It’s hard to believe that another holiday season is rolling around already and that Thanksgiving in America is this week. 2016 was a very eventful year for me, but 2017 is bringing bigger and better things. My Fundamentals of Dog Behavior and Training programs resume at the Dog Psychology Center in January. In the spring, I’ll be touring in Europe, and in February my son Andre and I debut in my all-new TV show “Dog Nation.”
So I have a lot to be thankful for this year and next, but I am reminded every day of something that each of us should be thankful for constantly.
That thing is the gift that animals have given us. And I don’t mean just dogs, but every animal — and especially those with which we can share a connection.
One of my long-term goals for the Dog Psychology Center was making it a place where people could come to learn not just from me, my trainers, or my canine pack, but from Nature as well. And in order to do that, you have to experience a wider range of animals. Because of this, I have brought together quite a menagerie at the DPC — a horse, llamas, goats, chickens, turtles, ducks, pigs, and on and on.
Something that’s most noticeable and fascinating about bringing animals like this together is how they react to each other, especially across species. My horse, Conquistador, for example, is totally dominant toward my llama, Lorenzo — and probably the most dominant animal in the entire place is my tortoise, Jon.
Why is this? Partly because Lorenzo is actually pretty submissive despite his size while Conquistador has an advantage because of his size. As for the tortoise, who really has no natural defenses besides his shell, his secret weapon is assertiveness. If he wants to go somewhere, he goes there and the other animals just get out of his way because of his determination. He isn’t trying to be the alpha because he doesn’t have to. He’s already a tank!
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from animals. Having grown up with a variety of animals starting on a farm at an early age, I got to see firsthand the things that they can all teach us regardless of species. One of the most striking is that they have the same kind of emotional lives that we humans do, with similar fears and desires.
Oh, sure — no animal will ever have the hope of going to Harvard or a dread of becoming homeless, but they can still want things (or not want things) and feel very strongly about them. They can definitely have loving relationships, and that one is most certainly not limited to dogs. Just take a look at video of a cow, Karma, who is reunited with her calf after a separation. Elephants are famous for mourning their dead, and any dog owner knows how devoted and loving their animal best friends are.
Another thing about animals is that they are honest with their emotions. If they don’t like you, they’ll let you know, and if they do like you, they won’t leave you alone! Animals will also not lie just to be polite. They may not be able to say it in words, but an animal will always “tell” you the truth through its energy and actions.
Another great thing about animals is that they can get along with those not of their own species, provided that they do not have a natural predator and prey relationship — and even then, they can still learn to accept each other and sometimes even bond, like the cat and owl that became friends and playmates.
In three words, the lessons that animals teach us are empathy, honesty, and cooperation. We begin by realizing that other living things have the same feelings that we do — and that includes members of our own species. Next, we need to learn to express our desires and fears honestly — and if animals can do that with just energy and body language, imagine how much more we can do with words. Finally, find the value in working with others toward a common goal instead of fighting for no good reason.
Whether you’re sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday or not, keep these lessons in mind throughout the season and the year. They are Nature’s gift to us, delivered by her other children.
Stay calm, and have a great week!