PLEASE SCROLL DOWN to see the 13 incredible cartoons drawn by Ryan Kent Paule for the People Are Like Dogs’ chapters that have been completed so far by Dr. Clark. Ryan Kent Paule’s artwork is amazing!!
How in the world could someone be benefited by simply thinking of themselves as a dog?
It’s an odd question that most of us have probably never thought about. But, it actually makes perfect sense because it has to do with how much people love, adore and ACCEPT dogs just as they are (even in spite of their moments of bad behavior!) Learning to think of ourselves in the same way that we do our dogs completely alters the way we see ourselves so that we’re much more forgiving and accepting of who we are as individuals.
We humans have been repeatedly told (to the point we’re convinced) that we have the ability to change ourselves into whatever we want if only we try hard enough. This belief, though, completely disregards the fact that majority of our traits (especially our temperament) are dictated by our DNA.
In many ways it’s a relief (and quite freeing) to realize that we don’t have the ability to change ourselves anymore than a dog can change itself. A dog’s temperament is dictated by its DNA which is why there are distinct breeds of dogs. In the same way that a Chihuahua is a Chihuahua because it possesses the DNA of a Chihuahua, we are born to be the person that we are as a result of the DNA we received from our parents.
Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess were psychiatrists who conducted the study of temperament called the New York Longitudinal Study. The study began in 1956 and involved monitoring and evaluating one hundred thirty-three children for over fifty years from infancy through adulthood. The study revealed that the temperament of each of the individuals in the study was actually quite fixed and unchanging. This fact lead Thomas and Chess to conclude that temperament must be dictated by our DNA. Thomas and Chess identified nine elements that define each of our temperaments:
1. Activity level: Activity levels in different temperaments are either high, medium or low and this activity relates to both physical and mental activity.
2. Regularity or rhythmicity of bodily functions: This component of temperament concerns the predictability with which an individual sleeps, eats and has bowel movements. The study demonstrated that certain people are very consistent and regular as concerns these bodily functions while others are much more random and unpredictable.
3. Initial response to new people or situations: This aspect of temperament defines a person’s willingness to approach and explore new situations or, instead, to be hesitant and reluctant with an inclination towards withdrawing at times.
4. Adaptability: This element concerns an individual’s ease or difficulty when adjusting to new situations.
5. Intensity: This component of temperament relates to the magnitude with which an individual reacts to various situations, positive or negative.
6. Mood: This fascinating aspect of temperament concerns an individual’s tendency towards a positive or negative outlook on life. It’s amazing that whether we’re prone to being happy and easy going or are, on the other hand, prone to being sad, anxious or frustrated is a factor of our DNA.
7. Distractibility: This aspect of temperament has to do with an individual’s ability to remain focused on a task despite distractions or, if instead, an individual is easily side-tracked and has trouble staying focused on a task when distractions are present.
8. Persistence and attention span: This component of temperament concerns a person’s ability to stay focused on a task for an extended period of time as opposed to losing interest easily or to frequently becoming bored or frustrated.
9. Sensitivity: This final element of temperament has to do with a person’s sensitivity and response to various stimuli in his or her environment. A response can be mild, moderate or extreme especially as concerns stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, crowded rooms or unusual textures and smells.
Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess also found that, when all nine elements of temperament were taken into consideration, temperamental types appeared to fall into three categories or a combination of the three categories:
1. Easy or flexible: People with an easy or flexible temperament are for the most part quite positive and they primarily respond to external stimuli with a low to moderate level of intensity. These individuals don’t tend to be stressed when facing new or challenging predicaments. They are generally cheerful, quick to learn and comfortable when they are exposed to unfamiliar people or situations.
2. Difficult, active or feisty: Individuals with a difficult temperament respond with an extreme intensity level to unusual or unfamiliar stimuli and, consequently, they’re easily agitated and frequently become loud and disruptive. They’re slow to adapt and often withdraw when faced with new people or situations. These individuals mostly have a negative outlook and mood which tends to result in frequent bouts of frustration and anger.
3. Slow-to-warm-up or cautious: Individuals with a slow-to-warm-up temperament tend to have low levels of activity and, as a result, they respond to new situations with extreme hesitancy and a strong tendency to withdraw. These individuals struggle to adapt to new situations and often have a negative outlook and mood. They frequently remain on the sidelines instead of participating in activities such as sports or games. They’re typically quite shy and quiet and, as a consequence, they have a lot of difficulty expressing themselves and sharing their opinions or feelings.
It’s amazing that our DNA dictates so many aspects of our personality, most especially, whether we’re prone to having a positive or negative mood. This contradicts what so many of us have been told all our lives: that we’re in control of our responses, reactions and moods and, if we fail to control our responses, reactions and moods, there must be something terribly wrong with us. The clear implication is that it’s our fault if we can’t be cool, calm and happy all of the time.
The reason it’s so helpful to use dogs as a model for ourselves has to do with the fact that most humans absolutely adore dogs and accept them just as they are. We never question why a Chihuahua behaves like a Chihuahua or why a Golden Retriever behaves like a Golden Retriever. We simply accept that different breeds of dogs have different temperaments as a result of their DNA. We accept that, no matter how much we may train, discipline or love a Chihuahua, Chihuahuas are always going to behave like a Chihuahua. We know that, no matter what we do, we’re never going to be able to get a Chihuahua to behave like a Golden Retriever.
Yet, when it comes to our expectations for ourselves, we hold ourselves to a completely different standard than we do dogs. Instead of accepting that we’re genetic beings whose temperament is controlled by the DNA we got from our parents, we believe (because we’ve been told over and over again) that we should be able to change ourselves if only we try hard enough.
Why are our expectations so unrealistically harsh as compared to the expectations we have for our dogs when both of us are genetic beings? One reason for this concerns the fact that DNA is not something we can see. It’s microscopic and, as a result, we simply can’t relate to it in the same way we relate to the things that happen to us in our environment.
Another reason we’ve believe that we have the ability to change ourselves is because we’ve been told that by everyone in our lives: our parents, peers, religious leaders, teachers, etc. Sadly, when we fail to change ourselves in the ways that are expected of us, we’re reprimanded, shamed and repeatedly told that we failed to change because we just didn’t try hard enough. This never-ending pressure to constantly try and change ourselves into someone that we’re not is why so many of us are miserable and secretly (or not so secretly) hate ourselves.
Instead of being encouraged to accept ourselves as we are, we’re scolded, bullied and shunned for being the person our DNA has dictated us to be. All the other creatures on Earth are accepted as they are, why not us?
One difficult aspect of being human concerns the fact that we are constantly compelled to compare ourselves to others. Comparing ourselves to others is the way we determine how we’re doing in the world, how we measure up to others. It’s something we do whether we like it or not and there’s no way to stop ourselves from doing it. We all want to feel that we measure up to others. Unfortunately, whenever we compare ourselves to others, there’s always going to be someone who seems to be living a life that’s more wonderful than ours. It always seems as if someone else has more love, more beauty, talent, power, wealth, success, happiness than we do. No wonder so many of us feel like failures.
Every one of us wishes that we had the ability to change ourselves in some way or another. And, every time we’re unable to change ourselves in the ways that we want to change ourselves, we unavoidably think less of ourselves. That ongoing disappointment in ourselves definitely takes a toll. The pain we feel from never measuring up is so unrelenting that we have no choice but to constantly look for ways to escape it. That’s why so many of us eat too much (or starve ourselves) and work too much (or fail to keep a job). It’s why we anesthetize ourselves with drugs and alcohol. Our pain can drive us to become bullies because that’s a way to take our pain out on someone else. Our frustration at not being able to be who we think we should be causes us to grab on for dear life to different belief systems and religious groups that promise to provide us with rules and answers as to how to live our lives. Sometimes, when we can’t find a way to escape our pain at not being okay with who we are, we simply decide to kill ourselves so we can escape our self-loathing.
In the midst of all this misery, it’s shocking how much relief and comfort can be found by simply accepting the fact that we’re genetic beings and, because of that fact, we can never be anyone other than ourselves no matter how hard we try. Once we accept that fact, we can start the process of making peace with the person that we are.
The most loving way to make peace with who we are is to learn to think of ourselves as a dog. Learning to think of ourselves as a dog makes it possible to take the compassion and empathy we feel towards dogs and apply it towards ourselves.
None of us, dogs or humans, are to be blamed for being the individual that we are. It’s a matter of genetics, not choice. If we can accept that we have no choice but to be who we we are, then we just might see that the only option available to us is to make the best of what we’ve been given.
At the end of my long struggle to accept myself, l finally made peace with myself by accepting the breeds of dogs that I most resemble. Having been a veterinarian all my life, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I’m a definite mix of a Jack Russell Terrier and and a Labrador Retriever (what I now call a “Laberrier.”)
Being a Terrier explains why I’m the kind of person that must always stay busy, that must always be (metaphorically) chasing a ball or digging a hole. Being a Terrier means that I’m always going to raise a ruckus (bark, bark, bark) whenever something upsets me. I’m high strung, full of anxiety and possessed with an overwhelming urge to be in charge because, being a Terrier, I must be in control: that’s simply what Terriers do!
As a Labrador Retriever, I’m a compulsive caretaker and an incorrigible people-pleaser! I need to be needed and, because of that, I’m compelled to butt into other people’s lives even when my well-intentioned help isn’t needed or wanted! That’s what Labradors do. Labradors can’t stop themselves from putting their muddy paws all over someone else because they need to be up close and personal!z
Being able to see myself as a dog has helped me to accept myself with both a smile and a groan. When I remind myself that I’m a Laberrier, I don’t tend to get nearly as upset or disappointed in myself. I simply accept that, just as it is with dogs, I am who I am and there’s nothing to be done about it.
I can’t deny that there aren’t times when I’d do anything to be a Hound! Hounds are able to lay on the couch all day long without the least bit of guilt but, that will never be me. I’m not a Hound. For better or worse, I’m stuck with the DNA that I was given by my parents and there’s no way that I’ll ever be able to be anyone other than me.
Thinking of ourselves as dogs allows us to calm down and to quit being so judgmental. If we treated ourselves with half the compassion and empathy that we treated dogs, we’d quit being so hard on our “perceived” faults and shortcomings. I say “perceived” because so many of the faults and shortcomings we hate about ourselves are, in reality, completely insignificant! We all stare (and glare) at ourselves in the mirror while we mercilessly tear ourselves apart with a viciousness that’s unwarranted and unfair. We’d never do that to a dog!
We’re so love-blind towards dogs that we could care less if they’re fat, scruffy or so ugly that we end up thinking they’re cute! That’s the way we need to see ourselves! Instead, we refuse to give ourselves a break! All we do is fantasize about who we wish we could be. Why not appreciate the “dog” that we are in the same way we appreciate our own dog?
Learning to think of ourselves as a genetic being is life changing. Accepting that we can’t change is the most important step in being able to accept ourselves as we are. By altering our perspective in this way, we can feel more empathy and compassion not simply towards ourselves but to others. Treating ourselves and others with the same compassion that we treat dogs is the key. Good luck to all of us! WOOF!
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PEOPLE ARE LIKE DOGS: A GUIDE TO SELF-ACCEPTANCE AND THE ACCEPTANCE OF OTHERS
As the title of this book suggests, people and dogs have quite a bit in common though there are some notable differences. Dogs and humans are both driven by two primary forces. These forces constantly impact our behavior through our biology and our genetics. The most powerful of these forces is the need to survive. Dogs and humans are both possessed by a need to feel safe in our surroundings. This need to survive is all consuming and is constantly present even though it frequently operates on a subconscious level.
The second force that influences both dogs and humans is our need to reproduce and to be a part of a familial unit. A big part of our genetics is focused on reproducing. Our biology compels us to do this through reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Once we reproduce, then our lives become consumed with by the commitment needed to make sure that our offspring survive so that, one day, they too can reproduce (whereby the survival of the species is guaranteed.)
Humans, though, differ dramatically from dogs in that we are possessed by a third force that concerns our desperate need for meaning, purpose and understanding. Humans possess a one of a kind capacity that no other creature on Earth has: self-awareness. Our self-awareness may occasionally be a blessing but, many times, it’s a curse in that we’re compelled to constantly evaluate and judge ourselves as compared to all other humans. As humans, we’re never allowed a moment’s peace in our never-ending quest to determine whether we have measured up or not. We desperately want to feel worthy, that our lives have purpose and meaning. Dogs, on the contrary, never question their worth or whether they somehow measure up as compared to other dogs. No dog ever wonders if the dog down the street is living a better life or is more talented or beautiful. Dogs live forever in the moment (which is one of the reasons why we adore them so much.)
Humans rarely live in the moment. Instead, we’re obsessed by an inescapable need to understand life and to find meaning. We need to understand why we exist and, most importantly, why we’re doomed to suffer and die. Our need for meaning and understanding causes us to question and speculate about the possibility of a higher being and what power that higher being might have over our lives and our deaths. We constantly wonder about the possibly of an afterlife and what we need to do or be so that we can be included in that afterlife. Dogs, on the other hand, never conceptualize their deaths. A dog will become fearful if it feels threatened by something or someone but dogs don’t ever think about death as a concept.
It’s important to understand that all of these drives create an incredible anxiety inside each of us. Anxiety is unavoidable as it’s a natural consequence of being alive. Yet, we humans have somehow gotten the idea implanted in our minds that we should NOT be anxious and that there’s something wrong with us if we are. The opposite is actually true: if you’re alive, you’re going to be anxious either consciously or subconsciously all the time (even in our dreams.) In the same way that a dog barks like crazy whenever it hears an unfamiliar sound, humans are programmed by our DNA to be constantly on the alert for anything that might be a potential threat to us. It’s normal to be wary and afraid a lot of the time. Anxiety is what keeps us alive: it causes us to be constantly vigilant so that we pay attention to our surroundings (before it’s too late) for something or someone who could hurt us or our family.
The intensity with which each of us experiences anxiety varies according to various genetic and environmental factors. Temperament, which is dictated by DNA, is the greatest determiner of how each of us experiences anxiety. Three basic categories of temperament (along with nine traits of temperament) were described by the married psychiatrists Stella Chase and Alexander Thomas: easy, difficult and slow-to-warm-up (though most of us are a combination of the three.) Temperament dictates how each of us processes the various environmental circumstances into which we’re born. For instance, if someone’s born with an “easy” temperament (think Golden Retriever), that individual won’t feel nearly as stressed and anxious as a person who’s born with a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament. Individuals born with easy temperaments tend to enjoy interacting with others and participating in activities. They’re actively involved with the world. As a result of their easy going temperament, these individuals generally get along well with others. In contrast, individuals with difficult temperaments (i.e.-Chihuahuas) are easily irritated and frequently frustrated by events and activities going on around them. Consequently, they’re much more reactive which often causes them to either withdraw or strike out as a way of keeping the world at bay. Individuals with difficult temperaments don’t feel comfortable in the world and, as a consequence of their discomfort, they respond negatively to change or challenges since any kind of interaction only serves to intensify their stress and anxiety.
As we make an attempt at understanding ourselves, others and the world, it’s extremely helpful to understand that everything (from height to happiness) can be measured by a bell shaped curve. Bell shaped curves demonstrate that, even though there’s a wide range of data in the world, most of the data points for any given phenomenon tend to fall into a median range or what’s considered to be “average.” The data points that fall outside of the “norm” are what gives the bell-shaped curve it’s bell-shape. For example, if one looks at all the variation in height of people all over the world, one would find that there’s definitely an average range of height that the majority of people fall into. Yet, one would also find that there’s a small subset of individuals who fall outside of the average range who are exceptionally short or tall. Those individuals of average height make up the bigger bell part the bell-shaped curve while the individuals who are exceptionally short or tall make up the narrower edges on either side of the bell.
The critical thing that a bell-shaped curve tells us is how very similar we are to one another: that, in reality, we’re not nearly as different or “abnormal” as we tend to feel we are! One of the difficulties with being human is that we’re genetically “programmed” to observe and notice differences because being able to quickly notice differences is what allows us to pick up on something or someone that’s out of the norm and that might be a potential threat to us…thus, bringing us back to our number one drive: survival.
Knowing all of this can help us to create a sense of community because all of us share: (1) a need to survive and to feel safe, (2) a need to build a family and produce offspring, (3) the need to belong, feel worthy and, most importantly, feel our lives mattered. Recognizing that all of us share these three pivotal drives can help us to find some self-acceptance and peace in our lives.
Unfortunately, finding self-acceptance and peace is often hampered by our “human-ness.” Humans are forever consumed by our emotions and the negative comparisons we make when we compare ourselves to others. Our needs to survive, reproduce and find meaning are unrelenting. No wonder we feel so out of control and depressed.
One way to try and bypass our “human-ness” is to learn how to think of ourselves as dogs! Humans so instinctively love dogs that we rarely have a problem accepting them for who they are no matter what their faults may be! We definitely don’t accept ourselves like we do dogs. We constantly feel the need to change and improve ourselves in the hope that we can become something that we’re not. We’d never expect a Chihuahua to somehow change so it starts acting like a Golden Retriever. We just accept that a Chihuahua is always going to be a Chihuahua!
We humans always forget that we’re genetic beings and that we’re no more capable of changing who we are than a Chihuahua is capable of changing who it is. Understanding that we can’t ever change who we were born to be is absolutely essential to ever being able to accept ourselves just as we are. Accepting ourselves just as we are is the only way we’ll ever have a moment’s peace in our lives. Acceptance and peace are unfortunately very fleeting and the most that any of us can ever hope to achieve are brief, temporary moments of acceptance and peace.
Despite the fact that I stress the importance of genetics in this book, I’m definitely not discounting the fact that our environment and our individual circumstances play a huge role in our lives. To give one extreme example, it’s been documented that, in severe instances of child abuse, where a child is not spoken to during its early, formative years, that child’s ability to ever speak at all can be lost forever as a result of the fact that, the part of the brain that’s needed for speech will atrophy when it’s not stimulated.
It has yet to be documented just how much Nature (DNA) impacts our lives as compared to Nurture (environmental influences.) Yet, in the last fifty years, the impact of genetics in our lives has really been highlighted. In the past, DNA was downplayed as an important component of our behavior in favor of environmental influences. That has irrevocably changed due to the increasing scientific discoveries as to how much DNA impacts the individual that we are.
It’s never going to be easy for us humans to relate to our DNA due to the fact that it’s microscopic. This renders DNA a non-entity in most of our minds. We can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell our DNA and that makes it almost impossible for us to relate to it. Also, DNA doesn’t leave us with all the memories, impressions and experiences that our environmental experiences do. Environmental influences and experiences are always going to loom large in our minds because we’ve lived them and they’ve left an indelible mark (or scar) on our psyches. There’s no way that we can relate to DNA in the same way that we can relate to our environmental influences (our families, culture, socioeconomic circumstances, etc.) Environmental factors bombard us on a day to day basis yet, with every passing day, scientists are discovering that DNA is the unseen wizard behind the curtain: that it’s a much more of a powerful influence than we’ve ever imagined it to be in the past. DNA may be out of sight and out of mind but, with each new discovery, it’s becoming more and more apparent that DNA is the most powerful determinator of who we are both physically and psychologically.
CHAPTER ONE: FINDING YOUR INNER DOG: changing our perspective changes everything
This chapter tells the story of how the circumstances of my life led me to sell both my veterinary clinic and my home and to move across the country in a quest to “find myself.” As a result of that quest, I eventually stumbled upon the People Are Like Dog’s philosophy and it changed my life forever. This chapter centers around my life-long struggle to have a close relationship with my mother. When I started to think of my mother as a Schipperke (an extremely agitated and angry little dog that loves to bite as a way of asserting control), I realized that my mom wasn’t ever going to be the Golden Retriever that I’d always wanted her to be. My mom was never going to be the kind of mom that supports and encourages her child because that’s simply not the kind of person she was. I had to make peace with the fact that my relationship with my mom was always going to fall short of what I’d hoped and longed for. Yet, by accepting my mom for the Schipperke that she was, I was able to eventually develop an unexpected sympathy and compassion for my mom because I finally understood that, due to the temperament she’d been born with at no fault of her own, she simply didn’t have the ability to be supportive and caring to anyone, even her daughter. I realized that it wasn’t my mother’s fault that her DNA had caused her to have an intensely difficult temperament (she was Italian for heaven’s sake!) My mom (like all of us) was simply at the mercy of her DNA. Once I was able to recognize this, I quit blaming her and I quit blaming myself for our inability to have the close relationship I’d always wanted. It wasn’t ever going to happen and I had to accept that or continue being miserable every time she did something to hurt me. Neither of us were to blame. Nothing that I could do would make her be who I’d wanted her to be. My mom and I were simply genetic beings and, due to the incredible impact that DNA has on who we are, neither of us could help the fact that we were forever stuck being the people that we were born to be.
This chapter discusses how all of us are genetic beings and that our DNA dictates who we are. To better understand the way in which DNA controls us, I discuss the amazing 1970’s Minnesota Twin Study that evaluated identical twins who were separated at birth. Before the Minnesota Twin Study, most psychiatrists (as well as the general public) were convinced that it was environmental influences that dictated our individual personality traits. The Minnesota Twin Study completely turned those beliefs upside down. Since the Minnesota Twin Study, countless new studies have re-confirmed that it’s DNA that primarily shapes the unique individuals that we are.
I also discuss the genetic reasons why dogs bite as well as a National Geographic article that details a study in which wild foxes in Siberia were tamed through selective breeding. The National Geographic article clearly demonstrates that tameness and domestication are a function of DNA and not a function of environment.
This chapter discusses not only how temperament is determined by our DNA but how our temperament determines the way in which we experience and respond to the world. There are nine components of temperament that were outlined by the psychiatrists Stella Chase and Alexander Thomas. These nine temperamental components remain consistent and constant throughout our lives. These temperamental components include our activity levels, the predictability of our bodily functions, our mood, our ability to adapt, our intensity, how easily we’re distracted, our persistence, our attention span and our individual sensitivity to external stimuli. Temperament was classified by Chase and Thomas as being easy, difficult, slow-to-warm-up or, more typically, a combination of the three.
The first step in being able to accept ourselves (and others) as we are is being able to understand that none of us has the ability to significantly change what our temperament is as a result of the fact that temperament is dictated by our DNA. Temperament, along with other genetic traits, is the reason why each of us is completely unique (with the exception, of course, of identical twins.) Temperament not only dictates our individual strengths and weaknesses but it dictates how well we function in the world: why we click with certain activities and people and why we don’t do well with other activities and people. This aspect of our temperament is discussed in great detail in Chapters 7 and 8.
This chapter discusses the phenomenon of predictable variation. Every phenomenon that one observes in the world can be illustrated mathematically by a graph called the bell shaped curve. Bell shaped curves can be used to plot anything that’s measurable (such as height, weight, how much TV we all watch, etc.) Bell shaped curves demonstrate that there’s always a median or an average when it comes to any measurable data (such as height or weight.)
Bell shaped curves are a predictable and consistent measure of life and, most importantly, they explain why life will never be “fair.” What we consider to be unfair is simply the predictable variation that occurs naturally in the world. For example, if we look at the bell shaped curve of human happiness, we’d see that a very small percentage of people live extraordinarily happy lives, that a very small percentage of people experience tragic lives and, finally, that the majority of us live lives where there’s a fairly even mix of happiness and misery. Most people in the world are “average” and, as a result of that fact, they fall in the middle range of the bell shaped curve.
Due to the fact that life is predictably variable, most of what happens to us is a matter of chance. For example, it’s a matter of chance that our parents happened to meet and that we ended up with the DNA that we did. All of our genetic traits, all of our families and each of the individual socioeconomic circumstances that each of us was born into are all factors revolving around chance.
That’s why the important thing to remember as we struggle to find self-acceptance and peace is that, even though it may feel personal at times, LIFE IS NOT PERSONAL. The truth is that our lives are mixture of genetics and chance (not unlike the lottery) and, as a result of that, it’s up to us (and only us) to make the best out of what we’ve been given.
This chapter discusses the phenomenon of hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is the opposite of inbreeding. When individuals with similar DNA mate (which is called inbreeding), their offspring will face an increased likelihood of genetic problems because certain recessive genes have an increased likelihood of matching up and being expressed in the offspring. On the other hand, when individuals with very different genetic material reproduce, the offspring often ends up actually being superior to that of either parent genetically. That is the definition of hybrid vigor.
Our subconscious desire for hybrid vigor is very likely the reason why opposites attract! If we’re attracted to and mate with someone who’s our genetic opposite, we avoid mating with someone who’s in our own genetic pool. As a result, we are much more likely to have healthier and more viable offspring which is what all of us living creatures want for our offspring.
Hybrid vigor also explains why there are so many crazy mating rituals in animals and birds (including ourselves!) because all females are genetically programmed to be exceedingly picky about who they mate with. It’s up to the female to make sure that their offspring has the best genetic material around so that their offspring will be able to reach adulthood and reproduce themselves. The males of most species are genetically programmed to breed with any female who happens to be available and ready to breed. That’s the male’s job genetically: to spread their sperm around. That’s why the males of most species aren’t overly picky about who they breed.
That’s why there are so many elaborate mating rituals among the creatures on this planet. In an effort to select the very best male with which to breed, females have genetically created elaborate hoops that a potential mate must jump through before he is selected as a potential breeding partner. All these rituals are (consciously or subconsciously) driven by our DNA. It’s a mating game that all creatures are compelled to play because the most capable and diverse male must be chosen so that hybrid vigor shows up in each of our offspring.
This chapter deals with the fact that, because we’re genetic beings, we don’t have the ability to change who we are to any significant extent. This chapter also stresses how similar we all are to one another internally even though, on the surface, we may seem quite different as a result of our different (genetically-dictated) appearance, gender and temperament. We are also different superficially our environmental circumstances such as our socio-economic status, our various religions and ethnicities. What we share in common, though, is just as powerful (if not more so) than those things that make us seem different superficially.
All people share in common the following: (1) a constant struggle to survive; (2) a desire to mate and have offspring; (3) the need to love and be loved; (4) and the need to feel valued and to find meaning in our lives.
Despite the fact that we we’re unable to change who we are individually as a result of our DNA, the four needs we share listed above cause us to constantly feel like we need to change: that we must to do something differently so that we can fulfill those four needs. This constant and unrelenting pressure to change who we are is the reason so many of us are miserable and unhappy about the life we’re currently living..
As there’s no way to change our DNA, the only real choice we have for any moments of peace in our lives is to somehow find the way to accept ourselves just as we are. The biggest assistance I’ve discovered in doing this is not counseling and medication but simply learning how to think of ourselves as a dog! It’s critical to accepting that we can’t change and trying to constantly change ourselves is the root of our unhappiness with our lives. Learning to think of ourselves as a dog helps us because we already accept the fact that a German Shepherd isn’t ever going to be able to turn itself into a Poodle. We have to understand that it’s crazy for us to keep believing that we should have the ability to change ourselves into something that we’re not. Trying to change ourselves only make us miserable because it’s simply not possible. We are who we are because of our DNA. We can never turn ourselves into someone that we’re not. Our only option is to accept ourselves as we are and make peace with the individual that our genetics have dictated us to be.
This chapter discusses how each of us naturally gets along quite well with certain people but don’t get along well with certain other people. This involves the way in which our individual temperaments interact. Though this is straight forward and seems easy enough to understand, what complicates the situation is how there’s something in humans that compels us to be attracted to other people based on those people’s appearance.
There are genetic reasons why relationships are based on appearance but the negative consequence of choosing someone as a result of their appearance is that we end up disregarding other important traits and characteristics that are critical if we’re going to have a healthy and happy relationship. One of these traits is temperament compatibility. If we primarily base our relationships on appearance, we may be able to accomplish the hybrid vigor that we genetically want for our offspring but it’s very likely that we’re going to be quite unhappy with other aspects of the relationship!
Dangerous people represent the worst case scenario when it comes to making bad choices in relationships. In whatever way that we can, we need to prevent dangerous people from coming into our lives. Once a dangerous person is entangled in our lives, someone is bound to get hurt or killed and that’s not something we can undo.
In the same way that we choose our romantic partners based on appearance, we also choose our pets on appearance. Instinctively, we fall in love with a dog’s cuteness or the fact that it’s strong and majestic. What we don’t frequently do is consider how that dog’s temperament is going to mesh with our own temperament or that of our family.
As temperament is genetic, we must once and for all let go of the out-dated belief that so many people have that a dog (or a person!) can be changed through training, discipline or love. Every one of us is who we are because of our DNA and, because of that, we can’t change ourselves or anybody else. That’s simply how it is. That’s why we must use extreme caution when it comes to which people (and dogs) we permit into our lives. The worst case scenario is that we could find ourselves in is looking back and saying to ourselves, “What have I gotten myself into? How did I let this happen?”
This chapter takes on the all-important topic of difficult relationships. Relationships fall into two main categories: (1) familial relationships (family) and (2) all the other relationships we have. We’re always going to tolerate more from family than we do non-familial relationships. That’s what’s so special about family. No matter how we get along, we’re connected to our families for better or worse for the entirety of our lives.
All relationships are defined by the interplay of the two temperaments involved. As temperament is controlled by DNA, the manner in which our temperament bounces off the temperament of someone else is, for the most part, beyond of our control.
This is further complicated by the fact that (as was mentioned above), most of our relationships are based on appearance. This means that we invariably give less consideration to other important relational issues such as patience, kindness, honesty, responsibility, dependability, faithfulness, generosity, etc.
When it comes to relationships, individuals who have an easy temperament (as discussed in Chapter 3) will have a tendency to get along well with almost everyone (think Golden Retriever) while individuals with difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperaments will experience more problems in their relationships (like a Chihuahua might.)
Whatever the underlying cause, there are only four possible ways of dealing with a difficult relationship:
(1) do nothing and simply try to live with the relationship as it is, hoping for best (i.e.-holding on to the hope that someone might one day mellow with age!)
(2) try to renegotiate or redefine the relationship (this inevitably involves a lowering of one’s expectations in an effort to accept the other individual’s temperament as it is rather than how we wish it could be)
(3) learn how to create emotional and/or physical space in the relationship as a protective mechanism
(4) end the relationship
Acceptance is only possible when we’ve finally reached the point that we accept that most things in life are beyond our control. Humans desperately long to believe that “everything in life is possible if only we try hard enough” but that’s simply not the way life works.
Constantly wanting to change ourselves is what causes us to be so horribly dissatisfied with ourselves and our lives. Though we don’t seem to have a problem accepting our dogs as they truly are (i.e.-we don’t expect a Chihuahua to behave like a Golden Retriever), we don’t seem to have the ability to accept ourselves as we truly are.
The only time we’ll ever be able to experience a moment of self-acceptance is when we’re accepting ourselves just as we are: including both what’s good and what’s bad about ourselves. Due to the human tendency to be unrelentingly critical of ourselves, any self-acceptance we may experience will be extremely fleeting. Humans as a species are incredibly ruthless in the way that we judge ourselves: we don’t give ourselves much (if any) compassion and understanding.
That’s why learning to think of ourselves as a dog is so invaluable as it gives us a way to be much less judgmental towards ourselves. As most of us love dogs no matter what faults they may have, if we can start thinking of ourselves (and others) as dogs, we’ll find that we’re able to like ourselves and others better simply because it’s easier and less complicated for us to love a dog than it is to love another human!
I love the fact that, as soon as I started thinking of myself as a dog, it was so much easier to laugh and to make light of my various faults and shortcomings! It got to the point that whenever I’d catch myself getting ready to put my muddy paws all over someone else’s life in my quest to be helpful, I could quickly remind myself that, once again, I was letting the Labrador Retriever inside of me go crazy and I should control my desire to be helpful until someone was actually asking for my help! I was almost as tolerant towards myself as I might be towards a real Labrador Retriever! Since all of us are fated to be the individual that we were born to be, being compassionate and understanding is the only way to go if we ever want to have any peace and acceptance in our lives. All we have to do is be as nice to ourselves (and others) as we’d be to a dog!
There are four main hurdles to our quest for self-acceptance and peace:
- Our individual temperament: some of us are simply going to have a harder time accepting ourselves and getting along with others simply because we were born with a “difficult” or “slow-to-warm-up” temperament as opposed to an easy temperament.
- Our expectations, ideals and standards: all humans are burdened with unrealistic expectations, ideals and standards which arise from our compulsive need to compare ourselves to others. We’re constantly worrying about how we measure up to everyone else and we live our lives trying to figure out if we’re worse off than everybody else or if we’re equal to or better off than everyone else. There’s no escaping the fact that this is simply something that all people do whether we like it or not.
- Our naivety and inexperience: there’s no way that any of us can avoid being naïve and inexperienced at certain points in our life. Naivety and inexperience have a huge impact on our ability to accept and be at peace with ourselves because, when we’re naive and inexperienced, we lack the ability to clearly see who we truly are as our perceptions are skewed and distorted.
- The inescapable negativity that we always feel towards ourselves: we humans have a natural tendency to judge ourselves quite negatively. We’re harsh and critical and rarely, if ever, demonstrate any true compassion or understanding towards ourselves (another reason why it’s so critical that we learn to think of ourselves as dogs.)
As we mature and gradually learn to deal with life, what we hopefully discover is that each and every one of us have limits and boundaries that define who we are as individuals. With experience and maturity, we hopefully come to realize that (contrary to how we felt when we were younger and more inexperienced) we’re not alone in our pain and suffering. It’s vital to our being able to find acceptance and peace to eventually understand that each one of (no matter how happy or privileged we may seem on the outside) experiences heartache and pain. Understanding this (along with the realization that we’re all much more similar than different) is a giant step towards acceptance and peace.
If we can see that all of us are in this world together, struggling to live our lives as best we can, that each of us has been unceremoniously plopped down into our lives, that all of us are genetic beings who can’t help but be the person that we were born to be, then we just might be able to discover some compassion and understanding not simply for ourselves but for one another. We all need to forgive ourselves for being the fallible and imperfect beings that humans can’t help but be.
Chapter Eleven: The More We Resist Something The More it Persists: in other words, simply ignoring our problems won’t make them go away
Chapter 12: Self-Improvement in Spite of Our Genetic Selves: thankfully, with a lot of work and determination, people, just like dogs, can be trained!
Chapter 30: Dangerous Dogs/Dangerous People: we must trust our instincts and try to remember that it’s actually a very good idea to always be a bit paranoid whenever we have large powerful dogs around us (especially when those dogs are interacting with children.)
This chapter is out of order but it’s so incredibly important that I wrote it ahead of some of the other chapters in order to get it out there. If I can save even one person or child from being bitten, mauled or killed by a dog, I will have at least accomplished a small portion of what I was setting out to do.
We can’t forget that dogs bite: it’s how they interact and express themselves in the world. It’s absolutely critical to understand that even the nicest dog can have a “moment” and, in that “moment,” lives can be lost or irrevocably changed. Please be careful because there’s no going back once tragedy has stuck.
Chapters in Progress:
13. Survival: Dogs and humans have no biological option but to be constantly concerned about survival. As a species, we must survive so we can reproduce and raise out offspring until they are ready to reproduce. It’s how our species survives. It’s innate and mostly subconscious. The human need to survive can easily explain our need to frequently play it safe in life. Our fear of dying is our greatest priority and the greatest source of the natural anxiety and fear we always feel.
14. Humans are genetically wired to reproduce. We often confuse, though, the physical attraction we feel as a result of our genetic need to reproduce as being the same thing as “Love” which is actually something quite different than mere physical attraction: Reproduction and love are frequently intertwined but they’re not the same thing. Our human genetic need to reproduce and to form a nuclear unit is based on the survival of our species. Dogs are driven by the same genetic need to reproduce and, just as humans, dogs can obviously feel love for their owners and other animals which is completely separate from their genetic need to reproduce. All mutual needs to reproduce and build a nuclear unit (pack) can either be a source of comfort or a source of stress and conflict if there are issues of incompatible temperaments.
15. Biology and hormones play a huge role in our need to reproduce and form nuclear units: This is true of both dogs and humans. Females cycle at various times and due to estrogen and FSH, they are receptive to being mated at that time. Males, on the other hand, are genetically programmed to breed any receptive female available. This isn’t an issue for dogs but a major issue for humans as males are naturally compelled to reproduce with as many females as they possible can. To not respond to that impulse means a male must struggle against his genetic inclinations. The value that humans place on being monogamous creates an inevitable problem as it goes against the male’s genetic inclinations.
16. Humans have a desperate need for purpose and to have some kind of meaning in our lives: Dogs definitely experience a genetic need for purpose depending on their breed but it’s not quite the same need that humans have for meaning and purpose. Many breeds of dogs have genetic purposes bred into them, such as herding dogs, guard dogs, working breeds, etc. Our human need for purpose and meaning is often more metaphysical and spiritual than it is for dogs. The human need for purpose and meaning is often elusive and disappointing because as soon as we achieve one purpose or sense of meaning, we frequently are disillusioned and automatically feel the need for a new and more powerful purpose or meaning.
17. We humans have a compulsive need to dream, hope and fantasize about various possible futures for ourselves (and others): This is connected to our need for purpose and meaning and also serves as a means to distract ourselves from death, loss and fears. Dogs don’t have dreams and fantasies. Dogs definitely experience expectation and disappointment (for example, expectation around the time they’re usually fed, disappointment when their owners don’t come home at their usual time.) Unfortunately, most of our human misery originates from the fact that our dreams, hopes and fantasizes never manage to measure up to what we were hoping for or they simply fail to last. As a consequence, life itself along with other people and our views of ourselves will always inevitably disappoint us because nothing in this world can ever measure up to what’s in our heads or, if it does, it fails to last.
18. Human have an innate need to believe in some kind of Higher Being: This has been demonstrated as being true throughout the history of mankind. Dogs interestingly don’t have this issue to contend with. Unfortunately, the human need to believe in a higher being inevitably impacts our lives in very intense and dramatic ways. There are numerous reasons as to why we so desperately need to believe in a higher being and most of them have to do with a way to deal with the fact we must die, a way to deal with the tragic losses in our lives and desperate longing for an afterlife.
19. Being alive with our inherent quest to survive naturally produces various levels of fear and anxiety. Anxiety and fear are normal responses in any sentient being: The degree of our anxiety and fear is dictated by our individual genetics and our past experiences. Instead of characterizing our anxiety and fear as being abnormal or some kind of psychological disorder, it’s important to accept that anxiety and fear are simply natural consequences of being alive (and, more importantly, staying alive!) Though it may be necessary at times to address extreme or unrelenting anxiety and fear so that we’re not debilitated by those emotions, the important thing to remember is anxiety and fear are normal: they’re a normal response to our need to survive.
20. Dealing with the sorrow, disappointment and despair that arises from the heartache of living life and the inevitable failure of our dreams and hopes is the ultimate source of the pain in all of our lives: Dogs don’t have dreams and fantasies but they most certainly have hopes and expectations: that they’ll be fed, walked, loved, etc. The degree that humans suffer is magnified over that of dogs due to the fact we spend so much time thinking inside our heads and comparing ourselves to others. There is no escaping of suffering for a human being. Again, the degree a that an individual (dog or human) suffers is dramatically impacted by that individual’s genetic temperament and past experiences. Sometimes, if suffering becomes too great, especially for humans, it’s important to go into what I call our “cocoon” phase. The cocoon phase involves closing oneself off from all the world’s overly intense stimuli. Humans desperately need time to heal and process certain events in their lives and to not take the time to do that can often spell disaster. However long it takes to heal in our cocoon phase, when one feels ready, one can emerge from their cocoon though this may be the most vulnerable time for a human as we’re very vulnerable at this time. If all goes well with the molting and transformation into a butterfly, we might be lucky to experience a metaphorical period of flight, where all seems right with the world. Unfortunately, life does not stay the same for very long. Consequently, we must be prepared for that time when traumatic events force us once again to return to the safety and the healing environment of our cocoons.
21. Addiction is a common and logical way for humans to try and cope with the pain of living our lives. Life is unbearable at times and we humans simply can’t endure unrelenting pain: Addictive behavior is seen in both dogs and people. In dogs, it may involve a dog chasing its tail or excessive licking or chewing on one part of its body similar to the comfort of a child sucking its thumb. In humans, there’s a wide variety of addictions that serve to distract us from the trauma, fear and anxiety generated by living in the world. Addictions can show up in many ways, including some that are not considered “addictions” by the particular society that we live in: overeating, anorexia, fanatical exercise routines, work addictions, constantly staying busy, inordinate TV watching, excessive video gaming, spending countless hours on the computer, religious fanaticism, sexual addiction, sleeping to escape life, and, of course, all kinds of drugs and alcohol. Addiction is a natural attempt by us humans to escape and, at a minimum, to distract ourselves from the disappointment, self-loathing, sadness, anxiety and fear involved in living life.
22. Humans long for peace and we search for it in countless ways. If nothing else, we go so far as to believe “that life turns out as it’s supposed to turn out even though we won’t ever be capable of completely understanding the “why” of it all: This is the way we humans try to find a modicum of peace. We need a way to make some kind of sense of the world as it is. If we don’t find a way to cope in one way or another, life can take us down. That’s why we tend to love the saying that “There are no coincidences in life.” That sentiment can be compared to the optimism many dogs have who are eternally optimistic that someone will one day be kind to them even when they’ve never experienced kindness. Those kinds of dogs keep approaching humans despite the fact that they’ve been shooed away or worse in the past. Similarly, humans instinctively hope that there might be a higher being or some kind of karma factor in the world that will eventually give us a little peace of mind even though we really can’t understand the “why” of the world and life.
23. What Kind Of Dog Am I: This chapter clarifies and explains why life is so much easier to understand and to tolerate once we’ve learned how to think of ourselves as a genetic being (or, for the purposes of this book, as a certain breed or combination of breeds of dog.)
24. Working breeds: perfectionists and leaders
25. Sporting breeds: extroverts and clowns
26. Herding breeds: controllers
27. Hounds: loungers
28. Terriers: high-energy multi-taskers (busy, busy, busy)
29. Toy breeds: dependent and anxious
30. Dangerous Dogs: no dog is ever worth someone’s life or well-being
31. Finding Peace
Please note: this entire website (as well as the book) is apparently a never-ending work in progress. There’s still a lot that needs to be completed. Thanks for your patience!
Hello everyone, my name’s Dr. Julie Clark and I want to thank you so much for visiting my website. I hope that there’s something here for everyone (including your pets!)
I’ve been a veterinarian for thirty-seven years (as of 2017) and I’m hoping, through this website, to be able to help pet owners with their pets and to finally get the book I’m writing about how “People Are Like Dogs” out into the world (a book about self-acceptance and the acceptance of others through thinking of ourselves as dogs.)
The idea for the website came to me in the wee hours of the night one night: a time when my brain loves to wake me up so it can try to solve any problems I have that need solving. I’d actually spent quite a few nights awake in 2016 because, through a combination of bad luck and bad choices, it’d been one of the worst years of my life. Not only did I break my ankle in May (and, consequently, was out of work for two months) but I’d also had the misfortune of being ripped off by several different contractors in my efforts to fix up a new house I’d moved into as well as get my old house ready to sell. Additionally, on top of the broken ankle and the bad contractors, I’d been feeling discouraged because I hadn’t had much of a chance to work on a book I’d been writing for the past four years called People Are Like Dogs as a result of being so stressed out over the broken ankle and the bad contractors.
I’d desperately been wanting to get the People Are Like Dogs book out into the world because I was hoping it might help other people as much as it had helped me. Learning how to think of myself as a dog (in my case, a mixture of a Labrador and a Terrier: what I call a “Laberrier”) had finally made it possible for me to make peace with not only who I was as a person but with certain people I’d been struggling to get along with for years (my mom in particular.)
Getting along with people is always so much more difficult to do as compared to getting along with dogs. As a vet, I’d always accepted that dogs were distinct from one another (in temperament and behavior) as a result of their different genetics: i.e.-a German Shepherd behaves like a German Shepherd because it possesses the DNA of a German Shepherd. Nothing too earth shattering about that. But, at some pivotal moment in my life, I’d started to believe that the same thing was true about humans: that each of us is endowed genetically with a unique temperament and personality. Before that change in my perspective, I’d always thought that, no matter what our genetics might be, we should be capable of changing ourselves into whatever we wanted ourselves to be. Now, I was convinced that it’s our DNA that dictates our temperament and personality (just as it does in dogs.) And, just as it is in dogs, it’s not possible to ever really change the individual that we were born to be. So, just as a German Shepherd is fated to be a German Shepherd because of its genetics, each of us is fated to be the individual we are because of our genetics.
What that means is that the only way to ever be at peace with ourselves (and others) is to accept ourselves (and others) as we are: we are who we are as a result of our genetics and we can’t blame someone for the content of their DNA. It’s a complete waste of energy to constantly berate ourselves (and others) for being who we are because it’s simply not possible to change ourselves into something that we’re not. That’d be the same as chastising a German Shepherd for not being able to change itself into a Poodle!
Since DNA can’t be changed, the only thing that we can reasonably do is accept ourselves (and others) for whoever it is that we happen to be. People instinctively accept dogs for who they are as individuals: we simply don’t expect a Poodle to act like a Chihuahua. That’s why, when we learn how to think of ourselves and others as dogs, it becomes much easier to be accepting. For example, now that I’ve learned how to think of myself as a dog, it’s much easier for me to accept that I’m a mixture of a people-pleasing Labrador and a constantly busy, do-ten-things-at-once Terrier. Accepting that about myself is a whole heck of a lot easier than trying to accept that I’m some kind of flawed human being. When I think of myself as a dog, all my quirkiness becomes an expression of my DNA and, just as I would with a real dog, I simply accept it for what it is. It doesn’t mean that it all of sudden becomes easy to be a Labrador mixed with a Terrier since the Labrador is always going to want to ignore boundaries while the Terrier in me tries to insist on being in control! But what I know now is that I’m never going to change and, as a consequence, I might as well accept myself for who I am. The truth is I can’t change myself anymore than a Chihuahua or a German Shepherd can change themselves: for better or worse, we are who we are because of our DNA.
So, with all the bad luck that I’d experienced in 2016 on top of the fact that I’d turned 63 in July, I was now feeling weirdly fragile and vulnerable. And, though I’d never been too overly afraid of dying before, I was now starting to feel as if my mortality was stalking me like some kind of ravenous creature just waiting for the right moment to gobble me up! Yikes.
Along with this new fear of dying came a dramatic sense of urgency: I had so much I wanted to do before I died! For more than twenty years (way before I started writing the People Are Like Dogs book), I’d wanted to write a veterinary book for pet owners. I not only wanted to tell pet owners everything they needed to know about their pets but I wanted to let them know how to evaluate the care they were getting from their current veterinarians. Unfortunately, there are veterinarians out there who don’t do a very good job of being a veterinarian (just as there are plumbers and other professionals who don’t do good work.) As upsetting as it is to encounter an incompetent veterinarian, it can be just as upsetting dealing with a veterinarian who is only concerned with making a lot of money. Veterinarians deserve to make a profit like anyone else but it’s not right when certain veterinarians try to take advantage of pet owners by pressuring them into doing unnecessary (and sometimes risky or dangerous) tests and procedures. One of the worst examples of this kind of thing concerns the recent trend in which veterinarians are encouraging owners to do yearly dentals on their dogs. Shamefully, many of the dentals being done these days are being done for no other reason than to pad the veterinarian’s pocketbook. This practice is a complete betrayal of the trust we put in our veterinarians (especially considering that the majority of the dentals being done are being done on older animals who are much more likely to experience complications as a result of the anesthesia.)
So, worried as I was about how to get these books finished, I realized that I needed to come up with something different. It was clear that if I tried to get the books out into the world in the usual way, I’d not only have to get the books finished and edited but I’d also have to get them published and distributed. That would take a lot of work and time that I no longer felt that I had now that I was having my mid-like crisis in which my mortality was breathing down my neck.
But as luck would have it, one night in the middle of the night a wonderful idea popped into my head: “Why couldn’t I simply put everything I wanted to say on a website?” Not only could I put all the completed chapters from the People Are Like Dogs book on the website (simply adding new chapters as I got them written) but I could also put all the veterinary information that I wanted pet owners to have on the same website! I couldn’t imagine why I hadn’t thought of something like this before! Looking back, I think all the trauma that I’d experienced in 2016 made me feel fragile and vulnerable and, out of sheer desperation, I went looking for other options. The two best things about doing a website was that I was going to be able to get the information out there right now and I’d be able to make that information available to everyone (there’d be no need for anyone to have to go out and buy a book!)
So, in a nutshell, that’s how this website came about! My greatest hope is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you discover that there’s something here that you didn’t even know you needed to know or were looking for (be it entertainment, advice or a new way of looking at yourself and others as dogs!)
All my very best to you (and your pets!) Woof!