Good Dog! (New Perspectives On The Relationship Between Man And His Best Friend)

The permanent residents in my house today consist of three dogs, a cat – and me. On occasions, my children will claim residence at this address as well.

When you enter my home – and after you’ve been vigorously greeted by all four-legged creatures – you will most likely find couches and chairs occupied by my furry friends. When I’m at home, the dogs are at my feet at all times. And yes, three out of four animals sleep on my bed.

This Is My Nap Chair

Some might conclude that such habits reflect a lack of discipline and that furniture is no place for dogs. I happen to be content wherever I find them, as I am with any companion that lives under my roof. The unconditional love, devotion, and playfulness of my canine companions far outweigh the inconveniences and impracticalities they bring about.Lets Get It

I have to admit that my dogs do not obey many simple commands like “sit,” ” down,” or “roll-over.”  However, words such as “treat,” “kibble,” or “walk” could probably make them sing or dance if I asked them to.

The more redeeming qualities I seek in my dogs lie within his or her very nature. Even though Parker would be at the far end of  the backyard while I would be inside the house, my late golden retriever could always sense when I was sad. He would run back home to sit by my side and lick my face or face until my demeanor changed. Similarly, I could sense when my dog was ill, even before outward symptoms appeared. Though Parker was never trained for anything besides doing his business outside, he was able to follow every command, from simple to complex – to the amazement of all.  My belief is that when the relationship between a dog and his owner is “tuned-in,” basic training naturally unfolds as part of the rich and multi-layered communication between them. The quality of the interaction depends on the subtle interconnectedness between the two companions.  Recent literature on dog raising, training, and rescue, speaks extensively on the aspects of love and understanding as the most effective ways of communication (see suggested reading below).

Historically, the popular belief held that the relationship between a dog and his owner is a matter of “who dominates who.” The theory that someone (in this case, a dog) will find a way to control you unless you control him first, is a tendency we’ve seen in many aspects of human behavior and society throughout history.

In my experience, dogs respond to eye contact, a compassionate tone of voice, words that are simple – and most of all, words that are sincere. The alignment of thought, word and deed seem to have significant results in conveying a message – with animals as well as with humans. For example, if I am nervous and give my dog a calming command, the message will have very little impact.

In his new book, “Dog Sense,” John Bradshaw offers a refreshing perspective on dog training and communication. He steps away from the historical emphasis that the dog originates from the wolf who communicates primarily by the domination-submission paradigm. Bradshaw suggests that because he has evolved into a domestic animal, the dog developed refined methods of communicating his feelings with humans.

My observation is that the most effective communication with a dog unfolds when addressing him with respect. I believe that respect is transmitted through love rather than through domination. It’s been well documented that love has the potential to completely transform a traumatized dog coming from an abusive or neglected background. I recommend reading Merle’s Door, Oogy, and Amazing Gracie. These books beautifully illustrate the process of profound healing through their relationship – dog and man respectively. These books are moving stories about transformation and redemption, through love and respect.

I am no expert in dog training. I speak of my personal experience raising dogs over several decades. I know that there are many personalities with dogs – as with people – and the levels of challenges vary greatly between each personality.

Suggested Reading:

Dog Sense, by James Bradshaw

Bradshaw appeared on NPR last month and his book will surely bring a fresh look on dog behavior. His book is highly recommended as it provides compelling new insights into the dynamic communication between man and his best friend – a view that steers the reader away from the traditional approaches that reduce a dog to a perpetual child, disabling a dog rather than promoting change and creating healthy habits.

Oogy, by Larry Levin

The book tells the story of a dog whose beginnings were traumatic, as he served as bait for fighting dogs. Escaping death and having been severely wounded, Oogy is  adopted by Larry Levin and his family. He is nurtured back to health, while simultaneously deeply transforming every family member. In the book, the author finds his own wounds and scars as he reaches outward in love to this marvelous dog. Oogy becomes a mirror for everyone’s inner strengths and weaknesses, and his fundamental goodness and sensitivity awakens the reader to new dimensions of compassion. Though an emotional read, “Dog Sense” is an eye-opener to one who is ready for introspection.

Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, And Know [sound recording], by Alexandra Horowitz

This audio book is filled with tips and instructions. Horowitz communicates her own enthusiasm on the dog’s nature and his innate possibilities with humor and facts. She’s a scientist, but in the book, she’s hardly clinical. her interest in the dog-human relationship will enrich the listener for sure.

Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale, by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff

In this book, it seems in the beginning that the human is rescuing the dog, but the book reveals that the dog rescues the human. By means of love and loyalty, the dog goes from a throw-away puppy to a tremendous dog. Amazing Gracie is a funny, moving, true story and a reminder of how animals can touch and even radically change the lives of the humans who care for them.

Merle’s Door: Lesson From a Free-Thinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote

This is a remarkably well written book – it is humorous at times, and instructive at others. Merle taught Kerasote that great things can happen if humans will change their behavior instead of always trying to change the behavior of their dogs. The book compellingly demonstrates that humans treat dogs as though they have no independent power of judgment, but Merle proves them otherwise. The book provides sound data and instructional information in the reference section.

Pukka: the Pup After Merle, by Ted Kerasote

Kerasote uses a different format in his new book, Pukka. Each page is filled with photographs of Pukka’s puppy days and how the dog discovers the world around him and narrates the relationships he forms along the way. The captions just add details to the telling pictures. An aspect that adds spice to the book is that it is written in the first person, as if Pukka told the story. It is an intimate account of a relationship between a dog and his owner.

Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding And Correcting Dog Problems, by Cesar Millan

Cesar Millan is a well-respected dog trainer, also known as the “dog whisperer.” He focuses his attention on correcting dogs as well as training the humans that care for them. He speaks of the subtle communication between the dog and his owner as being key to their relationship and pivotal in the effectiveness of their “language.” He claims that listening and understanding our canine companions as well as looking at our own thinking and behaviors are essential elements in creating a positive relationship together.

The Dog Listener, by Jan Fennel

Fennel has extensive experience breeding and training dogs. She speaks of her own journey toward greater compassion through her relationship with dogs over many decades. She has a keen eye on the dog’s needs and provides the reader alternative methods to traditional approaches to dog training, and correcting, emphasizing gentleness and love as the essence of her approach.

Karen Stancs

Assistant Librarian

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