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.

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?

Family is who’s there for you

Cooper is a pre-owned beagle.

He lives in his home with a couple, but he didn’t always live there. There was a time when he lived far away in another place. But, he had to move on. Yes, he came to the decision – all on his own – that this previous home was becoming too crowded with a new baby on the way, so he chose a new, unfortunately dog-less couple, to be his new family. He’s pretty sure that’s what happened.

These new owners, wow, they really needed him. For a start, they just had too many cushions. He could help them with that. And the female owner… she had a lot of shoes and he wanted to help her see a world beyond material possessions. They initially seemed a bit put out by his considerate actions, but he had so much more help to give.

Beagle Welfare beaglesTheir health. Honestly, sitting around and eating all that food? He helped them by grabbing things from unguarded plates and kitchen counters. You’re welcome. And more walks were needed too, they needed the exercise as well as social interactions with other owners. He was excited to show them all the new places they could explore together.

And oh such entertainment! He serenaded them with squeaky toys whilst they watch their large rectangle on the wall. The tone of their words seemed like they wanted him to stop but why would they want to stare at a rectangle when they could watch and hear him play? The squealing ball is surely music to their ears?

He took on the role of greeter for the household, making sure guests always felt welcome (and shoving his little face into their bags to check for foodstuffs to save his owners the trouble). He also helped them feel less lonely. What they needed was a dog to push his way into the middle of them on the sofa. All cosy and comforting for them.

When his owner comes home from work, looking deflated, Cooper is so happy to see him and wags his tail so joyfully, his owner can’t help but perk up and relax. When his other owner has water coming out of her eyes and her face is all scrunched up, he doesn’t get it, but he sits right next to her and lets her soak his fur.

The owners, a twosome, expanded their love outwards to someone new. And Cooper found somewhere he could be himself and look after them. That’s what family is. People – and dogs – who are there for each other.

What can you learn from your dog?

Some of us were lucky to be born into a loving family who wanted us and helped us become the best version of ourselves. Some of us… we weren’t quite so fortunate. Family is a word we connect with who we were born to, but families can be created. Family is about finding a group of loving beings who like you just as you are. And family is there for you.

If you’re thinking about taking on a pre-owned dog, you should know that this dog wants to be your family and love you unconditionally. That’s just who he is. He may have had some challenges from his previous life, and he might need some time, patience and a lot of love, but wow, when your commitment is paid back you have the newest most loyal family member.

Zig Zag

Now Cooper is well aware there is an optimal route between A and B. If he were at position A and there were a mysterious cat at position B, he would launch like a rocket between the two points, perhaps breaking the sound barrier in the process. He knows there’s a fast way to get over there, but… is that usually the most interesting way to get there?

Zig ZagFor Cooper, he likes the scenic route. Because the world he is in has haphazard smells all over the place, it’s important to take a zigzag route to best find as many of them as possible. Does a rabbit take a direct route? No. Does a hedgehog? Nope. Foxes? Never. Well then, he has to replicate these woodland creatures’ movements to track the routes they have been and investigate their goings on. To outsiders it may seem like he is dawdling and that he has no plan. Oh, he has a plan.

Sometimes his owners get a bit frustrated with him, yanking on his lead if he is still connected to them, or calling him back to them (good luck with that). They seem to think that that the walk part of their day is a chore. Something to tick off of a list. Errr, no, it’s the whole point of the day.

The zigs and zags are the adventures. Within a zig he finds out that there wasn’t just one rabbit scurrying about earlier, but two. During a zag he found a hidden mound of squished manure that was begging for a good sniff. Imagine if he had missed out on these?!
What can you learn from your dog?

We are always rushing to our destinations. Which is the fastest choice of roads… would a train be quicker… if we leave at a certain time, can we miss the traffic. We want to blank out the travel and simple relocate ourselves to the place we are trying to get to. Could you add a little zig into your commuting routine? Could you zag on the way back from a school run?

Take the scenic route by zigging and zagging and discover something.

Greet people when they come home

It’s been a relaxing day. The sun has streamed intermittently through various windows (why it moves throughout the day, Cooper will never understand) and these have been good spots to curl up in. The sun is now fading and this means he must keep a vigilant ear out for any tell-tale sounds that someone is returning home.

Who arrives home first varies. The sounds are distinctive and unique for the coming home routine. First there’s the noise of tyres slowly turning onto the driveway outside of the front window. A low humming, vibrating noise gets louder as it comes nearer and then the crackle of gravel. This already gives away who it is, the sounds are different for each of them.

Next there’s an achingly long moment with the idly, throbbing, resonating noise. And then it stops. The silence is the time to leap up. Cooper knows it is such a short distance between driveway and front door, but it seems to take them a maddeningly long time to walk it. How hard is it to get into the house from a few feet away?! He would have made it in a split second. He expresses his distaste at all this waiting by leaping on the sofa, and off, and rushing in a half circle before bounding across the room. He can’t contain his frenetic energy!

The next sound is the best sound: key in door. The metal clanks into the keyhole, pauses, and then hesitantly turns. If he hadn’t already worked out who it was going to be from the other sounds, this identifying noise would confirm definitively the identity of the returning owner. With a sharp twist of the handle – there he is!

Greet peopleOMG OMG OMG! The excitement is so overwhelming Cooper doesn’t know what to do first. Should he greet with a leap? Bark a hello? Bark an admonishment for being left alone so long (but only a gentle one)? Show his owner one of his toys? Rotate in a circle with giddiness? Run off into another room and back just because? There’s so many things to do and only a split second in which to convey all those feelings across! Does he get it?! Cooper is totally and completely happy! He’s home, he’s home, he’s home! YAY! This is the best! “He can feed me dinner! Walk me! Play with me! Stroke my tummy!” It’s going to be so much fun!

His owner puts down his bag to give him some attention. Ooooo; bag. As usual, Cooper suspects any bag is full to the brim with treats, sausages and huge steaks, so he takes a pause in the greeting ceremony to investigate the contents of the bag. For some reason his owner is swishing him away. Maybe the bag isn’t full of treats, sausages and huge steaks for him? Bit odd, but okay. Back to greeting! Yay! Jumpity jump! Awooowwoooowoooowooowooo!

What can you learn from your dog?

We soon get used to each other in relationships. That frisson of excitement when we see one another begins to dampen over time. But it is truly nice to feel greeted and appreciated. Who doesn’t love a “Hi, honey, I’m home!” moment on the threshold? Stop browsing social media on that phone, pause that TV rerun, and come say hello to your returning partner at the doorway with a big smile, hug and a kiss. Yay, they’re home!

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Smell good

Cooper enjoys his morning walks. Overnight there have been all sorts of mysterious wildlife creatures scampering across the fields and pushing their way through bushes, leaving their intriguing scent behind. Being a hound, this is Cooper’s job: investigating all the smells.

With his nose to the ground, he scoots along narrating his findings to no one in particular: “ahh yes, that’s nice… I recognise that one… ooo, what’s this one… backtrack, backtrack, yes, yes, that’s a good one… seems to go over there, and then back round here… OH! This smell is much better here… I will follow it round and about, over here… lovely”. His snuffling sounds like a piglet hunting for truffles and he has lost all real world connection to his owner and whatever else is going on around him. He takes these sniffing expeditions very seriously. But suddenly he stops in his tracks, nose tingling. “WHAT IS THIS?! This is AMAZING. Wowie, this smell is like what Heaven must smell like”. All thought of following a night-time rabbit’s excursion have disappeared from his agenda. This smell consumes him. It is the most incredible thing.

Cooper has found some fox poo.

Smell goodNow what should you do if you find fox poo? Being such an wondrous and delightful smell, wouldn’t it be excellent to have it all over one’s body? Then the smell can be carried around, wafting its gorgeous scent to everyone. It would improve their day and maybe make them a little jealous of his luck in finding it. This is an excellent idea. Cooper backs up and then takes a small running leap, flips at the last moment and smears his back, zig-zagging on the ground. The back is the best place, there’s a good amount of surface area and you can really get a big trail down the spine. Out of the corner of his eye, as he continues to wiggle across the ground, smearing more all over, he can see his owner sprinting towards him yelling his name, over and over. What’s her problem? There’s more than enough for them both.

What can you learn from your dog?

Cover yourself in fox poo. Wait, no…

The right smell is an amazingly evocative sense both enticing good memories and uplifting your mood. Spray your favourite perfume and cologne liberally to enjoy throughout your day. If you don’t want to douse yourself in your favourite scent, keep fresh and clean-smelling. It feels marvellous to smell good.

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Respect your bed

Time for a mid-mid-afternoon nap. There are many places throughout the house that suit nappage, but Cooper feels in a blanket-ey kind of mood today so he makes his way into the lounge. Jumping onto the sofa he sees that his blanket is not in the right position AT ALL. Who left it like this?! Incredible.

With soft little whines, he coaxes the blanket to be flatter: over there a bit, no, more like this; he manoeuvres it into place. He surveys his work. Yes, that’s better. But how to get comfortable within its blanket-ey embrace? Making urgent little noises now (after all, nap time is now overdue and this process is eating into valuable chasing dreams time), he gets into the centre of the blanket and moves clockwise, stamping down any imperfections as he goes. Around once: creases begin to straighten. Around twice: the puffiness is squashed out. And around once more to catch any possible mid sleep irritations that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Pretty tired from his pre-sleep bed readiness exercise, he realises he’s been in a circle three times in one direction. He makes a quick, tight turn anticlockwise for luck. And… slump. Sleep may now happen. 30 seconds later and impressive snores are coming from within the perfectly curated blanket.

Respect your bedWhat can you learn from your dog?

Can there be a more wonderful feeling than slipping into a newly made bed? Crisp sheets, cool to the touch. A plump pillow. The smell of the fabric softener. Whatever else has happened that day, you have reclaimed your night because you are just going to sleep so, so well. Snore like a content blissful beagle.

 


 

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Wag with your whole body

Cooper is having a little post-breakfast rest. All that gobbling up of food really takes it out of him and he welcomes a lie down on his spot in the corner of the sofa. He keeps one eye half-open towards the front door, and one ear half-cocked, just in case anything is happening in and around his domain.

Aha, there’s his owner. What’s she doing? Sitting on the bottom step of the stairs slipping on her wellington boots? She has that ugly anorak on… and in her hand is a roll of sparkly purple bags that for some reason she feels the need to fill with his poo (he’ll never understand human reasoning). But what she’s doing can only mean one thing… it’s walk time!

Wag with your whole bodyOMG, OMG, OMG! Cooper leaps up and across the room towards her in two bounds. He spins in a circle with excitement, has a joyful little bark and then stares, eyes bright, at his owner. His tail is waving merrily. The wag is on its highest setting with the tail tip a white blur in the air as it fans the surrounding area. He is so ecstatic to be going for this walk that the delight starts with his tail; the happiness continues through his torso, rocking it back and forth, before wriggling its way up to his head, which wobbles a little from side to side.

His entire body is wagging. This is a very happy dog.

What can you learn from your dog?

What makes you as happy as just the mere anticipation of a walk makes for a dog? Your boss has just offered you that promotion you have been gunning for. You are so totally stoked. It has been months of hard work and you totally deserved it. You demurely say thank you… but they pause and seem to be waiting for something more than that. Can you drop the cool act and just let people know? It’s okay to show you’re happy – seriously, seriously happy. You may find yourself connecting more with people. WOOHOO PROMOTION! Shake that body!

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Make friends… cautiously

Being surrounded by humans all the time is all very well, but Cooper would rather hang out with fellow dogs. You know where you are with dogs. Cooper has some regular dogs he likes to say hello to on his walks and then chase around in circles. But somehow there seems to be an endless supply of dogs in this village and he’s always discovering someone new.

The procedure for meeting another dog and becoming their friend is a complex but age-old ceremony.

Sniff buttsThe Approach

1. Another dog is identified in the distance. Come to a full stop and stare (and check it’s a dog and not a bin. That’s been known to happen)
2. Who will approach first? Wait for a little while to see if the other dog is approaching
3. The distance narrows – at this stage, keep eye contact but it’s good to throw in a wag to signal that you come in peace
4. The gap narrows further, now you can begin to suss them out: are they big (be super wary) or small (pah, no threat) or medium (ideal for wrestling and chasing)?
5. A few feet apart and now you can ascertain if they’re going to try and eat you or not
6. Finally a foot apart, there’s non-confrontational staring and wagging on both sides

The Sniff

1. Now for the good stuff: time to get up close and personal. Tail on full wag is key to show lack of aggression
2. Sniff the face briefly, for politeness…
3. …But then straight round to the back end to SNIFF THAT BUTT
4. This can take some time – it’s a glorious complex assortment of smells. At the same time they will be able to sniff your own butt – perfect!
5. Dog is cleared as a friend
6. Scent identity is stored away for the future in a contacts list in your brain

What can you learn from your dog?

It’s all about being friendly with strangers, yet cautious. Happy to think the best of people… but also aware that there are some who are not on the same page. Greeting enthusiastically surely lifts anyone’s spirits, doesn’t it? And, heck, sniff their butt if you think they’d like it!

Bark at the moon

There isn’t always a lot of point looking upwards when Cooper is out on an evening jaunt. The air doesn’t smell as awesome as the scent-laden grass and bushes do. There may be an occasional flutter of wings up there but it disappears very quickly before it can be investigated. So, not much point looking skyward… except, at full moon.

The moon is a strange thing. It’s this white enigma hanging way up there; oddly glowing. And then there are some nights where it’s round and bigger than usual, shining brightly, lighting up the dark world with an eerie shimmer. Cooper doesn’t know what the moon is, and he usually doesn’t think twice about it, but he is a little suspicious on these brighter nights, wondering why his usual cover of darkness is being disrupted. What’s going on? His nightscape is transformed with a muted white light and, honestly, he thinks it’s pretty freaky.

Cooper is a small beagle and he doesn’t know why things happen in this huge universe. He’s okay with that. But this moonlight unnerves him and makes him truly uncomfortable. How do you tell the moon you’re not happy with how it’s making you feel? That you don’t understand it? Heck, to just tell it you are here? Cooper tilts his head up and BARKS.

Cooper barking at the moon

He barks because he’s unsettled and the creepy moonlight is putting him off his usual sniffing routine. He barks because it’s too eerily quiet, but strangely bright, and there’s no one around. Then he barks because he likes the sound of his own voice and hearing it echo across the field. He barks because he feels so small and he just wants to feel heard. Can the moon hear him? He barks and barks. In the distance he can hear a fellow dog join in. They probably can’t see the moon from where they are – maybe indoors – but they’re on board with the sentiment. Barking gets it all out. All that bark stored up in his small body is now out there for the world to hear. Can you hear him? Cooper knows he may be little but he’s important anyway and WILL BE HEARD.

Once he has run out of all that excess bark, he’s ready to move on with the walk. Every now and then a stray bark will escape his lips, just so the moon knows he is still there.

Stupid moon.

What can you learn from your dog?

The world is big and it can make us feel so insignificant. Sometimes that seems a pretty heavy thought. All that we have inside us, all that’s unsaid or unasked. All the confusion about life gets bottled up by not wanting to say it out loud in case we feel stupid or disliked. All that quiet nodding to overbearing bosses, the choosing not to comment on provocative posts by outspoken friends on Facebook. Your dog has the same frustration. Get it all out! Release all those thoughts, concerns, anger and any other emotion you keep bottled up. Yell at the moon! Or in a journal, blog or tweet. Ramble that stream of consciousness about the injustice in your life to a friend, therapist or your hairdresser.

How good does it feel when all of that bark inside of you is out?