Meet Rufus, our 6 year old working Cocker Spaniel.  Our first dog ever, and a life changer.  How on earth did we manage without him before?  He is a ball of fire, the most motivated creature I know, and like most dogs, loyal, trusting, forgiving and eager to please beyond measure.

It’s funny what you can learn from what is in effect a new family member.  I’ve been paying attention to this recently, and wondered, if you’re a dog owner or just someone who notices behaviour, whether you can relate to these.  He does certain things very consistently, and each of them seems on the face of it to be illogical, until you think about it more deeply.  At which point you start worrying about whether humans are as smart as they make themselves out to be.

The first thing I have noticed is that when he has something negative to deal with, he charges at it full tilt, without a moment’s hesitation.  I notice this when he has his daily brushing session after his morning walk.  He doesn’t much like having his ears brushed (they are long and curly, and bits of bramble and twigs get caught in there quite easily).  If you had ears like that, neither would you.

Instead of pulling away when you get to that zone, he moves towards you and turns his ear towards you.  This has the effect of knocking you off your balance a bit, and reducing your energy.  It puts you literally on the back foot;  a  bit like the Jujitsu principle, I believe (said the armchair Olympics expert).

He does the same with his ball.  When he gets to the point on his walk where he has burnt off some initial energy, he starts to become more playful , and one game is to pretend to give you the ball  and then snatch it away just before you can get it from him.  He drops it, lowers his head over it, and walks towards you a bit.  Again, you find yourself having to retreat a bit in order to get the right angle to retrieve it with the ball chucker.  He usually wins this little game.

Final example of the same principle:  we often have a strength game, a kind of doggy equivalent of an arm wrestle.  He has a chewy knotted rope thing ( we call it Raggy) which he presents to you (normally by whacking you on the back of the knees with it) and then it is a tug of war. You grab one end, he pulls in the opposite direction, and it’s usually a stalemate (even though he weighs less than 1/6th of what I do).  If I am losing I will then raise my arm into the air, with Rufus clinging onto the end of Raggy with his teeth.  As if this were not enough of a feat, he will then still be trying to get me to drop it, which he does by coming towards the problem again:  basically he attempts to climb up Raggy by letting go and then resnatching higher up whilst still suspended in the air by his teeth.  Once I can feel his hot breath on my hand, I tend to release fairly quickly.

The other lesson I wanted  to share is his determination to succeed.  He embodies Churchill’s speech given to Harrow school in 1941:

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Rufus literally never gives up.  I remember once getting fed up with chucking a ball which he had chewed beyond useful service, whilst walking on our local beach.  He had dug a hole some 20 minutes previously, so I put the ball in there and covered it with rocks and sand.  He thought I had thrown it for him, so went off in search for it.  He spent the next 10 minutes flat out, scouring the beach by smell, and eventually retrieved it, by smell alone, from under 6 inches of sand and rocks.  Amazing, and inspiring.

The final lesson for today is how he completely lacks Mental Limits.  This photo says it all.

The first backward facing sledge puller in the South West.

I wonder whether you have similar lessons that you have learnt from animals?  Anyone got any good Goldfish lessons?  Watch this space for the next instalment;  what you can learn from a Cockerel…….