Category Archives: What Dogs Offer

The Importance Of Place

Have you ever noticed how comfortable you feel at home?  Each of us has a certain comfort zone and a sense of place. I’ve often wondered about this?

Buddy as a puppy. “Say this lap feels pretty natural”

This feeling of belonging, belonging to a certain geographical place affects us all- a place that feels right, looks right, smells right and provides comfort and mitigates the travails of the world. Whether it’s early imprinting, as occurs with baby chicks, or some combination of the sounds, smells, sights, and memories (an overall gestalt for an area), I am not entirely sure. Nevertheless, for many who have lived away from their special places know the strength and durability of the homeward draw. It’s like a magnetic force and can be almost overpowering.

Buddy:Being in this pickup truck just feels right

Trudy and I lived for ten years in Minnesota while I trained in Neurology. Our two children were born there and we have wonderful memories of Minnesota. We met some lovely, lifelong friends, enjoyed the incredible 10,000 pristine lakes, and delighted in many novel experiences (have you ever tried lefsa or lutefisk?).

Nevertheless, both Trudy and I felt a nascent longing to return to Texas, our native home. When offered the opportunity to join the faculty of the new Texas Tech School of Medicine in Lubbock, Texas, we quickly determined to leave our adopted State of Minnesota and head homeward.

What is it that makes a place comfortable for us? I’d lived in Texas during my formative years. Trudy had always lived in Texas. We both missed the gratuitous friendliness and expansiveness of spirit that is Texas.

Minnesotans were in no way unfriendly but seemed not as overtly warm and forthcoming as we’d come to expect from growing up in Texas. Plus we admittedly missed the Mexican food and Bar-B-Que along with the independent mindedness and largeness of spirit in Texas.

A friend of mine in Fredericksburg, Texas recently told me of having his grandchildren visit from New York City. Wishing to introduce his grandchildren to the wide, open spaces of Texas, he drove his grandchildren to The Big Bend Area. There with their recently purchased packs, canteens, and hiking boots, they set off on a well marked park trail to explore the grandeur of the Big Bend National Park.

After some time had passed, one grandchild developed a quizzical look on his face, looked around with an expression of perplexity, and said in a panicky voice, “Grandfather, we are lost!”

The grandfather asked in a calm voice, “what makes you think we are lost?”

The grandson replied, “Well, there are no people here, we must be lost!”

“I feel right at home in my pack.”
Buddy stands tall above Mollie and Bandit

 

The lack of people, the lack of built environments, and absent din of traffic noise was not “home” for the grandson. It was clearly different from New York City. No doubt the solitude struck the boy as unnerving and frightening. The grandfather shared that he strove to introduce an alternative sense of place to his grandchildren, one closer to nature than is New York City.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve learned a lot about animal and human behavior by simply watching our furry, four-footed friends. This includes the importance of a sense of place.

Buddy, our now senior Border collie, was born in my bedroom closet.

Daughter-in-law Alissa holding Buddy shortly after his birth

With rare exception Buddy has never ventured much beyond the outer fence of our ranch. Oh he frequently rides along on trips to the feed store and has on occasion gone on a wild bull chase throughout neighboring, overgrown ranches (see an earlier post, Slacker), but he is most definitely a home dog.

Buddy crouched and ready to herd

Once and only once, Trudy and I drove him to our daughter’s home in central Dallas. Buddy absolutely hated it. The loud sounds and strange smells were, I suppose, not what he was used to. He let his displeasure known by wetting on the floor, whining, pacing, scratching at the door, and at the end of the visit most eager to jump into the car and return to the ranch. We’ll never make that mistake again. Buddy is not and never will be a city dog.

Once when our ranch house was undergoing remodeling, we had to move about an eighth of a mile and live for several days in our guest house. Buddy, despite the short distance from our home, absolutely hated it.

We had packed a few things and loaded up the dogs for our stay at the guest house (The Yellow Rose). When the sun began to set, Buddy began scratching at the door of the Yellow Rose to go out. When later I went to call him in, I couldn’t find him. Buddy had gone home. I had to return to our main house, gather him from the back porch, and haul him back to the guest house.

Buddy: “Just thought I’d wait for you here on the porch at home while you dawdled  at that other place”

This sequence  of futility repeated several times before I wised up and closed the yard gate to the guest house so that Buddy could not leave. Needless to say, our dog spent a few restless nights at the guest house while the remodeling proceeded.

I learned from Buddy’s escapes that a sense of place proved more important than for him than did human companionship. His preference for place over person proved a little humbling but informative as to what was most important in Buddy’s canine world.

Like Buddy we all share a feeling of comfort when at home and mild discomfort when away from home.  A sense of place may go a long way to explaining homesickness, an emotion we have all felt.

While we may not understand why others feel comfortable in radically different places than our own and with different looks, smells, and accents than what we are used to, we can perhaps understand the comfort that comes to others with residing in their own familiar places.

“Why look elsewhere when I am already home”

A final thought regarding a sense of place deals with the impact of age. As Buddy gets older, he’s developing an even stronger love of home and dislike of travel. He is the first  to return to the pickup when we work on the ranch. Buddy is the first dog to want to go inside when spending time on the patio or in the yard. He is the least likely of the dogs now to participate in a deer chase or challenge a cow.

Perhaps as an older dog, Buddy feels more vulnerable. Home is comforting for him. Are there parallels in humans? As humans age, it strikes me we also develop an increased awareness of our frailties and have an increased love of home place. Don’t many older people, like Buddy, appear less willing to travel, explore, and seek out new adventures?

Our sense of place seems as important for humans, as it is for our canine companions. Perhaps our sense of place which is lifelong may even strengthen with age as it does for my four-footed friend.

Canine Cooperation

In an earlier blog piece, I wrote of wolves having been reported as smarter than dogs in a teamwork task. While wolves were superior at performing the pull test, I wondered if this degree of cooperation was true for other dog-dog cooperation tasks as well.

The standard pull task required animal teams of two wolves and two dogs (as well as pairs of other animals) to cooperate in order to earn a tasty reward. The experiment was reported in the New York Times. Viewing this video report made me wonder if my dogs ever meaningfully cooperated with each other or did they merely excel in cooperating with their humans.

Many examples of Border collie cooperation during herding tasks exist, some of which have been detailed here previously but these might well be viewed as examples of human/dog cooperation.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Since writing an earlier piece about my dogs and how they cooperate with each other, I’ve found another good example. Bella, our female Border collie, has for some time worked as our nighttime door monitor.

What I mean by this is that Buddy will often go to the door at night but fail to bark to signal his desire to go out. Standing quietly at the backdoor, he often goes unnoticed by his sleeping humans. This is especially true as he goes to the room adjacent to our bedroom when Trudy and I are deeply asleep.

“My humans are so slow in sensing Buddy’s plight.”
Photo by Ramsey

On sensing Buddy’s need Bella’s response is to head for our bed and place her very cold, wet nose on the selected, sleeping face of one of her humans. Believe me, this proves quite alerting and motivating, waking one of us up from even stage IV sleep. Trudy or I will then find Buddy standing at the backdoor and let both Buddy and Bella out for Buddy to do his business. Bella will later bark when both are ready to come back inside.

In my opinion Bella’s door monitoring routine exemplifies dog-dog cooperation. She looks out for the best interests of an uncomfortable, bladder-distended Buddy, but also Bella benefits her human companions by helping avoid a large yellow puddle inside the house.

“And I really appreciate Bella’s help too.”
Photo by Ramsey

Have you too seen examples where dogs cooperate with each other? I would love to hear your stories. Let’s hear it for canine cooperation and doggy solidarity!

Cooperation says it all

The Lovely Couple Plus One

Katie, Kevin, and Olive in their Engagement Photo

Our daughter’s upcoming wedding is the really BIG news in our family. Katie and Kevin O’Neal will wed next month. We couldn’t be happier for the lovely couple.

It should be no surprise that with Katie growing up in our animal-loving family, she became an avid animal lover herself.

About five years ago while volunteering at the Dallas dog shelter, Katie fell in love with a mongrel dog and adopted her. They have been extremely close ever since. Olive has supported Katie through the emotional turmoil of a major job change, watched her dispatch several boyfriends, and survived several scary thunderstorms that deposited huge limbs in their front yard and mere feet from their house and car.

Olive is long, low slung, with the head and bark of a German Shepherd. While she looks like a dog put together by a committee, she has an incredibly sweet disposition.

Kevin has told me that he knew if he were to win over Katie, he would first need to win over Olive. While Kevin has a terrific sense of humor, there is some truth to his statement. Kevin takes care of Olive when Katie is out of town. He takes Olive on walks and has over time completely won her over.

Of course Olive goes on walks with Katie and Kevin

When Kevin proposed to Katie, she accepted his proposal of marriage. Posted below is Olive’s response as well to Kevin’s proposal. You see Olive asked me to post her answer. for all to see May the three of them have a wonderful marriage with best wishes and congratulations to the lovely couple plus one.