, and these are never too late to change. Interventions can be successful for people of all ages. Among the most important is physical activity, namely safely performing lower-body exercises to increase strength, balance and flexibility. Additionally, seniors should work with their health care team to have medications reviewed and eyes checked regularly. Also, they should ask about their vitamin D levels and possible nutritional supplementation.

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Yes, when it comes to being more careful on our feet once again our dear dogs offer us a much better way: Have four of them!!

Just look at the ease of our dear Brandy scampering through the woods yesterday morning!

Our dear, sorely-missed Pharaoh demonstrating the advantages of four feet!

So my good people – you be careful out there!

Getting to know oneself

The journey inwards is the most challenging and yet the most rewarding of all!

This post is essentially a reposting of an item that I published nearly three years ago. It came to me as a result of some delightful exchanges following my post last Thursday: How well our dogs read us!

Tomorrow I will go into more details of that fateful event in my past:  December 20th, 1956.

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Further musings on dogs, women and men.

Published on Learning from Dogs, August 6th, 2015

A few weeks ago, I read a book entitled The Republican Brain written by Chris Mooney and to quote WikiPedia:

The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality is a book by the journalist Chris Mooney that is about the psychological basis for many Republicans’ rejection of mainstream scientific theories, as well as theories of economics and history.

On page 83, Chris Mooney writes (my emphasis):

Here also arises a chief liberal weakness, in Lakoff’s view (*), and one that is probably amplified by academic training. Call it the Condorcet handicap, or the Enlightenment syndrome. Either way, it will sound very familiar: Constantly trying to use factual and reasoned arguments to make the world better and being amazed to find even though these arguments are sound, well-researched, and supported, they are disregarded, or even actively attacked by conservatives.

When glimpsed from a bird’s eye view, all the morality research that we’re surveying is broadly consistent. It once again reinforces the idea that there are deep differences between liberals and conservatives – differences that are operating, in many cases, beneath the level of conscious awareness, and that ultimately must be rooted in the brain.

(*) George Lakoff, Berkeley Cognitive Linguist and author of the book Moral Politics.

What Chris Mooney is proposing is that the difference between liberals and conservatives could be genetically rooted, at least in part.

That underlines in my mind how each of us, before even considering our gender differences, is truly a complex mix of ‘nature and nurture’ with countless numbers of permutations resulting.

That there are deep differences, apart from the obvious ones, between man and woman goes without saying. In earlier times, these differences were essential in us humans achieving so much and leading to, in the words of Yuval Noah Harari from yesterday’s post., ” … few would disagree that humans dominate planet Earth; we’ve spread to every continent, and our actions determine the fate of other animals (and possibly Earth itself).”

Speaking of earlier times, let me turn to dogs, for it is pertinent to my post, and I would like to quote an extract from what Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine, Jim Goodbrod, writes in the foreword of my forthcoming book:

But what exactly is this human-dog bond and why do we feel such an affinity for this species above all others? My feeling is that it may be associated with our deep but subconscious longing for that age of simple innocence and innate human goodness that we supposedly possessed before we became truly “human”: that child-like innocence or what Rousseau referred to as the “noble savage”, before being corrupted by civilization, before we were booted out of the Garden of Eden. We humans, for better or worse, somewhere along that evolutionary road acquired consciousness or so-called human nature and with it we lost that innocence. What we gained were those marvelous qualities that make us uniquely human: a sense of self-awareness, an innate moral and ethical code, the ability to contemplate our own existence and mortality, and our place in the universe. We gained the ability to think abstract thoughts and the intellectual power to unravel many of the mysteries of the universe. Because of that acquired consciousness and humans’ creative and imaginative mind we have produced the likes of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Einstein. We have peered deep into outer space, deciphered the genetic code, eradicated deadly diseases, probed the bizarre inner world of the atom, and accomplished thousands of other intellectual feats that hitherto would not have been possible without the evolution of our incredible brain and the consciousness with which it is equipped.

No other living species on this planet before or since has developed this massive intellectual power. But this consciousness was attained at what cost? Despite all the amazing accomplishments of the human race, we are the only species that repeatedly commits genocide and wages war against ourselves over political ideology, geographic boundaries, or religious superstition. We are capable of justifying the suffering and death of fellow human beings over rights to a shiny gold metal or a black oily liquid that powers our cars. We are the only species that has the capability to destroy our own planet, our only home in this vast universe, by either nuclear warfare, or more insidiously by environmental contamination on a global scale. Was it worth it? No matter what your or my opinion may be, Pandora’s Box has been opened and we cannot put the lid back on.

What can we do now to reverse this trend and help improve the quality of life for humanity and ensure the well-being of our planet? I think, if we recognize the problem and look very critically at ourselves as a unique species with awesome powers to do both good and bad, and put our collective minds to the task, it may be possible to retrieve some of the qualities of that innocence lost, without losing all that we have gained.

Dogs represent to me that innocence lost. Their emotions are pure. They live in the present. They do not suffer existential angst over who or what they are. They do not covet material wealth. They offer us unconditional love and devotion. Although they certainly have not reached the great heights of intellectual achievement of us humans (I know for a fact that this is true after having lived with a Labrador retriever for several years), at the same time they have not sunk to the depths of depravity to which we are susceptible. It could be argued that I am being overly anthropomorphic, or that dogs are simply mentally incapable of these thoughts. But nevertheless, metaphorically or otherwise, I believe that dogs demonstrate a simple and uncorrupted approach to life from which we all could benefit. I think the crux of Paul’s thesis is that, within the confines and limitations of our human consciousness, we can (and should) metaphorically view the integrity of the dog as a template for human behavior.

“Dogs demonstrate a simple and uncorrupted approach to life …”

I closed yesterday’s post with these words, “It is my contention that humankind’s evolution, our ability to “cooperate flexibly in large numbers”, is rooted in the gender differences between man and woman.”

The premise behind that proposition is that until, say one hundred years ago, give or take, that co-operation between large numbers of humans was critically important in so many areas: health; science; medicine; physics; exploration; outer space and more. (And whether one likes it or not: wars.)  My proposition is that it is predominantly men who have been the ‘shakers and movers’ in these areas. Of course not exclusively, far from it, just saying that so many advances in society are more likely to have been led by men.

But (and you sensed a ‘but’ coming up, perhaps) these present times call for a different type of man. A man who is less the rational thinker, wanting to set the pace, and more a man capable of expressing his fears, exploring his feelings, defining his fear of failure, and more. I don’t know about you but when I read Raúl Ilargi Meijer words from yesterday, “And if and when we resort to only rational terms to define ourselves, as well as our world and the societies we create in that world, we can only fail.”, it was the male of our species that was in my mind. As in, “And if and when we [males] resort to only rational terms to define ourselves …”.

Staying with Raúl Meijer’s words from yesterday (my emphasis), “And those should never be defined by economists or lawyers or politicians, but by the people themselves. A social contract needs to be set up by everyone involved, and with everyone’s consent.”

Dogs demonstrate a simple and uncorrupted approach to life but that doesn’t extend to them making social contracts. Women do understand social contracts, they are predominantly caring, social humans. Less so for men. But for that social contract to be successfully set up by everyone it must, of course, include men. And that requires men, speaking generally you realise, to find safe ways to get in touch with their feelings, to tap into their emotional intelligence, using positive psychology to listen to their feelings and know the truth of what they and their loved ones need to guarantee a better future. What they need in terms of emotional and behavioural change. And, if I may say, sensing when they might need the support of subject experts to embed and sustain those behavioural changes.

It was the fickle finger of fate that led me to the arms, metaphorically speaking, of a core process psychotherapist back in Devon in the first half of 2007. That counselling relationship that revealed a deeply hidden aspect of my consciousness: a fear of rejection that I had had since December, 1956. That finger of fate that took me to Mexico for Christmas 2007 and me meeting Jean and all her dogs. That finger of fate that pointed me to the happiest years of my life and a love between Jeannie and me that I could hitherto never ever have imagined.

However, as much as I love and trust Jean, wholeheartedly, it comes back to dogs.

For when I curl up and wrap myself around a dog and sense that pure unconditional love coming back to me, I have access to my inner feelings, my inner joys and fears, in a way unmatched by anything else.

Where learning from dogs is a gateway to learning from me.

Pharaoh – more than just a dog!

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I will never be able to look at those eyes of Pharaoh, looking into my eyes, without feeling terrible pangs of loss. For he was the most amazing, the most wise, the most deep-thinking dog that I have ever known. Correction: that Jean and I have ever known!

The strength of a community.

Any other ideas to assist Lisa?

So many times this old blog of mine seems like one great family! Which is why I am sharing an exchange between Lisa and me.

For last Friday in came the following email from Lisa (republished with Lisa’s permission.):

Hi Paul,

I still receive your blog every day and love it! I contributed a couple of blogs to you about our Sabrina which you published on Learning from Dogs.

I have a question for you and perhaps your community.

A picture of Sabrina from an earlier guest post written by Lisa.

Sabrina is experiencing some anxiety at breakfast time. She begins whimpering and crawling on the floor. It happens a few times a week. She usually doesn’t eat her breakfast right away after these episodes. Her behavior is normal the rest of the day.

I’ve told our vet about it and she thinks it’s some kind of anxiety and is willing to prescribe medication. I’d rather not medicate her all the time as this episode happens infrequently.

We may have some blood test taken as our next approach.

Have you ever experienced this kind of thing with one of your dogs or heard of it happening with someone else’s dog?

Also, another question I’ve been meaning to ask you writer-to-writer. I recall you telling me you are from a small town near Cornwall or Devon? I’d love to find some type of writer’s residency in that area and wondering if you know any association or grant available? It’s difficult for me to learn of residency opportunities in the UK being in the USA. No big deal, just thought I’d ask you.

Hope all is well with you and glad to hear you and Jean are going vegan! I’m a former vegan/vegetarian. We are eating more vegetarian these days and I especially love to COOK vegan. I am going to look into the Halo Garden of Vegan dog food too. Great tip.

Thank you!!

Best,

Lisa.

I discussed this with Jean and then sent the following reply to Lisa:

Lisa,

Jean is recommending changing Sabrina’s routine. Such as feeding her in a different place. Plus, trying a proprietary stress relief medicine. We used Bach Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic formula, for our dogs when we moved from Arizona to Oregon back in 2012.

Keep us in the loop with this!

Best wishes,

Paul

Back came Lisa:

Hi Paul!

Thank you to you and Jean for your two emails. Dennis and I were just talking about Sabrina’s behavior and it occurred to me it could be separation anxiety. Dennis gets up at 4:30, feeds her, gets ready for work and is out of the house by 5:30. Sabrina favors him and I’m thinking as much as she loves to eat, it means he’s about to leave and be gone from her all day.

I will pick definitely pick up the Bach’s Rescue Remedy and have Dennis feed her in a different area of the house.

Oh, yes, and please, if interested make the subject of Sabrina’s behavior a post and yes, yes, yes on soliciting for a writer’s retreat in the UK for me 🙂

Thanks a million!

Best,
Lisa.

To which I then responded, thus:

I think you may have solved Sabrina’s behaviour issue. An easy thing to try out is to ask Dennis not to feed Sabrina at that time and you to feed her instead. Would take a few days for her to get accustomed to the change but within a week you would know if this was the fix!

And, thanks for the permission. It will be coming out next week.

So, good people, any other ideas to add to assist Lisa in settling down Sabrina in the morning? And what about that writer’s retreat in the UK?

Any thoughts?

Finally, I am going to be pretty distracted these next 48 hours so apologies if I am not very attentive to your responses. Plus there will be no post tomorrow.

Spot and Me, Final Part

The concluding part of Colette’s wonderful essay on training Spot.

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Chapter Seven – A trip to new territory

Spot had never really been walking anywhere else so a trip to the seaside promenade an hour away by car was in order.
Here, on paved city streets, I put him through his paces: past people; dogs; new smells; and the beach. We sat on park benches and in a cafe. Spot was quiet and sat still at my feet.

He was over-awed by new sensations but coped admirably. He didn’t know what the sea was and sniffed it suspiciously but wouldn’t test the water with a toe, preferring to run and feel the sand under his paws. But it was mown grass that totally freaked him out.

I took Spot onto a boulevard of grass and trees so that he could sniff and pee like most dogs do. But when Spot was on the grass I got an inkling of a former trauma. For Spot froze and looked at me with terrified eyes. He cocked his hind leg and held it up as if in some perpetual, quavering fear yet he wasn’t peeing.

When I then approached him he cowered; something I’d never seen. It was pretty obvious to me that Spot had been beaten as a punishment whilst standing on a grass lawn for some unknown misdemeanour. I gently knelt down and stroked him. Spot shivered with apprehension. Then I guided him off the grass to the paved area close by and after I reassured Spot with a big hug his normal behaviour returned.

Traumas for animals come in all shapes. For Spot, his memories of fear and loathing had been triggered by a tactile feeling under his paws; the feel to Spot of mown grass. We finished for the day and went home. Spot was tired.

Chapter Eight – New Collar; New Beginning

Over ten days, the harness and choke rope had slowed Spot to a walk speed. It was time to switch to a collar. Spot was still a strong-willed character so after finding a brand-new, half-choke collar, again in Pauline’s collection of unused equipment, I chose it as the next step.

It was a perfect width, well made, soft on the neck side and the small half-choke chain meant that it loosened to slip on and off easily over Spot’s head. I tested it to its full choke capacity, allowing it to still retain a two-finger gap so it never fully closed on Spot’s neck.

Our first walk out with this collar was a great success. It gave Spot an even better indication of where I wanted him. He didn’t pull and trotted happily alongside me. Whenever an interesting smell appeared alongside, I fed out the lead to allow him to explore while I stood still. The lead was his old strong woven one. I had removed the bit of washing-line rope that Mike had tied on to lengthen it and returned it to normal length. A long lead is not ideal because if the dog pulls at the other end it will pull you off your feet. A short lead will not do that because you keep your dog within your centre of gravity and therefore strong enough to resist pulling. This means you keep control of your dog at all times thus making it safer for you and him.

I was really proud of Spot. He had come such a long way. His demeanor was soft and he relaxed much more during the day. He didn’t bark at every little thing.

Chapter Nine – Lizards and Food

It was a lazy day on the patio in the sunshine. Spot was lying on my feet below the table when he stiffened. Looking down, I saw a tiny lizard about a foot away. Spot stared at it intently, nose twitching. Slowly I reached down and stroked Spot’s head. “Friend” I said, putting the image of my love for lizards in Spot’s head. He relaxed. We watched the little lizard for a full five minutes during which time Spot never wavered. When it disappeared down a crack Spot laid back down by my feet and went back to sleep. This was a big milestone. It didn’t end up in his tummy!

Spot’s food consumption had changed. I put his dry dog food into his bowl and then taking some boiled warm water I melted a teaspoon of coconut oil into it, added a tiny bit of cooked chicken and made a sort of gravy by mashing it all up. I coated the dog food with this mixture and Spot ate it up really well. His coat started to shine after about a week and he looked a little bit trimmer, his haunches clearly defined. He had not been given hot dogs or ham since Pauline had left.

Training treats were commercially bought, but 60% protein so I cut them in half so that they were no bigger than the size of a rice crispy. I used loads of them for training but they amounted to little in extra bulk.

Other treats comprised of dog biscuits and a dental chew stick last thing before bed (again, keeping Pauline’s routine).

Spot had stopped begging at the dinner table and in the kitchen. He came for food only when bidden and always away from the table.

Chapter Ten – Hello’s and Goodbye’s

My work was still a work-in-progress but it was time for Spot’s people to return so we began our pack up.
Now all dogs know what bags in cars mean. They know you are leaving so it was no surprise that Spot now followed me closely everywhere I went. He wondered at what was going on at the bedroom gate then bounced into the room and onto our bed but only once. As he saw me exiting the room he jumped down carefully and trotted after me looking up at me. He was clearly unsure of what to do?

This is the hard bit of a house sit. Leaving your new buddy behind is a real wrench. But Spot is not my dog and now he has to get back into a routine with Pauline and Mike.

I took Spot into the back garden when I knew the owners were on the way. The large gate had been pulled open ready for their arrival; the sun was beginning to set. Spot and I played “fetch” and “bring” games with his toys to while away the time.

Our first games earlier in training were tough because Spot wanted to keep his toys and not “give” them to me. I used a simple technique of finger and thumb around his lower jaw (hand underneath for support) as far back as possible to encourage him to open his mouth. He eventually would “give” up his toys voluntarily without the gentle manipulation and wait eagerly for it to be thrown again.

After half-an-hour of playing lights appeared followed by the sound of the camper van turning into the driveway. I noticed the noises before Spot did but when he heard loud greeting voices he ran to the side gate. He wasn’t barking but his tail wagged furiously. I opened the latch and away he went bouncing like a bunny.

The greetings were exuberant and meaningful for all parties. People and pup alike had missed each other. Spot looked at me; was that a big smile on his face?

We had a cup of tea and Spot sat on the rug in front of all of us. He didn’t beg for Pauline’s cookie, I wagged a finger of “no” at Pauline, and he didn’t drink their tea that had been placed on the floor near their feet. He just eyed everyone happily and then put his head down to sleep.

I showed Pauline a few of the commands that Spot knew, often just using the hand signal as you see in the dog shows. I also put the half-choke collar on Spot and showed how he responded to walking commands. Pauline and Mike watched with dropped jaws as Spot did everything asked of him.

Pauline hates any kind of animal mistreatment and also thought effective training had to be harsh. But it doesn’t have to be: Far from it! While it takes longer, little treats, love, hugs, and lots of patience produce the most wonderful behaviours. Once complete, your dog knows you are pack leader and can be trusted to do as you want. They are also happier in this subservient role especially when they don’t have dominant traits.

Spot had changed. He was still the cute little ‘sweetheart,’ but the rough edges had been polished off. He no longer growled or bared his teeth. His eyes were softer and his body more relaxed. He was less jumpy, less nervous and more confident. He looked up more, much more, at faces for approval and no longer ran away from anyone holding out a hand.

I spent the following day with Pauline showing her how to walk Spot on his new collar. We went through all the commands he knew and how to reward him. Pauline almost cried as she shuffled along at snail pace and Spot stayed alongside looking at her face every now and again. She was amazed at the “Spot Round” command that brought him round in a complete circle to face her legs with the “Stay” command to keep him there. I had taught Spot this to help Pauline when she had an Asthma attack so she could stand still while recovering. It was a very effective command and Spot had mastered it!

We left the next day, keeping our goodbye’s short. Spot had been following me around as I packed up our last few things.
Before saying goodbye to our hosts I made my private goodbye to Spot with a human hug. I was going to miss him. I didn’t want the home owners to see my hurt in having to leave him. It wouldn’t help them.

As we opened the gate to leave Pauline panicked. Spot was outside. “Spot Stay” I commanded, and he stood still while our car rolled out into the road. Mike closed the gate behind us and I saw Pauline giving Spot a big hug for being so good!

ooOOoo

Not going to say a word. For I want the echoes of Colette’s wonderful story to reverberate with you for as long as possible.