So many of my Posts have incorporated lessons learned about, and from, Ray. He, being my first dog, dictated a distinct and expected education in all matters canine, and his physical and emotional condition when moving in with us dictated a pretty severe bell curve in such education!
After the first 18 months, the learning became less intense because we had grasped clicker training; we had successfully addressed heart worm; we had identified, and learned how to deal with startle response and fear response; we had been working on his socialization skills with both people and other dogs, and so the list went on. We were, however, also getting the pleasure of seeing the results for our efforts so naturally we were able to slow down a little and focus on other areas such as separation anxiety; crate training, and introducing him to different environments.
These are all perhaps rather obvious aspects of taking care of a dog that has had a “less than happy” earlier life. Any dog, just like you or I, is possibly going to display a pattern of distrust; fear, and perhaps aggression, simply because of past physical and/or emotional abuse. Once those areas have been addressed, one can move onto another aspect of education in all matters canine. What makes them “work”?
This was even more of an education for me because it was totally unexpected. I went into dog ownership knowing full well that I would have to learn training methods and how to communicate at some level with Ray. The furthest thing from my mind was that he would be teaching me about some aspects of life!
I remember going on a communications course a long time ago during which it was stressed that a very large part of what we communicate to each other is simply through body language. The spoken word directs the dialogue in a certain direction, and voice inflections can fine tune the message, but body language tells us so much about the other person. We can interpret fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, shifting from one foot to another, a smile (fake or genuine), position of hands and arms, and a myriad of other subtle messages. We can even interpret at a subconscious level. We may feel uncomfortable in somebody’s presence without knowing precisely why, but we are picking up something of concern from their body language.
Dogs have body language down to an art but then, their vocal skills are limited so it should not be a surprise. Watching Ray however was (and still is) a surprise. He knows exactly how to get my attention and, once he has got it, will invariably let me know what he wants. A simple nudge, or a gentle touch with a paw says so much. Is that any different from me just touching your shoulder for attention, or gently taking your arm? He will sometimes offer a very controlled and quite soft bark. Is that any different from me offering a friendly “Hey!”? All this may be pretty obvious to you but, to me, they were revelations however, I am saving the best until last. They really are role models for us!
They need very little to be happy. They need security, food, and friendship (ref Maslows Hierarchy of needs). We are the same except that our interpretation of those aspects is very different. For some reason (probably a result of our highly commercialized society), whereas a dog will usually be happy anywhere that is safe , warm and friendly, many of us spend our lives working towards bigger houses, another car, and/or other material things.
I find this a rather humorous situation because while dogs (the lower intellect) will generally be happy in simple secure, warm and friendly situations, we (the higher intellect) are constantly trying to buy our happiness. Is that wonderful new car still so wonderful after a year? The new big screen TV made you happy for a few months, but later? You’re still watching the same programs, but they are just bigger!
We know that we are buying short term happiness and yet many of us ignore that fact. Ray is very happy playing with a stuffed “snake”. While I am not personally inspired by stuffed “snakes”, do I really need all the things that surround me to be happy?
To be continued …………