Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Animal's Point of View

How often do we really consider things from the animal’s point of view when we work with them.  Even if we don’t formally train them, do we imagine what they are going through?

Consider, for example ‘horse riding schools’ where people are taught to ride horses – as though the horses are cars.  “Pull up here when you want it to stop… bump it here with your heels when you want it to go…”

Or the general advice that is provided, and implemented by dog behaviour specialists.  The packaged insert that says – “Dogs should not sleep on your bed.  They need to know that you are the boss.”

These are two obvious examples of how we apply ‘one size fits all’ methodology without considering the sentient being in front of us.

 But there are less obvious situations too.  Where we actually fail to see what is going on because we are too busy in our own agendas.

We have stories that get in the way. We don’t feel worthy or need to prove ourselves to the world, so when the dog gets out of hand, we see it as a compromise of our own competence, and use that information to prove our belief system about ourselves.  “I am so useless… I will show them I am the boss…  Everyone thinks I cannot do it, but look I can…  The world is out to get me.”  Our story of the moment.  The animal fails or succeeds, and immediately we project our story onto the situation, and so don’t even handle what needs to be handled with witting grace.  Example.  The puppy pees inside.  (Because I overslept – poor pup must have been bursting.)  But my current rose-coloured story is that I am in trouble at work.  My boss does not have much faith in me.  I am upset because it is as a result of a co-worker spreading inaccurate rumours.  I may be late because I overslept.  This will make it all worse.  Poor puppy.  It is very possible I will not react with calm rational understanding that proves that I am an animal lover in this situation. 

There is more to it than just our story.  Consider that many of us battle to read a fellow human beings.  And people are creatures who shares our natural history.  Animals are different species and have completely different ways of experiencing the world.  And all animal species differ.  Some have truly amazing eyesight relative to us.  Or a sense of smell that puts us to shame.  Their eyes are  in a place relative to the world that provides a completely different perspective to the one we experience.  That they use body language to communicate messages we have not even begun to understand.  Their hearing is sometimes so much sharper than ours – that it can hurt for them to live in our world.

Then along we come with our ideas about how they should behave, and we work towards making them behave.  Arrogantly we expect the special creatures in our lives to speak human.  We think they are less than because they don’t speak human.  We base our animal behaviour management principles on human frameworks.  So, because I am aiming to be the boss at work, climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of all those around me, I believe that the animal’s in my life are doing the same.  When the horse runs away in the paddock it is all too common for the people spectating to say “They don’t know who is boss”. 

So, what is the animal’s point of view?

For exotic animal trainers, the animal’s perfect world would be free from humans and human related products and structures.  No longer much possibility of that happening on our planet.  For domestic animals, who have chosen to live alongside animals, it will be in a place where they feel safe. 

Safety.  It is paramount for all creatures.  Does safety mean being the boss?  Ask any boss how safe they feel.  Rulers in our world usually have armed guards.  In the corporate world, it is rare that there are no knives pointing out of the manager’s backs.  This is not safety.

We could relate to the fact that what we all strive for – is safety – at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy.  And we know we are safe when we have control over our environment.  When we have choices about how to interact to maintain our safety. 

This points to a way for us to begin to look at life from the animal’s point of view.  Firstly, consider that when there is a problem in relation with the animals, that the animal does have a point of view.  To analyse – look at how the animal is attempting to control the situation.  Look at why the animal feels threatened, and so has a need to choose something else for themselves.  How much choice do they have at the moment of contention? 

(I googled the following under ‘images’ – animal and choice.  Nothing came up)-:  )

The following questions – relating to choice – are good ones to help you consider something from the animal’s point of view. 

1.        Why is the animal doing this? (what is in it for the animal – the payoff?)

2.       Where does the animal feel safe?

3.       What is the trigger for this behaviour?

4.       What does the animal manage to stop when performing the behaviour we are not wanting?

Thank you Frantiske Susta.


They are daily lessons.  If we stay truly connected to the dream of clear communication with the super creatures in our care, then we will spend every minute looking at how we can remove those glasses, and the preconceptions. 

How can we be truly harmless – in our world, and in relation to animals – we do this when we are absolutely clear that there is no subversive motivation in our everyday actions.  For, if I am in relation to animals, for example – because they are filling a gap that humans cannot fill, then there is a chance that they are there – in my subconscious opinion – to serve a conditional cause.  To make me look good, or to replace my children who have left home, or to provide me with a sense of being needed.  IN all these examples – the animal is not free to just be. 

When we truly see from the animal’s point of view, chances are, that we will be very clear in our own right.  That the animals will have taught us how to simply be.  This is the start of true relationship.


Monday, 24 October 2016

anthropomorphism - putting human qualities onto animals. Is this a concept we can use?

Us animal people work to ensure the best for the animals in our care.  That is why we do what we do.  Sometimes, we care too much to see things with the clarity required.  This oftentimes happens when we are faced with a challenge in relation with them and we justify or excuse the challenge with a label, and then look no further for understanding. 


My new puppy friend Sage has killed a chicken.  For someone who is practising vegan eating, this is a hectic occasion.  I am so sad for the chicken and feel so bad that this bird and all the others have been usurped from their confident roosts at the front door.  There are ducks and geese in the yard too.  I could excuse Sage’s behaviour, and label her as a killer or a problem dog.  I was advised by a friend to tie a dead chicken around her neck for a week.  I could find a new home for Sage because she is ‘a menace’. 


Is there an alternative?  We are working on this.  Suffice is to say the chickens have been rehomed in the meantime, while I deliberate and look for a solution.  We are looking at it from her point of view.  Looking for ways to solve the concern and prevent the loss of any more of the bird’s lives.  And keep Sage in a good motivated space where punishment is not utilised.  I constantly remind myself to look at it from her point of view.  So far we have come up with a DRI.  Using ball fetching during the ritual bird feeding times.  Hold thumbs.  We seem to be making progress.


The lesson is about anthropomorphism.  I recently read an insert that said that negating anthropomorphism is a concept developed by Judaeo-Christian methodology that has effectively justified our separation from the natural world.  I tend to agree to some extent.  Seeing ourselves as part of the world is the solution to so many of our planet’s concerns, and most certainly the solution to relationships – between people and between ourselves and animals.  Anthropomorphism is however a concept that requires some deliberation.  I believe there are two sides to it.  A good side, and a bad side.


The bad side is the side where I label and justify and excuse the animal’s behaviour.  It is the side that comes to play when I am fearful.  Either of my own position being compromised, but more often than not, of doing something wrong that will cause harm to the animals in our care.  It is the type of sentiment that is natural to humans.  Where we resist change and try and keep everything too much the same.  Very often sterilising all joy out of life in the process.  This anthropomorphism is not necessarily true as it is based in fear.


The good side is the empathetic side.  Empathy is generally associated with a feeling state.  Love.  It is easy to confuse love with fear.  True empathy is intuitive.  It is the first sentiment that we consider.  Not the feeling we boil into suffusion as we elaborate worst case scenarios and similar.  The good side of anthropomorphism is not all about feeling however.  It can also be something we objectively observe.  Recording behaviour and noting variables can assist us to find solutions, predict problems, and move to sense something from the animal’s point of view.


So, the trick – use anthropomorphism.  Here are some hints and tips to ensure you are using the good type.

1.        Ensure that you are considering your first feeling.  If you are justifying what you feel, you have probably already headed off into the bad kind. 

2.       Trust your intuition.  And work at making it stronger,

3.       Observe, observe, observe – and where possible, record and verify

4.       Don’t stay stuck.  Do something.

5.       When you fear that there is something to lose, or an outcome to avoid, you are probably in muddy waters.

6.       Be true.  Ask yourself if you are projecting your own stuff or if there really is an anthropomorphic consideration.

7.       Encourage as many people as possible to debate the concern, to ensure that you come up with the best solution possible. 

When I have discussed the ‘animal points of view’ with others, I have always been amazed at how often our feelings are similar.  There is something to be said about that.  Beware that you don’t go into the negative spiral of discussion.  Just see what is, and then you have a foundation from which to work.


Wish me well with Sage.  Will keep you informed.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Moments without comparison are perfect


Hearts may not heal.

Conditional Relationships

In our modern lifestyles, success is paramount and the moment is forgotten.  We are striving to achieve.  It is bred into us from extra maths and ballet lessons at the age of 6 to the successful degrees we will achieve to the best job and the smartest car.  It can be a stressful life.  Our self-worth is conditional.  We are only judged to be enough, if we are that wall street banker, or the owner of the cool car, or if we wear the best labels.  And we document the journey to stardom in selfies that reflect an apparent barrenless existence. 

Perhaps we know how stressful it can be to be in relationship with someone on the off chance that they will make us feel better.  We work to make them happy.  Or make them feel proud of us.  And we do this, usually because we have – at some stage, been parented by someone (not necessarily a parent), who made us feel less than, and only worthy – on condition that… . 

Animals, according to popular theology – are there for our gain.  Does this theology infiltrate – even if we don’t buy into it?  Do we unconsciously buy into the need to control the creatures in our camps?  Does this cause a case of – do this – so I can prove my belief system about myself?  Then I can offer you a reward.  And only then.

This is a classic case of operant conditioning at its worst.  Do the behaviour to achieve the reward.  And it is all about the reward.  The relationship and care is forgotten in the process.

Is this what we are doing with the animals with which we work?  Sure we love them.  More than anything.  I love my sons too.  Yet remain stressed about their future, and put pressure on them to succeed.  To the point where they have acted out and told me – with true teenage actions – to back off.  This moment was a highlight for me.  It made me look at the relationships I have with animals too.  Because they are enough.  Just being the amazing animals that they are.  And I choose to be in relationship with them not to make them do flick flacks in the agility ring, or perform amazing feats of intelligence.  But because when I look into their eyes it feels like I am home.

I still need to ask the question – do I look into their eyes often enough for them to believe they are enough?  Do they equate me with care, or only with resources - food and attention rewards?  Do I create anticipation in them the moment they see me?  Or do they also feel like they have come home when we connect. 

Do I sit on the floor with my dog?  Do I spend time in the company of the animal I train without expectation?  Do I provide toys other than the norm?  Where they can investigate something novel?

Hard question for an animal trainer to reflect upon, but I believe one that is imperative.  Have we achieved enough of a balance?  Is their life enriched in our care?  Or are they acting out in a teenage frenzy because we have not provided effectively? Question always is – what would love do?  Answer?  Would be keen to know your response.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016


A week away in a foreign land. Where the interactions have been abundantly insightful and the lessons for me, once again, enormous. When teaching ethical communication with animals, one cannot help but reflect. Feel clear and ready to ensure my daily reality is refreshed.

So this a blog to thank the Czech Republic animal lovers. And to encourage other animal lovers out there to visit this generous place.

Imagine a place where dogs are allowed in the subways and busses. Where the city funds initiatives to teach school children how to effectively meet dogs on walks. Where every park space is always littered with people sharing moments with their best friends.  Where there are water bowls for dogs wherever you go. Even in the zoo. Where it is common that dogs are allowed to live in apartment buildings. Where I share a train cabin with two people and a dog. Where a family home visit includes a visit with dogs and cats. When in the middle of my seminar in the dog school we are interrupted when horses and dogs enter for a visit.

Imagine that! Where animals are an integral accepted norm in the society.

And it gets better. When you meet and have the good fortune to get to know  the people. And you realise that they are a community that is holistic. They are eager to learn anything that will help their relationships with their dogs. Humbly they share their stories and lessons. They respect each other and family values are paramount. Maternity leave is years long. Children are nurtured alongside the animals. The history is documented in light-hearted art -paintings, architecture and sculpture. Humour is common in these creations. As common as it is in daily conversation. Almost as common as the depictions of their animal friends in the ancient art.

The irony. I leave having learned more than I share. To be invited here is an honour. Everytime I visit I feel more honoured.

Dr Frantisek Susta is a remarkable man. He has introduced positive reinforce  training to Czech. To the zoos as well as domestic animal training. He is brave enough to question the norm.  This bravery means he even questions positive reinforcement.  He has published two books on the lessons he has learned. I look forward to the rest of the world learning from him. He is named after the patron saint of animals. And his commitment to the ethical treatment of animals makes him deserving of the name. He is also a committed family man. And there is no doubt that his children will follow in his  footsteps.  I have learned a great deal from him!!

He is a mirror of the people I have met and worked alongside in my travels to this beautiful place.

I feel grateful for this experience. And a little sad to leave. Czech Republic you have stolen a little of my heart. I take the possibility of a society like this back home with me. I feel inspired to be gentle. And true to what I believe
No compromises. Just joyful truth.

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Sage welcome home

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Home. With the best welcome ever

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Travelling wannabee

When I travel I feel free to look at the world differently. I pack clothes I don't usually wear. And wear earings from the bottom of my jewelry box and even apply make up now and then.  I choose to skip the evening ritual cigarette and will communicate information to friends and family that I usually would not share. 

I also find the odd moments where I experience stress. I will leave much earlier to catch a bus and a train than is necessary. Much much earlier. And when I am meeting with people my introvert heart hammer thuds in my ears. I consciously calm myself down. Search for what is familiar and easy. Break down what needs doing into steps. Work to avoid crazy anticipation angst.

What does this have to do with animals? Seasoned theorists may have noted some training lingo already.

This is my lesson. The animals in my life require adventure. Not once in a while. But everyday.  Just small incremental fun times where they get to experience something novel. Why?

Because the more familiar my experience, the more I am able to cope with change. I can happily catch a train in the Czech Republic on my own now. On my first visit every station name sounded like a completely impossible concept. I am relaxed on the journey and able to appreciate other aspects of this incredible place.

So. If the animals are experiencing something new from a place of comfort we are effectively increasing their comfort zone. That novel experience may become a part of its familiar. Which means they are more able to cope with whatever comes there way.

Sure we want them to feel secure. The suggestion is that for their true welfare a bit of a daily suprise is in order.

What will you do for your dog today? And tomorrow? And ...

Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.