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Building Relationships with our Canine Companions

5 May, 2012

It’s been almost a month since my last post and during that time I’ve been wondering on and off what to bring to my readers. I’ve been mulling things over a lot as to what it is that matters to me, why I do what I do and even going as deep as to think about the purpose of my existence (very deep I know!).

Whilst some of you might be surprised to hear that I don’t actually consider myself a “doggy person”, over the last few years, whilst working as an assistant dog trainer, whilst yearning for my own pooch, whilst watching other people interact with theirs I can’t help but think about how deeply I’ve come to understand and appreciate that relationship. The relationship between dogs and people.

Whether that relationship is between a pet and it’s owner, someone else’s dog and a friend, a service dog and their owner, a child and a dog, a stranger and a dog or between people from different walks of life such as homeless people, the bond can be seen in all sorts of forms, shapes and contexts.

Thinking about shape and form, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that it is something that we cannot see. It is invisible. Like emotions. Like love. Like air. We cannot see the bond but we know that relationship has substance. This brings me to Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of “morphic fields” that he summarised in his book “Dogs that Know When their Owners are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals” (1999). Within it, Sheldrake suggests that it is thanks to morphic fields that certain aspects of nature, growth, development and organisation happen and that they organise the characteristic structure and patterns of activity. These fields are influenced by “morphic resonance” which hold the history of former structures and patterns of activity thus shaping the future of the fields development. On his website he states that:

The morphic fields of social groups connect together members of the group even when they are many miles apart, and provide channels of communication through which organisms can stay in touch at a distance. They help provide an explanation for telepathy. There is now good evidence that many species of animals are telepathic, and telepathy seems to be a normal means of animal communication, as discussed in my book DOGS THAT KNOW WHEN THEIR OWNERS ARE COMING HOME. “

Source: http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/morphic/morphic_intro.html (Accessed 5/5/12)

I think of Sheldrake’s theory in the following way – he is suggesting that dogs and their owners, with an established bond/ relationship share a morphic field. Imagine it as an invisible bubble or elastic band around the owner and dog. No matter where the owner goes they are still connected as the bubble doesn’t break, it simply stretches. Regardless of the distance. If you think of occasions where it has been reported that dogs have covered hundreds of miles to be reunited with their owners in an unknown place, that helps to understand how the morphic field theory might actually work. What do you think?

Thinking about the human-dog bond as elastic, makes a fair bit of sense to me. It has to be flexible – as with any relationship – with give and take. Sometimes you are closer and more intimate – whether that be whilst taking your dog out for a walk, throwing the ball or cuddling up on the sofa. At other times, your bond might be stretched, say when you’re at work and your companion is at home. It also makes it easier to see why we might find it so very difficult when the bond is indeed broken, be it through death or separation. I don’t think the bond stretches then but tears. Hence the pain – on both sides.

Homeless man and dogWhere I work part-time as a Counsellor, I work with homeless people and with those who have alcohol and/ or substance misuse problems. A few of our service users are dog owners and it doesn’t take a genius to see how very, VERY strong the bond between a homeless person and their dog is. Not that proof is needed, but the biggest evidence of the strength of that bond is that many homeless men who have companions will not take up the opportunity to take shelter or a bed for the night if their dogs aren’t allowed. And this is another big part of the problem, the fact that so few shelters and hostels allow dogs.

I found a FANTASTIC film some months back called “Sleeping Ruff“. This very moving and inspiring film introduced viewers to street people in Scotland and their relationships with their companion animals. Sometimes raw, often touching but always heartfelt, the film will give you an insight into the reality of doing everything within your power to keep you and your best friend together against all the odds. You can watch the film online here.

In essence, if you think you have a strong and good bond with your dog, you ain’t seen nothin’ til you’ve seen this film!

More recently, a friend has recently acquired a puppy – an 11wk old Cavalinger (a Cavalier crossed with a Springer… very cute and very leggy!), called Charlie. Charlie is a joy to behold and having not long had her second set of jabs was introduced to our two Cocker Spaniels yesterday. I was admittedly a little concerned as to how Flossie would react, as she is none too fond of bouncy dogs but little Charlie was very subdued and shy and simply did her best to avoid Dinky’s huge paws and tail which somehow kept managing to whallop her around the head… Poor dear! Still the meet ‘n greet was a success and we will be repeating the experience soon. We also went with Charlie for her first walk around the block with our two and despite the odd prolonged sniff, inquisitive chew (“Aa aa Charlie… Please don’t chew the fag ends!” ) and urgent scratch, Charlie did magnificently well and there were proud grins all around! (Apart from Flossie and Dinky who couldn’t quite understand why the pace of the walk was so darned slow!) I can quite honestly say though, that as a seasoned dog trainer, I feel that part of the success was down to the fact that our neighbour had attended a number of puppy training classes with me to take photos and just to see what it was like.

This is exactly what I did, for a number of years mind you, until I came to the conclusion that it was somewhat hypocritical of me to be preaching to dog owners when I myself didn’t have a dog and didn’t know what it was like. Hand on heart though, going to puppy classes and seeing others learn and interact without having to worry or focus on my own puppy/ dog allowed all the information they were processing to sink in uninterrupted (puppy lick and cuddles aside!). The same is true of my neighbour. She held the lead in the correct place “Lead in your right hand, dog on your left” – as if her wrist were tied to her hip. (Very often new puppy owners end up semi-strangling their pups [unintentionally mind you!] in, I suppose, an attempt to keep part of the lead from dragging on the floor? I don’t know!). She coaxed her puppy in a high voice with treats and gave her encouragement and praise. A positive bond in the making.

It made me think about the time I spent at puppy training working with other people and their puppies. Whilst the classes were called “puppy training”, I can honestly say I think they would be more accurately referred to as “puppy owner training classes”. A mouthful I owner but it’s more about empowering new puppy/ dog owners and educating them in how to interact, communicate and raise their puppies than just showing them how to teach their dog to just sit, lie down or stay. I cannot stress this enough. Yes obedience is part and parcel of it but ultimately you are learning to live and share your life with a new sentient creature and it is about meeting that creature needs as well as ensuring it meets your needs also.

Often, the male owners would struggle with the higher range when calling or verbalising to their new canine companions and then would wonder why they pup didn’t come or even look at them when with a great, deep booming voice they would bellow “Come Rover”! Similarly, most adults struggled to see the lighter side of things when starting out with their puppy. They would be firm and stern and quite cold. It came to be quite an education when I realised just how little adults know how to play!!!! “Come on guys! Loosen up! We’re going to have fun! We’re not at borstal! These are babies not criminals!”. I would always emphasise the importance of goofing around with your dog as this was the biggest lesson I ever learnt – you will learn to not have a care in the world when you’re goofing around laughing at your dog, throwing toys about and generally looking like a bafoon! And eventually, you will stop being self-conscious about it because at the end of the day, you’ll both be having a great time!

So remember, don’t be a party pooper or a “stick in the mud”! Have fun with your four-legged furry!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 May, 2012 4:23 AM

    Thank you so much for this post! I belong to the facebook group where I saw your link. It’s a coincidence because I just launched the One Language Project and the first year of the project is looking at the human/dog relationship in photos and stories. You can read about it on the naturestage.org site. Maybe I could visit you when I’m in the UK end of August.

    • 10 May, 2012 10:33 AM

      Hi! So glad you liked it! I look forward to hearing more about your project and sure it would be great to meet up! Keep us in the loop!

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