Tag: Dog

The book! Chapter Twenty-Three.

Learning from Dogs

Chapter Twenty-Three

It was October 25th, 2013. Exactly a year since the day that they had moved in to their Merlin home.  Yet in some very strange way if felt neither as long as a full year nor as short.

Molly and Philip were sitting on the decked verandah looking out over the acres of grass. A group of five dogs were cavorting and chasing around in what looked like for them a dog heaven.

He came back to his strange thought of it not feeling like a year; in either direction.  The beauty of their land, the joy the dogs experienced every time they ran freely about the place was beyond measure.  All their neighbours, without exception, were people that he and Molly liked. More than that, they were also helpful and sharing persons.  Rationally, he admitted, this was probably a key aspect of country folk right across the United States of America.  But it didn’t diminish what it felt like.  Plus his Englishness was welcomed and enjoyed and that created an additional layer of acceptance. Thus in those ways it felt that they had been here for much longer than twelve short months.

On the other hand, his difficulty at learning names and faces of people, even neighbours; his struggle to still find his way to certain stores and shops in Grants Pass had a feel as though they had only just moved in; had been here much less than a full year.  That slowness in learning his way about the area worried him at times. It was disquieting and more than once he turned inwards and quietly worried that dementia was stealing up on him as it had for his elder sister, Diana, who had died of it earlier in 2013.

More generally, two dogs had died of old age over the past months so they were down to a total of nine.  Those nine were divided into groups of five and four.

The group of five were Pharaoh, Sweeny, Dhalia, Hazel and Cleo. Cleo was the younger German Shepherd that they had purchased as a companion to Pharaoh, who had passed ten-years-old last June. This group was affectionately called the bedroom group because they slept overnight in the main bedroom with Molly and Philip.  The other four dogs were Lilly, Ruby, Casey and Paloma.  Known as the kitchen group because they lived in the large kitchen and dining area. It worked very well. All nine dogs found their home property endlessly interesting simply because each day there were so many new smells for them to follow.

There was another aspect of their year here that figured very strongly in Philip’s mind.  That was the tension between anger and peace, his anger and his peace, and the role of dogs in his life.

He had observed strongly how the level of disquiet, to put it mildly, in the minds of everyday folk all around them was increasing.  A throw-away comment in front of a store check-out woman about how we were living in interesting times would trigger a facial expression, a shrug of the shoulders that spoke volumes.  Often added to by a comment from the next person in line.  Many other tiny windows into how so many people were feeling uncomfortable about the world we were all now living in.

He fully expected to see growing levels of social anger and unrest over the next few years.  He could feel the force of anger playing with his mind.

What was it that Jonathan used to speak about?  Yes, the difference between power and force.  How force could never produce lasting change. Yet how power came from within and could change mountains, metaphorically speaking.  Or, as Jonathan pointed out, literally in the case of the power of water and sand.

Philip knew that to bury his face into the furry warmth of a dog’s coat, to wrap his arms around one of their animals and feel the dog relax in to that hug, offered him something priceless.  It offered the lesson, time and time again, that anger is only cured from within. That the power of that dog’s unconditional love for him effortlessly took him within himself and bathed him in love, peace and contentment.

One evening during early September, Dhalia did not return to the house after the usual after-supper dog run.  He said to Molly that he would go out and look for her.  He walked down to the forest just by the creek and stood calling out her name. As the sun set behind the tall peaks and the darkness drew in around him, he started imagining what it would be like to leave their property and plunge into the deep forest searching for one of their dogs that had become lost.  He shivered with the thought of how fragile was the boundary between being secure at home and being utterly lost in a vast wilderness.

Thank goodness, he wasn’t put to the test because at that moment the sound of little paws heralded Dhalia’s return.  She came immediately to his side, her tail wagging with such furious affection, as it so often did.  Philip kneeled down and hugged her.  Dhalia lowered her head and pushed herself under his left arm. Tears flowed from his eyes revealing his joy and love that this precious dog was not lost or harmed.

When he and Dhalia had returned to the house, he couldn’t shake off that image of being out alone in the forest. To the extent that the same evening, quite untypically, after their meal he had excused himself to Molly and sat down and written a short story on the theme.

Sitting there with Molly on the verandah more than a month later he  reflected that what he could remember of those words was a little hazy. He rose from the chair to go and find where he had put the completed story. He found it almost immediately and came back out to the verandah.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” Molly asked.

“It’s that story I wrote of being lost out in the forest; you know the one I wrote back in early September.”

“Oh yes, I loved that story. Do read it to me again.”

He took out his reading glasses, looked down and started reading.


“Molly, where’s Dhalia?”

“I don’t know. She was here moments ago.”

“Molly, You take the other dogs back to the car and I’ll go and scout around for her. Oh, and you better put Pharaoh on the leash otherwise you know he’ll follow me.”

“Philip, don’t worry. Dhalia’s always chasing scents; bet she beats us back to the car. Especially as it’s going to be dark soon.”

Nonetheless, Philip started back down the dusty, dirt road, the last rays of the sun pink on the high, forested cliffs about them. This high rocky, forest plateau, in an area known as the Siskiyou Forest, not those many miles from their home in Southern Oregon. It made perfect dog-walking country and rarely did they miss a week-end afternoon out here. However, this particular Saturday afternoon, for reasons Philip was unclear, they had left home much later than usual.

There was no sign of Dhalia ahead on this remote forest road so he struck off left, hoping that she was somewhere up amongst the higher trees and the boulders. Soon he reached the first crest; panting hard. Behind him, across the breath-taking landscape, the setting sun had dipped beneath faraway mountain ridges; a magnificent sight. Suddenly, in the midst of that brief pause, him admiring the perfect evening, a sound echoed around the cliffs. The sound of a dog barking. He bet his life on that being Dhalia. Just as quickly the barking stopped.

The barking started up again, barking that suggested Dhalia was hunting a creature. The sound came from an area of boulders way up above the pine trees on the other side of the small valley ahead of him. Perhaps, Dhalia had trapped herself. More likely, he reflected, swept up in the evening scents of the wilderness, Dhalia had temporarily reverted back to the wild, hunting dog she had been all those years ago. That feral Mexican street dog who in 2005 had tentatively turned away from scavenging in a pile of rubbish in a dirty Mexican town and shyly approached Molly. Molly had named her Dhalia.

He set off down through the dense forest to what he thought was the valley floor. Some thirty minutes later, thirty minutes of hard climbing, had him reach those high boulders.

Philip whistled, then called “Dhalia! Dhalia! Come, there’s a good girl.” Thank God for such a sweet, obedient dog. He anticipated the sound of dog feet scampering through rough undergrowth. But no sound came.

He listened; no sounds, no more barking. Now where had she gone? Perhaps past these boulders down in the next steep ravine beyond him, the one even more densely forested with pine trees. With daylight practically gone he needed to find Dhalia, and find her very soon.

He plunged down the slope, through tree branches that whipped across his face, then fell heavily as his foot found empty space instead of the expected firm ground. Philip cursed, picked himself up and paused. That fall had a message for him: the madness of continuing this search in the near dark. The terrain made very rough going even in good daylight. At night, the boulders and plunging ravines would guarantee a busted body, at best! Plus, he ruefully admitted, he didn’t have a clue as to where he now was, let alone finding his way back to the road where he had left Molly.

The unavoidable truth smacked him full in the face. He would be spending this night alone in the high, open forest. It had one hell of a very scary dimension.

He forced himself not to dwell on just how scary it all felt. He needed to stay busy, find some way of keeping warm; last night at home it had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing. Philip looked around, seeing a possible solution. He broke a small branch off a nearby fir tree and made a crude brush with which he swept up the fallen pine needles he saw everywhere about him. Soon he had a stack sufficient to cover him, or so he hoped. Thank  goodness that when he and Molly had decided to give the five dogs this late afternoon walk, he had put on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, a pullover thrown over his shoulders. It didn’t make Dhalia’s antics any less frustrating but he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death!

The air temperature sank as if connected with the last rays of the sun. Philip’s confidence sank at the same rate as the temperature.

He lay down, shuffled about, swept the pine needles across his body, tried to find a position that carried some illusion of comfort. No matter the position, he couldn’t silence his mind. Couldn’t silence the screaming in his head, his deep, primeval fear of this dark forest about him, his imagination already running away with visions of hostile night creatures, large and small, watching him, smelling him, biding their time. Perhaps he might sleep for a short while?

A moment later the absurdity of that last thought hit him. Caused him to utter aloud, “You stupid sod. There’s no way you’re going to sleep through this!” His words echoed off unseen cliffs in the darkness reinforcing his sense of isolation.

He was very frightened. Why? Where in his psyche did that come from? He had spent many nights alone at sea without a problem, a thousand miles from shore. Then, of course, he knew his location, always had a radio link to the outside world. But being lost in this dark, lonely forest touched something very deep in him. Suddenly, he started shivering.

The slightest movement he made caused the needles to slip from him and the cold night air began to penetrate his body. He tried not to think about how cold it might get and, by extension, thanked his lucky stars that the night was early September not, say, mid-December. So far, not too cold. But it wasn’t long before the fear rather than the temperature started to devour him. What stupid fool said, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself!’ His plan to sleep under  the pine needles, fear or no fear, had failed; he couldn’t get warm. He had to move.

He looked around and vaguely saw a boulder a few yards away, like some giant, black shadow. No details, just this huge outline etched against the night. He carefully raised himself, felt the remaining needles fall away, and gingerly shuffled across to the dark rock. He half-expected something to bite his extended hand as he explored the surface, ran his hand down towards the unseen ground. Miracle of miracles, the granite gently emitted the warmth absorbed from the day’s sun. He slowly settled himself to the ground, eased his back against the rock-face and pulled his knees up to his chest. He felt so much less vulnerable than he had laying on the forest floor. He let out a long sigh, then burst into tears, huge heart-rending sobs coming from somewhere very far within him.

Gradually the tears washed away his fear, restored a calmer part of his brain. That calmer brain brought the realisation that he hadn’t considered, well not up until now, what Molly must be going through. At least he knew he was alive. Molly, not knowing, would be in despair. He bet she would remember that time when out walking in the Dells down in Arizona they had lost little Poppy, an adorable 10 lb poodle mix, never to be found again despite ages spent combing the area, calling out her name. A year later and Molly still said from time to time, “I so miss Poppy!” First Poppy and now him! No question, he had to get through this in one piece, mentally as much as physically.

Presumably, Molly would have called 911 and been connected to the local search and rescue unit. Would they search for him in the dark? He thought it unlikely.

Thinking about her further eased his state of mind and his shivering stopped. Thank goodness for that! Philip fought to retain this new perspective. He would make it through, even treasure this night under the sky, this wonderful, awesome, night sky. Even the many crowns of the tall trees that soared way up above him couldn’t mask a sky that just glittered with starlight.

It was that heavenly clock that resided in the night sky and tonight offered a magical example of the immensity and grandeur of the universe.

Often during his life the night skies had spoken to him, presented a reminder of the continuum of the universe. On this night, however, he felt more humbled by the hundred, million stars surrounding him than ever before.

Time slipped by, him being unable to read his watch in the darkness. However, above his head there was that vast stellar clock. He scanned the heavens, seeking out familiar pinpoints of light, companions over so much of his lifetime. Ah, there! The Big Dipper, Ursa Major, and, yes, there the North Pole star, Polaris. Great! Now the rotation of the planet became his watch, The Big Dipper sliding around Polaris, fifteen degrees for each hour.

What a situation he had got himself into. As with other challenging times in his life, lost in the Australian bush, at sea hunkering down through a severe storm, never a choice other than to work it out. He felt a gush of emotion from the release this changed perspective gave him.

Far away, a group of coyotes started up a howl. What a timeless sound. How long had coyotes been on the planet? He sank into those inner places of his mind noting how the intense darkness raised correspondingly deep thoughts. What if this night heralded the end of his life, the last few hours of the life of Philip Stevens? What parting message would he give to those that he loved?

Molly would know beyond any doubt how much he had adored her, how her love had created an emotional paradise for him beyond measure. But his son and daughter, dear William and Elizabeth? Oh, the complexities he had created in their lives by leaving their mother so many years ago. He knew that they still harboured raw edges, and quite reasonably so. He still possessed raw edges from his father’s death, way back in 1956. That sudden death, five days before Christmas, so soon after he had turned twelve, that had fed a life-long feeling of emotional rejection. That feeling that lasted for fifty-one years until, coincidentally, also just a few days before Christmas, he had met Molly in 2007.

His thoughts returned to William and Elizabeth. Did they know, without a scintilla of doubt, that he loved them? Maybe his thoughts would find them. Romantic nonsense? Who knows? Dogs had the ability to read the minds of humans, often from far out of visual range. He knew Pharaoh, his devoted German Shepherd, skilfully read his mind.

Philip struggled to remember that saying from James Thurber. What was it now? Something about men striving to understand themselves before they die. Would that be his parting message for William and Elizabeth? Blast, he wished he could remember stuff more clearly these days and let go of worrying about the quote. Perhaps his subconscious might carry the memory back to him.

He looked back up into the heavens. The Big Dipper indicated at least an hour had slipped by. Gracious, what a sky in which to lose one’s mind. Lost in that great cathedral of stars. Then, as if through some stirring of consciousness, that Thurber saying did come back to him: All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.

He reflected on those who, incarcerated in solitary confinement, had their minds play many tricks, especially when it came to gauging time. What a bizarre oddment of information; where had that come from? Possibly because he hadn’t a clue about his present time. It felt later than 11pm and earlier than 4am, but any closer guess seemed impossible. Nevertheless, from out of the terrible, heart-wrenching hours of being alone he had found calm, had found something within him. He slept.

Suddenly, he was slammed fully awake. Something out there in the dark had made a sound. Something that caused his whole body to become totally alert, every nerve straining to recognise what it might be. It sounded like animal feet moving through the autumn fall of dead leaves. He prayed that it wasn’t a mountain lion. Surely, such a wild cat preparing to attack him would be silent. Now the unknown creature had definitely paused, no sound, just Philip knowing that somewhere out there, something was watching him, waiting. Now what! The creature was making a sniffing sound. He hoped it was not a puma. Pumas could make trouble; they had no qualms at attacking a decent-sized dog.

Poised to run, he considered rising but chose to stay still.  Very quietly and gently he moved his fingers around the ground near to him on either side.  A few moments later he closed his right-hand around a small rock. The sniffing stopped. Nothing now, save the sound of his rapidly beating heart. He sensed, sensed strongly, the creature looking at him. It seemed very close, ten or twenty feet away. The adrenalin hammered through his veins.

He tried to focus on the spot where he sensed the animal was waiting; waiting for what? He pushed that idea out of his head. His ears then picked up a weird, bizarre sound. Surely not! Had he lost his senses? It sounded like a dog wagging its tail; flap, flap, flapping against a tree-trunk.

A dog? If a dog, it had to be Dhalia!

Then came that small, shy bark! A bark he knew so well. It was Dhalia. He softly called her, “Come here girl, there’s a good girl.”

With a quick rustle of feet Dhalia leapt upon him, tail wagging furiously, her head quickly burrowing into his body warmth. He hugged her and, once more, the tears ran down his face. Despite the darkness, he could see her perfectly in his mind. Her tight, short-haired coat of light-brown hair, her aquiline face, her bright inquisitive eyes and those wonderful head-dominating ears. Lovely large ears that seemed to listen to the world. A shy, loving dog when Molly had rescued her in 2005 and all these years later still a shy, loving dog.

Dhalia raised her head towards his face and licked his tears, her gentle tongue soft and sweet on his skin. He shuffled more on to his back and that allowed her to curl up on his chest, still enveloped by his arms. His mind drifted off to an era a long time ago, back to an earlier ancient man, likewise arms wrapped around his dog under a dome of stars. This bond between man and dog.  So different to each other yet so closely bonded. Bonded in a thousand mysterious ways.

The morning sun arrived as imperceptibly as an angel’s sigh. Dhalia sensed the dawn before Philip, brought him out of his dreams by the slight gentle stirring of her warm body.

Yes, there it came, the end of this night. The sun galloping towards them across ancient lands, another beat of the planet’s heart. Dhalia slid off his chest, stretched herself from nose to tail, yawned and looked at him, as much to say time to go home! He could just make out the face of his watch: 5.55am. He, too, raised himself, slapped his arms around his body to get some circulation going. The cold air stung his face, yet it couldn’t even scratch the inner warmth of his body, the glow from the bond between him and Dhalia.

They set off.  As they crested the first ridge there ahead, about a mile away, was a forest road busy with arriving search and rescue trucks. Philip could just see Molly’s white Dodge parked ahead of the trucks and he instinctively knew that she and Pharaoh had already disappeared into the forest, knew Pharaoh was leading her to them.

They set off down the slope, Dhalia’s tail wagging with unbounded excitement, Philip ready to start shouting for attention from the next ridge. They were about to wade through a small stream when Pharaoh raced out of the trees from the other side. He tore through the water, barking at the top of his voice in clear dog speak, ‘I’ve found them, they’re here, they’re safe’.  Philip crouched down to receive his second huge face lick in less than six hours.

Later, when safely home, something struck him. When earlier they had set off to find their way back, not long after sunrise, Dhalia had stayed pinned to him. That was so unusual for her not to run off. Let’s face it, that’s what got them into the mess in the first place. Dhalia had stayed with him as if she had known that during that long, dark night, it had been he who had been the lost soul.

Thus came the message from that night, a message as clear as the rays of this new day’s sun, the message to pass to all those he loved. We can only find ourselves from the places where we are lost.


Philip put down the story.  There were tears to his eyes.  Molly had just blown her nose with a paper tissue so he guessed he wasn’t the only one with wet eyes.

She looked at him.

“You know, that story about Dhalia reminds me of the way that Lilly stayed with Ben.”

“Sorry sweetheart, remind me of that again.”

“When Ben was dying, Lilly stayed by his side on the bed every minute of every hour except for a dash outside for a pee from time to time, and to eat her meals. I knew that Ben had died even before going into his bedroom because Lilly had come out from the room and was resting besides me.  Lilly knew that I needed her now more than Ben did.”

There is so much for people to learn from dogs. So many of the ways that dogs behave that show us of what is so desperately missing from these times; from these so-called modern, twenty-first-century times. A time when many believe that our way-of-life is as good as broken.  Broken by the levels of greed, by the lies and abuses of those wielding power and control, riven by the deep inequalities between those with comfortable, material lives and those who struggle to live more than one cruel day at a time.

Dogs live so beautifully in the present. They make the best of each moment uncluttered by the complex fears and feelings that we humans so often chose to have about us. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value.  Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable length of time. Man’s longest animal companion, by far!

There is no archeological evidence of dogs being part of man’s life earlier than thirty-thousand years ago.  However, there is serious consideration by scientists that the grey wolf, from which the dog evolved, was in some way connected to Neanderthal man.  That the earliest dogs became man’s companion, protector and helper and that the relationship between dog and man was critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer.  Allowing our species to evolve to farming the land and, thence, the long journey to present times.

However at some point in the last, say one to two-hundred years, that farming and husbandry spirit became corrupted by selfishness and greed to the point where the planet’s plant, energy and mineral resources were, and still are, seen as an infinitely deep pot.  That corruption producing a blindness to the most important truth in all our lives.  That Planet Earth is man’s only source of life.  Unless and until we return to living in balance and harmony with our planet then we are close to the edge of extinction.  Both a literal and spiritual extinction.

Dogs know better, so much better!  Time again for man to learn from dogs!

4,463 words.

That book! In the beginning.

Well I’m underway!

Last Thursday, I announced that I had decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month.  Or NaNoWriMo as it is more familiarly known.

It’s clear that to achieve the goal of 50,000 words by the end of November, it must be all about writing; writing flat out.  Any distraction from writing will make it impossible to maintain the average of 1,670 words a day for 31 days!

So just warning you that as I publish each chunk of the book here on Learning from Dogs don’t expect anything like a polished result.  Given the miracle of actually completing the 50,000 words then December will be the time to edit, refine and polish.

Mind you, any feedback good, bad or indifferent would be fabulous to have from you.  OK, enough said, on with the show!


Learning from Dogs

In the beginning

Omo stirred, aware that she had heard a sound. Somewhere out there in the deep night. Somewhere not far outside their cave. Jogod fast asleep next to her. Omo could see from the light of the fire that burnt at the entrance of this ancient limestone cave that Jogod had one arm across the skins that covered them. Like the early tribes before them, before they arrived and took their tribal lands, living and sleeping in a cave without fire would offer easy pickings for the many animals that preyed on them.

Even so, Jogod’s arm still cradled the small club he had used the previous day when out hunting.  Just in case creatures decided to try their luck this cold Winter’s night.

There it was again. Some creature in pain. The sound was the sound of whimpering.

Omo shook Jogod’s arm. He was awake instantly. It was instinctive. Their survival, as with all the members of their clan, depended on always being alert to danger.  Always keeping ahead of the many wild beasts that wouldn’t, and often didn’t, hesitate to feast on them; on the unwary, or on the sick, or on their young. Another reason for the protection of their cave.

Omo had her hand over Jogod’s lips to prevent any sound coming from him. There it was again, that whimpering sound. Possibly the sound of a very scared small animal. Perhaps more than one animal.

The darkness of the night outside, their cave surrounded by the dark forest, made it impossible for Omo and Jogod to leave the protection of their group. Nothing for it but to wait for the sun to rise, light up the sky and shine down into the forest.

They sat back-to-back in their cave, their bedding skins about them, each listening. Each trying to identify the animal from the sounds. A faint night-time breeze stirred, the gentle air wafting across the cave entrance. The breeze carried a familiar odour. Jogod picked up the scent of wolf! Not an uncommon odour because the wolves were constantly shadowing the group, drawn by the smells of their cooking, hoping to find a scrap of meat, a bone, a piece of skin. But Jogod smelt only young wolf. That was unexpected. Unexpected because the young wolves were always within the safety of their wolf pack.

Slowly the blackness of the night sky gave way to a hint of pale from the edge of the land from whence the light of the day always came. The paleness spread and became half-light. Further into the cave, as each of the other members of their hunting pack stirred, Omo, almost silently, touched each one on the shoulder or arm and motioned to remain perfectly quiet. Each of them in turn smelt young wolf, heard the whimpering, waited for more light.

Soon it was time. Time to search out these young wolves. Jogod and Omo, with Gadger and Kudu.  Gadger and Kudu, both experienced tribe elders, especially when it came to dealing with the wolves and other animals who ate their peoples.  All four of them fanned out and, as quiet as that night-time breeze, slowly followed the scent upwind.

It was not far to go. As they closed in on the sound, it became clear to them that not only were there two young wolves, but most likely one of each gender.  They all knew from past experiences how the sounds of a male wolf, even a young animal, sounded so differently from that of the female.

Then they saw them.  Just a few strides away two young wolves perhaps of age only two or three passings of the moon; four at most. The two young creatures had been attacked by an unknown predator; the rest of their pack must have abandoned them. Nature was so cruel at times.

The tearing of their small bodies was clear; dried blood all over their fur. The two frightened young animals quietened down as the hunters came up to them.  There was nothing that could be done for them. The young wolves must be left because it will only be a matter of time before more predators will arrive to take advantage of an easy kill.

But Omo had come forward and was crouching next to the shivering creatures. These two young wolves were utterly exhausted. Too tired to move, to try and flee from these humans who always tried to attack them and their packs. Yet Omo was speaking quietly to them and deep in the heads of these tiny animals so, too, was some instinct talking to them. Omo was not coming to harm them. This animal who walked on two legs, who made sounds like no other animals in the land, who so often was such a deadly threat to their wolf-packs; this time something was different. This animal was going to help them.

Omo’s arm slowly reached out and the fingers of her hand drifted across one of the tiny heads, the gentlest whisper of a touch of finger on fur. The whimpering stopped. The two frail cubs instinctively knew they were safe.

874 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The power of sharing.

“Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.”

My post last Monday, The lure of patterns, appears to have resonated far and wide.  In the sense of many echoes reinforcing the perilous nature of our present times and the desperately uncertain decades ahead.  Tomorrow I shall be writing specifically about those echoes.

Today, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on dogs and communities!  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs!

In Monday’s post I opined that the future may well see a return to people re-evaluating and re-energising the benefits of local communities.  Now when it comes to communities, there are no better examples than dogs and, so many thousands of years before dogs, grey wolves.  These species have an incredibly strong social structure.  I mean, of course, the pack.  It’s a shame that the expression ‘pack of wolves’ or ‘pack of dogs’ has such misplaced negative connotations.

Before dogs were domesticated, as in when they first evolved from the grey wolf, they shared with wolves a natural pack size of around 50 animals.  There was a very strong social cohesiveness within that pack yet a very ‘light’ status differential between those dogs having pack status and the mass of the pack group.  Ditto with wolves.

In fact there were (still are) just three status roles: Mentor/Monitor/Nanny.  Or has been described previously on this blog: Alpha/Beta/Omega roles.  Even within the domesticated dog, thousands upon thousands of years later, those social instincts are alive and well.  Many followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Pharaoh, him of the Home Page, now an elderly German Shepherd is a Monitor or Beta dog.  I could write about this aspect of dogs for hours!

Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.
Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.

So back to us funny old humans.

I closed last Monday’s post off with three predictions:

  • That the power of internet communications will allow more people, more quickly, to find their soul-mates wherever they are on this planet.
  • That the realisation of how dysfunctional many Governments are, of how truly poorly they serve the majorities of their citizens, will lead to mass rejections of these so-called Governments’ policies.  Such rejections predominantly peaceful, as in taking the horse to water but being unable to make it drink.
  • That there will be a new form of localism.  At two levels.  Literally, people geographically close to each other creating 21st C. versions of local communities.  Virtually, those local communities linking to other like-minded communities right across the world resulting in highly effective and innovative learning, accelerated common-sense, (call it wisdom if you wish), and extraordinarily efficient and sustainable ways of living on this planet.

Patrice commented:

Dear Paul: I like your predictions. They will play some role. But maybe somewhere in the bushes only. I think predictions of the future beyond the next 12 months are obsolete.

Jeremy remarked: (and do click the link and read some of Jeremy’s fantastic poetry)

I am hoping for a new localism. I see signs of this in the local food movement and a growing concern about factory farming, for one thing. I think people are really scrutinizing where their food comes from, where their medicines are made, and I think there also is a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). I do see signs of these things permeating the consciousness of many people and leading them to want to become more “local.”

Alex said:

Your predictions are good, and I liked the one of communities from different parts of the world working with each other… that was creatively brilliant.

(Click on their names to see three wonderful blog sites, by the way.)

So my idea of a return to an era of localism, but a 21st C. version reflecting the way so many millions of us are connected electronically, wasn’t immediately rejected.

Patrice recently published a post called Devils In The Details.  I mentioned in a comment to that post that I would be referring to it in this place.  Patrice replied [my italics]:

Very good, Paul! No doubt you will bring more common sense to one more of these interesting collaborations you bring together! Internet debates! A long way from the paleolithique cave!… But still the same idea. Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.

I found that last sentence so powerful that it was used as the sub-heading to today’s post.  Then Alexi Helligar commented:

The word consciousness, breaks down to con+scious+ness, which literally means together knowing or shared knowledge.

Adding in a subsequent comment:

In other words: Without society there is no consciousness. The sages of old knew this. Why has it been forgotten?

So right before my eyes (and yours!) we are seeing the power of ‘finding together‘.

Finally, just on the spur of the moment, I did a web search under an entry of ‘early caveman social structure’.  Guess what!  One of the top search returns was an essay by an Erik D. Kennedy under the title of On the Social Lives of Cavemen.  From which jumped off the screen:

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

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

My goodness me, this sharing idea may be core to a healthy society in ways that we need to return to.  Erik’s essay goes on thus:

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

The happiness and health I’m describing are not, however, ingredients to a long-lost elixir of well-being.  This sort of paleo social life occurs in cultures large and small all over the globe.  America just happens to be an enormous exception (and the one that I live in).  The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.  This was basically an Italian village in the American countryside, and it stood out because Italy’s social culture was remarkable compared to America’s—and that was in the 1950’s.  America’s social culture has only deteriorated even further since then.  We’ve lost a lot, but my thesis is a positive one; we have as much to gain as ever.

So if wolves and dogs naturally settle into packs of 50 animals, what’s the optimum ‘pack’ size for humans?  Dear Erik even offers that answer:

Along with that urban emigration came a shrink in residents per household and a widespread decline in community and organization engagement.  This isolation has been taxing on our physical and mental health, and the reason has been clear from the beginning: it’s not good for man to be alone.

So we’ll spend more time with other people.  Fine.  But who should we spend our time with?  What kind of groups should we hang out in?  And how big of groups?  The simple answer is: as long as you’re pretty close to the people you’re with, it hardly matters. Piles of research back up what is essentially obvious from everyday experience: that the more time you spend with people you trust, the better off you are.  That’s not to discourage actively meeting new people, but seeing as though close friends push us towards health and happiness better than strangers, there does appear to be a limit on the number of people you can have in your “tribe”.

And that number is about 150, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who achieved anthropologist fame by drawing a graph plotting primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes.  He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and lo and behold, the number 150 has been making a whirlwind tour of popular non-fiction books ever since.  Beyond being the upper bound for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Paleolithic farming villages,  it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for number of close social ties.

You really must read Erik’s essay in full; it really ‘spoke’ to me and maybe it will do the same for you.

So no other way to close than to say that of all the things we can learn from dogs, the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

Dogs and man should never be alone.
Dogs and man should never be alone.


I'll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!
I’ll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!

In praise of Pit Bull dogs.

A guest post by Noella Schink.

Not so long ago, this email was received by me:

Possible Guest Post?


My name is Noella and I am a writer and dog enthusiast from Portland, Maine. I am reaching out to you in hopes of contributing to Learning from Dogs as a guest blogger. I have an original, unpublished piece about Top Five Reasons to Pet a Pitbull Today, that I think would fit nicely with the current offering of blog topics you post. I would also be open to writing you a new piece,  if there’s a specific topic you’d like covered.

Please let me know if you’d be interested in having a look at my piece and hopefully fitting it into your editorial calendar.

I hope to hear back from you soon!



Now to be honest, this type of writing offer is not that rare but almost without exception is connected to some form of commercial organisation seeking to advance their profile. My responses are ‘not interested’!  Initially, that was my first impression of this email from Noella.   But in reply to my query along that vein, Noella sent me this:


You’re right, there will be revenue earned from dog friendly businesses that want to get involved and have ads featured on Harry’s Picks. As you can see, presently we have one dog bakery featured. The idea is to keep the website running and give back to the canine community. We are not affiliated with any brand or company.

Thank you,


Thus on that basis I was happy to go ahead with the guest post.  Influenced in great part by the gorgeous temperament of our Casey, a Pit Bull that we adopted February, 2012 when we were still living in Payson, Arizona.  Casey, as he was named, had been living in the Humane Centre for nearly a year with no-one taking a liking to him, and his days as a rescue dog were running out.

Jean loved Casey from first sight and in due course brought him home.  He quickly settled into the most wonderful, caring and gregarious dog one could imagine.  He continues to be a happy, warm dog with all of us here in Oregon.

Casey doing what dogs do so well – picking up a scent.
Casey doing what dogs do so well – picking up scents of his new home. (28th February, 2012)

So with all that, let me turn to Noella’s guest post.


Top 5 Reasons To Love a Pittie

Sweet Addie.

This is Addie. She is my best friend. She is a Pit Bull mix and the sweetest dog I have ever known. I really didn’t know much about Pit Bulls when I adopted her. I hadn’t been spoiled by tales of their viciousness and I had not yet been brought into the fold by a devotee. So I had to learn fast!

Everything I know about Pit Bulls now has been through her or inspired by her.

Here are the top 5 things I love about Addie and Pit Bulls:

5) They are incredibly strong and athletic. They come in pretty small packages but they are dynamos. Addie can jump five feet straight up in the air from standing still. It’s awe inspiring to watch.

4) You will always be missed! They fuss when you come home. I’m sure lots of dogs do this, but I’ve noticed it in a lot of pitties. They whine and wiggle and snort in the most adorable way. They love people and are always ecstatic to see you. I’m lucky to get a raised eyebrow from my hound dog.

3) They love to play. Pitties are a very determined breed. They will play until you are completely worn out and they will be fully engaged and inquisitive the entire time.

2) THEY LOVE PEOPLE. In my experience Pit Bulls are the most affectionate breed. They are snuggle monsters and will use their gigantic noggins to nose their way into your personal space whether you are seeking their attention or not.

1) THEY NEED THE LOVE. Sadly Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes makeup 30%-40% of shelter intakes nationwide and that number goes up in urban areas (interesting article on the subject here). Pit Bulls are misunderstood and often times fall into the hands of the wrong people. They need good owners that have the love and patience to provide them solid training and safe homes.

Noella Schink, writes from Portland, Maine, where she lives and plays with her 3-year-old pit bull mix, Addie, 8-year old shih-tzu, Brutus, and 2-year old hound, Lula. For great tips and reviews about dog friendly businesses around the country, she recommends Harry’s Picks, a new online community for dog lovers.


Feelings, as in the animal variety!

It really is absurd to think that animals don’t have feelings!

Surely, a smiling Sweeny?
Surely, a smiling Sweeny?

Many thousands of animal owners will intuitively know that animals have feelings.  Not only expressed through their behaviour but also through many other subtle signs including facial expressions.  But what about the science behind this?

Back towards the end of May, there was an item on the BBC News website that was headlined: Ape tantrums: Chimps and bonobos emotional about choice. It caught my eye.

Ape tantrums: Chimps and bonobos emotional about choice

Like many humans, chimpanzees and bonobos react quite emotionally when they take risks that fail to pay off.

This is according to researchers from Duke University in the US, who developed decision-making games that the apes played to earn edible treats.

Some animals that lost the game – receiving a bland piece of cucumber rather than a preferred piece of banana – reacted with what looked like the ape equivalent of a tantrum.

The findings are published in Plos One.

It was then only a matter of a couple of ‘mouse clicks‘ to go to that Plos One publication of the findings.

Chimpanzees and Bonobos Exhibit Emotional Responses to Decision Outcomes


The interface between cognition, emotion, and motivation is thought to be of central importance in understanding complex cognitive functions such as decision-making and executive control in humans. Although nonhuman apes have complex repertoires of emotional expression, little is known about the role of affective processes in ape decision-making. To illuminate the evolutionary origins of human-like patterns of choice, we investigated decision-making in humans’ closest phylogenetic relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus). In two studies, we examined these species’ temporal and risk preferences, and assessed whether apes show emotional and motivational responses in decision-making contexts. We find that (1) chimpanzees are more patient and more risk-prone than are bonobos, (2) both species exhibit affective and motivational responses following the outcomes of their decisions, and (3) some emotional and motivational responses map onto species-level and individual-differences in decision-making. These results indicate that apes do exhibit emotional responses to decision-making, like humans. We explore the hypothesis that affective and motivational biases may underlie the psychological mechanisms supporting value-based preferences in these species.


Wonderfully, just a short time later I found on Psychology Today an article about the emotions felt by dogs.  It was written by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., who is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia.  (As an aside, a quick search revealed that Prof. Coren was mentioned in a blog post back in October, 2011 in this place: The power of joy.)

So imagine my pleasure and delight at receiving written permission from the Professor to republish his article in full.  So without further ado, here it is.


Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience?

Dogs have the same emotions as a human 2 year-old child.

Published on March 14, 2013 by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. in Canine Corner

Since most of us routinely read emotions in our dogs (wagging tail means happy, cringing means afraid and so forth) it may be difficult to believe that the existence of real emotions in dogs was, and in some places still is, a point of scientific controversy. In the distant past it was presumed that dogs had very rich mental lives with feelings much like those of humans. However with the rise of science things began to change. We learned enough about the principles of physics and mechanics, so that we could build complex machines, and began to notice that living things (both people and animals) were also based upon by systems governed by mechanical rules and chemical processes. In the face of such discoveries, religions stepped in to suggest that there must be more to human beings than simply mechanical and chemical events. Church scholars insisted that people have souls, and the evidence they gave for this was the fact that humans have consciousness and feelings. Animals might have the same mechanical systems, but they did not have a divine spark, and therefore they do not have the ability to experience true feelings.

Since most research at the time was church sponsored it is not surprising that prominent scholars, such as the French philosopher and scientist René Descartes adopted this viewpoint. In a highly influential set of analyses, Descartes suggested that animals like dogs were simply some kind of machine. He would thus describe my Beagle, Darby, as simply being a dog-shaped chassis, filled with the biological equivalent of gears and pulleys. Although this machine doesn’t have consciousness and emotions it can still be programmed to do certain things.

In recent times science has progressed a long way beyond Descartes and we now understand that dogs have all of the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans. Dogs also have the same hormones and undergo the same chemical changes that humans do during emotional states. Dogs even have the hormone oxytocin, which, in humans, is involved with feeling love and affection for others. With the same neurology and chemistry that people have, it seems reasonable to suggest that dogs also have emotions that are similar to ours. However it is important to not go overboard and immediately assume that the emotional ranges of dogs and humans are the same.

To understand what dogs feel we must turn to research which was done to explore the emotions of humans. Not all people have the full range of all possible emotions. In fact at some points in your life you did not have the full complement of emotions that you feel and express today. Research shows that infants and very young children have a more limited range of emotions, but over time the child’s emotions begin to differentiate and they come to be able to experience different and more complex emotional states.

This data is important to our understanding of the emotional lives of dogs because researchers have come to believe that the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a human who is two to two-and-a-half years old. This conclusion holds for most mental abilities — including emotions. Thus we can look to the human research to see what we might expect of our dogs. Like a young child, dogs will clearly have emotions, but many fewer kinds of emotions than we find in adults.

I’ve illustrated this in the accompanying illustration. At birth a human infant only has an emotion that we might call excitement. This indicates how aroused he is, ranging from very calm up to a state of frenzy. Within the first weeks of life the excitement state comes to take on a positive or a negative flavor, so we can now detect the general emotions of contentment and distress. In the next couple of months disgust, fear, and anger, become detectable in the infant. Joy often does not appear until the infant is nearly six months of age and it is followed by the emergence of shyness or suspicion. True affection (the sort that it makes sense to use the label “love” for) does not fully emerge until nine or ten months of age.


The complex social emotions, those which have elements that must be learned, don’t appear until late. Shame and pride take more than three years to appear, while guilt appears around six months after these. A child must be nearly four years of age before it feels contempt.

This developmental sequence is the golden key to understanding the emotions of dogs. Dogs go through their developmental stages much more quickly than humans do, and have all of the emotional range that they will ever achieve by the time they are four to six months of age (depending on the rate of maturing in their breed). However, we know that the assortment of emotions available to the dog will not exceed that which is available to a human who is two to two-and-a-half years old. This means that a dog will have all of the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust and even love. However based on current research it seems likely that your dog will not have those more complex emotions like guilt, pride and shame.

Now many people might argue that they have seen evidence which indicates that their dog is capable of experiencing guilt. The usual situation is where you come home and your dog starts slinking around and showing discomfort, and you then find that he or she has left a smelly brown deposit on your kitchen floor. It is natural to conclude that the dog was acting in a way that shows that it is feeling  guilty about its transgression. However this is not guilt, but simply the more basic emotion of fear. The dog has learned that when you appear and his droppings are visible on the floor, bad things happen to him. What you see is his fear of punishment—he will never feel guilt.

So what does this mean for those of us who live with, and interact with dogs? The good news is that you can feel free to dress your dog in that silly costume for a party. He will not feel shame, regardless how ridiculous he looks. He will also not feel pride at winning a prize at a dog show or an obedience competition. However your dog can still feel love for you, and contentment when you are around, and aren’t these the emotions we truly value?

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark; Do Dogs Dream? The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission


NB: Do make a bookmark of Canine Corner.

So going to return to that BBC News item.  I broke off after that reference to the findings being published in Plos One.  This is how the BBC item continued:

The researchers worked with 23 chimps and 15 bonobos in two ape sanctuaries in the Republic of Congo.

“The animals were all [rescued] orphans of the bushmeat trade,” explained lead researcher Alexandra Rosati, now at Yale University.

“They’re sort of in semi-captivity, but it’s possible to play games with them.

“It’s as close as we can come to wild animals without actually being in the wild.”

Dr Rosati, who studies problem-solving in apes in order to examine the origins of human behaviour, designed two games.

In the first, the animals could choose between receiving a relatively small food reward immediately, or receiving a larger reward but having to wait for it.

The second game involved choosing between a “safe” and a “risky” option. The safe option was six peanuts hidden under a bowl. But a second bowl concealed either a slice of cucumber or a highly favoured portion of banana.

Many of the apes – both bonobos and chimps – became emotional when they had to wait or took a gamble that did not pay off.

The researchers recorded some very tantrum-like responses: vocalisations including “pout moans” and “screams”, as well as anxious scratching and banging on the bars of the enclosure.

“Some of the reactions look similar to a kid [shouting] ‘no, I wanted it!’,” said Dr Rosati.

Emotional decisions

The results, Dr Rosati explained, suggest that the emotional component of decision-making – feelings of frustration and regret that are so fundamental to our own decisions – are intrinsic to ape society and are not uniquely human.

Emotions may have shaped the way great apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, live.
Emotions may have shaped the way great apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, live.

The researchers also found differences in the way the two species responded to the games; chimps were more willing to take risks, and also more patient than bonobos.

This could suggest that the apes’ capacity for emotion may have helped shape the way they live.

“These differences might be reflected in differences in how the apes choose to forage in the wild,” said Dr Rosati.

“This might be why chimpanzees are more likely to engage in risky strategies like hunting, in that you could spend all day pursuing a monkey, but end up with nothing.

Overall, she said that the results suggested that decision-making in apes involved moods and motivations similar to our own.

OK, better let the dogs outside now – I’m on the receiving end of that look!

From wolf to dog!

The science behind our fabulous dogs.

I was doing some research for another writing project about the history of the domestication of the dog and came across a peer-reviewed article on The National Center for Biotechnology Information website, here in the USA.  The article was entitled: Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication. The website link is here.  (As an aside, if you drop in here and look at the NCBI sitemap it may well serve as an excellent resource.)

Anyway, the dog domestication article is, of necessity, highly scientific but nonetheless worth the read.  Here’s a taste from the Abstract.

Advances in genome technology have facilitated a new understanding of the historical and genetic processes crucial to rapid phenotypic evolution under domestication 1,2. To understand the process of dog diversification better, we conducted an extensive genome-wide survey of more than 48,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms in dogs and their wild progenitor, the grey wolf. Here we show that dog breeds share a higher proportion of multi-locus haplotypes unique to grey wolves from the Middle East, indicating that they are a dominant source of genetic diversity for dogs rather than wolves from east Asia, as suggested by mitochondrial DNA sequence data 3

But what really caught my eye was Figure 1, a wonderful illustration of the links between all the breeds of dogs and the grey wolf.

Neighbour-joining trees of domestic dogs and grey wolves.
Neighbour-joining trees of domestic dogs and grey wolves.

From:Nature. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 November 9.
Published in final edited form as: Nature. 2010 April 8; 464(7290): 898–902.
Published online 2010 March 17. doi: 10.1038/nature08837

Copyright/License ►Request permission to reuse

Branch colour indicates the phenotypic/functional designation used by dog breeders 8,9. A dot indicates ≥95% bootstrap support from 1,000 replicates. a, Haplotype-sharing cladogram for 10-SNP windows (n = 6 for each breed and wolf population). b, Allele-sharing cladogram of individuals based on individual SNP loci. c, Haplotype-sharing phylogram based on 10-SNP windows of breeds and wolf populations. d, Allele-sharing phylogram of individual SNPs for breeds and wolf populations. For c and d, we note breeds where genetic assignments conflict with phenotypic/functional designations as follows: 1, Brussels griffon; 2, Pekingese; 3, pug; 4, Shih-tzu; 5, miniature pinscher; 6, Doberman pinscher; 7, Kuvasz; 8, Ibizian hound; 9, chihuahua; 10, Pomeranian; 11, papillon; 12, Glen of Imaal; 13, German shepherd; 14, Briard; 15, Jack Russell; 16, dachshund; 17, great schnauzer; and 18, standard schnauzer. Gt, great; mtn, mountain; PBGV, petit basset griffon vendeen; pin., pinscher; ptr, pointer; ret., retriever; shep., shepherd; sp., spaniel; Staf., Staffordshire; std, standard; terr., terrier. Canine images not drawn to scale. Wolf image adapted from ref. 31; dog images from the American Kennel Club (http://www.akc.org).

The diagram on its own was a bit of a struggle but looked at in conjunction with the research paper was much better understood.  Another reason for going to the original article on the NCBI website is the interesting range of links to other scientific papers that may be seen to the right-hand side of the screen. For example:

Coat variation in the domestic dog is governed by variants in three genes.

mtDNA data indicate a single origin for dogs south of Yangtze River, less than 16,300 years ago, from numerous wolves.

that included this in the Abstract:

The mean sequence distance to ancestral haplotypes indicates an origin 5,400-16,300 years ago (ya) from at least 51 female wolf founders. These results indicate that the domestic dog originated in southern China less than 16,300 ya, from several hundred wolves. The place and time coincide approximately with the origin of rice agriculture, suggesting that the dogs may have originated among sedentary hunter-gatherers or early farmers, and the numerous founders indicate that wolf taming was an important culture trait.

Ancient DNA evidence for Old World origin of New World dogs.


Mitochondrial DNA sequences isolated from ancient dog remains from Latin America and Alaska showed that native American dogs originated from multiple Old World lineages of dogs that accompanied late Pleistocene humans across the Bering Strait. One clade of dog sequences was unique to the New World, which is consistent with a period of geographic isolation. This unique clade was absent from a large sample of modern dogs, which implies that European colonists systematically discouraged the breeding of native American dogs.

If you needed a reminder of the Pleistocene period, as I did, there’s a helpful Wikipedia entry here.

The final link that I wanted to highlight was this one, for all dog owners who worry about the health of our dogs.

The legacy of domestication: accumulation of deleterious mutations in the dog genome.


Dogs exhibit more phenotypic variation than any other mammal and are affected by a wide variety of genetic diseases. However, the origin and genetic basis of this variation is still poorly understood. We examined the effect of domestication on the dog genome by comparison with its wild ancestor, the gray wolf. We compared variation in dog and wolf genes using whole-genome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data. The d(N)/d(S) ratio (omega) was around 50% greater for SNPs found in dogs than in wolves, indicating that a higher proportion of nonsynonymous alleles segregate in dogs compared with nonfunctional genetic variation. We suggest that the majority of these alleles are slightly deleterious and that two main factors may have contributed to their increase. The first is a relaxation of selective constraint due to a population bottleneck and altered breeding patterns accompanying domestication. The second is a reduction of effective population size at loci linked to those under positive selection due to Hill-Robertson interference. An increase in slightly deleterious genetic variation could contribute to the prevalence of disease in modern dog breeds.

Have to say that there are some fabulous learning opportunities from the enormous range of websites available nowadays.

A reminder of very ancient times.

The positives and negatives of dogs being dogs.

It is our routine at home here in Oregon to let the kitchen group of dogs out first (Lily, Ruby, Casey & Paloma, with Sweeny tagging along) while Jean puts together our small breakfast.  The time is around 6am to 6:30am and both Jean and I are usually wearing dressing gowns.  Once this first group has been outside, then I let the ‘bedroom’ group out (Pharaoh, Cleo, Hazel and Dhalia).

Such as I did this morning, unusually a day starting dull with overcast cloud.

Suddenly, I heard the most awful squealing of an animal in pain over in the dense wooded area to the South-West of the property.

The wooded area in question.
The wooded area in question.

In plastic slippers and dressing-gown only, I dashed into the woods and to my horror saw that Cleo, Hazel and Dhalia had cornered a young deer, and at least Hazel was nipping at a rear leg.

A not uncommon sight at home.
A not uncommon sight at home.

I screamed at the dogs, to no avail.  They took not the slightest notice of me.

Then the young deer wriggled free and fled into the trees.  The dogs recornered it and plunged in again.  The deer broke free again, and so it went on.  Eventually, after some ten minutes of the most dreadful hollering and chasing by me, the young deer jumped a fence and ran off with its mother who had been shadowing the terrible event.  I prayed that it wasn’t badly hurt.

Gracious, I was so angry with the dogs!  What disgusting behaviour towards this young, beautiful creature.

When I was back in the house trying to regain my breath, still so angry at the dogs, a thought came to my mind.  Tens of thousands of years ago, this behaviour of the dogs was held in great esteem.

Early man evolved from a tribal hunter-gatherer existence to the pastoral life of farming about 10,000 years ago.  If the DNA evidence shows, as it does, that the dog evolved from the wolf as a separate species around 100,000 years ago, then dogs were part of the life of hunter-gatherer man for something of the order of 90,000 years, possibly a couple of decades longer!

In fairness, the present lineage of dogs was domesticated from grey wolves only about 15,000 years ago. Despite fossil remains of domesticated dogs having been found in Siberia and Belgium from about 33,000 years ago, none of those lineages survived the Last Glacial Maximum. No fossil specimens prior to 33,000 years ago have indicated that they are clearly from the morphologically domesticated dog.

Even if, and it’s a very big ‘if’, the relationship between man and dog is only about 15,000 years old, one can only speculate how each species came to know the other, in every imaginable way.

Actually, we can go beyond speculation because in a study published by the PLOS ONE scientific journal in March 2013, Dr. Robert Losey, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta and the lead author, explained that:

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.

So back to the morning’s drama between the dogs and the young deer.

The efficiency of the way the dogs cornered the deer was breath-taking.  Had I not been coming at them in such a state of anger and agitation, and especially if I was one of a group of say, 2 or 3 humans, the odds are that the deer could have been grabbed and dispatched.  In other words, those three dogs had demonstrated that 20,000, 40,000, 80,000 or more years ago, they were critically useful at helping early hunter-gatherer man feed himself.

Back to Dr. Losey’s view, “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.

Does make sense, doesn’t it.


“Oh look! We could have turkey for dinner tonight!”

The King of dogs.

A reflection on the history of the German Shepherd dog.

Yesterday’s account of getting to know GSD Duke a little better caused me to find a post that had been sitting in my Drafts folder for a couple of years.  It was about a piece published in The New York Times, Sunday Review, October 8th, 2011 under the heading of Why German Shepherds Have Had Their Day.

Why German Shepherds Have Had Their Day


SUCCESS can be a drag. You yearn for it, strive for it, and then, when it finally arrives, it sets off repercussions you never anticipated that sometimes undo that success.

Take the German shepherd. Originally bred to the exacting standards of a German cavalry officer, it became one of the 20th century’s most popular working breeds. But in recent years that popularity, and the overbreeding that came with it, has driven the German shepherd into eclipse: even the police in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who had relied on the dogs for years, recently announced they were replacing them with Belgian Malinois, because the less-popular Malinois were hardier and more reliable.

But there is good news about this bad news, if you are a lover of the breed, because less visibility, especially in inspiring roles as public servants, is likely to mean less demand for the dogs. That means less reason to produce too many puppies, which is the best thing that can happen to any purebred dogs.

The article continued with the history of the breed.  But rather than stay with the NYT piece, for more about the breed history I’m going to cross over to the website of the British charity, German Shepherd Dog Rescue (GSDR). They have a comprehensive account of the History and Origins of the Breed.

History and Origins of the German Shepherd Dog

A brief insight into the development of the breed


The German Shepherd breed appeared late at the end of the 19th century in Germany and they were first exhibited at a show in Hanover in 1882. They were not like German Shepherds as we know them today though being rough coated, short tailed and rather resembling mongrels. The German Shepherd Dog as we now know it didn’t really appear until after the Second World War.

The breed was actually created by the cross breeding of working sheep dogs from rural Germany by an ex cavalry officer called Max von Stephanitz whose aim was to create a working dog for herding which could trot for long periods.

A breed standard was drawn up and the first breed show took place in 1899 following which the GSD became firmly established across Germany. In 1906 the first dogs were exported to the USA .

Since then, the breed has grown enormously in popularity and is now one of the most popular pedigree breeds in the UK as a pet as well as being the favourite working breed for many forces, especially the police. They are widely used for security purposes because of their strong protective instincts.

Many people in the UK still call these dogs Alsatians which may partly be due to the fact that when they were first bred, the Alsace region of France, where these dogs were very popular, was part of Germany . I still get people who think that Alsatians are the traditional short coat black and tan dogs and that German Shepherds are the long coated dogs that have become popular.

GSD’s make wonderful family pets and will protect family and home.

These dogs are highly intelligent and will show undying devotion to their master but they are dogs that need company and stimulation to be at their best. It is however, important to remember that this is a working breed and that they do have certain characteristics that some people might find difficult to live with. The German Shepherd should be steady, loyal, self assured, courageous and willing and should not be nervous over aggressive or shy. Nervous aggression is something that we are now seeing more often as a result of bad breeding. It is sad but there has always been indiscriminate breeding of German Shepherds right from the start, which has lead to problems with temperament and health.

Before leaving the GSDR website, please read more about this important charity, “We are one of the longest standing and largest German Shepherd rescues in the UK.” and if there is any way at all that you can help, please, please, please!  (And fellow bloggers, consider a post spreading the word about this wonderful charity and these most magnificent of dogs.)

So a few memories of German Shepherds closer to home.


Young Pharaoh 12th August, 2003 when he was just 10 weeks old.


We are friends for life! Each for the other.


Pharaoh, ten-years-old, and King of his Castle!  Taken on the 3rd June, 2013 at our home in Oregon.


 The arrival of young Cleo!

I suspect Pharaoh is explaining to Cleo that there’s only rule of the house – his rule!

Picture taken April 7th, 2012

Little Sweeny and Cleo

From puppy to Big Dog!  Cleo resting where she shouldn’t be! February, 2013.

What magnificent animals they are!

How wonderful to have a dog.

Owning a dog really makes a measurable and positive difference to health outcomes!

Yesterday, I republished a post from October, 2010 which included the story of Ricochet.  In that post, I mentioned a graphic that had been sent to me by ZocDoc.  I had been sent an email that in part read:

Hey Paul,

I work for ZocDoc, a doctor’s appointment website (not for dogs yet!).  I just stumbled upon your blog, because you wrote about the healing power of dogs. We’ve just launched an infographic called “the healing power of dogs” and since you also have the post on your site I  thought that this should be interesting to your readership and possibly help adoption.

I hadn’t heard of the company but very quickly the About Us page explained the background.  Now in fairness, that email was all about promoting a commercial organisation.  Nevertheless, it seemed such a useful and enjoyable graphic that I agreed to publish it.


The Healing Power of Dogs.


They truly are amazing creatures.