Dip a toe into independence

Cooper’s life, until this point, has been largely steered by his owners. Obviously, he made the decision to chose to live with them in the first place, there’s no disputing that, but he’s been happy enough passively going along with (far too infrequent) mealtimes on their schedule, walks when they want and if he wanted to survey his domain around the garden outside, he would have to wait till they let him out. It was mildly annoying sometimes, but Cooper is a patient dog and generally happy with his lot.
 
A tall cheery man was recently invited into the house, smelling of sawdust and sweat. Delicious. Cooper was shooed away (as always, pretty rude), and when he returned later to investigate what had gone on, there was Something Different about the back door: there was a small Cooper size door within it. He cocked his head and eyed it up a bit suspiciously. Huh. Strange. He poked it with his nose and it moved, so he stepped back in alarm watching the opaque perspex clatter back and forth. A gorgeous smell of the outdoor world curled in through the gaps and headed for his nostrils and he breathed in the complex smell of the garden, fascinated how it had reached inside his home. Summoning up his courage and sense of adventure, he poked his head through the flap and it was true – there was the outside and he could move into it freely. He bounded out, ran around gleefully, and then back into the house. And then back out. And then back in. It looked like he could move between his home and his outside domain whenever he decided!
 
Dip a toe into independenceFor Cooper there will always be the time Before the Door (BD) and After the Door (AD). Before, he was happy enough feeling passive in his place in the world, but after, he realised he was now in charge of his movements in the day. He could make his own choice on whether it was the right time to go for a sniff. In fact, he could decide to investigate the garden smells all day long or not at all (which would be ludicrous, but it had become his choice). He could even traipse around in the middle of the night, under his own steam, with no one to tell him what to do. This freedom of having his own destiny was exciting and slightly scary. Nothing was as pinned down and certain anymore because he could now rely on himself to make this decision. But for Cooper, he felt that he had grown in this moment, swelling out his furry chest, and become a more self-assured and self-possessed animal. He liked it.
 
Now… how could he control meal times?
 
What can you learn from your dog?
 
We start off in life having little control over what happens and when: our parents steer us around and that’s the end of that. Then school and employment… we might still feel we are passively moving through our lives and are controlled by someone else. It feels safe but it can also feel like we are trapped. Our dogs happily put up with being told what to do, and so can we, in fact it can be nice not to have to think about it, but when we actively make our own choices, we can make changes, our own mistakes and explore different directions entirely. That’s when it’s our own life. All ours.

Love completely

Rizla the weimaraner is a soppy dog. From the first moment she met her owner she was besotted and entranced. It’s such an easy way to be; her owner is her world, her everything, and her favourite place to be is near her.

Love is very important to Riz and she feels that giving her owner unconditional and constant love is her reason for being. For Riz, she doesn’t need to dig any deeper than just accepting the pure love she feels throughout her furry body.

If her owner goes out, Riz feels a sense of loss when she’s on her own, a tad out of sorts. It aches at her heart a little, but she potters about the house, doing her weimaraner thing. At the back of her mind, though, she’s continually wondering when her owner will be back. Something is just missing.

Love completely

Riz’s love for her owner feels like an elastic band that connects them together. The further they are apart, there is a tension, a sense of unease, and when they are close together, it’s relaxed and the natural state of things. This means it makes sense that Riz acts as a shadow, following her owner from room to room (and boy, does she move around a lot). Padding up to the toilet and waiting outside, back to the sofa and curling up. She needs and craves the physical touch of the person at the centre of her life.

Love for Riz is a sense of absolute peace. She is exactly where she’s meant to be, lying next to the person whom she loves so absolutely. She feels centred. She feels accepted. She feels loved. The calm washes over her and everything is okay.

What can you learn from your dog?

Love can be a beautiful, pure and intoxicating thing. Can you gently lose yourself in someone or something you feel an incredible innate connection to? Don’t fight it, embrace and let yourself be in the love.

 

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The first book “The Barklife Way – Introducing Cooper” is available to buy for £12.99 here: http://www.thebarklifeway.com/shop/

Relax how you like to relax

Chilling out come in many forms. For Cooper, he likes to go for an ambling walk, no time pressure, just a nice lackadaisical stroll with lots of nice scent-laden bushes to sniff. He connects with nature and breathes out any anxiety and sniffs in pure happiness and peace.

Other dog friends find a good bone chewing is an excellent way to de-stress, or creating a number of gorgeous holes in a flower bed.

Flint is Cooper’s whippet buddy and is truly an expert in relaxing. When Flint relaxes he absolutely takes it to the next level. After an energising run across fields (away from an owner laughingly trying to call him back), he returns on his own agenda to his home and thinks he would fancy a nice recuperative snooze. He has his bed, of course, but he thinks it would be good to try out this nice new rug, set out in the downstairs hallway. Convenient.

Relax how you like to relaxNow Flint… he really likes to commit to relaxing. Relaxing is about letting everything go, allowing yourself to go to a place of beautiful calm. Whippets and greyhounds do this by roaching. Whereas Cooper likes to sleep in a tight, neat little circle, Flint has a different way of sleeping. He likes to lie on his back, legs splayed in every single direction. His body arcs back on itself and his head arches stretching to one side. To an outsider, it looks weird and uncomfortable, but Flint finds this position wonderfully relaxing. His body completely un-tenses and he is at one with the rug, the floor, the earth below all the way down to the core of the planet.

He is at one with the world.

 

What can you learn from your dog?

What do you do that takes away all your stresses and worries? Some people go for a long run or sweat it out piling on the weights at the gym. Maybe knitting on the sofa calms you, or fighting it out in a multiplayer computer game. Or how about literally doing nothing, staring into space and letting it all drift away. Your friend loves spa days and spending a whole day being massaged and reading magazines by a pool. This sounds horrendous to you and you’d like to cook a new recipe and share with friends.

It doesn’t matter if folding laundry is the thing that makes you at one with yourself. Relax your way.

Love the winter

Cooper loves that he is covered in fur. As well as being incredibly stylish, his tri-colour branding is eye-catching and gets the lady dogs’ attention. But in winter he has noticed it has a more practical use. It’s colder at this time of year and it helps keep the chill away more than these poor naked hairless humans.

He has noticed that getting ready for a walk takes even achingly longer. He didn’t think it was possible to do yet more things before a walk began, but now there are hats and scarves and gloves and jumpers and big coats and an ongoing commentary about how cold it is and is Cooper really very sure he has to go out? Err, yes. Obviously.

Love the winterOutside there is an eerie mist in the air. He can’t see everything ahead (though obviously seeing is not the most important sense anyway) and when he inhales, there is a short sharp burst of icy air. It’s surprisingly, that’s for sure. He tastes the winter in his mouth and breathes it back out into the world as he pads on the frosty grass, making it crunch and crackle under his paws.

Now being outside in the winter is great… but… he doesn’t mind if the walks are that tad shorter and that the momentum is that little bit brisker. It’s almost as if it’s worth being outside just so he can come back into the warmth. And the best thing about winter is that actually everyone seems to be a bit too cold, and of course the best way to remedy this situation is to be in a Massive Pile. And that’s what Cooper tries to engineer. Dogs totally get it. But humans… they are all “what are you doing, stop trying to get under my blanket; stop using your big brown eyes and charm to manoeuvre into my lap; don’t put your freezing cold nose on the small of my back…” Blah blah blah. Such a strange species. He’s just trying to help them feel encompassed in warmth and comfort.

What can you learn from your dog?

Hunker down. It’s cold. Now is not the time to begin a running regime, it’s the time to curl up with loved ones and generate warmth together. You want their warmth and they want yours.

Pile on.

Do to for them

Cooper does not like being dressed up as a bee. Now, he’s not sure you quite get it, so he will re-emphasise. HE DOES NOT WANT TO LOOK LIKE A STUPID BEE.

But, wow, his owners just adore to dress him up in a dumb costume each year.

He could put up more resistance – after all he has many dreams about bravely and strongly fending off the house from an influx of evil cats and squirrels – but at the heart of it all, he loves his human cohabiters and it makes them so happy. He stands there, letting them put one leg at a time into fluffy cheap scratchy fabric as they giggle hysterically.

BeegleOf all the costumes, why a dumb bee? Bees are strange colourful flying snacks that aren’t tasty at all and hurt to eat. They seem to be followed by an impromptu trip to the vets, which is fun as he gets to have a fuss made of him (as he should), some tasty treats, but then they seem to pinch his neck for no reason at all. But then there’s another treat, so he guesses it’s okay? Bit weird though.

They finish off their dressing up antics by tying a ridiculously humiliating bow under his neck to keep a bonnet with antennae over his ears. If he could, he would roll his eyes and shake his head, but he is not a petty dog, he lets them get on with it and stands there so they can point their portable rectangles at him and flash light at him. He poses until their laughs subside and then wanders off to the garden to go roll in a seriously large amount of mud.

What can you learn from your dog?

We don’t always totally enjoy every moment with our families and people we are obligated to be with. But if your Aunt gives you a hideous jumper, smile, enthuse and throw it on. It’s an hour of your life, but it’s heartwarming for them to feel appreciated. They love you and they don’t always get that you are not on the same page as them. Sometimes their affections are misguided but, hey, suck it up.

Be loving… and do it for them.

Help your friends feel comfortable

Cooper just adores to meet new dogs on his walks. He bounds over to canine strangers and wants to say hello, engage them and hopefully play. He knows he is a bit bolshy with his intentions and – over time – he has learnt that not everyone appreciates his forceful approach.

Jasper isn’t like feisty Cooper. He likes the quiet. He likes peace. Noise makes him agitated and he gets jumpy if something happens unexpectedly. He sees other dogs proudly wearing their colourful collars and wonders why, when he has to wear his, he finds it so itchy and uncomfortable.

Help your friends feel comfortableSometimes all his senses become overloaded and he can’t deal very well with how he is feeling. He barks or lashes out because he’s confused and scared. Luckily his owner understands how he feels and gently helps him with soothing words, removing noises and turning off bright lights. He also enjoys and feels calmed by getting stroked nice and firmly because being lightly stroked feels tickly and unpleasant.

This is who Jasper is, so he seeks out a calmer world and avoids things that make him feel stressed.

But just because Cooper and Jasper have different preferences with interaction, doesn’t mean they can’t be friends. Cooper understands he needs to be less barky and full on, so as not to make Jasper uncomfortable. They spend time together not playing the active and loud Chase Me game, but in more sedate pursuits. They like to amble through the sides of the large field hunting out woodland smells and debris. Nothing wrong with that.

In fact, Cooper thinks it’s quite nice to have a change of pace.

What can you learn from your dog?

We are all different and it’s great to have a variety of friends. If you’re the sort who loves loud, busy gigs with loads of buddies, keep a beady eye out for those who turned down the invite. Would they appreciate a one-on-one lunch time meet up instead? We have more than one gear, so move up or down to meet your friends’ level and enrich your life with those varied experiences.

Endorphins make you glow

Cooper is snuggled up in his bed. Inside its depths, as well as a half chewed cushion spilling its white fluffy contents, there’s a beige tatty blanket covered in lots of his hair. It’s a pretty classy affair. It’s cold in the house and he knows he has to curl in the tightest circle simply to keep alive. It was dark when he was stirred for breakfast and he doesn’t understand why he’s suddenly being fed in the middle of the night. But, well, it’s food, so it’s sort of okay. He starts to nod off, his belly nicely full, when he hears his name being called.

Endorphins make you glowSeriously? They want to go for a walk now? He pops his black, shiny nose into the arctic conditions of his home and thinks about how much colder it would be outside. He loves a walk, of course, but does it have to be when he’s barely awake and cold? His name is called again and he considers his dilemma. He is very cosy where he is but these humans are irritatingly persistent once they get started with one of their absurd ideas. He’d love to just stay where he is, it took simply ages to get into this perfect resting position. But… those outdoor smells… and it is his calling to investigate them… he really should check on them. If he doesn’t, then who will? They would go un-smelled. And his tubby body, already at the very peak of physical perfection, could do with a few dashes across the field to keep those leg muscles in tip top condition. He slightly grimaces thinking of how cold the grass would be on his delicate paws, but he is not one to shy away from a bit of discomfort. He unravels his body and slowly gets up, ignoring his name being called more and more insistently. He’s coming, wow, seriously chill out.

Back in his bed again, post walk, he is happy to concede he was glad he went out for exercise even though he really didn’t want to. He stretches his limbs out in four directions and yawns widely. He feels a faint hum throughout his body, the after effects of all that dashing about. He quickly drifts off, feeling warm and tingly

What can you learn from you dog?

Sometimes it’s cold out there and sometimes you’re not feeling it, but if you can coax yourself to pull yourself to the gym or out for a run, you’ll tap into those wonderful endorphins. We all know it’s easier to be motivated when it’s a gorgeous day and we wake up rested, but where it counts is those gloomy days when it’s harder. The more yeses you can manage when you want to say no, the more of those wonderful energising endorphins you can collect.

And you can always go back to bed afterwards.

Protest what’s important to you

Cooper has a lot of things to be vocal about. “Where is his dinner?”, “Isn’t it about time for a walk?” and “How dare that cat come into my garden?”. But what about the bigger issues? Things that go way beyond the world of a small dog living a simple life in a house? What does he feel an actual Protest about?

Cooper doesn’t know about his animal kingdom buddies stuck in laboratories, enduring animal testing. He just wouldn’t be able to fathom how that sort of situation could come about. He doesn’t love being stuck in a house or restricted by a lead but he really wouldn’t like the idea of being caged or tethered in a medical facility. He would be absolutely affronted.

Sometimes one of his owners wears makeup and Cooper finds the idea quite bewildering. Animals have no interest in painting their faces strange colours. He can’t imagine why these products would be tested on his fellow furry friends to check if they were safe, it really seems a bit unfair. Something inside him decides that he needs to make a point and the best way is to make a proper visual Protest.

Protest animal testingAh, his foolish owner who leaves her possessions just close enough to the edge of high up places. Oh, she thinks she is being clever, stacking them a bit further back, but he has such reach. And with a long tongue added into the mix, he has an extra few inches to be able to get to things. He leaps up to see what’s up here. His tongue inches the first item, a long black shape, to the edge. It smells weird, but the container looks quite fun to chew so he grabs it and takes it to the nice beige rug to give it a munch. As he mangles the object, the black viscous contents start to spill from the container and he ponders that the colour definitely adds a little something to the boring floor covering. Right, what’s next? He sees some shiny tubes which seem to come in an infinite variety of shades of red. Surely just one of these would do? But no time to question insane human logic, he chews each one up and adds bright vibrant shades to his artistic masterpiece. Beige powder and pink powder are next. These tickle his nose as he chews the boxes open and make him sneeze, so he tosses them about his portrait to add depth and atmosphere. He gets up to survey his work. Impressive. Big improvement to the carpet and an important Protest message.

Now destruction is not a clean way of protesting but he thinks it gets his point across well. He Does Not Approve. His owner won’t be happy, but you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs (and then throw away the omelette and just have sausages instead). She will look at her broken possessions and she will need to make the choice as to how she replaces them.

He hopes she will choose with some thought to his fellow creature-kind.

What can you learn from your dog?

Do you feel strongly about something? Your dog would protest an injustice, so use your own bark to join others and see what actual changes you can make to the world. Whether it’s international women’s rights, issues with the local tip or animal testing – if it touches you in a personal way, you could do something. You know indignant social media rants only go so far: what could you do that was real?

Revel in silence

Cooper sat patiently, with his head cocked at an angle, as his owner held aloft one of her rectangles and read some words from it to him. Sometimes when there are a stream of words in his direction they can be a bit loud and shouty, but, this time as she gesticulated as she read to him – creating a little bit of miniature theatre to entertain him – these seemed like soft words.

Not that he understood any of them.

Revel in silence

It’s quite relaxing being read to by a human. Dogs don’t have much of a vocabulary. I mean what is there to say? A bark has all sorts of intonation, force, volume and pitch to convey all sorts of expression and emotion. But these humans seem to constantly natter, what could they possibly be going on about? Do they just invent new and more complex things to talk about to fill the silence?

Cooper wondered whether there were other dogs out there that had their owner’s read to them. As an only dog it was quite lonely sometimes (only sometimes) and humans didn’t always totally get him and his extremely clear way of conveying his needs and wants. It would be nice to be part of some sort of club. Likeminded high thinkers like himself could consider the important matters of the world: why were there not more walks; why were food bowls filled with such insultingly small amounts and which sticks were the best sticks. Naturally he would be head of this group: his obvious candidacy as an Alpha had been shockingly overlooked in his own home. But then his owners did have insecurity issues so he only made a bid for power every evening or so. Which was hardly ever.

Cooper let his owner’s words sweep over him and settled into lying down, gently closing his eyes.

She really did go on.

What can you learn from your dog?

We humans, we sure love our drama. And then we love to talk about it. What are we even talking about half the time? Have we already told that not-even-that-exciting story to a few other people? Do we need to keep asking everyone questions? Can we just stop and be quiet and still?

The silence needn’t be so scary and it could even be comforting.

Live until you die

Cooper’s seaside holiday buddy is a springer labrador cross called Chester. Cooper is a young dog and Chester was his first friend who was just that bit older. He didn’t like to ask, being a super polite fella, but Cooper could see that Chester had grey bits around his muzzle and his eyebrows were a bit wild with sprouting hairs. When they played, Chester would give it his all but his legs didn’t seem to want to go as fast as he wanted them to and he couldn’t always keep up with spritely Cooper. But that was fine, there are all sorts of speeds in the world, and it was just a matter of slowing down so Chester could catch up.

Now, Cooper can’t really be bothered with balls, he doesn’t see the point at all, but Chester’s absolute favourite game has always been playing fetch with a tennis ball. He would calculate incredible mathematics of projection and run at full speed towards where it was beginning to fall. Obstacles were a total inconvenience: mounds to be leapt over and bushes to push through the middle of. He could barely feel the bumps on his intense pursuit.

With the years, he still wanted that ball, but he started to be a little more measured in his quest. Going around rather than leaping over or pushing through things became the way.

Live until you die

His owners were particularly clumsy, they were always hurling endless balls far away. But he didn’t question their strange human foibles, he would just get on with bringing those balls back. His idea of the best day ever would be to get onto a tennis court and dart around to help collect all those lazily-dropped balls, bringing them back into a tidy central place.

Recently, Chester was out on his usual walk with his owner. He ran after his ball in his favourite field, excited and happy, his little heart dancing with glee. He grabbed it in his mouth, tasting the familiar rubber and furry cotton and turned to rush back. He saw his owner, waiting happily to receive his ball. This was the best! But as he made his journey back, he noticed his legs were slowing down a bit and his heart was aching in his chest. Was he imagining it, but did it seem like everything was clouding a little in his field of vision? Could he get back? Everything felt so heavy. Could he have a lie down? Just for a little bit?

Chester didn’t make it back that day, but he did get that ball. He always got the ball.

What can you learn from your dog?

Live.

Keep going. Hang onto life with all your might. How marvellous to die doing the very thing we love the most. So keep doing what you love: climb mountains, eat your favourite crisps on the sofa with friends or create the largest crochet blanket in the world. Then, one day, at the age of 104, you’ll be smiling – while really living – and you’ll pass on.

Live your life until your very last moment.