How in the world could someone be benefited by thinking of themselves and others as a dog?
Though it may sound a bit strange at first, it actually makes perfect sense. Think of how all of us humans instinctively ACCEPT dogs just as they are, imperfections and all. Hence, if we can learn to think of ourselves (and others) as certain breeds of dogs, it allows us to see ourselves (and others) in a forgiving and loving way that we simply can’t do when we merely think of ourselves as flawed human beings.
The truth is our acceptance of dogs is almost without bounds or reservations. We never think twice about the fact that a Chihuahua is a Chihuahua and a Golden Retriever is a Golden Retriever. We have no problem accepting that the genetics of a breed dictates their temperament and personal characteristics. We’d never even think to say that a Chihuahua should somehow be able to start behaving like a Golden Retriever of vice versa. It doesn’t matter how much may discipline or train a Chihuahua, it’s NEVER going to behave like a Golden Retriever. The same is true of all the other breeds of dogs, even those that are a mixture of breeds. When it comes to dogs, we simply accept that they behave the way they do because of their breeding, because of their genetics.
Yet, when we humans look at ourselves and all the people in our lives, we apply a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT standard than what we apply to dogs. Instead of even contemplating that individual people behave the way they do because of their individual genetics, we make a huge leap to the conviction that we should have the capacity to CHANGE who we are if only we try hard enough.
That’s the same as saying that a Chihuahua should be able to transform itself into a Golden Retriever if only it tries hard enough. Why the double standard between dogs and humans? Part of the problem concerns the fact that as soon we can understand speech (from our parents, religious leaders, neighbors, teachers, peers, society, etc.), it’s pounded into our heads that we possess the ability to change and that we over time we will definitely need to change. We’re repeatedly told that change is possible if only we try hard enough. This message that we must CHANGE, that if we don’t CHANGE we won’t be ACCEPTED, is truly the basis of most of our misery as human beings.
Instead of being ACCEPTED by ourselves and others for who we are, a fixed product of our DNA (just like the Chihuahua and the Golden Retriever), we’re constantly in a state of torment because we CAN’T change. The fact is we can’t CHANGE ourselves into whoever WE OR SOMEONE ELSE wants us to be anymore than a Chihuahua or a Golden Retriever can change themselves into a different breed of dog. The reason we can’t change is quite simple: our DNA. All of us were born to be the one-of-a-kind individual that we were born to be because of our DNA. It’s as simple as that.
In fact, constantly demanding, wishing and longing for ourselves to change into someone that we’re not is CRUEL. Since none of us can change who we are as a result of our DNA, the never ending demands and longing we constantly feel to be different from who we are only causes us to hate ourselves. It’s a hard enough task to try and accept ourselves as we are without everyone (including ourselves) constantly telling us that we need to CHANGE, CHANGE, CHANGE. Never being able to find any peace with who we are, with who we were born to be, is truly heartbreaking and it’s all because we have bought into the lie that WE CAN CHANGE IF ONLY WE TRY HARD ENOUGH.
How might a Chihuahua feel if it was constantly berated for not being some other breed of dog? Interestingly enough, when it comes to Chihuahuas, they probably wouldn’t actually care what someone thought of who they were because Chihuahuas are not interested in what anyone else thinks! Chihuahuas are “ME” creatures, born to believe that the sun rises and sets on them and, consequently, they just don’t give a hoot what anyone else thinks! Now, it’d be a different story with a Golden Retriever. A Golden Retriever would be absolutely devastated if its owner was constantly scolding it for not being a Chihuahua or some other breed because a Golden Retriever’s existence revolves around making its owners happy! That’s why a Golden Retriever would probably try its darnedest to do its best to behave like a Chihuahua or whatever breed its owner wants it to be! Still, the Golden Retriever would only ever be able to be a Golden Retriever because that’s what its DNA has caused it to be.
Being able to accept ourselves exactly as we are is almost unheard of in this world because we humans are fated to constantly compare ourselves to others. It’s simply what we do. And, when we compare ourselves to everyone else, we’re bound to see people who seem to have so much more beauty, talent, wealth, success, happiness than we do. Unavoidably, we’re ALWAYS going to feel that we’re falling short, that we’re failing to measure up to those people that we admire and envy. That’s why we hate ourselves in one way or another. That unbearable self-hate that won’t let up for even a moment is why we are compelled to seek out something or someone to relieve our suffering. So, we over-eat, we over-work, we do drugs, we drink too much alcohol, we place all our faith in God hoping he’ll save us, we might choose to starve ourselves or cut ourselves, we may choose to take it out on others by being a bully, we often join a gang or some other fringe group so we can be distracted from our internal misery. The truth is we’ll do almost ANYTHING TO NUMB OURSELVES OR DISTRACT OURSELVES FROM OUR UNRELENTING SELF-HATRED BECAUSE WE CAN’T BE SOMEONE THAT WE’RE NOT.
YET, if we humans could try to accept ourselves as being a genetic being that was born to be the very person we are because of our DNA, there might be some hope for us. We just might be able to make peace with who we were born to be. And, if we can accept ourselves as we are, we might just be able to give up this horrible compulsion to change ourselves.
In my life long struggle to accept myself, learning how to think of myself as a certain breed of dog has helped me immeasurably to finally make peace with who I am. I’ve now accepted that I’m actually a mixture of a Terrier and and Labrador Retriever. I call myself a Laberrier. Due to being a Terrier, I ACCEPT now that I’m always going to need to be CONSTANTLY busy, that I’m always going to be chasing a ball or digging a hole or barking and raising Hell over something that bothers me! Just like a Terrier does! Being able to accept that about myself has been INCREDIBLY FREEING. I now spend much less time being upset at myself because I can’t be something or someone that I’m not. Of course, I’d LOVE it if I could be a Hound for a change so that I could lay on the couch all day and have zero regret and zero guilt. But that is NOT ME and IT’S NEVER GOING TO BE ME. I’m forever stuck being the “me” that I was born to be in the very same way that a Chihuahua or a Golden Retriever are stuck being the dogs they were born to be because of their DNA.
The reason that it’s so helpful to bring DOGS into our search for self-acceptance is because learning to think of ourselves (and others) as dogs gives us a way to calm down our naturally judgmental human minds. Because we humans love dogs so much, we naturally treat them with a compassion and empathy that we never (or rarely) show to ourselves and others. We have no problem accepting our dog’s faults and giving it chance after chance to improve and learn when they mess up or annoy us.
We humans accept dogs in spite of the breed of dog they may be. We’re color blind when it comes to dogs! We don’t care if they’re fat or missing a leg or are so ugly they’re cute! If only we could treat ourselves and others that way! Instead, we NEVER cut ourselves a break for not being the person that we wish we were. That’s the whole point of bringing dogs into the picture: we need to learn to accept and love ourselves in the same forgiving and loving way that we accept and love dogs.
Some of us might be lucky enough to be blessed with the “easy” temperament of a sweet and friendly Golden Retriever but, let’s face it, many of us are NOT Golden Retrievers. Many of us are a more complicated or problematic breed and that can make us “difficult” or “slow-to-warm up.” Easy, difficult and slow-to-warm up are the three main types of temperament described by Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess in their decades long study of temperament. Thomas and Chess discovered that temperament is definitely a product of our genetics and that IT DOES NOT CHANGE OVER ONE’S LIFETIME. Temperament is discussed in great detail in the chapters to come but, needless to say, Chihuahuas, Jack Russell Terriers and Rottweilers aren’t blessed with the “easy” temperament of a Golden Retriever.
The truth is, it can make a HUGE DIFFERENCE in our lives if we can simply make a shift from seeing ourselves as flawed human beings to seeing ourselves (and others) as specific breeds of dog. Once we acquire the ability to see ourselves (and others) as being a certain breed or, more commonly, a mixture of breeds (since most of us are mutts), we’ll quickly discover that we’re able to be much more understanding and empathetic towards ourselves (and others) in the very same way that we are with dogs. 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 are almost incapable of living in the moment. Instead, we’re obsessed by an incurable need to understand life, to find answers. We long to understand why we exist and, most importantly, why we are 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 that each of us experiences anxiety varies according to various genetic and environmental factors. Temperament, which is dictated by our DNA, is a major determiner of how each of us experiences anxiety. There are three basic categories of temperament that have been described: easy, difficult and slow-to-warm-up (though most of us are actually a combination of all three.) Temperament dictates how we process all the various environmental circumstances into which we’ve been born. Foe example, if someone is born with a primarily “easy” temperament (think Golden Retriever), that person won’t tend to feel as stressed or anxious as a person who’s born with a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament. Individuals who are born with easy temperaments enjoy participating in activities and are actively involved in the world. Due to their easy going temperament, these individuals tend to get along well with others. On the other hand, individuals with difficult temperaments (i.e.-Chihuahuas) are easily irritated and extremely frustrated by the events and activities going on around them. As a result, they’re much more reactive which causes them to withdraw or strike out as a way of keeping the world at bay. Individuals with difficult temperaments don’t tend to feel comfortable in the world and, consequently, they hate change or challenges since any kind of interaction intensifies their stress and their 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 commonality and community since all human beings share: (1) the need to survive and to feel safe, (2) the need to build a family and produce offspring, (3) and the need to believe that we belong, that we’re worthy and that it matters that we lived. Realizing that all of us share these pivotal drives can help us to better understand ourselves’ and others’ behavior so that we can, hopefully, find a bit of peace.
Finding peace of mind and self-acceptance is often hampered by our “human-ness.” The majority of us humans are on the brink of overload as a result of the impossible demands that we put upon ourselves. Our quests to survive, reproduce and somehow be special are further compounded by the craziness that constantly goes on in the world around us. It’s no wonder that we often feel out of control and depressed.
One of the best ways to bypass our “human-ness” is to learn how to think of ourselves (and others) as dogs! Dogs are so dear and near to our hearts that we never have a problem accepting them for who they are (no matter what their faults may be!) We’re definitely not that way with ourselves or with others. We constantly demand change and improvement from ourselves and others, insisting that we try to become something that we’re not. No one ever expects a Chihuahua to behave like a Golden Retriever: we simply accept that Chihuahuas are going to be Chihuahuas!
What we forget when we think of ourselves is that we’re genetic beings and we’re no more capable of changing who we are than a Chihuahua is capable of changing who it is. Accepting that we can’t change helps us to accept ourselves just as we are which is the only way we’ll ever have a moment’s peace. As we’ll see later in the book, acceptance and peace are very fleeting and the best that we can ever really hope for are brief, temporary moments of acceptance and peace. That everything changes all the time is simply one of the facts of being alive: nothing is permanent, nothing stays the same.
I want to say that, though I stress the importance of genetics in this book, I am in no way discounting that our environment also plays a crucial role in our lives. As an extreme example, it’s been documented that, in extreme instances of child abuse where a child is not spoken to during its early, formative years, the child’s ability to speak can be lost forever due to the fact that, the part of the brain that’s needed for speech, atrophies when it’s not stimulated.
Though it’s yet to be determined how much Nature (DNA) impacts our lives as compared to Nurture (environmental influences), in the last fifty years, the impact of genetics on our lives has really come into light. In the past, DNA was constantly downplayed (in favor of environmental influences) as an important factor in our behavior. That has forever changed as a result of our increasing understanding of just how much our DNA dictates who we are as individuals.
It’s always going to be difficult for us humans to relate to our DNA because of the fact that it’s microscopic. This makes DNA a non-entity in most of our minds. We can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell our DNA and that makes it hard for us to relate to it. Also, DNA doesn’t leave us with all the memories, impressions and experiences that our environment does. Environmental influences 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 our DNA in the same way that we relate to our environment (our families, culture, socioeconomic circumstances, etc.) Environmental factors bombard us on a day to day basis yet, with every passing day, scientists are realizing that DNA is the unseen wizard behind the curtain: that it’s much more of a powerful influence than we’d ever imagined in the past. DNA may be out of sight and out of mind but, with each new discovery, it’s looking as if DNA may be 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 hoped and longed for. Yet, by accepting my mom for the Schipperke that she was, I was eventually able to develop a surprising sympathy and compassion for my mom because, as a result of the temperament that she’d been born with, she lacked the ability to be truly close to anyone. I finally understood that it wasn’t my mother’s fault that her DNA caused her to have an extremely difficult temperament (she was Italian!) That’s simply the way she was just as a Golden Retriever is a Golden Retriever and a Chihuahua is a Chihuahua. My mom (like all of us) was at the mercy of her DNA. Once I realized this, I stopped blaming her and I stopped blaming myself for our inability to have the close relationship I’d always wanted with my mom. It simply wasn’t going to happen as a result of her temperament. Still, neither she nor I was to blame. My mom and I were genetic beings and, as a result of the incredibly powerful impact of DNA, we had no choice but to be the individuals that we were born to be.
This chapter discusses how all of us are genetic beings: that our DNA is what dictates who we are. To better understand how DNA controls us, I discuss the genetic reasons as to why dogs bite as well as a National Geographic article detailing a study in which wild foxes in Siberia were tamed through selective breeding. The National Geographic article clearly demonstrates the fact that tameness and domestication are a function of DNA and not a function of environment.
I also discuss the amazing 1970’s Minnesota Twin Study that evaluated identical twins that were separated at birth. Before the Minnesota Twin Study, most psychiatrists (as well as most people) were absolutely convinced that it was our environmental influences that dictated our personalities and individual traits. The Minnesota Twin Study turned those beliefs completely upside down. Since the Minnesota Twin Study, countless new studies are re-confirming that it’s our DNA that primarily shapes who we are as individuals.
This chapter discusses how not only is temperament genetic but that our temperament is what determines the manner is which we experience and respond to the world. There are nine components of temperament that remain consistent throughout our lives: 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 sensitivity to external stimuli. Temperament is typically classified as being easy, difficult, slow-to-warm-up or some combination of the three.
The first step in being able to accept ourselves (and others) is being able to understand that none of us has the power to dramatically change our temperament due to the fact that it’s genetic. Temperament, along with other genetic traits, explains why each of us is completely unique (with the exception of identical twins.) Temperament not only dictates our individual strengths and weaknesses but how well we function in the world: why we click so well with certain activities and individuals and not others. This will be discussed in greater detail in Chapters 7 and 8.
This chapter discusses the phenomenon of predictable variation. Every bit of variation that one sees in the world can be illustrated mathematically by a phenomenon called the bell shaped curve. Bell shaped curves can be used to plot anything that’s measurable (such as height, weight, how much TV each of us watches.) Bell shaped curves demonstrate that there’s always going to be a median or an average when it comes to any kind of measurable data (such as height or weight.)
Bell shaped curves are not only a predictable and consistent aspect of life but they explain why life can 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, a very small percentage of people endure horribly tragic lives while most of us have lives that are a fairly even mix of happiness and tragedy. The majority of people in the world are “average” and, consequently, fall somewhere in the middle range of the bell shaped curve. Since life is predictably variable, most of what happens to us is actually 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 our individual socioeconomic circumstances into which we’ve been born are all factors born of chance. That’s why the very most important thing to keep in mind as we strive to find acceptance and peace is that, even though it may feel quite personal at times, LIFE IS NOT PERSONAL. The truth is all of our lives are simply a matter of chance and luck (not unlike the lottery) and, as a result, it’s up to us (and us only) to try to make the best out of what we’ve been given.
This chapter discusses the phenomena of hybrid vigor which is the complete opposite of inbreeding. When individuals with overly similar DNA mate (inbreed), their offspring will have an increased likelihood of genetic problems due to certain recessive genes having an increased likelihood of being expressed in the offspring. On the other hand, when individuals with very different genetic material reproduce, the offspring are often predictably superior genetically to that of either parent. 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, it’s much more unlikely that we’ll be mating with someone within our own genetic pool. Consequently, we’ll tend to have healthier and more viable offspring which is what all living creatures desire.
Hybrid vigor also explains why there are so many crazy mating rituals in animals and birds (including ourselves!) as all living creatures are typically quite picky about who they mate with because they want to make sure their offspring have good genetic material so that they can reach adulthood and reproduce themselves. This genetic quest is programmed into every living creature. So, in an effort to select the very best individual with which to mate, females have been given the task in nature of creating elaborate hoops that a potential mate must jump through before he can be selected as a potential mate. All these criteria are consciously or subconsciously driven by our DNA. It’s a game we’re forced to play in an effort to create hybrid vigor in our offspring.
This chapter deals with the fact that, since we’re genetic beings, we can’t change who we are to any significant extent. This chapter stresses how similar we all are to one another internally despite the fact that, on the outside, we may seem quite different due to our different genetically-dictated appearances, genders and temperament in addition to our frequently different social circumstances, religions and ethnicities. What we share in common is just as powerful (if not more so) than the things that make us different.
The things that all people share in common are: (1) the constant struggle to survive; (2) the desire to mate and have offspring; (3) an overwhelming need to love and be loved; (4) the desperate need to feel valued and that our lives have meaning.
In spite of the fact that we can’t change who we are (as a result of our DNA), our internal needs constantly make us feel that we need to change, that we need to do something different so that we can fulfill the four needs listed above. This constant pressure to change is what causes us to be so dissatisfied with the life that we’re currently living..
Since there’s no way to change our DNA, the only real hope we have for any peace in our lives is to somehow find a way to accept ourselves just as we are. The biggest help I’ve found in ever being able to do that is learning how to think of one’s self as a dog. Just as it’s crazy to think that a German Shepherd could ever somehow be transformed into a Poodle, it’s just as crazy to think that we should have the capacity to change ourselves into someone different than who we are. Constantly trying to change the individual that we are will only make us miserable as it’s simply not going to happen. In the same way that it’s hopeless to try and change a German Shepherd into a Poodle, there’s no way that we can become something that we’re not. The only option available to us is try to accept ourselves as we are and to be at peace with the person that we were born to be.
This chapter deals with the fact that all of us get along incredibly well with certain individuals but not with others. Most of this has to do with the way that each of our different temperaments interact. Though this is simple and basic enough to understand, what complicates this basic truth is that we’re compelled to choose who we’re in a relationship (especially our intimate relationships) based on appearance. Though there are important genetic reasons as to why relationships are based on appearance, the negative consequence of choosing relationships based on appearance is that we tend to disregard other vital traits and characteristics that are vital to being able to have a healthy and happy relationship (such as temperament compatibility!) If we base our relationships primarily on appearance, we might attain the hybrid vigor that we subconsciously want for our offspring but it’s unlikely that we’re going to be happy with some of the other aspects of the relationship!
Dangerous people (as well as dangerous dogs) represent the worst case scenario when it comes to making bad choices in relationships. In any way that we possibly can, we need to do our best to not allow a dangerous person (or dog) into our lives since, once someone gets hurt, there’s no way to ever undo it.
In the same way that we tend to choose our romantic partners based on appearance, we also tend to choose our dogs based on appearance. We instinctively fall in love with a dog’s cuteness or the fact that it’s strong and majestic. What we don’t do is think about how that dog’s temperament is going to mesh with our own temperament or that of our family’s. Since temperament is genetic, we need to (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 fated to be the individual that we are as a result of our DNA and, because of that, we aren’t ever going to be able to change who we are to any significant degree no matter how hard we may wish or try to change. That’s simply the reality of things. That’s also why we need to show extreme caution as to what people (and dogs) we allow into our lives. We don’t want to find ourselves looking back with the wisdom of hindsight as we say to ourselves, “Dear God, what have I gotten myself into? What have I allowed into my life?”
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 the quest to find 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 always remember that it’s actually a 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 programmed to reproduce. Unfortunately, we frequently confuse the physical attraction we feel as part of our need to reproduce as being “LOVE”, which is something entirely different from mere reproduction: Reproduction and love are frequently very 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 meaning in our lives: Dogs definitely experience a genetic need for purpose depending on their breed but it’s not quite the same as the need 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. Humans have a compulsion to dream, hope and fantasize about possible futures for themselves 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 a 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 and being genetically programmed to survive inherently results in the fact that both humans and dogs are NATURALLY going to experience various levels of anxiety and fear. Anxiety and Fear are NORMAL for any living sentient being: The degree of an individual’s anxiety and fear is very dictated by their genetics and past experiences. Instead of characterizing anxiety and fear as psychological disorders, it’s important to understand they are inherent aspects of being and staying alive. It may be necessary at times to address extreme or unrelenting anxiety and fear so that we are not debilitated by those genetic emotions but, the important fact to remember is that being anxious and fearful are normal consequences of the need to survive.
20. Dealing with our sorrow, disappointment and despair as a result of the failure of our dreams, hopes and fantasies to be realized (this includes our dreams of being a part of a happy family and having a successful career) is by far the greatest source of pain in 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 very common and natural way of our attempt to cope with the pain and disappointment of living life (which includes all the anxiety and fear surrounding our subconscious need to survive along with the conscious pain over not being blessed with a happy family and/or not being able to attain any personal success): This is seen in both dogs and people. In dogs, it may involve a dog chasing its tail or chewing on one part of its body similar to the comfort of sucking one’s thumb. In humans, there’s a wide variety of addictions that serve to distract us from the trauma and fear of the world.These addictions can show up in many ways, some that are not even considered problematic by society: overeating, anorexia, exercising fanatically, working constantly, staying constantly busy, excessive TV watching, video gaming, spending excessive time on the computer, religious fanaticism, sexual addiction, over sleeping, and, of course, drugs and alcohol. Addiction is a natural attempt by us humans to distract ourselves from all disappointment, self-loathing, general sadness, persistent anxiety and, of course, our huge variety of various fears.
22. Humans can find some peace in choosing to believe “that things turn out as they’re meant to even if we’re never able to completely understand why:” This is another human coping mechanism that’s a bit similar to the saying that “There are no coincidences in life.” It can be compared to the optimism of many dogs who are often optimistic that someone will be kind to them, feed and shelter them even when they have NOT been experiencing that kind of loving treatment. In the same way, humans can hope that there’s a higher being or some karma factor in the world that will eventually allow for some peace of mind in spite of our inability to actually understand the “why” of things.
23. What Kind Of Dog Am I: why life is so much easier once we learn how to think of ourselves as a specific 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
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!)
As I thought about the ramifications of having a website, I realized that the website might eventually take a lot of my time and energy as I’d inevitably be answering people’s questions about their pets both online and on the phone.
If I was going to devote myself to trying to help people full time on the website, I was probably going to need to find a way to support the website financially. I didn’t like that thought. One thing I’d always hated was having to ask people for money in exchange for helping them with their pets. Even when I’d had my own veterinary clinic in California for seventeen years, I’d hated he money end of things. Yet, just like everyone else in the world, I would eventually need to find a way to support myself.The one thing that I was absolutely certain that I didn’t want to do was to try and charge people ahead of time for helping them with their pets. Not only would that be a pain but I definitely didn’t want to restrict the number of people that I might be able to help.
After much consideration, I decided that I’d put a Go Fund Me account. With a Go Fund Me account, people could choose to contribute whatever they were comfortable or capable of contributing. Though it’s still not a perfect solution, a Go Fund Me account would at least be an option to charging people ahead of time.
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 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!