Colin Groves wrote “Humans have undergone a reduction in environmental awareness parallel to domestic species and for exactly the same reason” Security has cost us a certain dulling of the senses, explaining that brain changes have caused in humans the decline of environmental appreciation” I can include myself in those of us that seem preoccupied with our mobile phones, although I draw the line at using it whilst out with the dogs. How easy is it to walk from one point to another with your head buried in your phone and miss everything that’s going on around you. I remember as a child I used to enjoy looking out of the car window as my dad drove the car, appreciating the sites, sounds and smells. Nowadays we have television sets in cars for children to watch, blissfully unaware of the landscape and environment passing them by. During my service as a Police Officer I completed a six week advanced driving course, where we had to commentate on everything the environment presented and may present to us, as we hurtled along the road. This is extremely hard work and takes high levels of concentration and coordination. But, should it really be that hard?Have we become so safe in our environment that we just ignore it? I sometimes find myself feeling slightly uneasy if I leave my phone at home or in the car when I go into a shop. It’s like my umbilical cord, connecting me to life. Back in our cave dwelling days not paying attention to our environment would reduce our life expectancy considerably. The environment is all encompassing, powerful and influences our behaviour continuously every second of every day, yet we pay little attention to it.
The environment is such an important factor in behaviour but if you or your dog don’t fit in you are made to feel inadequate and odd, but are you really? I work with children who find it hard to learn in a school environment, dogs that have been told to leave puppy classes because they are disruptive, and they are all ostracised and made to feel as though something is wrong with them. If we or our dogs don’t confirm to what many perceive as mainstream or normal then we are labelled as different and in many cases suffer through lack of understanding. Who decides what is mainstream or normal? How can we manage the environment for our dogs if many of us struggle to notice what is going on around us? This feeling of safety has dulled some of our own natural and instinctive behaviours and what about our dogs?
When you go out for a walk next time mentally note to yourself details through the walk highlighting such things as the weather, is it raining, light conditions, temperature, mood of your dog, body positions, responsiveness, noises, traffic levels etc. Mentally note everything that is going on around you and how it is influencing you and your dog. This will be hard work and you will be flooded with information to decipher, you will be mentally tired. For the first week just focus on noticing what is going on around you. This will not only improve your own cognitive function but will develop a strong and trusting relationship between you and your dog. For the second week start to introduce what if’s, what am I going to do if a dog walks around the corner, or a lorry drives by? This exercise is particularly good for dogs who are sensitive to the environment such as other dogs and of course should be part of a comprehensive treatment program. Understanding and knowledge promotes better welfare.