Sketches on Atheism

Learning from Dogs

learningfromdogs_3dbook_500xFellow blogger and lover of animals, Paul Handover, has published a stunning book which should sit on everyone’s coffee table: Learning from Dogs: Innate Wisdom From Man’s Best Friend. Below is my Amazon review, and I would encourage everyone to click on the photo, purchase the book, and absorb it… Truly absorb it. Proceeds from the book also go to animal shelters which Paul already supports, including for the month of February, MaxMello, which I wrote about last week.

“Catch them in the act of doing right.” To me, these eight words sum up what was a remarkable, beautiful book; a work that, as its title implies, explores those qualities so freely exhibited in our dogs, yet regrettably exercised only in fits and starts among our own species. This failure of ours has brought us, as a species, to a point of existential crisis where we stand at a crossroads looking towards continued and mindless ecological (and in many ways, personal) destruction. The alternative is to embrace those characteristics which come so naturally to our longest lasting companion species: our dogs. Love, forgiveness, honesty, integrity, trust, adaptability, and stillness. These are just some of the qualities Paul Handover details, supporting each case with both personal examples (drawn from years of rescuing abandoned and abused animals) and a wealth of academic corroboration.

“Catch them in the act of doing right.” The message is so simple, so brilliant, yet, regretfully, it does not feature greatly in our modern societies. Change behaviour by reward, not punishment. Forgive, and embrace new love. With wit and oftentimes profound insight, Handover probes this broader subject in what is a conversational, enchanting, moving, and deeply, deeply honest work that has been written in part, Handover explains, for his grandchild: a testament to lessons learned, and the wisdom that comes from both victory and heartbreak. It is a book, without question, that should sit on everyone’s coffee table, there to be read cover-to-cover, or simply picked up and opened to a random page upon which it is certain a gem will be found.


54 thoughts on “Learning from Dogs

  1. “Love, forgiveness, honesty, integrity, trust, adaptability, and stillness. –Change behaviour by reward, not punishment. Forgive, and embrace new love.”

    Very well said John. Many MANY virtues can be learned from our animal cousins, eh? Clicking on the pic/link… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I thought it was a good read. Well put together with a good mix of personal anecdoes, theory and even fiction. Plus, gorgeous pictures. I agree, John, well worth the coffee table position, but even moreso, worth reading, and as the title says, ‘learning from’ too. Gorgeous photo of Pharoah on the front cover. That makes it worth buying alone!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was looking for something like this John, for me as confirmation of my own near-finished life, as well as my two adult children who I think are winnowing through that part of their lives now that leaves adolescence behind and seriously embarks on the long journey of maturity.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. To start to express my gratitude, both for John’s post and all the wonderful replies, is challenging; my words seem very inadequate a match to the feelings I had a short while ago when I read John’s post.

    So all I can say is a huge thank you. Learning from Dogs is my first book and, frankly, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing! 😉 And without the super support from so many published authors here in Southern Oregon I would have never made it into print.

    Let me close by mentioning that the first 25 pages may be downloaded for free (no email address or name required!) by going here:

    Big hugs to you all!


    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve always had a dog. My earliest memory, very young, was Trixsy, a little winner dog. Then Frisxy, then Bobo. Then Max and Mindy. Weezer and Jack came next.

    They all past on in different ways.

    Now I have Cece and T Rex.

    I have learned a lot from my dogs; loyalty and commitment, to name a few…

    Here’s the short list…

    1. Always clear your plate.
    Learn from your pooch and lick that plate clean.

    2. Take Naps
    Napping is heart-healthy.

    3. Sniff It Out
    Whether it’s a new business deal, a stock buy or a potential mate, the power of research cannot be underestimated.

    4. See Your Partner With Fresh Eyes
    Welcome your honey home with lots of excitement. Who wouldn’t want to be greeted by a jumping, kissing, tail-wagging lover?

    5. Find Something You Love, And Do It Over And Over
    Bliss? Find it! Find joy and do it over and over again, even if it’s chasing a ball.

    6. Breathe Deeply
    Doing so can regulate our emotional temperature and bring us some much-needed stress release.

    7. Speak Up When Things Don’t Feel Right
    Listen to your instincts and tell your other how you feel and what you need.

    8. Learn To Receive
    Instead of doubting your self-worth and keeping love at arms-length, practice receiving it in all its many forms. If you need your back scratched ask her, she,ll love you even more.

    9. Know Who You Are
    Learn from your pooch and know who you are. Look in the mirror and LIKE what you see.

    10. Take Lots Of Walks
    Feel the Sun on your skin, the wind blowing on your face. Hear and see the sounds of nature. LIVE.

    11. Drink Your Water
    That’s all my dogs drink and they are extremely healthy. This simple act is true for us too. Keeping hydrated is healthy for your body and your mind.

    12. Shake It Off
    Shit happens. Whether you’re caught in a physical or emotional storm or simply had to do something you don’t enjoy (not another bath!) shake it off and move forward.

    13. Don’t Hold Grudges
    They forgive, unconditionally. So should we. Expect the best.
    I tell ya, my dog is lazy; he don’t chase cars…he sits on the curb and takes down licence plate numbers. R.D.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Roy… Apologies, I have no idea why your comment had to be “approved.” I like your list. Maybe Paul will take some these on board for book #2? And like you, one of my earliest memories is with our first corgi. They make an impression, that’s for sure.


  6. I love to rub dog bellies. Dogs love me to do it! I used to be “cats only” and had doubts about dog people. Then my cats died, and since I was free a friend asked if her dog could stay with me a couple of days, and it went from there until over several years I was enlightened. I don’t have my own dog and like being available for volunteering at the Humane Society, petting the random dog and making dog and human friends everywhere I go. Congrats best wishes on the book!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have often been chastised sorely by some of my Christian friends for uttering one of my dearest and most closely-held tenets. The tenet that draws such fire is this: “Animals are far more trustworthy as confidants and companions than any human ever thought of being.”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m very pleasantly surprised to find so much concern and love for animals on your blog. 🙂 The book sounds wonderful. I’m currently writing my master thesis on animals as theological subjects in Judaism and Islam, because animals are very dear to my heart as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds interesting. You could always broaden it to include the Mahabharata where in the final moments of the epic the last remaining hero refuses to pass into heaven because his dog could not accompany him, and Zoroastrianism where Zoroaster riled against animal cruelty in sacrifices.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, I didn’t know that! I must admit I’m quite ignorant where eastern religion is concerned. But I do see promise even using the traditional Abrahamic concepts. For example, according to the Islamic tradition, animals will be resurrected on Judgment Day to get justice for any offenses against them and humans wil be punished for abusing them.
        Also there is a narration about how Muhammad cursed the person who had branded a donkey on his face. Another narration reported that Muhammed once admonished a group of people whom he saw engaging in idle talk while sitting on the back of their camels for no purpose, telling them to get off, adding that these camels may be better than their riders as they may remember God more frequently.

        And in Judaism you have for example the Biblical story of Balaam and his donkey. The donkey could see God’s angel when Balaam could not and she tried to dodge the angel. Not knowing what was going on, Balaam hit the donkey for her “erratic” behaviour (making him look like an ignorant fool). The donkey cries out to him and asks him if she every behaved that way to him for no reason, which he is forced to deny. Later the angel admonishes him for his behaviour and says (I’m paraphrasing): if your donkey had not dodged me, I would surely have killed you and let the donkey live.’

        (You can find the full story here, if interested: )

        I got a bit carried away, but I think those are interesting things to discover in traditions which are usually regarded as being quite anthropocentric and indifferent to animals. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Get as carried away as you like. I’m interested in this.

        Question though: If Islam is pro animal, why the massive, cruel, pointless slaughter of tens of thousands of animals during the Hajj? I’ve seen video of this and it’s simply appalling.


      • It angers me to no end as well. I don’t know if I can say that Islam is ‘pro-animal’, because it says that certain species (but not all!) are specifically created to be of benefit to humans. On the other hand, there is a paradox that all animals are considered to believe in God and worship Him, and in the eyes of the Quran this elevates someone to the highest rank, and on the other hand humans are seen as greedy, faithless and arrogant, which the Qur’an abhors. Yet somehow, to many muslims, human beings are the crown of creation.

        I’m a vegetarian so personally I’m against animal slaughter, but there are very strict regulations in Islamic law about how you slaughter an animal, to ensure that suffering is reduced as much as possible. I don’t think a lot of Muslims apply all the rules though and therefore I think a lot of meat that is labeled “halal” or lawful to eat for Muslims is actually not lawful. For example, the animal should have been raised in a good, wholesome environment and not mistreated, which rules out the whole of factory farming today, yet, somehow it’s deemed enough to just kill the animal a certain way for it to be ‘halal’. Also, the hours-long transport without food or drink on the way to the slaughterhouse that so many animals go through is not lawful according to Islam.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just another question, isn’t it said in the Qur’an that an angel will not visit your house if a dog is close by? I’ve read that this is why dogs are slaughtered in the streets in Muslim countries.


      • I’m sitting behind a really slow pc, so I can’t do the research that I would like, but it’s my hunch that it’s not in the Quran, but rather another narration belonging to the hadith-collection (which you know now! 😉 )

        I know that it’s not allowed to keep a dog in the same room as you pray in, because they are considered unclean. There is however a narration which is considered authentic where a thirsty dog approaches a well where a prostitute is standing (keep in mind that adultery is a major sin in Islam), and she pities him and gives him water from the well and for that all her sins are forgiven and she will enter heaven.

        I also know that it’s generally not allowed to kill an animal for anything except food (so no hunting for pleasure, no instigating animals to fight each other, no testing on animals for humanity’s vain and selfish reasons, etc.) so I would doubt that it is in fact allowed to kill a dog just like that (an exception would be when it attacks you). However, I agree that Islam’s stance concerning dogs is dubious.

        Liked by 1 person

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