Be energised by nature

After a while, the house can feel a bit like a prison. Cooper gets a bit stir crazy, walking from room to room and seeing that everything is exactly the same. His perimeter sweeps reveal nothing, no interlopers (lions or otherwise), not even some bugs to sniff/accidently eat. Honestly, it can get a bit boring. He sighs. He climbs on the sofa and onto the top of the back (yeah, his owners love it when they catch him up here). He can see the world out of the big windows. There’s so much going on out there. Millions of dogs to greet and butts to sniff. All those creatures who have left trails in the grass for him to follow. Bits of debris to check for eatability.

With the seasons, the environment changes too. The colours deepen and then lighten again. The trees become sparse and then grow and are full again. Everything evolves and moves. He loves it out there. A constantly changing tapestry.

Embrace nature

Being outside, Cooper feels like he can really breathe. He loves the air. He loves the sounds and cacophony of colours. This is where he belongs. He doesn’t care so much for the part between his home and the field. The pavements are dull man made greys, the hard texture isn’t kind to his paws and the dust thrown up tastes bitter. But when he gets to his field, all bets are off. There is so much going on! The green of the grass is vibrant and invigorating, sometimes it’s deliciously damp with morning dew, cool on his feet and the air tastes sweet. The trees around the edges are rustling, the leaves secretly hiding possible birds deep within. With great abandon he can run round in circles just revelling in being in nature. His tail has a constant wag of happiness; he is just so overjoyed to be there.

What can you learn from your dog?

There’s something about being in nature. Being surrounded by trees and grass and whatever wildlife might be lurking. It’s calming, eternal and truly energising. Put down the remote and get into the woods, up onto the hill or along the cliff path. Breathe in deeply. Feels pretty good doesn’t it?

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!

Face that fear

Cooper is out for a night-time jaunt. His eyesight isn’t the best so the darkness doesn’t bother him so much. With his nose to the ground it doesn’t really matter what is around him, visually anyway. It’s pretty late and the roads are quieter than usual. There probably won’t be any fellow dogs around tonight; they’re all behind closed doors, tucked up and snoring away. That’s fine, all the more smells for him. And cats. Oh, there are always cats around at night. Awesome!

Jaunt

He pads along, happily alert, down the pavements. The world is quieter so he can keep an ear out for noises such as a ruffling under a bush or a distant howl. There’s not much going on this evening, but that just builds the suspense. Something is out there, somewhere. Lots of things. Wow, it’s great being a dog.

He scuttles around a bend; he’d know the route to the field blindfolded and often walks it in his dreams. There are the usual obstacles and points of sniffing. The strange drain that always needs a good inspection. That car that sometimes has a tabby underneath. That bin that always seems to be overflowing and, if he’s lucky, a sandwich wrapper will have tumbled to the ground.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he sees something up ahead in the alleyway. Something that moves unnaturally. He stops dead in his tracks causing his owner’s arm to yank backwards, clutching onto his lead. Well, it’s her own fault for restraining him with a tether. Cooper’s eyes are alert and his ears prick up. What the hell IS that? The moon illuminates a strange blue peculiarity floating next to some railings. The wind picks up a little and he hears a rustling coming from it. But not like a hedgehog scampering through leaves. No. Something more alien. Something wrong.

His owner is trying to drag him onwards with the annoying leash. Doesn’t she see that he is trying to save him from something unknown, suspicious, that in all likelihood could kill them both where they stand?! She is so clueless. Does he always have to save them from the many perils of the world while she slumps along the road? With all his feet planted firmly on the ground, he is steadfastly going nowhere. He sniffs the air and ignores the barrage of words thrown in his direction. Louder words. Blah, blah, Cooper, BLAH. He dismisses them, obviously, since he has a more important task: sniffing the strange thing’s intent. But the smells in the air don’t give up any clue as to what this abnormality could be. And, dammit, if he isn’t being dragged, neck first, towards it now. She really will be the death of him.

Alien

The wind swells and the blue glowing weird rustling thing lifts into the air. WHAT. THE. HELL?! And it’s coming towards him! “AwooowooowoooowooWOOOWOOOO”, calls Cooper into the night – attempting to show the thing who’s boss. But it’s still coming for him! For them both! He can’t believe he’s going to die in an alleyway. And with an empty belly. This is just the worst. And still his owner pulls him onwards, towards their doom! What is this damn thing? It moves in such strange patterns, like it’s not in charge of its own body. Moving where the wind’s whims takes it. There are two bits on top that look like ears, maybe? But with holes in them. Where are its eyes?! For crying out loud, everything needs eyes! How can he see what its intentions might be without eye contact? Barking and trying to pull backwards, trying to save himself from the impending certain doom, the item still moves forward towards him. But wow: his owner up ahead, with no thought of her own self-preservation, makes a swoop at it in the air. She’s so brave! Brave or stupid, anyway. His own barking is definitely helping so he doubles down and barks louder and longer than before. His owner wrestles the thing from the wind, grabbing it by its neck. Neck? Screwing it up and strangling it. It’s such a battle! And she’s winning! She grapples it to the ground, saying all sorts of words (some of which he suspects are those bad words she shouldn’t use). She is victorious. The thing lies on the ground. Dead. No longer able to terrorise very brave dogs. She swoops its still corpse into the nearby bin.

Now that the thing is no longer living, Cooper jumps up to the rim of the bin and takes a gentle sniff. It doesn’t really smell of anything. Huh. He leaps back down and moves on, his mind reeling from the Battle of the Thing and the glorious victory he orchestrated. He will remember this day forever. Forever and ever.

What can you learn from your dog?

Fear of the unknown is one of our basest instincts. It’s good to be wary and approach with caution, but how many times have you said after an event you were scared of that it wasn’t anything like as bad as you had imagined. Your dog wants to address the fear. To tell it who’s boss. Maybe even tackle it head on. Can you approach your worries with your analytical head and cut them down to size?

Get help

Cooper thinks it’s great being covered in fur. Not only does it provide insulation when it’s a bit nippy, but it looks pretty sweet and people do love to stroke you. Which is nice. He doesn’t mind being covered in fur at all, apart from one thing: it can get darn itchy.

On reflection, Cooper supposes that when he crawls through long grass he gets gubbins stuck in his coat. Maybe tasty little bugs, but maybe ones that nibble at him. Maybe it’s just bits of twigs or leaves. Whatever it is, it’s really irritating. Now with four feet with claws that’s a lot of scratching ability. The thing is that Cooper can probably only get to about 75% of his surface area. And where does he often get itchy? In the places it’s hard to get to, of course. He can’t get at the top of his head. Behind his ears he can get to, but he can’t really and truly get in there and get a good satisfying scratch going on. Whole areas of his back are also out of reach, and the bit above his tail? Damn, that has some dense hair that needs a really good go but he can’t reach it at all. What terrible design! Whether it was God or evolution, or aliens (he suspects probably aliens), they really didn’t do very well to minimise the problem of itching. So he has his solution. Them.Cooper asks to be strokedIt’s been quite the art trying to explain to either one of his owners where he needs to be scratched. He finally got them to understand by just backing into them on enough occasions that they tried a number of things to see what he wanted. It was great – he got a walk and some treats and some stroking, until they finally realised what he needed. It was pretty obvious but
they’re not geniuses by any stretch of the imagination.

Once they understood he needed a good solid scratching he had to guide their fingertips to the correct spot. Now, they don’t have useful claws like he does, they have flimsy little wannabe claws, but they are longer and bigger which means they can really go to town once they’re on the right track. Trying to explain location on one’s body through movement and little growls, purrs, and moans is tricky, that much is true. They reply with their words which, yet again, don’t contain any food words so are largely pointless. He really should learn some more words at some point, but who has the time?

Having an owner scratch behind one’s ear is a blissful experience. It’s all flaps of skin and goodness knows what debris from sticking one’s head in places to investigate. If they only knew the sort of dirt they were scratching off him. Cooper closes his eyes happily and raises his head up to the sky, trying to encourage them to finish off with a neck scratch. Purely for pleasure.

He likes to think he’s an independent animal, looking out for number one, but, hmmm, with scratching he is always going to need some help.

What can you learn from your dog?

Of course you could do everything yourself. But are you 100% excellent at every little thing you do? No. Is anyone? So if you just suck at dusting, get that cleaner in to help. If you can do your expenses at work but you just hate it, get that colleague to help in exchange for a week of making her tea. It’s okay, even your own dog and his enormity of self-assuredness is aware that it’s fine to ask for help. And the helper probably enjoys helping too.

Pull on that lead

It’s a world full of boundaries and rules: you can’t go there, you mustn’t do that. Cooper is fine with most of it. Sometimes he doesn’t really care about going over there anyway. Sometimes he will just break the rule when no one is looking since it makes no sense to him. Why can’t he check what’s on the kitchen counter? That’s where there is often food within reach of his long tongue. OF COURSE he is going to look up there. Dumb rule.

The biggest boundary he has is his lead when he’s out for a walk. Now, he is lucky enough to be connected by an extendable lead that stretches pretty far, maybe nine or ten Cooper body lengths. You can get pretty far with that sort of radius and it gives him a lot of flexibility to investigate new smells and visually interesting curiosities along the pavement. That said, he doesn’t understand why he needs to be attached to his owners at all; they are so incredibly needy! And they are forever pulling him away from what he’s trying to examine.

Pull on that lead

Here are the top ten potential investigatory opportunities where his owner will invariably spoil his fun:

  1. A cat on a wall
  2. A discarded sandwich in the road
  3. A sweaty runner puffing past
  4. Being approached by a snarling, yappy dog
  5. A cat under a car
  6. A child in a pushchair holding a tasty looking piece of toast
  7. A school kid on a bike swerving on the pavement
  8. Another dog’s poop
  9. His own poop
  10. A cat in a driveway

If it was a person he was pulled away from, the owner would then – unbelievably – apologise to them. Cooper hadn’t even done anything! He was only thinking about approaching them. Pfft. But then he is soon distracted by the next interesting thing and forgets he is annoyed with being constantly stopped in his tracks.

In Cooper’s opinion, rules are more like suggestions. Follow them for an easy life, sure, but rules are meant to be broken. He has a sensible mind of his own and he can’t live his life totally at the bizarre whim of his owners. Even though he knows he will be reprimanded verbally, with a tug to his collar, he will always pull on that lead.

What can you learn from your dog?

Our own lives are full of so many restrictions and that’s fine for the most part. But what about the thrill of skirting some of those rules? Don’t you get a slight ripple of excitement taking a 90 minute lunch break because management are away on a course? And, oops, did you take a couple of extra days to pay that bill? Maybe rules are meant to be broken, maybe not, but how about bending some of the smaller ones, just for you.

Ask for what you want

It has been a pleasant afternoon of snoozing for Cooper. After lunchtime the sun hits the back of the house providing a perfect place to curl up and soak in the rays. A big, wide yawn, and then a quick bit of dog yoga – moving into the position for downward facing dog, followed by a cat stretch – he looks around to see if anything has changed during the time he’s been asleep. Has a cat wandered around his domain in his absence? He sniffs the air to see if maybe his food bowl has been re-filled. Ah, sadly not.

Hit with a small pang of loneliness, he goes off to search for his owner. There she is, sitting at the desk in her office, where he left her before his sleep. Cooper stares intently at her for a while, wagging his tail. Eventually this gets her attention and she swivels in her chair to face him. She says a bunch of words at him – none of which are “food” or “walk” – so he intensifies his wagging. Padding closer, he shoves his head into her lap and pushes his nose under her hand. She’s not getting it, so he pushes his head again until she finally understands and strokes his furry crown. That feels pretty good, he thinks, as he closes his eyes happily. He gives the hand a little lick as a reward to his owner for correctly identifying his intent.

Cooper side sitting

Cooper may understand some of the words said to him – the important ones – but his voice box doesn’t work in the same way as humans ones do and he has to choose a different way to communicate. He doesn’t think that being unable to articulate a thought verbally is a handicap though. It just means he has to rely on communicating more physically to be as clear as possible about his needs. Not a terrible way to operate. It’s pretty darn clear.

What can you learn from your dog?

You’re at work and that girl (the one you just don’t like) receives a delivery of flowers from her boyfriend. This annoys you more than it should and not just because she’s squealing in delight so everyone looks over. Why doesn’t *your* boyfriend send *you* flowers at work? *You* might want to be the person receiving the flowers, squealing and annoying people. But then again, in fairness, you haven’t told him clearly just how much you would love this romantic gesture. You’ve hinted. You’ll mention this girl today. But you haven’t said in black and white terms how much you’d be tickled pink by his thoughtfulness. What would your dog do? Your dog probably isn’t that interested in bouquets of roses, but he does have to be completely upfront about what he wants. When he sees you eating sausages and (obviously) also wants them, he stares at the sausages, at you and then licks his lips. Back and forth, back and forth. He couldn’t be more clear!

Ask for what you want.

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?

What’s new for you today?

Cooper is a dog with a job. A mission. A life purpose. We can’t all be so lucky as to know with absolute certainty what we should be doing in this world, but for him there was no choice. As a hound, it is an absolute calling. He MUST investigate all the smells.

Each trip out always brings new challenges as nothing ever remains the same. Cooper loves that his usual field returns to uncharted territory each time he arrives on the scene. Even if he enters the field at the exact same time as yesterday, the nasal landscape is completely different. He begins by sniffing heartily around the gate area. There’s a lot going on here as it’s the main entrance to his field and there’s an overwhelming amount of foot/paw traffic. He recognises a few; some of his friends he sees from time to time. There are human smells and footprints scuffing up the place, which he gives a cursory inhale. And smells from dogs he hasn’t met yet are more intriguing and he idly wonders if he’ll see them today.

Right, that’s enough now. He must go into the field proper, where the smells are more spaced-out. This is where the particularly fun smells are: from those entities that he rarely actually sees. Those animals who appear when he’s not around, or he sometimes sees speedily darting just outside his peripheral vision, far, far too fast. Rabbits. Squirrels. Moles. Badgers. Foxes. Mmmm. He has sometimes spotted some in the distance, but they don’t stay still for long. It’s as if they don’t want to say hello and that they actually enjoy being frustratingly illusive. But that just heightens the appeal, of course.

Cooper investigates smells

Cooper just loves to pick up a fresh trail from one of these secretive creatures. He follows the scent, scouting back and forth in a haphazard zig-zag. He must find out where this critter was going, eagerly following each twist and turn it made. But, sadly, eventually the track ends and no cheeky animal is found. It’s alright – tomorrow his field will be all new again and there will be different, delicious tracks to follow.

What can you learn from your dog?

Think of your commute to work. It’s the same every day, right? But, it’s not. There are different cars around you, or new people opposite you on the train. The weather. The music on the radio. Your usual routines are different every time. You may have noticed that your dog is absolutely fascinated by each new thing he finds along streets he’s plodded many-a-time. What will fascinate you today? The coffee shop sign with sad, deflating balloons attached? How about that tall guy wearing a strange angular hat, staring intently at the sky? Over there is a young sapling growing and intertwining through rusty railings. What’s new for you today?

Chase that impossible goal

When having a quiet morning walk, Cooper loves to see another owner and dog entering the park. It’s all very well for him to sniff those fascinating smell-drenched bushes, but it’s even more fun for him to enthusiastically greet a fellow canine. Ideally, they will then want to play with him. And what’s the best game? The Chase Me game, of course, and Cooper… well, he loves to play the role of the Chaser.

This tall, curly-haired owner has a beige and white mottled greyhound. Now, despite having met multiple greyhounds before, and especially this particular greyhound called Charlie, Cooper is not deterred from initiating the Chase Me game with a bold, demanding WOOF. In response, with a blink and a blur off springs Charlie – all long legs and raw speed – as he bounds across the length of the park. It looks like absolutely no effort at all.

Greyhound being chased

Cooper doesn’t let the fact that he has never even come close to catching up with a dog this fast put him off. He doesn’t think back to the many times he hasn’t been able to match Charlie’s speed. He thinks that at some point he will catch him, and today could be that day, no? Cooper is half the size, carrying a little holiday weight and has stubby legs more suited to crawling through undergrowth for investigation… but so what? He launches off in pursuit with a loud, rally cry of barking. Cooper’s paws hardly touch the ground as he gives it his absolute all to catch his buddy.Cooper chasing

To onlookers it seems like a fruitless pursuit. The owners just stare in bemusement as their dogs run in a wide circle around them, ignoring everything but the glorious chase.

Cooper could catch him, he really could.

What can you learn from your dog?

Humans seem to be plagued with a lot more self-doubt and overthinking than our dogs. Should you enter that 10K race? What if you end up in last place? You might feel pretty demoralised setting off against the greyhound equivalent friend who is so much better than you. But what would your dog do? He would see a challenger and think it might just be fun to compete with them. He would give it a good go.

Your dog 100% goes for it and it doesn’t cross his mind that his goal might just be impossible. And who cares if it is? It’s about the chase.

It’s okay to say no

Cooper begins to get a little tense as it nears the end of the presents being unwrapped from under the Christmas tree. He has been enjoying helping open them, and had a few things to eat, but he knows what’s coming. His owners think it’s VERY FUNNY INDEED to buy him a Christmas outfit for him to wear each year.

It's okay to say no

It isn’t funny.

The present will come out, held towards him with smirks and chuckles. They will have to unwrap it themselves as he’s certainly not helping them with this one. They caught him the first year, he thought it might be something nice. The second year he realised halfway through unwrapping what had traumatised him from the year before. The third year he kept an eye on escape routes and rushed for the door as soon as he got a whiff of their torturous plan. This year he has been sealed into the lounge.

But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Out it comes from its tissue paper enclosure. They are laughing. He is not (not that he could anyway: frankly a ridiculous way to express oneself). And – oh look – it’s a fluffy santa hat with bells, foam antlers and a girly ribbon to tie under his chin. NO. WAY.

What an abomination. How dare they make him look ridiculous; he has a certain gravitas to uphold and this won’t do. He can’t physically escape, but he can tell them that this isn’t acceptable. He turns his back and barks NO.

What can you learn from your dog?

Christmas is a funny time of year. For some it’s filled with joy and present-buying for loved ones. For others… well some of us don’t have that perfect Hollywood film family. Your dog has a line that he doesn’t want you to cross. What’s yours? How far are you prepared to let the annual family teasing go? Is it okay for your Grandmother to make jokey comments about your weight? Is it okay for your Sister to bring up that event, yet again, of which you’re not exactly proud?

It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to decide not to take those offhand remarks and ‘jokes’. It’s okay to tell them where your line is that you don’t want crossed.

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