A Life With Dogs

Shadow

Shadow Snr in the Peak DistrictHe was my friend, companion, anchor and teacher.  He was my saviour as I was his.  He was the one true constant during a time of uncertainty.  He offered me his heart and I gently took it with both hands.  It was the start of a bond which has stood the test of time and has only ever grown stronger.  I never had to look for him because he was always by my side.  He entwined himself into my heart and soul to the point where it was impossible to say where he ended and I began, a relationship that remains impossible to unravel.  He was that rarest of creatures, a once in a lifetime dog whose very existence centred solely around me just as mine centred solely around him.  Each day was an adventure.  It didn’t matter where we went or what we did just so long as we did it together.  We were never apart and shared every day, every experience together. 

He fell asleep taking a part of me with him, a part that will only be returned once life has come full circle and we can start a new journey together.  He will wait for me as I would him but until then, we will be together in dreams.

He was my rock, he was my Brother, he was My Shadow.
Unknown – 1st May 2014

Shadow Snr running towards cameraFor centuries now, dogs and humans have been together which often begs the question, why are we such companions? After all, dogs bark, dig, lick, get worms, fleas and ticks and steal burgers from the BBQ given half the chance.  They have to be fed, bathed, brushed, walked, played with and watered.  They have to be trained to do their business outside and then it is up to us to clean it up. Dogs need attention, loving care, training, good nutrition, bathing, vaccines, flea, tick and worm treatment, nail trims, playtime, and a clean, warm place to sleep.  They need a veterinarian and must be cared for when you go away for the night or a weekend.  Today the human and dog bond is stronger than ever.  People spend billions of pounds each year on their dogs without blinking an eye.  They are an example to all of how to say thank you to man’s best friend.

A loved and well cared for dog will do anything to protect their human and will sometimes die for them.  They warn us of danger, they are among the heroes after a disaster.  They find the dead for a proper burial and the living who are covered with so much rubble or snow that no human could ever find them without the advanced nose of the dog.  Stories about canine heroes are in the thousands and occur each day.  Our lives are richer, happier, and so much better with our dog.  For decades dogs have been guiding the blind and deaf creating a quality of life not found with any other animal.  Dogs help people with anxiety and calm children and adults with autism, bi-polar disorders and other challenges.  By simply petting a dog, a human becomes more relaxed and their blood pressure drops.

Shadow Snr and DexterDogs warn us when someone is at the door or when an intruder has entered the house. They sniff out bombs and drugs and seem to know when someone has ill intent.  Dogs are looking out for us at all times, always on alert.  Dogs are the ultimate protectors.  They are indeed man’s best friend and bring out the best in people.  The love for a dog can bring tears to the eyes of the most jaded and hardened person.  When you bring a dog into your life, you begin a journey – a journey that will bring you more love and devotion than you have ever known, yet will also test your strength and courage. If you allow, the journey will teach you many things about life, about yourself, and most of all, about love.  You will come away changed forever for one soul cannot touch another without leaving its mark. Along the way, you will learn much about savoring life’s simple pleasures – jumping in leaves, snoozing in the sun, the joys of water puddles, and even the satisfaction of a good scratch behind the ears.

Dogs are our family members now more than ever.  People sleep with their dogs, cuddle with them and take them on holiday.  They pamper their dogs, dress their dogs and buy them only the best dog food available.  We thank our dogs every day for their love, companionship and individual personality.  We adore our dogs and they in turn adore us.

Shadow Snr with ball between front legsIf you spend much time outside, a dog will teach you how to truly experience every element, for no rock, leaf, or log will go unexamined, no rustling bush will be overlooked, and even the very air will be inhaled, pondered, and noted as being full of valuable information.  Your pace may be slower, except when heading home to the food dish, but you will become a better naturalist, having been taught by an expert in the field.  Too many times we hike on automatic pilot, our goal being to complete the trail rather than enjoy the journey.  We miss the details, such as the colorful mushrooms on the rotting log, the color of the leaves, the bird feather caught on a twig.  You will find yourself doing silly things that your pet-less friends may not understand, such as driving miles to a particular pet shop looking for the dog food brand your canine must have, buying dog birthday treats or driving around longer than need be simply because your dog enjoys the ride.  You will roll in the snow, wrestle with chewy toys, bounce little rubber balls until your eyes cross and even run around the house trailing your bathrobe tie with a puppy in hot pursuit, all in the name of love.  Your house will become muddier and hairier.  You will wear less dark clothing and buy more lint rollers.  You may find dog biscuits in your pocket or purse.  You will learn the true measure of love, the steadfast, undying kind that says, “It doesn’t matter where we are or what we do, or how life treats us as long as we are together.”  Respect this always.  It is the most precious gift any living soul can give another and you will not find it often among the human race.

You will learn humility.  A dog sees not some flawed human who can be cross and stubborn, moody or rude, but only his wonderful companion. Or maybe he sees those things and dismisses them as mere human foibles, not worth considering and so chooses to love you anyway.  Dogs love you when you’re happy, sad or angry.  It seems they love you more when you’re lonely or don’t feel well.  Mostly, they just want to be with their human.  Your dog is a family member and they trust you to care for them.  Do a good job and the rewards are priceless.

Shadow Snr portraitWhen the journey is done, you will be not just a better person, but the person your pet always knew you to be, the one it was proud to call beloved friend.  This journey however is not without pain.  Like all paths of true love, this pain is part of loving for as surely as the sun sets, one day your dear animal companion will follow a trail you cannot yet go down and you will have to find the strength and love to let them go.  A dog’s time on earth is far too short, especially for those that love them.  We borrow them just for a while and during these brief years they are generous enough to give us all their love, every inch of their spirit and heart until one day there is nothing left.  The dog that only yesterday was a puppy is all too soon old and frail and sleeping in the sun.  The young pup of boundless energy now wakes up stiff and lame, the muzzle gone to gray.

When the life of a dog passes, grieving is often deeper and more devastating than when people close to us die.  Perhaps this is because the dog gives us unyielding, unconditional love and devotion through its entire lifetime.  No other species of living thing on Earth, including human beings, possesses the capacity to give so much, demand so little and forgive so quickly.  What a unique blessing dog’s are!  When we lose our friend and companion, we inevitably ask ourselves, “Did this dog have a soul?  Was his life on Earth his last?  Does his spirit move up and on to a higher place?”  After having given us the rare gift of his life, surely the dog must move on to an eternal place.  Theologians and religious scholars are reluctant to decide, so for most, the question remains unanswered.  I have known too many dogs in a special way that I have never known people. My heart knows the answer.

Version 2When the time comes and the road curves ahead to a place we cannot see, we give one final gift and let them run on ahead, young and whole once more.  Deep down we somehow always knew that this journey would end.  We knew that if we gave our hearts they would be broken but give them we must, for it is all they ask in return.

God speed good friend, until our journey comes full circle and our paths cross once again

Recent Posts

Predatory Aggression In Dogs

Predatory aggression in dogsThe number of attacks made by dogs on humans and other pets is sadly on the increase.  Whether this is down to the owners lack of knowledge, lack of proper training, poor socialisation or bad breeding, there is one possible cause that appears to be over looked.  That of predatory aggression.

What Is Predatory Aggression?

It can be difficult at times as your dog snuggles up to you, looking at you with big, round brown eyes or bounds around you in a goofy way begging for attention that at one point in his/her development, your pet is descended from hunters.   

Every dog has some level of prey drive (the motivation to chase, catch and kill small furry or feathered creatures) because hunting and killing was a way of life for their ancestors and their only means for survival.  This is hard-wired behaviour that is still present in our dogs today.  It is important to remember that predatory aggression by dogs does not reflect a psychological problem and neither is the dog being vicious, malicious or vindictive.

Predation is a natural survival-related behaviour even though it may sometimes alarm or disgust us.  The entire predatory sequence displayed by all predators involves searching, stalking, chasing, catching, biting, killing and then eating.

The problem we have as dog owners is that predatory behaviour is not preceded by a significant mood change or threatening gestures.  This absence of warning signals plus the fact that killing is the natural end point for predatory behaviour is what makes it dangerous for target animals, children, cyclists, joggers or anything else that moves quickly.

In domesticating dogs, certain parts of this see-chase-grab-kill sequence has been diluted but never fully eliminated.  For example, the herding breeds are very strong chasers, but do not go for the bite-hold-kill as readily as other breeds. Terriers, on the other hand, will readily grab-bite and kill.  How many of you have seen your dog grab a toy then shake it’s head rapidly from side to side?  That innocent and sometimes comical act is in reality, the final phase of the predatory sequence, the kill.    

So despite domestication, dogs still have an instinctive desire to chase, grab, bite and kill things that look like prey.  Incidentally, this is why so many dogs like to chase a ball or play with tug toys etc.  In the case of the domesticated dog, predation is instinctive and not based on hunger as is the case in wild predators. 

The level of predatory drive depends on the individual dog and what it has been bred for.  Movement always starts the sequence and allowing a dog to chase down small animals or toys will strengthen that prey drive.  Predatory behaviour may be exhibited by dogs of any sex and age and dogs showing intent or becoming agitated by the movement or vocalisations of children or other pets need to be closely monitored.

There are some people who do not regard predatory aggression as a proper form of aggression given there is little mood change and because a dog that chases after, catches and kills a rabbit shows none of the affective signs associated with dominance or fear aggression.  As far as the dog is concerned, it is just business as usual. However, when viewed another way, it seems reasonable to me to classify predatory aggression along with other forms of aggression as it results in damage or destruction of another creature.

So, what constitutes prey?

You may have seen during springtime for instance, dogs or cats killing birds and upsetting wild rabbit nests.  Our response, should we witness this sort of behaviour often ranges from being horrified to dismissing the action as the animals natural instinct.  We rarely see it as a problem.  However, it does become a problem when this predatory drive is directed towards running children, cyclists, traffic or small dogs and cats.  For us these targets are not prey, but to the dog they move like prey, sound like prey, and look like prey, hence the danger.

The results of such cases of mistaken identity can range from annoying to painful and even life-threatening.  A dog exhibiting the predatory mode may slink up on their prey and, when within range, launch an attack.  They then accelerate towards their target, either nipping at heels or biting at calves or thighs, perhaps hanging on in an attempt to drag their prey to the ground.  Sometimes other dogs will be drawn in to the attack displaying “group” aggression.  When the subject is a young child who is attempting to run away, the results can be disastrous.

What makes this type of aggression dangerous is it cannot be trained, medicated or counter conditioned out of the dog.  You may have a dog who previously chased cats, who can now be commanded to stay or sit around a cat but they will still chase a cat down at some point especially if you are not around.  This aggression can be shocking to the owners as it manifests so suddenly and is directed to what we do not see as prey.  For the dog however, instinct dictates otherwise.

Risks of Canine Predation

Realistically, there is no real treatment for predatory aggression and the only sure way to control predatory aggression is 100% avoidance of the situations that put humans and animals at risk.  The sudden high arousal level, a fixed focus on the prey subject and difficulty distracting the dog, are all indicators of a poor prognosis.  Dogs that are born with a high prey drive and have it fine-tuned by experience will always be likely to display this behaviour under certain circumstances.  Quite simply, they cannot help themselves.  This means if your dog chases cats, it cannot live with a cat.  If small dogs are the prey, your dog cannot be around any small dogs, especially when out on walks. 

As previously mentioned, this behaviour is neither malicious nor vindictive but simply biologically driven and natural  though unacceptable and downright dangerous when expressed toward humans. It therefore remains the responsibility of dog owners to recognise and appreciate tendencies in their dog and to take precautions such as keeping the dog on a lead etc.

It is your responsibility as a dog owner to recognise that if your dog only comes back to you when there are no distractions then your dog does not have a reliable recall and therefore should not be off the lead until one is taught.  It is not enough if your dog attacks another animal or child to say “he/she has never done that before” or “he/she only wanted to play”.

Reward-based obedience training will increase owner control, but will not prevent predatory behaviour when the owner’s back is turned or when the owner is absent.