More than a year ago I was sent a book by my son. He told me to read it, that I would enjoy it, and that I would find it related to dogs.
The book? “Born To Run”, by Christopher McDougall (Vintage Books, 2009). It’s about man and running.
My son is insane. I don’t DO running. I don’t LIKE to run. If the entire theater was on fire, I’d WALK out of the building.
My son runs. He is an ultra-runner. He runs in races that are 100+ miles. Now mind you, this is the child who wouldn’t even walk his dishes to the sink, yet he runs. He runs in ultra-races five or more times a year. That, alone, qualifies him as insane in my book.
Anyway, back to his suggested reading. “Born to Run” is an extremely good read even if one is not interested in running, per se. It covers, simply, a two-prong premise at its heart; 1) man was created to run, as supported by the life-style and culture of the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico and the human skeleton, itself, and 2) in our modern world, the “business” of running, the commercial industry, has taken us farther and farther from the human’s physical roots of running by subtly and artificially altering the the design of the shoe which alters our stance and step and creates injuries. It is from these injuries that an entire industry has grown—sports medicine—and sold a load of running shoes. The culprit behind this? Think the “N” word. Nike.
Barefoot, or minimal covering, lets the foot hit the ground in a manner our body was designed to accept. Injuries become almost nil. Slam a shoe on us and our balance and manner of placing our feet alters, which then changes impact, pressure, and stride, creating injury.
So what does the running shoe industry do?
It begins to study what it can change in the shoe to minimize the injury and then alters the physical shoe, which simply creates another injury.
(Please remember that little gem of a development as it is reflective of dogs and the training industry)
What does all this running have to do with dogs, you ask. Well, quite a bit, actually, but we must go back to prehistory: Man before man began to write and sell ideas. When ideas were based upon reality, pragmatic outcomes of survival, and sentimentality was not the greatest selling tool, along with advertising, that man ever invented. (Forget the wheel, without salesmanship it would probably have been a limited item.)
In the book it’s discussed that man is the only animal which takes multiple breaths per step. All other animals take
- ONE breath per full set of steps
This means that we can run farther and longer as our oxygen intake can maintain a better energy level. Animals, when they finally poop out, just sit down. We’ve all seen it. An animal exhausted from running hangs his head, gasps for breath, and then lies down for a time to re-energize.
Since the dawn of time man has hunted. It has been long known that our relationship with the dog extended to hunting.
It has always been stated that man, once he began to use dogs, used them (and this is often simply inferred or told as basic fact) to attack animals and kill them for us in the process of the hunt. Yet I don’t think that’s true. Let’s work backwards.
Everything man has developed he has developed as an easier way to do something based on what he did before. Man did NOT spring from the ground complete with long-range laser sights on 50 caliber weapons. Long ago he had bows and arrows and flint arrow heads which increased the killing distance from his prey.
Before that? He had spears, he had to get closer to more dangerous prey and probably this is when the use of the dog as an attack methodology was perfected.
Before THAT? Man had sticks. Man had himself. Man had his feet. Man had his endurance. Man had what is discussed in “Born to Run”—the physiognomy that made running his greatest asset. It is known as “The Running Man” theory.
“The problem was this: Chasing an animal to death is evolution’s version of the perfect crime. Persistence hunting (as it’s known to anthropologists) leaves behind no forensics—no arrowheads, no spear-nicked dear spines—so how do you build a case that a killing took place when you can’t produce a corpse, a weapon, or witness?” (pg 229, Born to Run)
“David Carrier, PhD, professor of biology, University of Utah: ‘The frustrating thing is, we were finding stories all over the place…We couldn’t find anyone who’d done a persistence hunt. We couldn’t find someone who’d even seen one.’…Throw a dart at the map, and chances are you’ll bull’s-eye the site of a persistence-hunting tale. The Goshutes and Papago tribes of the American West told them; so did the Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana, the Aborigines of Australia, Masai warriors in Kenya, the Seri and Tarahumara Indians in Mexico…” (pg 230, Born to Run)
But in the 1980s, at age 20, Louis Liebenberg, a Cape Town student of applied mathematics and physics, had an epiphany, dropped out of school, searched for and found a renegade group of Kalahari Bushmen, and spent the next four years living with them. THEY introduced him to a persistence hunt.
“He’d heard a little about persistence-hunts, but he ranked them somewhere between an accident and a lie: either the animal had actually broken its neck while fleeing, or the story was out-and-out baloney. No way these guys were going to catch one of those kudus on foot. No way..’This is how we do it,’ !Nate said…The four hunters ran swiftly but easily behind the bounding kudu. Whenever the animals darted into the acacia grove, one of the hunters broke from the group and drove the kudu back into the sun. The herd would scatter, re-form, scatter again, but the four Bushmen ran and swerved behind a single kudu, cutting it out of the herd whenever it tried to blend, flushing it from the trees whenever it tried to rest….The Bushmen traditionally wore light, giraffe-skin moccasins, and now had on thin, flimsy sneakers that let their feet cool on the fly…he watched it (kudu) weave drunkenly…its front knees buckled, straightened…it recovered and bounded away…then it crashed to the ground.
‘It’s more efficient than a bow and arrow,’ he observed. ‘It takes a lot of attempts to get a successful hunt by bow.’ …(the hunts) kept the Bushmen on the run for three to five hours (neatly corresponding, one might note, to how long it takes most people to run our latter-day version of prehistoric hunting, the marathon. Recreation has its reasons.)” (pg 238, Born to Run)
And it is here that I believe we first began to use dogs—persistence hunting with a twist.
Man would NOT have had to TRAIN the dog to hunt. The dog knew how to hunt. Man would NOT have had to train the dog to hunt with man. That would have been intrinsically within the dog as pack BEHAVIOR. All man would have needed to do was master the SAME BEHAVIORAL COMMUNICATION that dogs have amongst themselves in order to harness the skill of the dog; don’t break from the place I put you until your turn in the hunt comes—then do your thing and do it well and we all eat tonight.
When the kudu entered the acacia grove, man could send in the dog. When the animal blended into the herd, the men could send in the dog, with his superior abilities to cull it out so that they might resume the chase. The dog would be unable to engage in the long running of the persistence hunt, any more than the kudu could withstand it. However, the dog COULD be used for sight, smell, short dashes, primitive “herding and culling” of the kudu, thus saving man some time and energy.
This would result in less men being needed for a given hunt as dogs would supplement the group. Thus, more men could form smaller groups and go out simultaneously to hunt, thereby increasing their success rate, widening the sources of food, which in turn would result in more and more varied forms of hides, bones, etc. Evolution, creativity, tools, life-styles, use of the dogs in hunting, would reflect the broadening choices before man.
Men would respect the dog for his hunting abilities, just as he would respect other men. He would respect the strengths and weaknesses of the individual dog and search for dogs that best off-set his own strengths and weaknesses and was best suited for the job at hand. The dog would be held in esteem for his prowess at his job, though he would also find companionship and love within the human community, both as himself and as a hunter which contributed to the overall safety and well-being of the group. The individual dog’s contribution would be valued, not merely as a companion, but as one that increased the survival rate and quality of the whole.
As the evolution of man and dog has progressed, dogs have lost their intrinsic working value. They are no longer respected (shut up! it’s true!). Dogs are relegated to a companion status, and as such, humans have forgotten, and do not see, the dogs’ intrinsic needs, skills, individualism, and capabilities. Obedience training came into being as a specific skill-based method to teach something to the dog that was OUTSIDE of the human-dog natural behavioral patterns and needs. Communication has broken down as we teach tricks in the form of obedience, which was for task-specific jobs by specific breeds, and fail to learn how to relate to our dogs in a manner they understand.
The juxtaposition of these next two pictures shows exactly what I’m talking about.
In humans, and I would hazard a guess that it can be applied to all group animals, the basic need to feel useful, and the positive emotions resulting from one’s individual contribution to the overall success of the relationship/group, is very important. Here’s where obedience fails our dogs—tricks, following a command, or competition in shows (agility, dog shows, rally, etc.) is simply NOT REAL. Practicing for a play is NOT the same thing as actually putting ON a play—we all know it. Practicing marksmanship is NOT the same thing as actually having to shoot under pressure. Swimming in a competition is NOT the same thing as swimming to rescue someone. The intrinsic emotional and self-skill measurements are not comparable. The manufactured is a poor substitute unless and until actuality takes place. Obedience is a poor substitute for the actuality of respect, true self-engagement between dog and human in a behavioral, day-to-day manner which has direct, immediate, and obvious outcomes socially, personally, and physically.
Now do you remember the statement above about the running shoes industry fixing a shoe design problem that caused injury only to create a new injury? THAT is our dog training industry today. It “fixes” a failure of our dogs and owners to master a form of training by creating a new and adjusted form of training from studying why we are failing. The obedience training industry NEVER studies whether it is the TRAINING ITSELF that is wrong.
Let’s go back to ‘barefoot-with-dogs’ and simply regain our respect for the dog, allow him to actually BE a dog, and see him as the individual he is, demanding he contribute behaviorally and socially to our families, instead of viewing him only from the point of the “love” and what we GET from him. Our dogs will be safe, have less neurosis, no need for anti-anxiety meds, and owners, shelters, and rescues will take a completely different view of him. No longer will we sell “poor, poor doggies” and sentimentality. We shall be promoting the concept of behavioral teaching which the dog missed at some point and truly educating owners in how best to have a strong, lasting relationship with the dog. THEN we will be saving our dogs. Now we are merely making ourselves feel good at our dogs’ expense, (much like a man with a ‘trophy wife’) and creating an immense industry which creates problems and then sells you their version of the newest solution.
One of the very few groups of humans that has kept the ‘barefoot-with-dogs’ concept we’ve been talking about, is the homeless (along with the working dog handler). No obedience training, no practice, no frou-frou. Just simple, pragmatic, behavioral communication and a solid relationship. If these people can do it, and without the need of a persistence-hunt, why can’t almost everyone?