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Learning from dogs (and cats).

March 10, 2010

A month or so ago I was privileged to become co-carer of an 8 week old Rhodesian Ridgeback. In common parlance, we got a dog. This is why it’s March already and hardly a post – computers provide an abundance of attractive chewy wires for inquisitive canine chompers. Current dog training theory has it that in these early weeks, ‘negative training’ (ie saying no) should be avoided – which essentially means ensuring a risk and temptation-free environment for puppy.

Dogs and humans may have different anatomy and bio-mechanics, different brains and development processes, and different needs and desires – but we also have more in common than you might think. After all, dogs have evolved alongside humans. How important is that? See this Wikipedia article on Dmitri Belyaev to see how profound an effect this has on dog behavior and anatomy.

There’s a lot to learn from hanging out with the pup. Simplicity is one. Her day is elegantly measured in cycles of eating, exploring, play, toileting, and sleeping.  Her world is divided into only two categories: things which can’t be chewed (humans, electrical cables) and things which can be chewed (everything else). There are two  episodes of the wonderful Brain Science Podcast which investigate exploring (#65 Jaak Panksepp) and play (#60 Stuart Brown) in both animal and human contexts, and I highly recommend listening to them.

The photo above is an exemplar for all of us in sleeping (comfort). If you own a cat, you’ll know that cats, also, can sleep deeply in just about any position. But could you? Almost certainly, when you were an infant, you could. Notwithstanding the many hilarious photos found on the internet of folk passed out under the influence in a variety of positions, most of us find it difficult to be comfortable in more than a limited number of orientations and organisations. Often, even finding comfort is difficult for people because many of us simply don’t know or or recognise it. Sound crazy? Well, how are you sitting as you read this? Pain, or a nagging tension is clearly an indication of lack of comfort. But if you don’t sense either of these, are you comfortable? Where are your feet? Can you put them fully on the floor? Make some tiny shifts in your chair – roll your pelvis a little forward and then back a few times. Let your head respond to the movement of your pelvis. Shift your feet about a bit – further forward, closer to you, wider apart, closer together. Each place, ask yourself, is this more, or less, comfortable than before? Find the ‘Goldilocks’ spot for your feet, and then return to rolling your pelvis. Do this slowly, experimentally, and see if you can find the position of utmost comfort – where you can breathe freely and easily, where you feel the lightest. Now, that’s comfort!

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