How Holistic Are You?
A couple of days ago Christie Keith over at the Pet Connection Blog wrote a great post about what holistic pet care is – and what it isn’t.
Christie summed it up beautifully when she wrote:
Which is why it comes as such a shock to so many of my holistic brethren when I go on one of my semi-patented diatribes against people who won’t do diagnostic testing or use antibiotics. “Christie,” they mutter darkly, “isn’t holistic enough.”
But you know what? I think I’m more holistic than they are. Because holistic isn’t about the substances you use; it’s about how you think.
It’s about looking at the whole animal and his or her whole environment, genetics, and lifestyle. It’s about making the best, most informed decision possible using all available resources, the one that relieves suffering and illness without doing harm. Balancing risk and benefit. Not seeing the animal as a collection of parts, but as a living creature in a dynamic environment.
‘Holistic’ is currently the buzzword of choice to market anything natural, edgy, new age or outside the norm. Holistic sells.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I think a holistic approach is great. In fact, I believe that I am a holistic dog trainer.
But using a holistic approach doesn’t mean that I only use the latest, hottest, hippest, natural and organic approaches. In a true holistic approach we look at the whole system instead of focusing on individual parts (no matter how fascinating those parts might be). And, as we are beginning to discover (yet again) in the new science of emergence – the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Emergence can be described as a property or phenomena of a system that can’t be predicted from the properties of its constituent parts.
A simple example of an emergent system is a cake. Considered separately, none of the ingredients we use to bake this tasty concoction has the properties of “cakeness” (frosted, light-textured, sweet, solid and yet crumbly) however, when we mix those ingredients mix together and bake them, the properties of “cakeness” emerge.
We can see emergence at lower level of organization in our “cake” system. Individual molecules of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen have no flavor whatsoever. But mix them together in the specific formula C12H22O11 and the taste of sugar emerges.
Like cakes and sugar, most systems exhibit emergence not only several different scales but also with respect to many different properties.
So, what does this have to do with dogs, dog health and dog training?
Spinal problems can make a dog dislike being handled by the neck or collar. Being carried everywhere and never learning to develop proprioceptive skills can make a dog nervous and insecure. Allergies can make dogs restless and irritable. Some foods, like corn, seem to make dogs feel hyperactive and nervous. Too much noise, action or other stimulation can make a dog crabby or even aggressive. Spinal problems can make a dog dislike being handled by the neck or collar. Being carried everywhere and never learning to develop proprioceptive skills can make a dog nervous and insecure. Allergies can make dogs restless and irritable. Some foods, like corn, seem to make dogs feel hyperactive and nervous. Too much noise, action or other stimulation can make a dog crabby or even aggressive.
Health, diet, confidence-building exercises and mental and physical exercise are all valuable parts of a good behavior modification program — but if we focus on just one piece and ignore the rest we’re not going to see a broad-based, emergent change occur.
Your dog’s health, diet, exercise regimen (including both the type and amount of exercise he gets), living environment and early socialization experiences are all part of his training regimen – whether you consciously guide and control them or not.