Stretchhhhhh

After a satisfying sleep that involved not only finding, running after and then catching a cat, but also being crowned the King of all cats in a surprising twist, Cooper opens his eyes and blinks a few times at the bright late morning sunshine. He does a quick recap: post breakfast sleep, quick investigate to check the perimeter, mid morning sleep, relocate to bedroom, and he has finished his third nap before midday. Excellent. All is on schedule.

Now Cooper does not belong to the medical profession (by his own choice) but he does know a little about post-nap essentials. It’s a rookie mistake to leap up and carry on about your business without consideration to the fact that your body hasn’t moved for an hour. He is a pro. First, begin with mouth exercises. A good and gentle yawn is good. No sudden movements or those muscles won’t behave. Then come out of the curled up position, slowly, vertebra by vertebra, unfurling into a less circular position. Hop down from your spot into a clear area. Now the real work begins. Years of self training would make Cooper a black belt at this next part, if there were such an accolade. There are two moves. Two moves, but oh such moves. Dog yoga – or “doga” – now begins; onlookers are welcomed but not encouraged as this is a sacred time. Cat stretch
He begins with a cat stretch. Obviously he doesn’t call it this in his mind, but this is what his owners’ call it, much to his dismay. The cat pose stretches out his spine that has been curled around for the last hour. He splays his front paws for stability (and a cheeky paw wake-up stretch while he’s there) and arches his back. It feels good to expand his spinal bones and get them back in the right place. At the same time he elongates his neck, maybe throwing in a little yawn and mouth stretch. Excellent. Back and neck done.
Downward facing dogThe second move is downward facing dog. He doesn’t mind his owners calling the move this, but it’s not exactly imaginative. This pose is an energising movement. It stretches out all his four leg muscles and builds strength, which he needs for when he’s bounding about fields with long, long grass. He makes a satisfied little grunt as he commits to the pose and stretches out his aches from his sleeping position. And done. Don’t be fooled that two positions for a short amount of time don’t give him health benefits. He is in tip top condition apart from his barrel like stomach, and that’s due to big bones. Big stomach bones. Whatever.

What can you learn from your dog?

Stretching is a great way to start the day (or post-nap). It gets your blood moving and gives your joints a chance to get used to not being still. Yoga (and doga) is energising, strength building and great for your mental health. No wonder your dog wags his tail so much.

Beware of the rectangles

The simplicity of Cooper’s existence is why he is so happy.

Things that make Cooper happy:

  • A cardboard box – good for investigating and then destroying
  • A straw – tastes of something food-like, a bit chewy
  • A bone – so much fun to gnaw and an opportunity to be sneaky and hide it in an excellent place
  • A pile of laundry – really warm, moveable items, easy to push around to create the perfect resting place (downside – often leads to being shouted at for no reason and shooed away)
  • Sleep – this is excellent
  • Walks – much investigation, socialising and hopefully abandoned scraps
  • Cats – They’re just so intriguing; what’s their bag?
  • Fox poo – glorious smell
  • Food – all food is excellent
  • Baths – ha, psych, these suck
  • Belly strokes – pleasant experience all round for everyone
  • A really good scratch – it’s almost worth having that annoying itch just for the relief of scratching the hell out of it
  • Dogs – obviously they’re excellent (except the big, scary ones. Could totally take them on, he just chooses not to)
  • Lions – he hasn’t met one yet but suspects he can take on a whole bunch of them. Easy

Beware of the rectangles

And that’s it. He doesn’t worry about mortgage payments or whether his belt matches his trousers. He doesn’t care if so-and-so said something mean about him behind his back or that the weighing scales shamed him. What he wants is to be constantly fed and to be taken out to investigate the outside world.

Cooper finds our world bewildering. He’s right here in front of you, why on earth are you looking so intently at a small handheld rectangular box rather than stroking him? How can you sit at your desk staring blankly into yet another rectangular box for hours, looking so miserable, when you could be feeding him? Why do you spend the evening looking at a large rectangular box on the wall when there’s so much to be explored out there in nature? It makes no sense. The rectangles don’t smell or taste of anything good. He thinks they are obscuring what’s important from your world.

What can you learn from your dog?

There’s a place for our rectangles, but they can quickly take over our lives. Sometimes we are reading about the latest thing about someone we don’t even know when, right in front of us, there’s a dog that loves us wagging his tail, longing for a cheeky play. Put down the rectangle. Turn off the one on the wall. Engage with life in front of you.

Beware of the rectangles.

How to tackle a big stick

Now who doesn’t love a good stick? Cooper expects that other dogs have different favourite types, but to him a good stick needs to have certain criteria: the right length, the right girth and the right integrity. It’s no good if it’s long and wavy and it’s no good if it’s stumpy and crumbles. Today he has found the best stick he’s ever seen (though his memory is pretty poor, but it is the best stick of today at any rate). The problem with this stick is that it is connected to a whole lot more other stick.

Like Michelangelo and a block of marble, Cooper has The Vision. He can see this large fallen tree branch that’s blocked the path but he doesn’t see an obstacle or an inconvenience. Oh no, he sees potential. He sees past the dozen of mediocre sticks still attached. He sees past the laughably poor whimsical sticks on one end. He sees past the decorative leaves and he even sees past the caterpillar inching its way along a bud.

How to tackle a big stickBeyond all this distraction is The Stick. Of course, it’s still attached to everything else. How do you approach something so mammoth? How do you get past everything to get to what you want? Cooper doesn’t have time to second guess himself, or procrastinate. And he doesn’t have self doubt about his skills in stick detachment or fear of wondering that maybe this stick isn’t that great after all. If another dog made a dismissive snort about his quest to extract this stick… well he wouldn’t care. More stick for him.

He closes his eyes briefly, imagining what it will be like to own that stick, take it to task. Nibble gently at one end, gnaw wide-mouthed at the other. The wood would fall apart in his mouth like pulled pork (mmmm, pork). It would feel so good to grind his molars on the side of that bark. To slightly taste the sap and hold one end lovingly between his paws.

But enough daydreaming, it’s time to get this magical stick from the centre of this branch. There are a lot of twigs in the way, so pulling those off individually and then dragging the branch around gets off the worst of them. Cooper then gnaws at a less than optimal branch so that he can get closer to his prize. This branch tastes like sawdust and (non-tasty) bugs, but he soldiers on, his big goal high in his mind.

A black labrador bounds up to say hello. Cooper is a fan of black labs. They’ve got the right kind of energy for a good Chase Me game and are invariably friendly. But not today, he is working. He’s not rude though; he wags his tail and gives a sideways look explaining the situation. The lab sniffs a bit at the tree branch, wondering if all of Cooper’s effort is worth it for one stick. Then his owner calls him so he bounds off. Maybe she has some chicken.

Cooper finally gets through the sad excuse for a stick and dumps it on the ground. And there it is in front of him. His prize. It truly is perfect. A good length, minimal bumps and the wood is firm but gnawable. With a bit of levering technique and brute force, he extracts the stick from the branch and runs off to take it to a quiet location for maximum enjoyment. Sitting in the middle of the field, able to see 360 degrees for any interlopers, he begins to bite on one end. It was hard work but a good result. He is proud of his tenacity and (brief) forward thinking.

What can you learn from your dog?

Sometimes we have big, more ambitious goals. There are so many things that can get in our way, most of which are internal: doubt, fear, friends (well-meaning or not) and boring things we need to do along the way added to all the other distractions of life. Keep your eye on the prize. Your perfect stick.

You got this.

Oxytocins are crucial

Cooper likes to sleep in the Firefox position. Have you seen the logo for the Firefox internet browser? It has a fox lying in a tight circle, and that’s how this little beagle likes to curl up to sleep. He’s in such a compact round shape he could be mistaken for a colourful, bumpy cushion… but that definitely doesn’t want to be sat on.

Oxytocins are crucialIt’s good to sleep like this as it maximises warmth as well as comforting Cooper that all of his body parts are still intact since he has close contact with them. This saves him having to constantly check whether his ears or tail are still connected to his body. Very helpful.

But being in the Firefox position is lonely. He is a pack animal and really he would prefer to be in a tower of curled up beagles or even a disorganised pile of assorted furry bodies and legs. Thank goodness his owners definitely want to lie in a heap with him too. He’s pretty sure they do.

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and his owners are lying in bed. This is better than in the week when they grumpily pull themselves around the house, cleaning themselves, dressing and eating boring dry food in bowls with that tasteless white water. Sunday morning is about toast crumbs and big pieces of large folded sheets of black and white squiggle-printed paper scattered across the eiderdown. As soon as Cooper leaps onto the bed everyone seems to re-arrange themselves. Bits of the paper get folded up hastily and toast (sadly) moved out of reach. But he is not here for toast (though he might try and swipe a piece later when they’re a bit more relaxed and unawares). No, he is here for oxytocins. He needs to feel bodily warmth and comfort.

His owners seem to be indicating a spot at the end of the bed. They are patting the duvet, saying his name and some other nonsense words that are not part of his extensive food lexicon. He looks at the spot they are indicating. Are they insane? The corner of the bed? The most arctic region of the bedding? They must be confused. He wags his tail at them. They do try but they don’t often understand what’s going on.

Cooper knows where he needs to be. At the head of the bed, in the middle of both of them (the warmest spot). He pads up the middle between them, tail swaying and tongue hanging out happily. He stomps over the rest of the paper, which they seem to take issue with, and he ignores their flailing arms. They sure are saying that pointless “no” word a lot. They can’t be directing that at him, so he pushes on through and slumps suddenly as he gets to the pillow end. Comfy! His centre of gravity is pretty low now, so whilst they think pushing him will do something, mostly he is a bit bemused. He raises an eyebrow and looks at his male owner sideways. Then with a small sigh he puts his head down on the pillow and settles his deadweight fully into the bed. So cosy. Such lovely warm bodies. He makes one last adjustment to his position, stretching out to maximise bodily contact and closes his eyes. Ahhhhhh.

What can you learn from your dog?

Oxytocin – the hug hormone – is something your dog knows about instinctively. If he curls up with you, he feels relaxed and happy. It raises his spirits and makes him feel loved. Do you like to hug people? Enjoy the benefit of feeling someone else’s body warmth and feel comforted. But maybe start with people you know, and not with strangers on the train.

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