An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of October 23, 2016
Issued from Rancho Regenesis near Ek Balam ruins 20kms north of Valladolid, Yucat√°n, Mexico

DOG PHILOSOPHY

To live among dogs is to participate in a cartoon about human behavior.

For example, here at the rancho three dogs run free. In a dog's life, hardly anything is more important than to be part of a pack, and to be clear as to his or her own status within the pack. From the dogs' perspective, humans are top dogs of the rancho pack, because they share their food and forcefully get their way.

Among the three dogs, the sandy-haired Katarina is the top dog. She stations herself at the entry of the hut patio where I spend most of my time and permits the black, hairless, edible Chichan 'Cho' to enter only after a certain amount of snarling, even though the two dogs are close friends and do everything together. While growling and baring her teeth at Chichan 'Cho', Katarina wags her tail. The important thing is for Chichan 'Cho' to wait long enough to enter for it to be interpreted as recognizing Katarina's dominance. Then he can slink onto the patio when Katarina turns her head.

The third dog, black, short-haired, aging Sombra, is recognized by the workers as a superb hunter, watchdog and fighter, and as very smart. One day he approached the patio, Katarina barred his way snarling, but Sombra simply put on a big smile and rushed past Katarina, leaving her looking dumbfounded, unsure whether to attack Sombra or join in the latter's good spirit. She resolved the issue by continuing to snarl while looking at the big Neem tree beside the patio. Sombra is one of those individuals for whom normal rules don't apply, and onlookers have to admire his audacity and ability to get away with nonstandard behavior.

Sombra even challenged me. One day when I wanted to pat his head he pulled away so I couldn't reach him, while blatantly stepping on my foot. For several days afterwards he ignored me completely. Then one day he was lying in the way as I approached with a wheelbarrow, refusing to move. I ran over his tail. Soon afterwards, when he got too close to my campfire meal, I jumped up, yelled, and ran after him.

After a few more such encounters, one afternoon suddenly he came onto the patio, curled up beneath my chair, and looked pleased when I patted him. Sombra hadn't been averse to recognizing me as higher ranked than he; he just needed proof that I, like other humans, could with force get my own way, and therefore ranked higher. With Sombra, I had to earn my dominance.

The good natured Chichan 'Cho' meekly accepting his lot, Katarina snarling while wagging her tail, and growling at a tree, and Sombra constantly testing his boundaries even though more often than not he ends up with a run-over tail... I can recognize all these dog moments from my own life.

The big difference is that such dog moments may pass in ten seconds, and seem to be forgotten, while a human may spend most of a life snarling at a tree, or misjudging his or her situation so badly that life becomes just one run-over tail after another.