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Dog Pure Awareness




Book Excerpt





Dog: Pure Awareness

Dr. Margot Lasher






At some moment in your life, you decided to live with a dog. Now, in the early morning, you and your dog awaken together to a new day. Late at night you fall asleep together. Through the daily experiences of life, through years of sameness and change, you have stayed together. You may have faced death together.

This staying together, and experiencing life together, is usually called a relationship. And that is the focus of this book, the relationship between you and your dog. I have tried to answer some of my own questions about my life with my dogs: why is this connection so important to me? How is this connection the same as my connections with humans, and how is it different? Why have I chosen to live with dogs? I have tried, with this book, to present the beginnings of a theory of the relationship between dogs and humans.

For much of this study, I use psychological theory to understand the human-dog connection. In the end, however, human psychological theory will fail us. The dog, who lives with us in our human culture and tries his best to make us happy, ultimately comes from a non-human realm, and his non-human awareness is an essential aspect of the relationship. With our dogs, we are connected to the realm of nature, and the realm of perceptual awareness. With our dogs, we are connected to a shamanic understanding of reality.

I wrote this book for all the dogs who have loved a human, and all the humans who have loved a dog. I hope it will illuminate the profound significance of this human-dog connection


I Reunion


Dogs understand the power of being connected. We understood this power as infants and children, and sometimes again as parents and lovers: the deep connection between self and other. But in the context of our human culture, we can forget. Our dogs have not forgotten, and they live day to day, moment to moment, preserving and solidifying and deepening that connection. In our relationship with our dogs, the dogs are the holders of connectedness. This is one of the reasons that we live with them, and take such good care of them, and treasure them.

Dogs have many ways of keeping the connection, but the most simple, most basic way, is to be in the same space with us. The structure of "the same space" for them can be so small that they are pressing tightly against us, body to body, or so large that we are visually out of connection, in the woods or in separate rooms of the house. How the dog experiences the same space depends upon the dog, the person, and the situation. Some dogs follow us from room to room. They want to be able to smell us, see us, and hear the sound of us opening the refrigerator door.

Whatever your dog’s concept of space and bodily presence, she keeps, or tries to keep, in connection. Of course there are exceptions, as when she spots a rabbit and is gone, racing across the field and into the woods, oblivious to everything except that white tail. There are certain innate patterns, such as the predator-prey connection in hunting, that make a dog a dog. Staying connected is also one of these basic patterns, but for some dogs the hunting pattern becomes temporarily stronger. If you were another dog, you would be chasing after the rabbit with her, and staying connected would not be in conflict with chasing the prey. In any case, when the hunt is over, your dog looks for you, and most of the time you find each other.



The amazing thing about dogs, humans, and all animals, is that they sense each other, not just as bodies, but as selves. They sense each other’s inner worlds. Staying connected means staying aware, not just of bodily presence, but of the feelings and intentions, the quality of energy, of the other’s self.

The dog’s connection to you, and your connection to the dog, includes the connection of tuning into the inner world of the other and resonating to that world. The inner world of another being is some quality of energy that can be sensed. This sensing of the inner world of another, this perceptual connection, is called attunement.

There is a beautiful example of attunement in our ordinary, everyday life with our dogs. It is an example of our dog’s attunement to us, and our mutual attunement to our dogs. It is the human-dog reunion.

You have been gone all day at work, or perhaps you have run down to the store and have been gone ten minutes. For some dogs, it is the separation itself, not the time, that matters. After the separation, brief or long, your dog greets you at the door with unbridled, exorbitant enthusiasm. In this reunion, a beautiful interplay of mutual attunement takes place between you and your dog.

When your dog greets you at the door, she is filled with an intense, voluminous pattern of energy. If you are at all open to her energy, you begin to respond, and the quality of your own inner energy changes. If you were tired from work you feel less so, and if you have been angry or upset by some human interaction, that pattern of energy begins to dissipate. You begin to feel a little the way your dog is feeling—just happy and relieved to be with you again.

The second thing that might happen is that you bring a calmer, quieter energy into the connection between you. By using a calm tone of voice, perhaps using arm and hand movements that have a steady, slow quality of energy, you try to influence your dog to calm down. And the dog does calm down. The dog is open to your quality of energy and tries, as much as she is able, to match that energy. She might race around the room like a tornado, but this is her way of releasing energy and eventually calming down.

In acting to calm the dog, you are assuming correctly that she is open to your calmer quality of energy and that she will respond to it. You assume, at an unconscious level, that attunement is flowing between you. You tune into the dog's intensity and you increase your own intensity. Your dog tunes into your calm and she decreases her intensity. You are mutually tuning into each other, creating harmony in the space between you.

When we think about this event that we all experience, we can appreciate the delicate responsiveness of both dog and human. Daniel Stern, in his study of human mothers and their infants, described attunement as having three parts. Each part is important in understanding the dog-human reunion.

First, each being, in this case dog and human, is sensing the quality of energy in the inner world of the other. You sense the dog’s excitement and the dog senses your calm.

Second, each being is sensing whether the other’s energy is congruent with the state of her own inner energy. Stern uses the word "congruent" because the states of energy do not have to be the same; they just have to be compatible. In ordinary language, we have to feel comfortable with the other. The level of energy of some dogs, unless they are asleep, is almost always higher than ours, but we feel a sense of balance, a sense of harmony, when we are in mutual attunement with that dog.

The third part of attunement, and perhaps the most amazing, is that each being, if she senses that the energies are incongruent, matches in some way the other’s inner state to achieve congruence. So, sensing that they are quite out of harmony with each other when they are greeting each other at the door, the dog matches the human by calming down and the human matches the dog by perking up. The ways in which they match each other can be very different; the human does not usually wag her tail and shake her body vigorously. She might match the dog by talking loudly and energetically. The dog might lick the human as a way of calming herself. She might push her body against the human’s body as a way of anchoring herself and matching the human’s calm. We are engaged in an inter-species relationship, and our bodies and our minds have many differences. In the essential elements of attunement, however, we are remarkably similar.


Psychological theory

For a long time, philosophers have studied the ways that humans are connected. They have talked about our connections to nature, to spirit, to animals and plants, to water, fire, earth and air, and of course to each other.

When psychology formed as a separate way of thinking, it developed exclusively as the study of the connections between human and human. Other disciplines evolved to study animals, wonderful sciences like biology and zoology. But animals and humans were now inviolably separated. Of course we have similar bodies, similar DNA, similar needs such as eating and mating. Humans and dogs are even categorized together as mammals in biological theory. But as far as psychologists are concerned, as far as those thinkers who contemplate the connection between the selves of two beings, there is no connection between human and animal. The only connection they ever seriously consider is that between human and human.

I am going to take the human-animal connection, and specifically the human-dog connection, seriously. I focus on dogs because I know them best, but I imagine that much of this work is true of any animal with whom we are close. Even limiting my observations to dogs is difficult, because there are important differences between breeds, and significant variations among individual dogs. When I generalize about dogs, I hope you will remember that there are always exceptions. Each dog is a special self.

Since I, like everyone else, am embedded in the culture in which I live, I will use the psychology of our culture to study the human-dog connection. But I will push the limits of that psychology as much as it needs to be pushed.

The psychological theory I use is called relational. It is an evolving theory, with a great deal of exciting and thoughtful work happening right now, at the beginning of the 21st century. Essentially, relational theory says that our minds are connected. We pick up signals from each other and we stay aware of the state of mind, the quality of inner energy, of the other.

This awareness occurs, most of the time, at an unconscious level. Sometimes it reaches consciousness, and we might think to ourselves, or say in words: "I feel like something is wrong between us," or "being together like this is so peaceful." Even the words, when the awareness reaches consciousness, remain somewhat vague, because we are translating a perception, a normally unconscious experience, into language. The awareness is not usually something we reflect upon or analyze; it is more like a sense of something. The awareness is perceptual.

This distinction, between perceptual awareness and consciousness, is a complicated and fuzzy area of human knowledge. Philosophers, who have devoted their lives to understanding the human mind, do not agree on descriptions. Stern summarizes the discussion in this way: "Awareness concerns a mental focusing on the object of experience. Consciousness refers to the process of being aware that you are aware, or meta-awareness" Much of our experience with our dogs, and our dog’s experience with us, takes place at the level of awareness. When our dog greets us at the door, we and the dog are responding perceptually, tuning into each other, focusing on each other in awareness. If we stop to think about what is happening between us, as we are doing now, we become conscious of our own responses; we become aware of our own awareness.


Relational space

Those of us who live with dogs know that they are continuously picking up signals. A signal can be a bodily motion and it can be an inner movement, a change in the energy of the inner world. It is usually both. The thought of going for a walk shifts your energy a little, and you move slightly in your chair. Your dog, who looked as if he was sleeping, notices both changes and is instantly alert. All of our perceptual systems, the human and the canine, are picking up changes in the surrounding world, and when those changes are meaningful in some way they become signals.

As you and your dog tune into each other, you create a relational space between you. One of you changes, and the other responds by changing also. This attunement to each other is a perceptual process, like vision, hearing, smell and touch. Within the relational space you are connected to your dog, and you change as he changes.


Relational theory versus attachment theory

In the reunion between you and your dog, your dog is joyously back in physical, bodily contact with you. Being together like this has a name and a history in psychological theory: it is called attachment. Attachment theory, created by John Bowlby, says that we have a need for a physical connection to others in order to feel safe. Bodily closeness means a sense of safety and security. Bodily distance means the freedom to explore, but with that freedom comes risk. There is potential danger in the separation that comes with bodily distance. Separation can bring on a sense of fear and anxiety in a child, an adult, and a dog.

The approach of relational psychologists such as Stephen Mitchell and Daniel Stern to closeness and distance is different from that of attachment theorists. Attachment theorists describe the level of bodily closeness; relational theorists describe the level of mental, inner world closeness. In relational theory, inner world closeness means a sense of belonging, while inner world distance means a sense of isolation. The sense of belonging occurs when there is mutual attunement. The sense of isolation occurs when one or both beings shut out the other and there is a failure of attunement.

I have found the distinction between levels, bodily versus mental, extremely helpful in understanding the different approaches of attachment and relational theorists. But there is a problem for us in understanding our dogs: the distinction is based upon a split between body and mind. It is a valid split in trying to understand humans, because we live in a culture in which the mind-body distinction influences almost all of the unfolding of our lives. It is a theoretical split, a way of understanding human experience. But the body and mind are ultimately one unit in any being, human or dog. And in the dog’s awareness, there is no distinction between bodily closeness and inner world closeness. The sense of safety and the sense of belonging are one awareness. In the dog, the distinction obscures the reality.

When the dog is separated from you, she is sensing more risk, less safety, and she is sensing more isolation, less belonging. The meaning of the separation is both bodily and mental disconnection.

When the two of you are back together, the meaning is both safety and belonging. They are one meaning for the dog.

At least that is what I am proposing. I am suggesting that the human way of thinking in terms of a mind-body duality prevents us from fully understanding the dog, and thus prevents us from fully understanding the human-dog relationship. I am suggesting that one of things that the dog gives us in our relationship is a sense of the unification of body and mind, a sense of the self’s oneness.

Being together with our dogs just makes us feel more comfortable in the world, more peaceful and centered. We are connected to another being outside of ourselves, and most importantly, that other being, our dog, is connected to us. With our dogs, we are simply ourselves.

A partial list of contents.

The Dog's Self
Inner Growth
The Dog's Perception
The Intentional Dog
The Dog in the Moment
The Dog's Bear
The Dog in Our Human Culture
Illness and Death
Shaman Dog


Dog: Pure Awareness Copyright © 2008. Margot Lasher. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.



Author Bio

Margot Lasher is a writer and a licensed psychologist who specializes in the human-dog relationship. She has been involved in experimental theater as a writer and actor, and her play, Other Minds, was part of the local playwright’s series at the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West. She is the author of And the Animals Will Teach You, and The Art and Practice of Compassion and Empathy. She lives with her dog, Shiro, in Vermont and Key West.

Author web site.

TTB title: Dog: Pure Awareness






About the book

Dog: Pure Awareness is a psychological and ultimately spiritual exploration of the human-dog connection. People think of their dogs as companions, as partners, and as members of their family, and this book takes that idea seriously. The mind of the dog is approached as someone who lives with us and knows us, sometimes better than anyone else in the world. The book answers questions that all of us who live with a dog have asked: what is she thinking when she stares into my eyes? how does he know when I am feeling sad or anxious? why is she so happy to see me when I’ve been gone for only 10 minutes?

The answers in Dog: Pure Awareness come from an original and revealing combination of relational psychology and shamanic understanding. The connection between a human and her dog is treated as a relationship: two beings in close connection who find strength and a sense of belonging in each other. Using psychological concepts such as attunement and perceptual awareness, the book explores the ways in which human and dog experience and understand each other.

But the book goes beyond purely psychological theory. Because dogs dwell only partly in our human world and partly in the world of nature, they have a shamanic understanding of the power of the natural world and the power of connection. When we are close to a dog, we are in touch through our dog with the natural world. When we are close to a dog, we are in touch with the connectedness of all things.

Dog: Pure Awareness is written in a clear, non-technical style that will appeal to all dog lovers. It validates people’s experience that their dog is deeply important to them. It is also a serious theory of the human-dog connection which will be of interest to professionals such as psychologists and veterinarians. It is appropriate for consideration in college and veterinarian school courses which deal with the human-animal bond.


Author News



"This is a beautiful book. ...If you are a dog-loving person, this book will validate your feelings and help you to understand why you have them. If you are not a dog-loving person, this book may make you reconsider."

Dr. Bob Rich, writer, mudsmith, psychologist

"If you have ever loved a dog, you will love this book. Dr. Margot Lasher traces the special connection that exists between dog and man, from the tender looks to the affectionate touches that speak the words of the heart. This magical association between two species takes on a renewed meaning through the ideas presented in this book. Get comfortable on the sofa with your dog and be prepared to enter a new dimension of understanding.

"...Her description of the inner workings of the man-dog relationship reveals a genuine respect for this connection as well as a clearly defined recognition. The entire concept of attunement is at the foundation of her beliefs, and it is this one extremely important factor that shapes the thoughts in these pages. Dog lovers will nod their heads in agreement at many of her explanations and will also find new ways to better enhance the communication with their furry companions.

"...When the last page is turned, the dedicated reader will have a clearer comprehension of one of life's most mysterious and meaningful relationships. Dr. Lasher gives man and dog an opportunity to express themselves in the reality of all dimensions."

Reviewed by Joyce Handzo for In the Library Reviews

"Could dogs be modern humanities link to the spirituality of nature that they've long since lost? Dog: Pure Awareness argues that dogs, not affected by human culture in their own minds, have a pure spirituality that humans use to link themselves to a more untainted understanding of the real world. Looking at dogs as true members of a family and some people's best friends, Dog: Pure Awareness takes a unique and riveting study of master and pet and offers much food for thought."

Midwest Book Review





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