Training animals: an important skill in self reliant living

Yesterday I took our two dogs, Sniff and Ruger and our grandpuppy, Holly for a dogwalk.  Around the corner I ran into some neighborhood girls walking their dog.  The girls were amazed when I called all three dogs and made them sit while we talked briefly.  The girl’s dog, in the meantime was straining on his leash.  I explained that I didn’t even own a dog leash and couldn’t imagine having a dog that wouldn’t come when called or who wouldn’t walk on heel, even across a busy highway.

For me, training animals is a state of mind.  As a trainer, I decide what commands I want the animal to obey and then make the effort to discipline myself to enforce the command every time I give it.  With dogs, I will say “come” only once.  Since they know what “come” means, if they ignore me, they are basically being disrespectful.  Any time a dog is disrespectful to me, I let him know that I’m displeased.  With Sniff, that displeasure is usually expressed with a harsh sounding voice–enough to get through to him because he’s sensitive.  With Ruger, I sometimes have to be physical.  Actually this discipline is very infrequent, but the real discipline is the self discipline that I won’t give my dog an order unless I am willing to enforce his compliance.  A result of that self discipline is that the dog knows that if I tell him “come”, “heel” or “sit”, that I will make him do it, every time.

Training bovines is both easier and more difficult.  Because bovines are more intelligent than dogs, it is easy to teach them what I want.  And because they are more intelligent, they are able to figure out when I’m at a disadvantage and will take full advantage of that.  One time recently I was leading Dhana using just her neck collar.  She realized that I couldn’t enforce my will to go back to her paddock and used her 1000lb bulk and superior strength to pull away and graze until I got a halter that allowed me to leverage her head.  I’m training our bull, Makani to be driven and we had a huge battle of wills about whether he would even lead.  Now he knows that I won’t give up, he’s quite compliant and I’ve made an effort to make sure he gets something delicious on each outing, so he grudgingly looks forward to going out with me.

I’ve experimented with using bridge conditioning with horses to help them understand the instant they give the response I’m looking for.  Bridge conditioning consists of conditioning the animal to know that when he hears a specific sound (we use “bleep”) that he’ll be getting a treat within a few seconds.  Doing this I was able to teach my horse, Waltzer to fetch, play soccer, stand on a pedestal and do other tricks.  It is also useful to teach a horse to do flying lead changes–but you have to be ready for a fast stop when you say “bleep”.

Trained animals are very useful in a self reliant situation.  Dogs can keep predators or vermin away, bovines can pull carts and plow, horses can provide transportation.  In addition, a cow that is trained to lead is much more convenient than one that has to be hazed or bribed to go from one paddock to another.


~ by Anuttama on August 14, 2010.

6 Responses to “Training animals: an important skill in self reliant living”

  1. Hi there, great site, full of interesting information.
    I am just perplexed by one thing: what do you give your dog to eat?
    And how does it react to the Holy Names?

    • Hi Anon,,
      You’ve asked me a question regarding one of the things in my life that troubles me. I feed my poor dogs dog food:(. However, obviously that isn’t local living, and I’ve decided that once they’ve eaten the two bags of dog food that we have left, I’m going to make them a dog mash made of leftovers, peelings, veggies from the garden and cooked grains. They’ll get some dairy products and some eggs, too. Anything is better than what is commercially available. I’m embarrassed that I’ve been feeding it all this time. They don’t seem to respond to the Maha Mantra in any perceivable way.

  2. Haribol Prabhu,

    sorry I touched a sore point.
    I did not mean to criticise the specific situation, since I wish I were at al least one tenth of your level of spiritual realisation and implementation of Shrila Prabhupada’s instructions.
    I raised the question because I often thought about the conflicting nature of devotional service and the keeping of carnivore pets, so I thought I might share my humble realisations with you and all the pious persons visiting your blog.
    I sometime noticed that devotees feed their dogs or cats meat, which is in fact breaking one of the 4 principles, since the provider of the food partakes in the sin.
    Another thing, with all the respect to your dogs, which may be very well behaved and helpful, they are still “underworld” animals, connected to lower energies, at the gates of Hell. I don’t think that their night howling calls higher beings.
    A further thought is related to the reasoning I often hear, nameley that since they are souls in the ultimate analysys, we should be pitiful on them. Demons are also souls, but Krishna did not tell us to help them, but rather fight them.
    Dogs can become very loyal, and some are better than others, but only because we are bigger and stronger, their inner nature is bloodthirsty (many are the cases in which they bite or even kill the owners or their children), so probaly if they could they would kill human being, or a cow, especially if they were in a pack.
    My point on chanting the Holy Names to animal is the following: I noticed that carnivore animals tend to get annoyed (dogs bark, cats leave), while vegetarian animals tend to be attracted. It would be nice to do some shared experimenting, not only with the animals that know us (and therefore might behave differently to others) but to those we randomly encounter.
    Krishna has specific tastes and these have reflections in this material world.

    • Actually my dog feeding isn’t a “sore” point, but rather a guilty one. Not because of the meat additives so much as the preservatives and other stuff they load into the food. When we live in the material world we become hopelessly entangled in the complexities of karma, just by walking, cooking or breathing. It is our spiritual master who frees us from the bondage created by this entanglement of karma. I read a conversation where Srila Prabhupada was talking about devotees getting jobs and offering the results in devotional service and when pressed said that a devotee could even be a butcher (if there was really no other work available) and not be entangled in karma. So keeping a dog, if keeping him/her is truly used in devotional service would carry no karma, including giving the dog meat. Srila Prabhupada did recommend keeping cats for rodent control. Out of practicality, the cat (an actual carnivore–dogs are omnivores) needs to be fed to keep him around. But it isn’t right to feed animals food of such poor quality as what is available commercially right now if there are any alternatives.

      Regarding keeping dogs in a self reliant community situation: they are invaluable. I have a friend who grew plenty of food until his dog died. After that, all the food he grew fed deer. Additionally a dog is the best security system available. Their sense of smell and sound are stronger than ours and many dogs will give their lives to protect their owners. A devotee with the inclination and abilities to keep dogs can do this and benefit not only the dog, but the community as well. Canaka Pandit gives the qualities of dogs including the ability to wake immediately from sleep, loyalty, bravery.

  3. Dear Mother Anuttama.

    thank you for your reply.
    I am replying here since here is where it all started, but please feel free to remove my post if you consider it inappropriate (I hope not).
    First of all let me say that what I am going to say are just general considerations on Dharma and spiritual life, not an attack on your choices even though it might seem so given that the discussion started from them. You have my respect and esteem, I just wanted to offer a different perspective.
    What I noticed is that often devotees use extreme examples that Shrila Prabhupada made as a justification for their behaiviour. I am sure that Prabhupada said what you mentioned, but I am also sure that it was mainly an example to stress the importance of devotional service, not something that he wanted or asked us to do.
    What Shrila Prabhupada ALLOWED us to do does not equate with what Shrila Prabhupada ASKED/WANTED us to do.
    The problem with such reasoning is that we might create PRECEDENTS, so that future generations will see the individual extreme cases (that Shrila Prabhupada occasionally allowed) as the norm and forget the main principles that He wanted us to follow. I am not aginst flexibility in specific situations, but the situations should be considered problematic and in need of improvement, not justified through Prabhupada’s words and kept as they are as if all was alright.
    Another common reasoning is that Bhakti SURPASSES Dharma. While this is true, it does not mean that Bhakti GOES AGAINST Dharma, actually it should include it. Krishna is All inclusive. The problem is that if we use Bhakti as an excuse for adharmic behaviour, the risk is that we set a new standard for the new generations to follow. The danger is always in the precedents we set.
    Dharma is as it is because Shri Krishna has ABSOLUTE specific tastes and preferences, so there are things He likes and things He doesn’t like and, as devotees, we should try to do only those He likes. I read that He likes cows, not that He likes dogs.
    Would it be devotional if I shoot down the deer that are eating the vegetables that I am planning to offer to the Murti? Aren’t there other ways, such as putting a fence?
    Would it be fine to have a cow killed to feed a dog in order to keep the deer away?
    The problem is not the specific situation, we are all immersed in Maya and I am in no position to judge anyone, but rather considering the situation to be justifiable through sadhu, guru or shastra instead of relating it to our own material limits. Future generations will remember what we teach them and use it as example, so we have a great resposability.

    your humble servant

    P.s. I hope I have not upset you in any way and in case I did I beg you for your forgiveness.

    • Dear Anon,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Regarding whether Krsna likes dogs, we could probably expect that He loves the soul in the dog body. Govinda dasi told me a story of when a dog came running up to Srila Prbhupada when we was walking on a beach in Hawsaii. The dog was playful and happy and the mood of the dog apparently delighted Srila Prabhupada who wasn’t bothered when the dog even bumped into him. Additionally although our godbrother Damaghosa Prabhu has been diligently digging up as many derogatory quotes as he can find about dogs, he has never found anything remotely saying that devotees should not keep dogs. So, apparently if a devotee has the situation and temperament to keep a dog, it probably won’t hinder his/her advancement in becoming conscious of Krsna. And if the dog is actually able to do service, all the better.

      Regarding keeping deer out of crops, I did read a quote where Srila Prabhupada said that we shouldn’t deny the deer food, because if they don’t get it there, where will they get food? My understanding from that, and from the lifestyle we are trying to cultivate is that our efforts should be to create a dynamic situation where everyone, the people, domestic animals and wildlife are benefited. Obviously if the wildlife take everything and the people and domestic animals starve, it doesn’t make sense, but if the dynamics of the situation allow the deer to only feed on the fringes of cultivated fields, they benefit without too much damage to the crops. Having a dog in this situation will naturally keep the deer from taking more than their share. We have learned practically that we are benefited by having ducks (does Krsna like ducks?) because they eat the slugs that eat our seedlings. We just got strawberries, something we couldn’t harvest due to slugs before we got the ducks. It is a question of using our intelligence to create a balance that satisfies the living beings involved.

      Dogs can do perfectly well on a vegetarian diet, and I’m expecting to start making a dog mash as soon as I’ve used up the dog food we’ve purchased. We’ll probably also give the dogs eggs because we can’t have a poultry over population. They’ll also get dairy by-products such as whey from making cheese and leftovers. However if something dies, such as a bird, the body should probably be fed to the dogs. I won’t be able to dismantle the body, though because I’d probably barf:(

      BTW, it is interesting that you used the word “precedent” because I just posted a question to Jayadavaita Maharaja about his precedent with changing Srila Prabhupada’s books. My feeling is if we allow anything to be changed, over the next 10,000 years the precedent will be established that will eventually allow the philosophy to be changed.



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