Good morning, Paul! Thanks for joining me here in New Hampshire at 4 a.m. Pretty chilly and dark out this time of year. Care for some coffee? Or are you a tea kind of guy?
Come on, Kate, I’m an Englishman born in London. I will have a nice cup of tea; milk but no sugar, please. Oh, please make sure that the water is really boiling when you pour it on to the tea leaves. Thank you.
Lucky for you, I drink tea the real way too! So here you go, piping-hot tea. First, I’d like to introduce my readers to your book, Learning from Dogs:
“Are our dogs just popular pets that have enjoyed our companionship for ages, or is there a deeper meaning to the relationship? Paul Handover, having lived with up to 14 dogs in a family environment, weaves together the strands of personal experience, scientific research, and our long history with dogs to offer a coherent argument that now is the time to understand how the attributes of our wonderful dogs offer us a template for a sustainable future.”
I loved this book, Paul. I found your rich evidence of the co-evolution between man and dog breathtaking and hopeful. What inspired you on this path to begin this thoughtful study?
In 2007, a friend of mine, J, told me that dogs are creatures of integrity. My curiosity was tweaked so much that I knew I’d write about it. Indeed, that same day I registered ownership of the domain name learningfromdogs.com. I began the blog in July 2009 while I was living with Jean, my wife, and her 14 dogs, in San Carlos, Mexico. The book began to take shape five years later, when we were living in southern Oregon.
Pharaoh is the gorgeous dog on the front cover of your book as well as your Avatar image. You were told by a certain dog trainer that he had an aggression problem. As it turned out, Pharaoh is actually what is referred to as a “minder teaching dog.” Can you explain that?
In the wild, dogs form natural pack sizes of about 50 animals. They are all the same status apart from three. The top dog, literally, is the alpha dog (also known as mentor). Always a female the alpha has just two roles: to have first pick of the male dogs for reproductive reasons and to make the decision that the pack needs to move on and find a better territory. Next down in status is the beta dog (also known as minder); always a male dog. The role of the beta dog is break up any arguments or fights within the pack and train the young puppies how to behave. One might see the beta dog as the pack’s policeman and trainer. The next down in status is the omega dog (also known as nanny). Can be of either gender, the role of the omega dog is to keep the pack happy.
The trainer misread Pharaoh’s intentions as aggression rather than him performing his natural job as a minder dog.
This lack of understanding is quite common actually, and one of the reasons why so many dogs are wrongly branded as aggressive. It’s important for people to understand that a proportion of dogs are born with genetic markers of status, creating a social order—same with wolves.
Many of my readers are fellow writers, and a question that regularly comes up in our conversations is what makes someone decide to publish their own book. What prompted you into your decision?
In 2013 I signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote about 60,000 words under the general theme of learning from dogs. Then repeated the exercise in 2014 writing again about the same number of words. I subsequently joined a group of writers in Grants Pass and found to my surprise that the typical word count of a book was 50,000 words! So in 2015, I spent many weeks condensing my 120,000 words into a draft book. By now I had joined the authors group, AIM (Authors Innovative Marketing), also based in Grants Pass, and had access to all the specialist skills required to turn a draft text into a properly edited and completed book. The book Learning from Dogs was published in December of 2015.
What pros and cons of indie publishing have you encountered?
To be honest, I was ‘hand-held’ by so many kind members of AIM that I am not aware of any negatives. Call it a naïve experience of self-publishing my book.
What is your overall hope or objective with this book and your blog? Do you have another book planned?
The vision of the book flowed from the vision of the blog: “The underlying theme of Learning from Dogs is about truth, integrity, honesty, and trust in every way. We use the life of dogs as a metaphor.” And, yes, I do have another book under way, a semi-autobiography called Four Dogs on My Bed: On Life, On Love, and On Dogs. My ambition is to complete the draft under the wing of NaNoWriMo 2016.
You amaze me, not only because of your generous, kind spirit, but also because you blog every day! Inquiring minds want to know how you’re able to do that so faithfully. Do you ever burn out? What strategies would you recommend to someone who is eager to blog every day but doesn’t know how to get started?
I really can’t give anyone a fool-proof recipe. All I can offer is this:
- You feel a need to put your voice ‘out there’.
- You have a vision of how you want to see the world, whether it be your own local world or the wider horizons. You want to make a difference.
- Set a pace that feels right.
- Turn it into a habit.
- ‘Love’ your readers and followers.
- Leave a clean wake.
To learn more about Paul’s experiences with dogs, horses, and his ideas for a sustainable future, check out his blog Learning from Dogs.
Fifty percent of the net proceeds from Paul’s book are donated to Rogue Valley Humane Society, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) animal care facility located in southern Oregon. Please purchase here to help further Paul’s generosity and kindness.