Pet Prose: Poi Dogs Pondering

PET PROSE
by The Pet Pro

Poi Dogs Pondering

When I think back over my twenty years as a pet care professional, I am filled with a sense of gratitude for all the lessons my animal friends have taught me, and the desire to share their stories and their wisdom. I have personally witnessed such intelligence among our non-human companions, that to think of them as lesser beings than us has simply become impossible.

Consider, for example, the story I call “Poi Dogs Pondering.”

Norman, Harvey and Bingo are three small Chihuahua-mixed-with-something-or-other dogs who were all adopted off the streets of Honolulu. They stayed at our house for a few weeks while their family was traveling. Norman and Bingo were fully grown little guys, and Harvey, just under a year old, was really still a puppy. The dogs had come to stay with toys and treats and only two dog beds, which they shared, usually in shifts, among the three of them, only occasionally double-bunking. One night we witnessed the following event.

Norman had been off patrolling the unfamiliar house, sniffing all the fascinating new smells. On returning to the living room, where my S.O. and I were watching TV, he discovered the two beds occupied by the two other dogs. As we watched, Norman stood for a moment or two, seemingly deep in thought, looking at Bingo and Harvey, each snug in their comfortable beds. He then walked deliberately over to the front door and calmly began to bark, seemingly at nothing. Harvey, being a puppy and always wanting in on the action, immediately jumped up, ran over, and joined in, barking joyously at the door, at which point Norman quietly snuck off and climbed into the bed formerly occupied by Harvey. After a few seconds, Harvey realized he was the only one barking, and sort of trailed off. He looked around, and did what can only be described as a “double take,” as he saw Norman in the bed he had so recently vacated. This was funny enough, but the best was yet to come. Harvey stood looking at Norman for a few more seconds, and then, having apparently worked out what had just happened, he walked back over to the door and began barking, obviously figuring that if it had worked for Norman, it might work for him. At this point the two older dogs, in perfect unison, lifted their heads in his direction for a moment, stared at him dismissively, and then put them down and went back to sleep, leaving poor Harvey out in the cold. When we had recovered from gasping and clutching our sides with laughter, we agreed this was absolute observational evidence that dogs are capable of complex, rational and strategic thinking.

For many years, scientists have carefully avoided the notion that animals are possibly as sentient as we are, rejecting the evidence of their own experiments as “projecting” human qualities onto creatures who do not actually possess them. This makes exploiting and abusing animals easier to justify, of course, as it has also done throughout history for oppressing other humans.

The truth, which is clear to anyone who has lived with any non-human companion and formed a close bond, is that the more we learn about the creatures with whom we share this planet, the more obvious it becomes that, along with pain and fear and the will to survive, they possess the capacity for love, intelligence, humor, courage, joy and compassion, as well as curiosity and the desire to communicate. One indigenous tribe in Sumatra even calls the Orangutans the “people of the forest.”

So, in closing, please remember that, although they are not the same species as we are, in every important way, animals are people too. Stay tuned for more true stories of our brilliant, brave and funny furry and feathered friends.

TRAINING TIP #1: Patience is a virtue, and learning is a process.

There are many good ways to train your pet, but fundamental to any training system is the relationship that you have with one another. Remember that your pet doesn’t speak English, and that you must break down the desired behavior into small, teachable steps. If your dog, for example, doesn’t know what “stay” means, he can’t obey the command. Learning takes time and repetition for animals just as it does for us. Expect to spend a few minutes daily on each new step, and be patient. In future columns, I will include more specifics, but I must emphasize that nothing is more important than building communication and trust with your pet.

Note: Send your pet-related questions and personal stories to: (under construction) for future inclusion in this column.

Happy Trails!

– The Pet Pro

Copyright 2009 Pet Prose. All Rights Reserved.