From Suzanne Clothier’s book…

March 23, 2012 at 8:17 am 3 comments

I just finished reading Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs  by Suzanne Clothier. 

Well, truth be told, I skipped over several chapters and sections in this book (that I found too repetitive or too sad) and read only the parts that had Suzanne Clothier interacting with her dogs or dealing with the problem behaviors of  her clients’ dogs. These chapters were wonderfully enlightening, and I loved the way Suzanne Clothier retells scenarios from the dog’s perspective with such amazingly heartwrenching detail. It is also so refreshing to read a book about “human-dog communication”  that isn’t full of scientific/training jargon.

Sharing a few clippings from my Kindle copy:

“Training is a mechanical skill.” The problem arises when we mistake the skill of training for the relationship itself.

A good deal of dog training is rather Procrustean. Procrustes was a mythological fellow who had a special bed that he guaranteed would fit all who tried it. And amazingly, it did—because he would stretch anyone too short for the bed and cut off any parts that were too long and hung over the bed. Perfect fit, every time! And we do this to dogs, stretching them unnaturally to suit our training demands and lopping off the parts we don’t like or the parts that don’t neatly fit within our paradigm.

It’s okay to guess what your dog is trying to communicate as long as you’re willing to accept that you might be wrong, correct your misunderstanding and try again. It is not okay to guess what an animal is thinking or feeling if you are unwilling to accept nothing less than absolute compliance with your wishes.

…every interaction with a dog is one that the dog takes seriously. He has no other way of interpreting his world. The dog’s world does not contain careless interactions. In every interaction with another dog or person, a dog says what he means.

All of the simplistic never advice contains the implied but unspoken phrase of dire warning “or your dog will become alpha.” This is as silly as saying if you let children run and play, you will never have control over them. The truth is that if you don’t have control over the children in the first place, then when they do run and play and get terribly excited, you won’t be able to control them in that situation. If you can’t tell your dog to get off the furniture or out of your bed, it’s not because a comfortable couch has eroded the dog’s respect for you. Particular actions in and of themselves are not usually the problem when it comes to leadership issues. The lack of respect we have earned from our dogs is the problem.

The dog does not need to be “deranked” so much as the people need to learn to act like people worth listening to.

…the loophole in the canine possession law—if you voluntarily turn your attention away from an object and another dog swoops in and takes it, that’s fair. 

We want to believe in the Lassie myth, to focus only on the dog’s gentle, forgiving, loving nature. Of all the rocks on which we may stub our emotional toes, this is a big one. We do not want to think that the dog lying at our feet is a predator and a powerful one at that. It may be that we’d prefer that the people and animals we love most dearly have no dark, ugly side; we idealize them with this simple “Oh, he’d never do that!” or “She’s just not that kind of person.” In any relationship, such sanitized, idealized views of another being does not lead to deeper understanding or a more intense connection but to the inevitable disappointment that occurs when we are unable to embrace both the potential for both light and the dark contained in all of us. This is not to say that all dogs will sooner or later act in aggressive ways, no more than all humans will eventually harm another person. The dark potential that lurks within each of us needs to be recognized, and our relationships shaped to encourage the joyful lightness of being, not trigger the ugly possibilities.

In the United States, roughly two thousand children die every year at the hands of their own parents, but less than a dozen are killed by dogs. And yet people don’t look at children and whisper, “Be careful. Parents can turn on you.”

If I am mature enough to understand that not all behavior directed at me is about me, I am then in an even better place to carefully search for the real message behind the behavior.

My experience is that very often, an animal needs an acknowledgment of the motivation behind his resistance more than he needs us to simply withdraw our request. Though it sounds terribly simple, I am endlessly amazed by what happens when I assure an animal that I do understand why he finds something unpleasant or scary, and I believe that like all people I know, animals also need to be heard.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristine  |  March 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Terrific passages, truly. I especially appreciated the one about the Lassie myth, as this is something I foolishly used to believe in. I think I need to read this book again, now that I am coming from a place of deeper understanding. Thank you very much for sharing this.

    Reply
  • 2. Pamela Douglas Webster  |  March 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I loved this book. Your quotes made me think I need to pick it up again to read.

    Reply
  • [...] Suzanne Clothier writes: In a laboratory experiment, a cat was wired with electrodes that helped researchers see when an audible signal was received by the brain. When a tone was played, the cat’s brain responded with a blip. Tone, blip; tone, blip. Then researchers put a mouse just outside the cat’s cage where the cat could see it but not reach it. They were curious to see how the brain processed the competing stimuli of mouse and tone. Their theory was that the brain would register the tone but that the cat would consciously disregard this stimulus in favor of the mouse. To their surprise, when the cat was completely focused on the mouse, the brain did not register the tone at all—it was as if the tone had ceased to exist within the cat’s perception of his world. [...]

    Reply

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