“In America and in some other cultures of the world, dogs and the other animals we bring into our homes serve as one of our most important links to Mother Nature. We may not even know it consciously, but they are our lifelines to a part of ourselves that we are at the brink of losing altogether. When we humanize dogs, we cut ourselves off from the vital lessons they have been put here to teach us: How to experience the world through the truths of our animal instincts. How to live every moment and every day to the fullest.” Cesar Millan

I thought I’d share this quote from Cesar’s Cesar’s Way. For me, that’s what makes Cesar’s work very ecopsychological, it’s not just about getting your dog to behave well, but a whole philosophy of healing and enhancing our connection with Mother Nature.

(From left to right) Luna, Chispa and Kaila

“Dogs have found themselves in an odd predicament by living with humans. In the wild, dogs don’t need humans to achieve balance. They have a pack leader, work for food, and travel with the pack. But when we bring them into our world, we need to help them achieve balance by fulfilling their needs as nature intended them to be.” From Cesar Millan’s website here; http://www.cesarmillaninc.com/tips/retrain_balance.php

For some while we’ve been watching the Dog Whisperer, which shows a different side to dogs than simply “training them” to obey commands. It shows much more subtle ways to interact with the dog by fulfilling its natural instincts and giving it a balanced place in human society. It’s been really good as it has shown me what I do right and what I do wrong, so I’ve learned a lot. Generally I’m proud of how I handle dogs, especially when I see just how different the dogs in my life are from the dogs on the show, much more “well behaved” or, more appropriately, balanced.

But watching the Dog Whisperer you realise that it’s not the dogs that are at fault, but the owners that don’t treat them in a balanced way. “Well behaved,” then, doesn’t mean how controlled the dogs are but how sensitive the owners are to their dog’s behaviour, and how they treat and train them without depriving them of a healthy expression of instinct. Dogs aren’t robots that you just “program” to your requirements; they have their own set of instincts that if played around with too much or denied healthy expression, can cause problems, as shown in the Dog Whisperer.

And in some ways this reminds me of Ecopsychology. Our own psychological health is largely affected by how we interact with nature, not just the organisms and their habitats that are found outside of human society, but also the parts of nature that have found a niche within or alongside human society and even the instinctual self found within humans. We also have instinctive needs that society usually ignores. I think the way we interact with our dogs and other domestic animals can reflect our own instinctive and psychological state of being and even our relationship with nature in general, which is why I think of Ecopsychology.

Of the writings on Ecopsychology I’ve seen, most of them are about human’s relationship with natural environments and also our own inner ecological health, but I’ve never really seen anything about how we interact with the parts of nature within human society, whether it’s our pets, livestock, “pests,” and even our plant pots and useful vegetables, and the health of our “inner-animal.” I am convinced that Ecopsychology has a role to play within the domestic situation and that things, like The Dog Whisperer, can have their own place within Ecopsychology helping to shape a healthy place for humans within nature and a healthy place for nature within humans.

I also want to share something I learnt at college called the Five Freedoms, guidelines on how to treat livestock, but also how we should treat any domestic animal, even our own “inner-animal”;
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.