Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Unconditional Positive Regard

This is my canine version of a humanist model put forward by psychologist Carl Rogers in 1951:

The development of self-worth begins in puppy-hood. Dogs need to feel nurtured and valued by their four-legged mother, their adoptive human parents, and any other humans of constant importance in their lives. This nurturing involves love, praise, and acceptance - otherwise known as unconditional positive regard, which given freely without conditions, makes for a healthy, well-balanced dog.

Applied to my experience, it meant that as a puppy I had to modify my natural behaviour to live in harmony with humans. Even though I failed sometimes and made a puddle on the floor, or ran in the opposite direction when Missus or Mister called me, I knew they still loved me, even if they didn't like my behaviour. Because of this, I have grown into a confident adult dog who expects everyone to like her as much as her human family does. The upside of this is that I'm extra friendly for people and to other dogs; the downside is that some people and dogs are cranky, unsociable so-and-so's who don't want my friendship.

Yesterday, the whole unconditional positive regard thing had to work both ways. It began by raining buckets, which Missus used as an excuse not to take me out for a walk until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, even though the weather cleared up long before lunchtime. This was so she could draft her idea of a perfect letter to a publisher. She also, for the hundredth time, edited the first chapter of her children's novel. I swear that if she edits it again, it will disappear altogether, having already shrunk down from thirty pages to three. Missus even read it out loud to me before sticking it in an envelope with the perfect letter, just to check if it sounded okay. I loved the bit about Bluebell, the fictional chocolate Labrador puppy doing some major shredding of Noah's horrid stepmum's shoe collection. Of course, I'd never do anything like that, firstly because Kate in the novel is nothing like Missus, and secondly, because Missus has a comparatively modest number of shoes designed for comfort rather than show. 

I did manage to test Missus's patience when finally she took me the park, where I regressed back to puppy-hood  by running off with a football belonging to some boys, then refusing to give it back for about ten minutes.  Missus still loves me, although would have preferred me not to let her down and cause her such embarrassment.        

Dogs are very loyal to their owners and will stick by them in the most appalling circumstances - even if tempted to take temporary leave of them while following the scent of food, cats, or foxes. This loyalty is a canine version of unconditional positive regard. 

In 1870, Senator George Vest represented a man who sued another for killing his dog. He won the case by virtue of a speech for which he has become famous. You can read its complete original version at but I've taken part of the speech and rewritten it to underline my relationship with my family.

Tribute to a Chocolate Labrador Retriever 

The one absolutely unselfish friend that Missus and Mister have in this selfish world, the one that will never desert them, the one that will never prove ungrateful or treacherous is Brunella. She'll stand by them in prosperity (uh, not happened yet) and in poverty (also not happened, but a bit of a juggling act at times), in health and in sickness. She'd sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blew and the snow drove fiercely, as long as she was snuggled up between Missus and Mister. She'd kiss the hand that had no food to offer, as long as she could go foraging and scavenging for whatever morsels she fancied, even ones considered gross by humans.  She'd lick the wounds and sores that came in encounters with the roughness of the world. She'd watch over Missus and Mister as they slept, as if they were a princess and her prince. If all other friends deserted them, she would remain. If the recession caught up with them big-time and battered them into the ground, and everyone treated them like garbage, Brunella Labrador would be as constant in her love of them, as the sun in its journey through the heavens. 

If Missus and Mister became friendless and homeless outcasts, Brunella would ask no higher privilege than that of accompanying them, to guard them against danger, to fight against their enemies. And when death took them, their bodies laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends deserted them, there by the graveside would the Labrador be found, her head between her paws, her eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

Boohoo, I don't want to think about this any more, but just used this personalised version of  the great senator's speech illustrate how unconditional positive regard can cement a lasting relationship, based on love and trust between dogs and their humans. 


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Basic Human and Canine needs .... (Part 3): Sleep

I'm quite vocal when it comes to expressing my weariness, as evidenced below:
  • Phhh You're taking too long Missus or Mister.
  • Furrumph It's raining too hard for a walk, and I've got to wait patiently for it to ease off.
  • Humph I was enjoying walking around under the meal table, but I suppose I'll lie down until you've finished gorging yourselves on delicious food.
  • Sigh Why are my humans getting so stressed? They ought to learn the art of inner peace from me. 
  • Yawn with a rusty-hinge squealing edge to it I'm really enjoying my tummy rub at bedtime and want to vocalise my appreciation.
  • Wide yawn that shows off my white teeth If I take in enough air, I might force myself to stay awake a bit longer so I don't miss something interesting.     

Us dogs are so fortunate; we can fall asleep faster than our owners can snap their fingers. One minute we're rushing around; the next, we're lying flat out on our fronts, sides, backs, or curled up in a tight little ball in the corner.

Mister must be half-dog, as he always manages to fall asleep within two minutes of sitting in a comfy chair. It doesn't matter how exciting the book is he's reading, off he goes; he drops the book and loses his page, his glasses slip off the end of his nose, and he starts making clicking or snoring noises with his mouth. He often goes to sleep at the most crucial part of a telly programme, too, however action-packed it might be.

Missus goes mad at Mister for click-snoring during her favourite programmes, or when she's reading a book she's really into. Any amount of sighing, loud comments, or shaking of him won't stir him. At least if I go to sleep on the settee and start making noises, Missus can wake me up by giving me a gentle stroke.

It is a story in itself, as to how I earned the privilege of chilling out on the settee with my family.

When I first came to live with Mister, Missus, and Pak-Bro, they confined me to the kitchen and the garden. This might sound harsh, but at least one member of my family kept me company for most of the day - albeit glued to their wireless networked laptops at the kitchen table, enforcing upon me the rule 'Thou shalt not chew wires or cabling'.

Every time I woke up from a deep sleep, or half-an-hour after my meals, someone would whisk me outside to relieve myself on the grass, which meant I house-trained in a fortnight. As a reward for my learned self-control, Missus decided one Saturday to let me in the sitting room for an hour to watch Doctor Who on telly. She reckoned this would be better than have me disturb the programme with pitiful whines from behind a closed door. Before she allowed me through from the kitchen, I heard her say to Mister,  'Do not let Brunella up on the settee.'  He replied, 'Of course not.' And I thought to myself, We'll see about that.

Doctor Who has to be my favourite programme, as it stands for a particular moment of triumph early on in my life, which laid down a marker for my exceptional comfort thereafter. Within in two minutes of me sitting at Mister's feet staring up at him out of imploring eyes, he was so overcome with love for me, that he scooped me off the carpet straight on to his lap. Missus said, 'But I thought we agreed.' Mister replied, 'But she's so sweet and good.'

How I adore that theme music: D-d-ddd-d-d-ddd-ee-oo-ee-oo and all the swirling patterns on the screen. How I love it every time Missus says, 'Time to watch the monsters on telly?' (which she says about Primeval as well as Doctor Who, or any other science fiction/fantasy programme she happens to enjoy).

This has set a precedence for off-the-ground sleeping places all over the house. I have commandeered a piece of soft furnishing for my comfort in nearly every room - even the south-facing master bedroom, where I stretch across a Queen-size bed luxuriating in the sun. There's another double-bed in Pak-Bro's room, which I look after for him between his visits home from university. In Missus's office I've two dog-cushions on top of each other, as I can't quite get the rocking-chair to co-operate with me. In Mister's office there's a wonderful pink velvet armchair. In the kitchen, I've two vet-bed fleeces on top of each other on the floor. Such comfort; such enticement to fatness and laziness, if I didn't like strenuous exercise so much in between all the snoozing. It's all about achieving a balance in life.

Grooming: now that is heaven. It's the equivalent of a twice-weekly twenty-minute massage and beauty treatment from Missus. We get the unpleasant bit over first, which is the ear-cleaning, then she sits down on my vet-bed and I drape myself across her lap whilst she uses a wire brush to remove loose undercoat. After this, I lie straight out on one side for deep massage with the blue rubber brush. When Missus says, 'Rolly, rolly,' I roll over on to my back and she brushes my tummy, whilst I wear a stupid grin on my face. After this, she repeats, 'Rolly, rolly,' and I go over on to the other side. Sometimes I feel so relaxed during my brushing that I fall asleep and miss some of it on a conscious level.

Dogs dream in their sleep, and humans can only guess at these dreams. The ones involving games of chase are obvious, as my back legs go for a run. There are others that make me whimper, growl, or bark, some of which I prefer not to remember. Missus wishes she could see inside my head to record my dreams, so she could use them for one of her strange stories. I inspired her to write a whole children's fantasy novel featuring a puppy named Bluebell, abducted by some dubious personalities into another dimension. Scary, or what? That was one big dreamscape which I'd rather steer well clear of, especially with baddies such as Percival Poodle around. Still, if Missus makes some money out of this story and others, at least it will keep the bailiffs breaking into my territory and carting off my favourite soft furnishings in their lorry.

In medieval days, before the advent of soft furnishings, people slept on straw pallets in mud huts or in draughty castles, and took their dogs to bed with them for warmth. So far, I've not made any headway in persuading Missus and Mister that our house is icy enough in winter for them to replace their bedtime hotwater bottles with me.

Dream on, Brunella ...