Yesterday we drove down to Phoenix, Oregon to deliver the Sun Tricycle to the new owners. Daniel and Cherie were a delightful couple, albeit more my age than younger. But they had been through one heck of a disaster. Because last year they were both asked to flee the fires with very little notice and only recently had they found a new home and were still settling in.
Daniel rides his trike and wanted to get one for Cherie. We were delighted with the sale and we hope we all will see each other in the near future.
Anyway, Daniel is quite an artist and Jean mentioned she used to paint before the Parkinson’s tremor made it much more difficult. But Daniel insisted on photographs being taken of a few of Jean’s paintings and sent to them via email.
Yesterday’s post about the loyalty of dogs brought to mind a post that I published way back in 2013. Let me take an extract from yesterday’s post:
It’s no secret that domesticated dogs are descendants of wolves. Even today, modern dogs continue to share similar genes to wolves that live in the wild. The idea of “the loyal dog” is both a cultural and biological construct, as humans have created the dog over years of selective breeding and domestication to be this way. Essentially, humans picked and chose the wolf characteristics that would best serve their own benefit, transforming a wolf’s hierarchical structure and social bond to their packs into obedience and loyalty to humans.
The fact that is key is that dog packs are hierarchical. They have three status roles and the rest of the pack are all pack members. The three roles are Alpha dog, always a female, the Beta dog, always a male, and the Omega dog that could be either male or female.
The role of the alpha dog is to have first pick of the eligible males and to move the whole pack if in her analysis the territory becomes unsuitable for the pack. The role of the beta dog is to keep the pack under control and not to let fights get out of hand. The omega dog is to keep the pack happy and playful.
So to the post that was first published on the 10th April, 2013.
Yearnings for a new start!
You may wonder about the title of this post? Stay with me for a moment.
As has been written before on Learning from Dogs, when dogs were living in the wild just three animals had pack roles. The leader of the pack, always a female animal, was the alpha dog. Second in command was the beta dog, always a dominant male, and the third role was the omega or clown dog. The wild dog pack was thought to have consisted, typically, of about 50 animals.
As leader of her pack an alpha dog had two primary functions . One was having first choice as to the male dog she was going to mate with – thus demonstrating how women always choose! 😉
Her second important duty was deciding that her pack’s home range was insufficient for the needs of her ‘family’. As wolves still do, wild dogs lived within small, well-defined territories when food was abundant. When food became less abundant then it was time to move to more fertile grounds. As an aside, research in South Africa as to the area requirements for a small pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) shows they require from 65 square kilometers (25 square miles) to 150 sq. km. (58 sq. mi.). (See footnote.)
Dogs, like all wild animals, instinctively live in harmony with nature. So the call from the alpha dog to find a new range didn’t mean they left their old one as a barren disaster area. You can see where this is heading!
Wild dogs were in contact with early man at least 50,000 years ago. (Just reflect for a moment on the length of that relationship between man and dog.) So each specie has had plenty of time to learn from the other.
Thus, as mankind is on the verge of discovering that our existing ‘territory’ is becoming unsustainable for the healthy life of the species, one fundamental learning point from dogs appears to have escaped us: Mankind doesn’t have a new range available to our species.
This preamble came to mind when I recently read a short but powerful essay on Alex Jones’ blog The Liberated Way. The essay was called A global leaky bucket. Alex has very kindly given me permission to republish it.
A global leaky bucket
Global weather extremes will force people to hard choices.
I write this in despair, it is snowing again here in Colchester UK. I admit envy for those of you who live in California or Hong Kong area, I see your photographs where the seasons always seem to be warm and sunny. The northern Jet Stream refuses to move, Greenland enjoys growing strawberries as the lambs die in the fields of Britain from the winter that refuses to let go.
The extremes of weather are noted in the South of the world as well as the North. Argentina has had the worst floods in decades last week. The cause is that the systems such as the Jet Stream are paralysed in one place, thus everyone suffers flood, drought or winter in excess. Nobody is sure why this paralysis is going on with systems like the Jet Stream, some say it is climate change, the point is that we are experiencing this, and it appears to be more than a temporary issue.
My opinion is that these weather extremes are here to stay for the long duration. One is then left with a harsh reality of does one seek to control the weather or adapt to the weather? How does one control the weather, a chaotic energy system where even a small change can have great consequences? Perhaps adaptation is the better option, but does one know how huge those adaptations will have to be where drought and flood could be lasting decades?
Lets say food, water and energy are all contained in a bucket. We take a jug and scoop out from the bucket what we need. There is a tap that is constantly running filling the bucket with the food, water and energy. We waste those resources so the bucket leaks. We disrupt or destroy the renewal systems in the ecosystems so the tap is no longer running as fast as it should. We are greedy consumers so we take more than we need from the bucket with our jug. How will the bucket look now? Is this a sustainable future to you?
If our global weather extremes continue as they are it will be like a storm rocking the bucket spilling its contents, will our bucket future look even less sustainable? Extreme weather destroys harvests, kills animals, sends already distressed ecosystems into the abyss. What happens when the bucket is so empty that people can no longer enjoy their lifestyle of wasteful excess, or worse that people grow cold, hungry and thirsty? Do they sit there and do nothing but die? Will they fight? Who will fight who? As the bucket contents get ever smaller, who will win in the fighting for what is left?
Copyright (c) Alex Jones 2011-2013.
Colchester has a place in my past as I started and ran a business there between the years of 1978 to 1986. More about that some other day.
Back to Alex’s essay. It strongly resonated with a recent item on Peter Sinclair’s excellent blog Climate Denial Crock of the Week which I will refer to tomorrow.
So I will leave you with this tragic, emotional thought – where, oh where, is our alpha dog?
Footnote: The figures for the ranges of wild dogs were taken from a fascinating paper published by Lindsay, du Toit and Mills that may be read here.
One thing that has become clearer over the years and with the advent of DNA analysis is that the process of wolf and man coming together, and wolf becoming dog, was in the timeframe of 25,000 to 40,000 years ago. It’s a very wide band of time but there’s no scientific method, certainly at the moment, to refine the years down to a shorter number.
But even taking the lower limit, 25,000 years ago, it is still an indescribably long time back in the past.
Maybe because years ago he gave me blanket permission to republish his essays. Maybe because he and I are more or less the same age. Maybe because in my more quieter, introspective moments I wonder where the hell we are going. And Tom seems to agree.
Have a read of this.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Unexpected Past, the Unknown Future
[Note for TomDispatch Readers:Even in this terrible moment, TD does its best to continue offering an alternate view of this increasingly strange planet of ours. And I can only do so because of the ongoing support of readers. (I just wish I could actually thank each of you individually!) If you have the urge to continue to lend a hand in keeping TomDispatch afloat, then do check out our donation page. For a donation of $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), I usually offer a signed, personalized book from one of a number of TD authors listed on that page and you can certainly ask, but no guarantees in this pandemic moment. Still, you really do make all the difference and I can’t thank you enough for that! Tom]
Let me be blunt. This wasn’t the world I imagined for my denouement. Not faintly. Of course, I can’t claim I ever really imagined such a place. Who, in their youth, considers their death and the world that might accompany it, the one you might leave behind for younger generations? I’m 76 now. True, if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky), I could live another 20 years and see yet a newer world born. But for the moment at least, it seems logical enough to consider this pandemic nightmare of a place as the country of my old age, the one that I and my generation (including a guy named Donald J. Trump) will pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Back in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I knew it was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut almost immediately and, because of that, stumbled into creating TomDispatch.com, the website I still run. But did I ever think it would be this bad? Not a chance.
I focused back then on what already looked to me like a nightmarish American imperial adventure to come, the response to the 9/11 attacks that the administration of President George W. Bush quickly launched under the rubric of “the Global War on Terror.” And that name (though the word “global” would soon be dropped for the more anodyne “war on terror”) would prove anything but inaccurate. After all, in those first post-9/11 moments, the top officials of that administration were thinking as globally as possible when it came to war. At the damaged Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately turned to an aide and told him, “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” From then on, the emphasis would always be on the more the merrier.
Bush’s top officials were eager to take out not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose 19 mostly Saudi hijackers had indeed attacked this country in the most provocative manner possible (at a cost of only $400,000-$500,000), but the Taliban, too, which then controlled much of Afghanistan. And an invasion of that country was seen as but the initial step in a larger, deeply desired project reportedly meant to target more than 60 countries! Above all, George W. Bush and his top officials dreamed of taking down Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, occupying his oil-rich land, and making the United States, already the unipolar power of the twenty-first century, the overseer of the Greater Middle East and, in the end, perhaps even of a global Pax Americana. Such was the oil-fueled imperial dreamscape of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and crew (including that charmer and now bestselling anti-Trump author John Bolton).
Who Woulda Guessed?
In the years that followed, I would post endless TomDispatch pieces, often by ex-military men, focused on the ongoing nightmare of our country’s soon-to-become forever wars (without a “pax” in sight) and the dangers such spreading conflicts posed to our world and even to us. Still, did I imagine those wars coming home in quite this way? Police forces in American cities and towns thoroughly militarized right down to bayonets, MRAPs, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, thanks to a Pentagon program delivering equipment to police departments nationwide more or less directly off the battlefields of Washington’s never-ending wars? Not for a moment.
Who doesn’t remember those 2014 photos of what looked like an occupying army on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of a Black teenager and the protests that followed? And keep in mind that, to this day, the Republican Senate and the Trump administration have shown not the slightest desire to rein in that Pentagon program to militarize police departments nationwide. Such equipment (and the mentality that goes with it) showed up strikingly on the streets of American cities and towns during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Even in 2014, however, I couldn’t have imagined federal agents by the hundreds, dressed as if for a forever-war battlefield, flooding onto those same streets (at least in cities run by Democratic mayors), ready to treat protesters as if they were indeed al-Qaeda (“VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”), or that it would all be part of an election ploy by a needy president. Not a chance.
Or put another way, a president with his own “goon squad” or “stormtroopers” outfitted to look as if they were shipping out for Afghanistan or Iraq but heading for Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Seattle, and other American cities? Give me a break! How un-American could you get? A military surveillance drone overhead in at least one of those cities as if this were someone else’s war zone? Give me a break again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live to witness anything quite like it or a president — and we’ve had a few doozies — even faintly like the man a minority of deeply disgruntled Americans but a majority of electors put in the White House in 2016 to preside over a failing empire.
How about an American president in the year 2020 as a straightforward, no-punches-pulled racist, the sort of guy a newspaper could compare to former segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace without even blinking? Admittedly, in itself, presidential racism has hardly been unique to this moment in America, despite Joe Biden’s initial claim to the contrary. That couldn’t be the case in the country in which Woodrow Wilson made D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the infamous silent movie in which the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue, the first film ever to be shown in the White House; nor the one in which Richard Nixon used his “Southern strategy” — Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had earlier labeled it even more redolently “Operation Dixie” — to appeal to the racist fears of Southern whites and so begin to turn that region from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion; nor in the land where Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign of 1980 with a “states’ rights” speech (then still a code phrase for segregation) near Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where three murdered civil rights workers had been found buried in 1964.
Still, an openly racist president (don’t take that knee!) as an autocrat-in-the-making (or at least in-the-dreaming), one who first descended that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 denouncing Mexican “rapists,” ran for president rabidly on a Muslim ban, and for whom Black lives, including John Lewis’s, have always been immaterial, a president now defending every Confederate monument and military base named after a slave-owning general in sight, while trying to launch a Nixon-style “law and (dis)order” campaign? I mean, who woulda thunk it?
And add to that the once unimaginable: a man without an ounce of empathy in the White House, a figure focused only on himself and his electoral and pecuniary fate (and perhaps those of his billionaire confederates); a man filling his hated “deep state” with congressionally unapproved lackies, flacks, and ass-kissers, many of them previously flacks (aka lobbyists) for major corporations. (Note, by the way, that while The Donald has a distinctly autocratic urge, I don’t describe him as an incipient fascist because, as far as I can see, his sole desire — as in those now-disappeared rallies of his — is to have fans, not lead an actual social movement of any sort. Think of him as Mussolini right down to the look and style with a “base” of cheering MAGA chumps but no urge for an actual fascist movement to lead.)
And who ever imagined that an American president might actually bring up the possibility of delaying an election he fears losing, while denouncing mail-in ballots (“the scandal of our time”) as electoral fraud and doing his damnedest to undermine the Post Office which would deliver them amid an economic downturn that rivals the Great Depression? Who, before this moment, ever imagined that a president might consider refusing to leave the White House even if he did lose his reelection bid? Tell me this doesn’t qualify as something new under the American sun. True, it wasn’t Donald Trump who turned this country’s elections into 1% affairs or made contributions by the staggeringly wealthy and corporations a matter of free speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), but it is Donald Trump who is threatening, in his own unique way, to make elections themselves a thing of the past. And that, believe me, I didn’t count on.
Nor did I conceive of an all-American world of inequality almost beyond imagining. A country in which only the truly wealthy (think tax cuts) and the national security state (think budgets eternally in the stratosphere) are assured of generous funding in the worst of times.
The World to Come?
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet, have I? The one that should bring to mind the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the devastating Spanish Flu of a century ago, the one that’s killing Americans in remarkable numbers daily and going wild in this country, aided and abetted in every imaginable way (and some previously unimaginable ones) by the federal government and the president. Who could have dreamed of such a disease running riot, month after month, in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet without a national plan for dealing with it? Who could have dreamed of the planet’s most exceptional, indispensable country (as its leaders once loved to call it) being unable to take even the most modest steps to rein in Covid-19, thanks to a president, Republican governors, and Republican congressional representatives who consider science the equivalent of alien DNA? Honestly, who ever imagined such an American world? Think of it not as The Decameron, that fourteenth century tale of 10 people in flight from a pandemic, but the Trumpcameron or perhaps simply Trumpmageddon.
And keep in mind, when assessing this world I’m going to leave behind to those I hold near and dear, that Covid-19 is hardly the worst of it. Behind that pandemic, possibly even linked to it in complex ways, is something so much worse. Yes, the coronavirus and the president’s response to it may seem like the worst of all news as American deaths crest 160,000 with no end in sight, but it isn’t. Not faintly on a planet that’s being heated to the boiling point and whose most powerful country is now run by a crew of pyromaniacs.
It’s hard even to fully conceptualize climate change since it operates on a time scale that’s anything but human. Still, one way to think of it is as a slow-burn planetary version of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And by the way, if you’ll excuse a brief digression, in these years, our president and his men have been intent on ripping up every Cold War nuclear pact in sight, while the tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, the U.S. and China, only intensify and Washington invests staggering sums in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. (I mean, how exactly do you “modernize” the already-achieved ability to put an almost instant end to the world as we’ve known it?)
But to return to climate change, remember that 2020 is already threatening to be the warmest year in recorded history, while the five hottest years so far occurred from 2015 to 2019. That should tell you something, no?
The never-ending release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been transforming this planet in ways that have now become obvious. My own hometown, New York City, for instance, has officially become part of the humid subtropical climate zone and that’s only a beginning. Everywhere temperatures are rising. They hit 100 degrees this June in, of all places, Siberia. (The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the planet.) Sea ice is melting fast, while floods and mega-droughts intensify and forests burn in a previously unknown fashion.
And as a recent heat wave across the Middle East — Baghdad hit a record 125 degrees — showed, it’s only going to get hotter. Much hotter and, given how humanity has handled the latest pandemic, how will it handle the chaos that goes with rising sea levels drowning coastlines but also affecting inland populations, ever fiercer storms, and flooding (in recent weeks, the summer monsoon has, for instance, put one third of Bangladesh underwater), not to speak of the migration of refugees from the hardest-hit areas? The answer is likely to be: not well.
And I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the world I either imagined or would ever have dreamed of leaving to those far younger than me. That the men (and they are largely men) who are essentially promoting the pandemicizing and over-heating of this planet will be the greatest criminals in history matters little.
Let’s just hope that, when it comes to creating a better world out of such a god-awful mess, the generations that follow us prove better at it than mine did. If I were a religious man, those would be my prayers.
And here’s my odd hope. As should be obvious from this piece, the recent past, when still the future, was surprisingly unimaginable. There’s no reason to believe that the future — the coming decades — will prove any easier to imagine. No matter the bad news of this moment, who knows what our world might really look like 20 years from now? I only hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that it surprises us all.
This is such a powerful essay written from the heart of a good man.
I, too, wonder and worry about the next twenty years. Indeed, there are the stirrings of a book in my head. How that younger generation are reacting to the present and, more importantly, how they will react and respond to the next few years?
I’m 75 and really hope to live for quite a few more years. Jean is just a few years younger.
But much more importantly I have a son, Alex, who is 49, and a daughter, Maija, who is 48, and a grandson, Morten, of my daughter and her husband, who is 9.
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.
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.
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.
Then the meetings began!
And play didn’t seem to be too far off the agenda!
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.”
Yes there’s no question that dogs talk dog far better than we do!
Sometimes the most precious gift in the world is the simplest one.
So starts today’s republished essay.
I would slightly amend the saying by removing the word ‘Sometimes‘. It is a fact that the most precious gifts are the simplest ones.
This essay was on The Dodo just three days ago and is perfect!
Shelter Pup Can’t Believe He Just Got His Very First Bed
March 25th, 2020
Sometimes the most precious gift in the world is the simplest one.
For Ezra, a stray dog who spent his life on the streets, that was somewhere soft and warm to sleep. And the smile on his face when he received his very first bed said it all.
When Ezra first arrived at Fairfield County Animal Shelter in September, he wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. He lay in the back of his kennel, shaking and staring at the wall. Shelter staff knew he’d need to overcome his fear to have a chance at a better life, so they came up with a plan to win him over: hot dogs.
“The hot dogs were the key to his heart,” Samira Yaghi, rescue coordinator at the shelter, told The Dodo. “We always had hot dogs when walking by Ezra’s kennel. What started with tossing the hot dogs slowly became him taking them gently out of our hands.”
As Ezra got more comfortable, he began to press his body up against the volunteers, allowing them to pet him.
Finally, five months after he arrived, the nervous dog went outside for his very first walk. “It’s been uphill ever since,” Yaghi said. “He is full of wiggles and bounce anytime he sees us approaching, eager to say ‘hello’ and eager to give us kisses.”
It was after one of these walks that Ezra’s life changed forever. “We had several dog beds donated and they were still sitting by the entryway,” Yaghi wrote on Facebook. “On his way out for a walk, he [lay] on the bed [and] had to be coaxed off. On their way back in from the walk, he [lay] on the bed again.”
Seeing how attached Ezra was to the bed, the shelter staff put it in his kennel. He immediately sat in the bed, smiling from ear to ear. “Just look at how happy and proud he is to have that bed,” Yaghi wrote. “He sat nice and tall with a smile of gratitude on his face!”
The sweet photo of him smiling in his bed even caught the attention of the shelter’s northern rescue partner, S.N.A.R.R. Animal Rescue Northeast. Soon, Ezra and his beloved bed will be on their way to New York in search of a home, and his friends at the shelter couldn’t be more proud of how far he’s come.
Of our 6 dogs only 1 is a non-rescue. Jean’s history with dogs goes right back to Mexico and her finding homes in the USA for homeless street dogs taken in by her. When I met her, back in 2007, she had well over 20 dogs and when we came up to America to be married, in 2010, we came across the border with 16 dogs. All with the necessary paperwork I will add. But the border officer, after calling out to a colleague in the next customs booth, “Hey Jake, there’s a guy here with 16 dogs!“, couldn’t go throw all the paperwork and simply passed them all; not that we had anything to hide!
So Cleo was purchased to be companion to Pharaoh when Pharaoh was becoming an elderly dog.
Pharaoh died on the 17th June, 2017 and he is still badly missed!
There really is no end to the sense of smell that a dog has.
I was browsing online The Smithsonian magazine and came across a long article that was all about the dog’s sense of smell in terms of sniffing out citrus greening disease.
There’s no end of articles about the dog’s sense of smell and I have written about it before. But first I’m going to reproduce the article on Animal Planet because it gets to the point.
Dogs rule. Or, at least, they do when it comes to their sense of smell, which crushes that of humans. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), a dog’s sense of smell is about 1,000 times keener than that of their two-legged companions — and many dog experts claim it’s millions of times better — thanks to the construction of their often-slobbery, wet schnozzes. So what, exactly, is going on in there?
A dog sniffs at scents using his nose, of course, and also his mouth, which may open in a sort of grin. His nostrils, or nares, can move independently of one another, which helps him pinpoint where a particular smell is coming from. As a dog inhales a scent, it settles into his spacious nasal cavity, which is divided into two chambers and, ACES reports, is home to more than 220 million olfactory receptors (humans have a measly 5 million). Mucus traps the scent particles inside the nasal chambers while the olfactory receptors process them. Additional particles are trapped in the mucus on the exterior surface of his nose.
Sometimes, it takes more than one sniff for a dog to accumulate enough odor molecules to identify a smell. When the dog needs to exhale, air is forced out the side of his nostrils, allowing him to continue smelling the odors he’s currently sniffing.
Dogs possess another olfactory chamber called Jacobson’s organ, or, scientifically, the vomeronasal organ. Tucked at the bottom of the nasal cavity, it has two fluid-filled sacs that enable dogs to smell and taste simultaneously. Puppies use it to locate their mother’s milk, and even a favored teat. Adult dogs mainly use it when smelling animal pheromones in substances like urine, or those emitted when a female dog is in heat.
What all of this sniffing and processing really means is that a dog’s sense of smell is his primary form of communication. And it’s a phenomenal one, because dogs don’t just smell odors that we can’t. When a dog greets another dog through sniffing, for example, he’s learning an intricate tale: what the other dog’s sex is, what he ate that day, whom he interacted with, what he touched, what mood he’s in and — if it’s a female — if she’s pregnant or even if she’s had a false pregnancy. It’s no wonder, then, that while a dog’s brain is only one-tenth the size of a human brain, the portion controlling smell is 40 times larger than in humans.
So, who’s top dog when it comes to sniffing? While all canines have an incredible sense of smell, some breeds — such as bloodhounds, basset hounds and beagles — have more highly refined sniffers. This is a result of several factors. Dogs with longer snouts, for example, can smell better simply because their noses have more olfactory glands. Bloodhounds, members of the “scent hound” canine group, also have lots of skin folds around their faces, which help to trap scent particles. And their long ears, like those of Bassets, drag on the ground, collecting more smells that can be easily swept into their noses.
Of course, dogs are individuals as well, so it’s certainly possible to find a non-scent-hound who can outperform one. And as Dr. Sandi Sawchuk, a clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, notes: “There are lots of breeds that can be trained to sniff out certain items — for example, cadaver-sniffing dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, etc.”
Tim Gottwald will never forget the sight: the mottled yellow leaves, the withered branches, the small, misshapen fruits, tinged with sickly green. These were the signs he’d learned to associate with huanglongbing, or citrus greening—a devastating and wildly infectious bacterial infection that slashed the United States’ orange juice yields by more than 70 percent in the span of a decade.
“It’s like a cancer,” says Gottwald, a plant pathologist with the United States Department of Agriculture. “One that’s metastasized, and can’t be eradicated or cured.”
Once they’ve begun to sport splotchy foliage and stunted fruit, trees can be diagnosed with a single glance. A symptomatic plant, Gottwald says, is a diseased one. Unfortunately, the converse isn’t true: Infected trees can appear normal for months, sometimes years, before visibly deteriorating, leaving researchers with few reliable ways to suss out sick citrus early on—and giving the deadly bacteria ample opportunity to spread unnoticed.
Now, Gottwald and his colleagues may have a creative new strategy to fill this diagnostic gap—one that relies not on vision, but smell. They’ve taught dogs to recognize the telltale scent of a huanglongbing infection—an odor that eludes the attention of humans, but consistently tickles the super-sensitive schnozz of a mutt. Once trained up, canines can nose out the disease within weeks of infection, trouncing all other available detection methods in both timing and accuracy, the researchers report today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This is a major step in the development of what could be a really important early detection tool,” says Monique Rivera, an entomologist and citrus pest expert at the University of California, Riverside who wasn’t involved in the study. “It could give growers information about potential exposure … to the causative bacteria.”
As the disease continues to creep into new regions, researchers worldwide are scrambling to contain it. But the task has proved difficult: No effective treatments, cures or vaccines exist for huanglongbing, the product of a bacterium called Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (or CLas, pronounced “sea lass”) that’s ferried from tree to tree by winged insects. Scientists have also found the microbes to be extraordinarily difficult to grow and study in the lab.
Currently, the only surefire way to curb citrus greening’s spread is to extract and eliminate infected trees. This strategy depends entirely on early detection—“one of the biggest problems in the field right now,” says Carolyn Slupsky, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Davis who wasn’t involved in the study. Spotting an asymptomatic infection by eye is essentially impossible. And though genetic tests can sometimes pinpoint microbes in apparently healthy trees, their success rates are low and inconsistent, due in part to the patchiness with which CLas distributes itself in plant tissue.
In many ways, huanglongbing is “the perfect storm of a disease,” Slupsky says.
But canines may just be the perfect candidates to lend a helping paw. With a sense of smell that’s 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s, dogs are superstar sniffers, capable of nosing out everything from bombs to drugs. In recent years, they’ve even been deployed to detect pathogenic diseases like malaria. Infections, it turns out, stink—and dogs definitely take notice.
To see if pooches’ powers of perception might extend to huanglongbing, Gottwald and his team taught 20 dogs to pick up on the smell of citrus plants with known infections, rewarding the pups with toys when they identified the correct trees. After just a few weeks of training, the newly-minted citrus sniffers were picking out infected trees with about 99 percent accuracy. Put in pairs to corroborate each other’s results, the dogs got close-to-perfect scores.
Gottwald was floored. “I wasn’t surprised [the dogs] could do it,” he says. “But I was surprised by how well they could do it. It was pretty amazing.”
The team then pitted the pups against a common but expensive laboratory test that’s often used to verify the presence of CLas DNA in suspicious-looking citrus. After spiking the microbes into 30 trees, the researchers mixed the newly-infected plants into rows of healthy ones and allowed the dogs to inspect them on a weekly basis. Within a month, the canines had collectively homed in on every single CLas-positive plant.
The DNA test, on the other hand, had no such luck: Seventeen months into the infection, it was still failing to identify a third of the diseased trees.
If Gottwald’s team sees continued success, “this could be very exciting for [citrus] growers,” who could someday keep dogs around as a fast and relatively inexpensive way to survey their orchards, says Phuc Ha, a microbiologist at Washington State University who wasn’t involved in the study. For now, the most immediate applications lie in disease prevention. But, she adds, should researchers develop treatments for huanglongbing, canines could eventually play a role in curing the condition as well.
Gottwald and his team have already begun to send small teams of citrus-sniffer dogs to inspect vulnerable trees in California and Texas. In both locations, the canines have alerted the researchers to trees that have yet to test positive in the lab.
This, however, evokes the double-edged sword of early detection research: The dogs are so much faster at finding potentially diseased trees that their picks can’t actually be confirmed, Slupsky points out. Maybe they’re more sensitive than the molecular test, and the disease is more widespread than researchers feared. Or maybe the canine’s noses are leading them astray. “Specificity is always an issue,” Slupsky says, “because you’re comparing them to an imperfect test.”
Dogs also come with their own drawbacks. They can tire; they can be distracted. They’re not machines. And while they can make fast work of orchards where infections are rare, their performance will probably plummet in heavily afflicted groves. In an ideal world, Slupsky says, the dogs would serve strictly as a first line of defense, screening trees for further monitoring or testing in the lab. She and her colleagues are hard at work on one such diagnostic, built to detect the unique suite of chemicals infected leaves produce early on.
Many questions remain unanswered. Gottwald still isn’t sure what exactly the dogs are smelling on the plants, though a series of experiments indicate the scent is probably coming from the CLas bacteria themselves. That theory may be tough to test: Though researchers like Washington State’s Ha have now grown CLas in the presence of other microbes, no one has yet managed to isolate the strain in a pure culture, hampering efforts to understand its basic biology and develop precise treatments.
While exciting, the team’s dog-nostic developments ultimately underscore “just how distant we still are from understanding a lot of the mechanistic processes that are going on [with this disease],” Rivera says. But with more collaboration and multidisciplinary work, she adds, “I think we’ll keep heading toward solutions.”
When one watches a dog closely it’s very clear that their nose is their primary sense. At least a thousand times better than our human sense of smell and some people put it much higher. That is impossible to understand. The best we can do is to wonder at the sort of world that dogs ‘see’ with their noses.
I will close with an old photograph of Pharaoh helping a prospector look for gold in our creek.
I have re-read this post and have choked up. For Pharaoh was the supreme dog for me to have as a companion during this stage in my life. I suspect you will read that clearly in the post that follows.
The concluding part-two of meeting Pharaoh
In yesterday’s first part of my recollection of having Pharaoh in my life for over ten years, I focussed on the early days. Today, I want to take a more philosophical view of the relationship, right up to the present day.
The biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend goes back a few years. Back to my Devon days and the time when Jon Lavin and I used to spend hours talking together. Pharaoh always contentedly asleep in the same room as the two of us. It was Jon who introduced me to Dr. David Hawkins and his Map of Consciousness. It was Jon one day who looking down at the sleeping Pharaoh pointed out that Dr. Hawkins offered evidence that dogs are integrous creatures with a ‘score’ on that Map of between 205 and 210. (Background story is here.)
So this blog, Learning from Dogs, and my attempt to write a book of the same name flow from that awareness of what dogs mean to human consciousness and what Pharaoh means to me. No, more than that! From that mix of Jon, Dr. David Hawkins, experiencing the power of unconditional love from an animal living with me day-in, day-out, came a journey into my self. Came the self-awareness that allowed me to like who I was, be openly loved by this dog of mine, and be able to love in return. As is said: “You cannot love another until you love yourself.”
Trying to pick out a single example of the bond that he and I have is practically impossible. I have to rely on photographs to remind me of the thousands of times that a simple look or touch between Pharaoh and me ‘speaks’ to me in ways that words fail. Here’s an extract from my celebration of Pharaoh’s tenth birthday last June 3rd; written the following day. It comes pretty close to illustrating the friendship bond.
For many years I was a private pilot and in later days had the pleasure, the huge pleasure, of flying a Piper Super Cub, a group-owned aircraft based at Watchford Farm in South Devon. The aircraft, a Piper PA-18-135 Super Cub, was originally supplied to the Dutch Air Force in 1954 and was permitted by the British CAA to carry her original military markings including her Dutch military registration, R-151, although there was a British registration, G-BIYR, ‘underneath’ the Dutch R-151. (I wrote more fully about the history of the aircraft on Learning from Dogsback in August 2009.)
Anyway, every time I went to the airfield with Pharaoh he always tried to climb into the cockpit. So one day, I decided to see if he would sit in the rear seat and be strapped in. Absolutely no problem with that!
My idea had been to fly a gentle circuit in the aircraft. First I did some taxying around the large grass airfield that is Watchford to see how Pharaoh reacted. He was perfectly behaved.
Then I thought long and hard about taking Pharaoh for a flight. In the Cub there is no autopilot so if Pharaoh struggled or worse it would have been almost impossible to fly the aircraft and cope with Pharaoh. So, in the end, I abandoned taking him for a flight. The chances are that it would have been fine. But if something had gone wrong, the outcome just didn’t bear thinking about.
So we ended up motoring for 30 minutes all around the airfield which, as the next picture shows, met with doggie approval. The date was July 2006.
Moving on again. This time to another flying experience. To the day when Pharaoh and I flew out of London bound for Los Angeles and a new life with Jeannie and all her dogs (16 at that time) down in San Carlos, Sonora County, Mexico. The date: September 15th, 2008. Just ten months after I had met Jean in Mexico and realised that this was the woman that I was destined to love! (Now you will understand why I described earlier the Jon Lavin, Dr. Hawkins, Pharaoh mix as the biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend!)
There followed wonderful happy days for me and Pharaoh. Gorgeous to see how Pharaoh became so much more a dog, if that makes sense, from having his own mini-pack around him. Those happy days taking us all forwards to Payson, AZ, where Jean and I were married, and then on to Merlin, Oregon arriving here in October, 2012.
I could go on! Hopefully, you get a sense, a very strong sense, of the magical journey that both Pharaoh and I have experienced since I first clasped him in my arms back in September, 2003.
Both Pharaoh and I are in the Autumn of our lives, he is 11 in June; I am 70 in November, and we both creak a little. But so what! Pharaoh has been my greatest inspiration of the power of unconditional love; of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.
Thank you, my dear, dear friend!
Yes, thank you, and thanks to all the dogs that love us and to whom we offer love in return.
Today, as in the 20th November, 2019, just happens to be our anniversary, nine years ago we were married. We met just before Christmas, 2007.
I am at the stage in my book where I am having to check certain dates. Luckily I was already writing Learning from Dogs and could use the blog to check dates.
In so doing I came across an earlier post about Pharaoh and thought that was so, so good that it just has to be republished. Part One today and Part Two tomorrow.
‘Meeting’ this dog deserves two posts!
Almost two months ago, January 30th to be exact, the first of this ‘Meet the dogs‘ series was published. It came out of an idea from Jean and that January 30th post introduced Paloma to you, dear reader. Since then we have told you about Lilly, Dhalia, Ruby, Casey, Hazel, Sweeny, and Cleo.
So today’s post is the last of the Meet the dogs stories; it is about Pharaoh. I’m going to indulge myself and tell you the story of this most wonderful of dogs over today and tomorrow.
This is Sandra Tucker, owner of Jutone Kennels in Devon, England, where Pharaoh was born on June 3rd, 2003. Here’s something written elsewhere that conveys my feelings that first day that I met this puppy.
In no time at all I was turning into the farm driveway, noticing the painted sign for Jutone & Felsental German Shepherds alongside the open, wooden gate.
I turned off the engine and was about to swing my legs out of the open driver’s door when I saw a woman coming towards me.
“Hi, you must be Paul, I’m Sandra. Did you have any trouble finding us?”
I shook hands with her.
“Not at all. I did as you recommended when we spoke on the phone and went in to the local store and got final directions.”
Sandra smiled, her glasses almost slipping off the end of her nose.
“Dear Beth. She’s been running that local store since God was a boy.”
She continued with a chortle in her voice, “Some say that Beth was at the store before our local pub, The Palk Arms, opened for business. And the pub’s been in the village for well over four-hundred years.” Sandra’s laugh was infectious and I caught myself already taking a liking to her. The sense of a strong, confident person struck me immediately. Indeed, a working woman evidenced by her brown slacks, revealing plenty of dog hairs, topped off with a blue T-shirt under an unbuttoned cotton blouse.
“Anyway, enough of me, Paul, you’ve come to get yourself a German Shepherd puppy.”
She turned towards a collection of grey, galvanised-sheeted barns and continued chatting as I fell into step alongside her.
“After we discussed your circumstances over the phone; where you live down there in Harberton, why you specifically wanted a German Shepherd dog, I thought about the last set of puppies that were born, just a few weeks ago.”
Sandra paused and turned towards me.
“While, of course, you can select whatever puppy you feel drawn to, my advice is to go for a male. Listening to your experiences of befriending a male German Shepherd when you were a young boy, I have no doubt that a male dog would result in you and the dog building a very strong bond. Indeed, I have a young male puppy that I want to bring out to you. Is that OK?”
Sandra turned and walked out of sight around the corner of the first barn leaving me standing there, my response presumably being taken for granted.
Something in her words struck me in a manner that I hadn’t anticipated; not in the slightest. That was her use of the word bond. I was suddenly aware of the tiniest emotional wobble inside me from Sandra’s use of that word. Somewhere deep inside me was the hint that my decision to have a dog in my life was being driven by deeper and more ancient feelings.
My introspection came to an immediate halt as Sandra re-appeared. She came up to me, a beige-black puppy cradled under her left arm, her left hand holding the pup across its mid-riff behind his front legs, her right arm across her waist supporting the rear of the tiny animal.
I stood very still, just aware of feelings that I couldn’t voice, could hardly even sense, as I looked down at this tiny black, furry face, outsized beige ears flopping down either side of his small head.
It was unusually warm this August day and I had previously unbuttoned my cuffs and folded the shirt sleeves of my blue-white, checked cotton shirt back above both elbows leaving my forearms bare.
Sandra offered me the young, fragile creature. As tenderly as I could, I took the pup into my arms and cradled the gorgeous animal against my chest. The pup’s warm body seemed to glow through its soft fur and as my bare arms embraced the flanks of this quiet, little dog I realised the magic, the pure magic, of the moment. Something was registering in me in ways utterly beyond words but, nonetheless, as real as a rainbow might be across the green, Devon hills.
“How old is he, Sandra?”
“This little lad was born on June 3rd. So what are we today? August 12th. So he is ten weeks old as of today.”
June 3rd, 2003. I knew that this date had now entered my life in just the same way as had the birth-dates of my son and daughter; Alex and Maija.
The power of this first meeting was beyond anything I had expected, or even imagined. I thought that it was going to be a fairly pleasant but, nonetheless, unsurprising process of choosing a puppy. How wrong could I have been! What was captivating me was the pure and simple bodily contact between this young dog and me. No more than that. I was sensing in some unspoken manner that this was equally as captivating for this precious puppy-dog. For even at the tender age of ten weeks, the tiny dog appeared to understand that me holding him so longingly was bridging a divide of many, many years.
Sandra motioned with her arm, pointing out a bench-seat a few yards away alongside a green, well-manicured, lawn.
I very carefully sat down on the wooden-slatted bench and rested the beautiful animal in my lap. The puppy was adorable. Those large, over-sized ears flopping across the top of his golden black-brown furry head. His golden-brown fur morphing into black fur across his shoulders and then on down to the predominantly beige-cream colour of his soft, gangling, front legs. That creamy fur continuing along the little creature’s underbelly.
The puppy seemed almost to purr with contentment, its deep brown eyes gazing so very intently into mine. I was entranced. I was spellbound.
Never before had I felt so close to an animal. In a life-time of nearly sixty years including having cats at home when I was a young boy growing up in North-West London, and much later the family owning a pet cat when Alex and Maija were youngsters, I had never, ever sensed the stirrings of such a loving bond as I was sensing now. As this young puppy was clearly sensing as well. This was to be my dog. Of that I was in no doubt.
Let me leave you with a couple of other photographs taken from his early days.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that in the year 2014, I would be writing about Pharaoh from a home-office desk in Southern Oregon sharing a happy life with a wonderful London lady, Jean, and more gorgeous animals than one could throw a stick at.
More on that shared journey with Pharaoh tomorrow!
Back to today.
Isn’t that a perfect memory of an outstanding dog. Indeed, more than that. An outstanding memory of a grand, magnificent, intelligent dog who was with me during the worst and best of my life!
But the single most important lesson is integrity.
Again, another post from previous times. Albeit just a couple of years ago.
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.
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!
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.