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Your Relationship With Your Dog

Is there a difference in the kind of relationship you have with a pet dog, a working dog or a sport dog? Should there be? What would that different be? What if there isn't any difference at all?

From my viewpoint, there is no difference. However, relationships are like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder and your relationship will be difference in execution but the core values of a relationship would still be present.

Many of us struggle to make sense of the world. I don't just mean in regards to the life of our dogs, but our lives in totality: problems in ourselves; our work; our family life; making sense of issues that we see around us. We wonder about how to be happy, how to put things right, how to make others happy. How to be. Many of us are so used to just pushing through the activity of daily living that we have lost the ability to truly feel. We might be so cut off from our own feelings that don't even realize that we are not feeling.

We learn as children to control our emotions. We might learn to do this effectively. We might also learn ways that aren't always helpful, like ignoring our feelings. I believe we learn to suppress feelings because at some level the feelings made us feel uncomfortable and we don't like to feel uncomfortable! I have a friend who was even punished for having any emotions at all and later diagnosed with bipolar disease (I wonder how that happened).

The world IS connected. We are social creatures and we all impact each other in a plethora of ways. Dogs, in particular, can align well to the energy of humans; they are strong enough in themselves to live alongside us. That's why they are so popular as a pet, why they are so successful in working with us.

In our relationship with a dog we may feel able to connect emotionally in a way we don't feel free to with other human beings. In this way they allow us to feel again.

But what is it that they allow us to feel? What emotions are they reflecting back at us? The social emotions, appropriate to situations and circumstances, or the suppressed emotions we have learned aren't what others want to see.

Additionally our dogs are connected to us energetically, so THEY respond to how WE feel, whether we want them to or not. They can't help it. If we're nervous in entering the trial ring, they will be pick up on that nervousness and start acting out. If we are angry they will respond to that anger in us. So if we are holding onto feelings that we have suppressed, that we aren't consciously aware of, we aren't suppressing them from our dog. They will still feel them. They truly represent a key to our unconscious.

People often ask me how I know so much about dogs innermost beingness; what makes them tick. Part of it comes from countless hours of research, studying various disciplines, from game theory and computer science, to physics, to biology and ethology, cognitive science to philosophy of mind to evolutionary biology and emergence to systems dynamics, and even more. Pavlov is not the one on my shoulder, Panksepp comes much closer.

But most of my understanding comes from my daily interactions with dogs. Except when they're asleep (and I question whether they are asleep sometimes), dogs are constantly watching us, reading our behavior. I've found that if we do something similar, just do four simple things for a few minutes each day, it can help us connect more fully to our dogs, who they are, what they're feeling, and maybe connect us back to our true selves as well. And it doesn't matter whether you are in it for the gold or just to have a friend.

1) Observe

Whenever you take your dog for a walk, or when your dog is playing with others, or even when your dog is sleeping, take a few moments to simply watch his behaviors. Don't make any judgments or assign any plus or minus values to what the dog is doing. Just observe the minutia of your dog's everyday actions; keep things as simple as possible. Pay attention to how your dog approaches other dogs. Does he come straight toward them, or in more of an arc? What happens to his face when he smells something? What is his tail doing when he sees a squirrel, or when you call him for supper?

2) Wonder

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid? Childhood is a time of wonder. When we were young we spent a great deal of time wondering about all kinds of things. Wonder is also a key element in science. Darwin wondered why the various types of finches on different islands in the Galapagos had beaks with different shapes, and his theory of evolution was born. Einstein sat on a moving train and wondered what it would be like to be on a train that could travel at light speed, and the theory of relativity was born.

3) Feel

Dogs are feeling, emotional beings. So are we. But as kids, we were forced by the rules of society, peer pressure, by how our parents raised us, and by our own survival needs, to put a lid on our feelings. It's an amazing thing that just by tuning in to our dog's emotions now, as adults, we automatically tune in to the emotions we gave up long ago in order to placate our parents and teachers, or to fit in with others.