On The Crazy Minds of Dogs & Men
Dogs don’t ponder conditions and wish they were somewhere else. Humans do, and that gives us an opportunity
Our dog is a brindle lurcher — a rescue. When it rains, she leaves her house by the back door and sits on the step of the shed at the bottom of the garden. It’s strange to us, but I gather, perfectly rational to her. OK, so Dogs aren’t rational, they’re instinctive. At least that’s what behavioural science tells us anyway. Things happen on purpose for dogs, without preconceived conscious thought. The truth of the matter is that we can’t know about the psychological life of animals, so we hypothesise.
She, like many dogs of her kind, greyhounds and lurchers, etc., have a difficult life. In Ireland, they are over-bred. There are few controls on breeding these dogs, and what controls exist, the breeders flout. The greyhound racing and hare coursing industries are dying, and these dogs have no place. So their breeders simply kill and dispose of them.
They bring the dogs down laneways and to the backs of farmyards where they are killed and disposed of illegally. They call these places knacker’s yards. Shot in the head, driven over, stabbed, bagged and drowned — you name it. If there is an obscene means to get rid of these animals the greyhound breeders of Ireland have found it.
While the dogs are alive, they are cruelly treated, left outside in all weathers, unfed and neglected. When we got Tilly she had sores on her body that, we were told, are typical of sleeping on concrete for years. But she was one of the lucky ones, because if the dog is useless, if it can’t win races, then it’s as good as dead.
The sooner the greyhound industry is buried, the better.
So she’s damaged goods. Sitting on the back step in the rain is an automatic behaviour, that I can only assume resulted from her abuse. There’s not much she can do about the compulsion.
Which gets me thinking about human beings. We have similar compulsions that we don’t understand. We don’t know how to correct them, and often we don’t even realise they are there. I feel a particular way about my experience, my behaviour, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I do it!
I had a conversation of this kind with a friend recently. He told me he spends his evenings eating — he can’t stop. He knows it’s a compulsion and he knows it’s not good for him, but there’s nothing he can do about it.
He carries weight, too much for his height and age, yet despite training coaches and diet plans, he can’t shift it. His compulsive eating has control.
Can we assume that these compulsive behaviours of human beings come about from trauma or abuse too?
Given the depth of research on the topic, I think it fair to say so.
Not always are our compulsions damaging to our health and wellbeing. It’s also fair to say that they help us cope with life and achieve outstanding results. The artist channels her hurt into her work, the writer does the same, and good things occur. Problems arise for us when our past trauma brings about pathological conditions.
Maybe there’s not a whole pile of difference between humans and animals in that life sculps us. But where there is a significant difference is in the human ability to make a change. Or perhaps more accurately put, bring ourselves to a place where change can happen.
I make this distinction because no matter how challenging the conditions, forcing ourselves to change rarely brings about long term results. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t pick ourselves up by our own shirt collars.
It’s more a gradual process that comes about of itself once we accept the truth of our situation.
For Tilly, there is no problem. She is as she is, and she doesn’t dwell on the difficulties of life. For my friend, it’s different. He will hopefully realise he can be an agent for change in his own life and seek help if necessary. The alternative is that he perpetuates his discomfort.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters