Dog Hikes

The Secret Lives of Dogs

Dogs have trained us to love them like a family member. To wait on them, watch them, take photos of them, adore them. We think we have trained them. No. They have trained us.


Secret lives of dogs
Joey and Scamps survey a duck pond.

Spiritual author and mindfulness teacher Eckhart Tolle calls dogs “guardians of being” because when we look into their eyes for brief moments, we forget our inner turmoil, distractions and thought noise, and we “exist in the moment as they do.” We can learn this important lesson from dogs because they always live in the now.

Irish Setter living in the now? Not really!

Apparently, Tolle has never met a clever Irish Setter like my dog Joey. Joey only lives in the moment when he’s doing what he wants to be doing. How he enables his fun times is by torturing me. I am like the slot machine that always pays out. I pay when he whines, paws me, licks me or nudges me to do as he wishes. Joey lives in the moment when he is using his broad chest and long legs to run long distances in the mountains or wilderness. When he is not doing these things, he is he is attempting to create a future outcome by making it abundantly clear that the current “here and now” is not okay and what he really wants is something else. But Joey teaches me that the here and now can and will be much better if I will simply do what he wishes. For this reason, I suppose you could say he is my spiritual guru. He leads me on the path to enlightenment and bliss, which we find together in nature.

“Being” is an underrated activity in our age. By and large, we are much more into doing or watching. “To be” and to not be consumed by our internal dialogue and inner noise is very difficult. When we find ourselves not thinking about the next thing but we are simply humans both being and doing, this is called a “flow state.” If “flow” is the absence of internal chatter, and a simple and quiet mind in awe of reality, then I get quite close to being in a flow state when I’m running with my dogs in nature or parks.

Connection with dogs

I can see others who find tremendous pleasure hanging out with their dogs. We smile as we run past each other knowing that we share a secret. I find it a daunting challenge conveying the connection I have with my dogs in words. If I were able to achieve it, there is no doubt that everyone would have a dog and we would need to enforce far more dog rules, because let’s face it, dogs aren’t great for the pristine wilderness. So it’s better that just a few of us really get how incredible it is to enjoy these furry friends for about a decade or so before they demonstrate to us humans not only how to live, but how to die. The dogs and cats I have had to watch die did so with an amazing degree of dignity and honor. Witnessing this, it’s impossible to not understand that they are essentially spiritual creatures. Still, I’ll give it a shot.

When my dogs are off leash, it’s as if they discover anew how amazing it is to be a dog and to run in an environment where there are so many fascinating smells. They show off the supreme mobility and advantage of four strong legs by literally running circles around me. Joey and Scamps bound over obstacles. They fly up mountains and inspect smells with the utmost curiosity.

Dog’s noses are three million times more powerful than ours. They can smell animals underground or high up in trees. Many times I’ve witnessed my dogs smelling squirrels they can’t see. They smell their fresh scent and dance around a tree. All these smells put them into a state of ecstasy with nature.

With this incredible ability to smell, dogs “see” more with their noses than with their eyes. The world they comprehend is a world of millions of smells that we cannot begin to discern or understand. It’s certain that dogs can smell the regular anatomy, physiology and brain chemistry in humans. My dogs sometimes go crazy when shady-looking strangers pass our house, but won’t react at all to other strangers. In the middle of the night, they will sometimes bark when they hear and smell a prowler skulking in our alley way.

Dogs can smell the brain chemistry of bad intention. Researchers believe that bad intention is emitted in pheromones that dogs can detect. Further, there have been studies where a dog owner interacted with strangers. One stranger acted rude and didn’t help the dog’s owner. I another instance the stranger helped the dog’s owner. Dogs were less likely to accept a treat from the rude person. Dogs are picking up on more than we realize as they observe our lives and our interactions. If my dogs clearly don’t like someone, it’s almost always the case that this person doesn’t like me or us or is doubtful in general.

Secret lives of dogs: Joey the Irish Setter
Joey as a co-driver.

Why Dogs and Cats?

But why are dogs and cats such close companions to humans when they aren’t even close to the same species as us? Monkeys, apes, orangutans, even squirrels, lemurs and raccoons are far more similar to us than dogs and cats. Marsupials are very much like us. Canines are not. Why haven’t we domesticated and bred those animals who have hands and feet? Imagine how fun it would be to dress them with little gloves and suits with bow ties!

It’s actually for a very good reason that we have co-evolved with dogs and cats, pawed and four-legged as they are. It’s both their strengths (which we don’t possess) and their limitations that make them so appealing.

Dogs and cats remain on four legs and they have no hands. If they had hands, do you think they would really remain content sitting and begging for food or treats? Or do you think they would find the treat jar in the cupboard or cabinet and help themselves? It’s precisely for the reason that they cannot help themselves and they require us to help them that we love them so much. Dogs can’t help with cleaning, laundry, cooking and housework, although marsupials possibly could. But we love them because they are so good at sitting on our couches or beds and being cute.

Dogs have trained us to love them like a family member. To wait on them, watch them, take photos of them, adore them. We think we have trained them. No. They have trained us.

Dogs know when their needs aren’t being met and they know how to keep score. When there are things they want that they aren’t getting, which mostly consists of play, treats, attention and exercise―they clearly can let us know in no uncertain terms. And if we don’t obey, things can get ugly.




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