What can we learn from dogs?
Dogs are animals and they use their animal instincts constantly. We humans have largely forgotten that we are animals. We rely on modern technologies to help us through our artificially lengthened days and we ignore our instinctive animal nature. Our innate animal senses have grown rusty through disuse.
Our voices are maintained by us today within a much restricted vocal range. Few of us still know how effective a human growl can be. It is impolite to shout. Dogs know very well the release a pent up soul can gain from the delivery of a deep growl or a decent barking session. We well schooled humans, however, hold back and suffer from stress and psychological conditions that arise through not letting go of our emotions. Let a dog loose in a field on a frosty morning and see the joy exhibited and listen to the sounds of delight as they frolic in the cold grasses.
We neglect to touch the textures of nature that once surrounded us…the bark of trees, wet grass, velvety rose petals and vicious thorns. We live in centrally heated houses and sport tee shirts winter and summer. We breed all manner of bugs and disease in the ideal growing conditions within our homes and then we rely on anti bacterial sprays and potions to keep them under control. Our bodies are losing the strength to fight off the diseases we create because we do not allow them to be challenged. We have forgotten how it feels to be cold and that sometimes our animal bodies need to be colder.
We no longer smell our food to check that it is good to eat. We rely on stamped on “Use By” dates. Dogs will often not eat anything that is processed. We once bought a twelve week old puppy from the U.K. where her breeders had reared her on a “raw food” diet. She had been used to eating raw meaty bones, tripe, fresh eggs and bloody hearts. It took us a very long time indeed to persuade her that we could not easily get our hands on such raw ingredients and that she would have to develop a taste for “complete” processed dog food nuggets. The little dog knew better and looked at us dolefully as we offered enticements like cooked sausages. “That isn’t food!” she told us with every fibre of her being. Once upon a time we humans too had a natural diet. We grew our own food and we hungered when it did not suffice. Today we have a surfeit of food. It is available to us all year round and all day long. We eat too much of it. During the Irish famine of the mid nineteenth century it is thought that more than a million people perished through starvation and associated diseases. It would have been difficult to convince any one of them that too much food would one day be detrimental to the health of the Irish nation and the developed world in general. Nevertheless, this is certainly the case today as our relationship with what passes for “food” is clearly damaging our health.
Once our days began with the sunrise and shrank to meet the dusk. Our animal body kept in tune with this rhythm and availed itself of the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate itself. We now are enabled to stay aware and busy twenty four hours a day. Little babies and young children, still drunk from sleep, are hauled miles by car and deposited at child minders’ and crèches where in a previous time they would be allowed to follow the calling of their animal bodies and hibernate for longer. Once we woke naturally, now we wake to bells and buzzers and immediate stress. Dogs know the value of rest. They may have short bursts of high activity when they run and jump and bark at postmen and increase their adrenaline levels but they follow these excitements with deliberate rest. And they don’t feel guilty for doing so. They instinctively know the body organism needs time to recover. We humans have lost that awareness.
Dogs still respond instinctively to the weather. On hot summer days they avoid putting their bodies under increased stress and they lie in shady places and snooze. Most of us humans keep on working regardless of what the natural day is offering. Rain or shine, we work. We spend our days in swivel chairs at office desks and risk our health by denying our animal need for movement.
Dogs know that shelter, warmth and comfort are to be found by restricting the amount of air around the body. They settle themselves to sleep in confined and cosy spaces because it is there that most comfort is to be had. We humans have largely forgotten this. In the recent economic boom that swept through Ireland it was noticeable how many truly enormous houses were built all across the country. Some of them were anything but comfortable. Walking into some people’s front halls was more akin to entering a mausoleum than a cosy, warm home. Large, open plan rooms abounded with two or three little humans hunched on elaborate seating somewhere in the middle of it all, trying to keep their teeth from chattering in the cold air. We have become utterly disconnected from our true nature.
We have so much to learn from our animal cousin, our so called “Best Friend“. Dogs consistently express their needs, joys and annoyances. They are clear in that expression. We need too, in our communications with each other, to be clear.
As humans we might be better off, healthier both mentally and physically, if we sometimes disregarded what is considered “appropriate” behaviour and remembered that we have an animal nature.
Listening to that animal nature more often might be hugely beneficial for us as humans.