The Amazing Animal-Human Connection, with Carl Safina

Today’s Guest

CARL SAFINA — Ecologist, Author, and Advocate for Planet Earth

My guest today is Carl Safina, leading ecologist, author, and advocate for all living things. He’s written numerous insightful books exploring our human relationships with the living world, and how we can make it better.

Carl has worked with elephants, whales, macaws, chimpanzees, and even raised a raccoon who showed a similar connection with us that our own pets do!

If you’ve ever wondered if you’re anthropomorphizing your pets (attributing human emotions and feelings to animals) then Carl’s take on this may leave you pleasantly surprised!

Let’s find out what our dogs are REALLY THINKING!

You’ll Hear About

  • [5:05] How a dog mourned the passing of a family chicken
  • [8:15] The parrot who escaped on the back of a dog
  • [9:30] A dog’s concept of death 
  • [11:38] One dog’s amazing response when a packmate passed.
  • [21:53] Whether dogs dream
  • [24:44] When anthropomorphizing is spot on
  • [26:50] The science of observing an animal’s behavior versus assigning an imagined reason for the behaviour.
  • [31:45] How dogs love
  • [37:28] The indoor raccoon who knew when it was about to put outside.
  • [40:30] How dogs read our subtle and unintentional cues

Links & Resources

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher to get automatic updates.


Doggy Dan Signature

~Doggy Dan 🙂

Doggy Dan: [00:00:15] Okay, hello everybody. Welcome to the Doggy Dan podcast show. Today I am with Carl Safina, who is an extraordinary man. He’s an ecologist. He’s an award-winning author. He’s written so many books on all sorts of things regarding human relationships with the natural world, and with an incredible focus on how we can make it better.

He’s appeared on Ted, written articles to CNN, the New York times, covering all sorts of topics on environmental stuff, humanity, sustainable food, and he knows an awful lot more than most of us, about most animals, and coral reefs and forests. So whether it’s about whales or sea turtles or wolves, Carl’s knowledge is phenomenal.

I love it. And today we are going to be hopefully focusing more on dogs or as much on dogs as we possibly can, but of course, we’ll be talking about all sorts of other animals as well. And I know you’re going to absolutely love it. So, Carl, welcome, and thank you for appearing on this podcast show with us.

Carl Safina: [00:01:25] I’m so honored. Thank you so much. 

Doggy Dan: [00:01:28] Yeah, no, great. So let’s get straight into it. I’m sure as always, some people will be your biggest fans listening to this, but some people probably have never heard of you before, so are you okay just to give us a little bit of an insight as to, in your own words, what you do and who you are and what you love – sort of stuff.

Carl Safina: [00:01:47] I’m an ecologist. That’s a person who is interested in the relationship among living things and between the living world and the non-living world. The non-living world being like rocks and water and the atmosphere and things like that. And how all of those things affect life, how life fits into that and how living things interact with one another.

So in my case, I’ve always really, really been interested in animals. What do they do and why do they do it? And that, of course, has led me in a lot of different directions. It’s a huge area. And I’m very interested therefore in all the problems we have with the human relationship with the living world; conservation, pollution, the environment, and I’m also just very interested in the more innocent things like what’s going on with my dogs. So it really runs the gamut. 

Doggy Dan: [00:02:54] Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic. We were just chatting before we came on here and you were saying you’ve got three dogs. I’ve got three dogs myself, and something that’s always fascinated me is the personality of my dogs. I mean, I’ve worked with thousands of dogs over the years, and I noticed these personalities, and I sometimes wonder how varied they are, and I often wonder, I guess this is the question: Do you feel that the personalities of the animals are as varied as the personality of humans, do you kind of experience that with maybe dogs?

Carl Safina: [00:03:39] I think, well, let me put it this way. Dogs certainly have an enormous range of personalities, and personalities have been detected in all of the animals that people have looked for it. So what do we mean by the word “personality”? What I mean is that individuals react differently to the same situation.

Some are bold, some are skittish. Some are curious and that varies. And that the variation is what I mean when I use the word “personality” and that, as I say, that has been detected in all the animals. It’s been looked for. I think dogs have it to an exceptional degree, but I’m guessing that the only reason that that seems obvious to us is that we are very familiar with dogs.

I think if we were to be as familiarized with elephants, like a few people are, who have watched elephants every day professionally for many years, they talk about elephant personalities. I’m sure the same is true. Well, I know the same is true about things like wolves. Wolves are dogs. 

Doggy Dan: [00:05:05] I had a fascinating experience with my chickens. Of the 17 chickens that I’ve got, one of them, Crossbeak, the really, really strong, powerful one, connected very deeply with my dear dog, my beloved dog called Jack. And like I say, the connection was so strong. She jumped on his back, go underneath his belly. Unfortunately, she got this disease and she ended up passing away.

She meant so much to me because she was such a strong character, that I actually took her to the vet and we put her down at the vet. And then we brought her home and my wife and I actually decided we were going to bury her, which might sound a bit, yeah, well I guess it’s not strange, but the place we buried her was quite special. It was close to the house and we had a little bit of a, almost a calm ceremony just to say goodbye to Crossbeak cause she was so special to us. She taught us so much about our chickens that all our chickens were all different. And now Jack, our dog, is a very strong character and he seems to always be focused when there’s death, when somebody’s ill or dying, or passed away.

Even if the person’s not present, he seems to pick up on the energy. And when we buried our dear chicken called Crossbeak, what Jack did was phenomenal. He laid down right next to where we buried her. And he stayed there for three or four hours and didn’t move. And he was almost in a meditative processing, kind of mournful state, is the only way I can put it, and it’s not the first time he’s done it around an animal that’s died and I actually captured it on video. I made a blog post, which I’ll share on this post so that people can find it. But you know, we hear about the elephants who kind of mourn their species, and they’re aware of it. And I wonder whether you’ve found other examples of animals who mourn the passing of another animal or being.

Carl Safina: [00:07:15] Well. Sure, and I have a very similar story to that actually. But, before I get to the similar story, just directly to your question about other animals who mourn, we had one pair of ducks among our chickens for a while, and one day both of the ducks got very sick for some reason, I’m not sure what they contracted, and the drake died and the other one got better. And that one that got better just looked everywhere for the drake and was, for days, just calling and calling, calling, and then, you know, like humans, after a while you have to stop mourning and get on with just living. So she started just being with the chickens after that, but it was very clear that he was on her mind and she was looking and looking and looking.

The similar story I had was that we had two parrots that we adopted. Well, we were given these two parrots and, they were small. One was a Conure and the other is a, what’s sometimes called a monk or a Quaker parakeet or parrot. And the two different species, the green cheek conure had a ton of personality, always wanting to do things, always curious, always wanting to be around us and explore things. And we don’t like having birds with clipped wings at all, but we were always fearful of her getting out of the house because, a lot of times, parrots don’t get to grow up in a place and they may just fly and get lost and that seems to happen a lot, so I was afraid to take the chance. Now this parrot figured out that she could actually get out if she hitched a ride on the back of one of our dogs, and she did that a couple of times. So I don’t think she was inclined to fly away, but you know, occasionally the dog would push the door open and come out and there the parrot would be on his back, and we would put her in the house. 

When she died we also buried her very close to our house and one of the dogs, the retriever mix, seemed very distressed at all of this, seemed to want to know what is wrong with Rosebud. And then when we put her in the ground and we covered her with dirt, that did not seem like a good idea to our dog, who’s name is Chula. She seemed to want to try to dig her out. And we put a big stone on the grave and Chula was standing there, was sitting there, was lying there for a little while and we called her away. I don’t know if she would’ve stayed as long, but, she clearly knew that something was out of order about this. And I don’t know what their concept of “dead” really is. But as I say, predatory animals like wolves and dogs, they have to have a professionally operative concept of death because they kill things for a living and they have to know the difference between attacking the elk and holding it by the throat and then when it’s okay to release it and consider it food, or a dog who catches a squirrel and shakes it to death, they know at some point that it’s time to stop shaking.

So they have an operative concept of death, at least when they’re hunting and I don’t know, cause we don’t have a lot of experience watching them around death, or we usually don’t let them see the body of another dog of ours that has died or that we’ve had to euthanize at the end of life, so I don’t really know. I think they don’t get much of an education about that, but intuitively they seem to know that something is going on and they seem to feel distressed around death.

Doggy Dan: [00:11:38] Interesting you say that Carl. I was blessed with a dog who was the absolute matriarch in the pack. Her name was Peanut, Peanut Butter, and she was a majestic being who taught me so much about love, about being, and when she passed away I was very aware that I had three dogs who loved her. And Jack, I knew as well, in particular, was a very powerful kind of judge, the King. He knew life and death. He was all about that crossing over, and I knew it was going to mean something to him.

So when peanut passed away of old age, 13 and a half, she just passed away. She’d been lying in the same spot in the house for about two days without moving. Just the heartbeat, just, you know, and a number of times I looked at her and thought, “Is she dead, has she passed away?” And then I realized her eyes were just still moving, she was still looking at me, and before she passed away, I thought, “I want to make sure I capture anything phenomenal that happens on camera.” So I actually set my camera up filming the area where she was, and then she passed away and I brought the other three dogs cause I wanted to make sure, like you say, that they knew she’d passed away.

And one of the most phenomenal things I’ve ever seen was, I’ve got it on video, so again, I’ll link to the blog and the video so you can watch it, but the two dogs, two of the dogs come running in the house like they always do. I mean, normally three dogs would just come charging in and jump on their beds, or they’d come and say hello, and two of the dogs come running in and they see Peanut.

And without a doubt in my mind, one of the little ones called Inca, Inca kind of looked at peanut as being her absolute mommy, even though they weren’t biologically connected, that was her mommy, and Inca looked at me and looked at Peanut. Immediately, my take on it was she immediately went, she’s gone, she’s passed, and she looked at me and she went into a down-dog stretch kind of, “Oh gosh.” There was almost a kind of, “What do we do now?” And Moses, who’s the little general who tries hard and likes to action and do stuff, he was kind of a bit confused. The two dogs stood there looking at each other, kind of wagging their tails, kind of a bit excited, a bit stressed, and I thought they’re dealing with the fact that Peanut’s gone. It’s whatever, I couldn’t read it exactly. And then I looked and at the far end of the house, through the kitchen, through the dining room. Jack was absolutely stood on the doorstep, but not setting foot in the house. And I looked at him and I thought, “come on in.” I called him. Now, I’ve never seen him do this in almost, you know, six, seven years.

And I called him in and I walked over to him and I said, “Come on Jack, come and say goodbye, Peanut’s over here.” And he looked at me and he absolutely refused to step foot in the house. I even got a treat, and I said, “Jack, come on in. Come and say goodbye.” And he looked at me and he went, “No, there is no way I’m going to set foot in that house.”

And I looked, and it’s hard to explain ‘til your there, but there was no screaming when she died. There’s no shouting, there’s no tears. I mean, there were tears, but there’s nothing that hadn’t been going on for two days previously, and there was no way he visually could see, and his way of dealing with it was to actually go and lie in the back of my car, which he’s never ever done in a seven-year period, and he’s never done since. But that is the exact spot that when I only had one dog, Peanut, that’s where she used to lie. And he lies there for four hours. Again, almost processing the fact that Peanut has passed away. 

Carl Safina: [00:15:43] Yeah, wow, 

Doggy Dan: [00:15:45] It was the most phenomenal thing, and he’s never laid in the back of the car there, he always jumps in the back of the boot with the other dogs. 

Carl Safina: [00:15:52] Well, there’s a writer named Barbara J. King, and she’s written about grief in non-human animals and she has what I think is a very helpful definition of grief. It’s more of a symptomatic diagnosis and it’s that grief is a change of behavior that results when one animal that has been known has died. So what you’re describing is what she would diagnose as grief, and she says that we simply miss them very much and that is the feeling of grief, but the symptoms are that they do things that they have never done before and wouldn’t normally do at that time.

They do it in response to the passing of an individual that they’ve known. So I find that very helpful in trying to parcel all of this out. Now, sometimes people say, well, “Do animals have a concept of death?” And I say, “Well, do humans have a concept of death?” Because I know people who believe that we have an eternal soul that, after death, will live on forever, either in heaven or hell, and other people think that we have a soul that has always existed, that is only in one karmic incarnation, and now we’ll go someplace else and come back in another karmic incarnation, and other people who think that there is no life before or after life on Earth, and that when you’re alive, you’re alive, and when you’re dead, you’re dead and you don’t exist anymore and that’s it. So I don’t think there’s a concept of death among humans. I think we have a lot of concepts of death. And, so I think it’s helpful to be a little bit humble about it. It’s not like we fully understand death or exactly agree on what death is or any of these kinds of things, and I think our dogs are also wondering about it sometimes. 

Doggy Dan: [00:18:20] Yeah. Oh, that’s beautifully put Carl, and that’s exactly my experience. That here we had three different dear dogs and they all knew Peanut had passed away and they all behaved in a slightly different way. Very similar to humans who hear that somebody passed away, depending on the relationship that you have with that person, and depending on your own personality, you may behave very differently to another person. But we’re all aware of it in our own way, I guess. 

Carl Safina: [00:18:51] Yeah. You know, short of death, we humans experience grief in different ways. We may grieve somebody who has decided to walk out of our lives. We may know that they intend to come back, but we miss them a lot if they’re on a long trip or they have to go and move in with an elderly parent for some period of time or something like that. You know, we may understand the situation and still miss them, and I’ve known dogs who miss their people when they go to work.

I was around one dog quite a lot who, when her person, her caregiving person, went to work every day, she would just crawl up in a heap, and didn’t want to do anything all day long until that person returned home. Right now we have our three dogs and they’re very happy and they feel very much at home, and I’m usually the one who does all the traveling, but when my wife is away, which is unusual, and I’m home alone, the dogs do not come up to the bedroom at night like they usually do. Usually they come up to the bedroom and they sleep either under the bed or on their, on their own beds on the floor, but when my wife has gone they wait downstairs, they’re there waiting for her to come back. And if she does not come back they may come up to the bedroom at about five in the morning, but they know who’s here, who’s gone and who they’re missing.

Doggy Dan: [00:20:38] Totally. Totally. It’s incredible what they will actually do for us, and how long they’ll hang out and wait and change their behavior to do what they feel like we want them to do, to try and connect to us. My dogs, I find I’m quite pleased with the fact that I often say, when your dogs are really relaxed, they will just switch off. If you look at the animals in the wild a lot of the time they’re, certainly the wolves and those bigger animals there, well, the wolves and the dogs, they’re not always chasing their tails and chasing flies and digging holes and hyperactive and charging around barking like some of the crazy stressed out dogs that we sometimes see.

I often say, if you can calm your dogs right down, they actually will just chill and relax, and it’s interesting, my dogs love nothing more than to sit in the back of my ute. I have it in the shade and I put three dogs in there and they sit there for three or four hours at a time and just switch off. And it’s fascinating how when they switch off, they really do. They’re happy to spend hours and hours just relaxed.

Carl Safina: [00:21:46] Oh yes. Yes. Those are the hours where sometimes I look at them and I think, boy, I wish I was you. 

Doggy Dan: [00:21:53] Yeah, that’s actually where I sometimes go. Are they effectively doing what we call a silent meditation?

I often look at those dogs and go, they’ve been lying there for three or four hours. Then I’ll call them out. We’ll have a five or ten minute run around the garden or whatever. Then they’ll go back and lie down again and they’ll be there for another three or four hours. I have no idea whether the tests have been done, but I presume something’s going on in the brain. Is it? Are they dreaming? Are they meditating? Is it just a calm, flatline of peace? 

Carl Safina: [00:22:31] Those are good questions, but they do dream. Those patterns have been observed in the exact same way that people have observed the brainwaves in humans that are dreaming.

So if you’re wondering if your dog is dreaming, the answer is yes, your dog is dreaming when they’re flicking their wrists and woofing. 

Doggy Dan: [00:22:77] Woofing yeah. That’s the most delightful noise. So that’s been scientifically kind of tested. Wow, I’ve often wondered that. My big dog Jack actually does a huge howl in the middle of the night, sometimes just a big, it’s like a Wolf. Awoooooo! It scares the daylights out of my wife, and I think it’s the fire sirens going off, but it’s just Jack and I sometimes picture where he is in his dream, you know? 

Carl Safina: [00:23:25] That’s great. I was watching one of our dogs one time and he was doing that dreaming sort of behavior with the little paws flicking and the jowls going, woof woof. And he suddenly leaped to his feet barking crazily, and he just suddenly looked around like, “What? Oh, I’m right here.” So, I wonder if they kind of recognize a difference – that was just a dream. But there are human societies that do not recognize the difference between just-a-dream and reality. Their concept is that those are two realities, and I wonder that the dog suddenly knew that he was not where he thought he was. When he leaped to his feet, barking wildly, and he settled right down again. But he was obviously very surprised and bewildered to find himself on the planet, on the surface of planet Earth after wherever else he had been. 

Doggy Dan: [00:24:34] So Carl, with all these different emotions that we’re discussing, it brings me to the question of …  I’ve got to try and pronounce this word right. I’m always a bit confused…

Carl Safina: [00:24:44] Anthropomorphism 

Doggy Dan: [00:24:47] Anthropomorphism. Yeah. So I’ve always been kind of confused with that word because in my mind people always say, “Don’t say that dog’s that happy because that’s a human emotion.” And I’ve always struggled feeling that, well, the dog is happy. Those emotions are not just our emotions. And, I’ve read quite a bit of your work. Can you expand on your thoughts around this? 

Carl Safina: [00:25:17] Yeah. I think that word is a really destructive word because people who know nothing at all about animal behavior know that word and it really undermines our ability to simply look objectively at animals doing what they’re doing and through observation, and interpret what they’re doing and what’s motivating them to do it. So, first of all, the definition of anthropomorphism is attributing human thoughts and behaviors to non-human animals, or plants for that matter.

Doggy Dan: [00:25:59] The question I ask immediately is, when we say they’re human emotions, the question is, are they purely or only our emotions? Is happiness just a human emotion? That’s the question we need to ask surely straight away isn’t it? 

Carl Safina: [00:26:16] I think that’s sort of the crux of how to get out of this pit that that word digs for us. 

Doggy Dan: [00:26:28] ‘Cause it’s like if the humans own all the emotions, and no other animals, if we come from a place of saying happiness is a human emotion and you can’t give it to other animals, it’s almost like we’ve grabbed all the emotions for ourselves.

Carl Safina: [00:26:41] It’s not almost as if it’s, it’s exactly that. 

Doggy Dan: [00:26:47] If you grab the ball, there’s none left for the animals to have!

Carl Safina: [00:26:50] Well, you know, science is supposed to be about believing evidence. It’s not supposed to be about rules about what you can and cannot do or think or believe. To me, that’s what religion is.

Religion is about rules about what you are supposed to believe and science is supposed to let you believe what the evidence shows. So I agree, you should not project human emotions onto other animals. And I have sometimes seen mistakes made by people doing that. For instance, we were once catching birds to ring them or tag them. I’m not sure how you say it in New Zealand, we call it Banding them and the Brits call it Ringing them. So we were putting rings on their legs, numbered ring. We were catching them with a very fine net and two birds were traveling together. One hit the net and the other one came back and was hovering.

And the one that was stuck in the net was trying to get out of the net. The other one was hovering around. And, my father happened to be with me and he said, “Look, that one’s trying to help the other one now.” Now to me, he was projecting: If he was with a companion that was stuck, he would try to help, and I was thinking, well, it’s obviously wondering what just happened. I don’t know if it’s trying to help, it’s responding because something unusual and unexpected happened, but I don’t really know if it thinks it’s mobbing a predator or if it thinks it’s trying to help or if it’s just trying to see what happened, I don’t know. So I would say my father was projecting his thoughts and emotions, and I was looking, trying to figure out what that bird might be trying to do or might be thinking in the moment. At any rate, we put the band on, we let the other bird go and that was all okay. But if you simply observe an animal and it does something, and you have these words that make sense of what it does, to say that you can’t apply those words to your observation is not scientific. So we don’t see … let’s just say a dog – we’re talking a lot about dogs – We don’t see a dog that is sitting where there’s no threat. Nothing has changed, nothing is going good or bad or wrong or different, and suddenly it puts its tail between his legs and it runs away. We don’t see it do that. We see it run away when something very threatening happens. So you say, “all right, well the dog is frightened.” That makes sense because that’s a fear response in a situation where it perceives a threat.

It’s the same thing about a dog that seems enraged when they’re fighting or is barking because there is an intruder and is trying to defend the home or the territory, or the person for that matter. Observing and then applying words that we have, is a scientific way of making sense of the world. Otherwise, you’re not allowed to make sense of the world, and that doesn’t make any sense to me. So, I have to say, it was embarrassingly late in my life when a person who trained many kinds of animals for a living, he worked at a zoo and he had worked with many, many different kinds of animals and knew a lot about working with them and training them in different personalities or different kinds.

He, he said to me, “If your dog acts happy, it’s a happy dog.” It had never been put to me that simply before because a lot of my professional training created such a thicket for me that I had to dig my way through and out and around to simply observe, but it really is quite that simple.

If your dog seems happy, it’s a happy dog. If your dog seems frightened, it’s a frightened dog. If your dog seems relaxed, it’s a relaxed dog. So, you know, they’re probably not worried about applying to graduate school, but there are other things that they are worried about, or calm about, or secure about, or expressing love about.

What does love feel like to us? Love feels like the desire to be close to somebody. Do the dogs ever show a desire to be close to us or to other dogs in our household? Yes. They do that constantly. We have these dogs, as I mentioned before, that when we go to bed at night, they come upstairs and they lie on the floor in our bedroom.

We’ve never given them a treat in that room. There’s nothing that we do in that room that is particularly noteworthy that we don’t do in every other room of the house with them as far as petting them or paying attention to them, but they’re not up there to get food. They’re up there because they like being near us.

And that’s what love is. And we use the word love for many, many different things. What is the human concept of love? We say, “I love my country. I love ice cream. I love fancy shoes. I love my mother. I love my child.” We use the same word for all these different things. They’re not all the same thing. Loving your child is not the same thing as loving ice cream. So, do we even know what we’re talking about when we apply these words that refer to, on the one hand, such frivolous things like loving ice cream, and on the other hand, the most profound thing in the human experience, like loving our child or loving our parent or our spouse?

So for people that confused about that word to say, “Oh, you can’t say that the dog loves us,” is silly. It’s kind of ridiculous because obviously, they do. They do have their loves. And if you’re at all nice to them, their main inclination is to love you. 

Doggy Dan: [00:33:47] Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think we’ve so over-complicated the whole reading of our animals. As a dog trainer, I go around to some houses and some people, I would say, anthropomorphize their dogs, and I think that’s a good thing. 

Carl Safina: [00:34:15] I would say it’s the best first guess about what they’re doing.

So, you know, it’s like a guess. It’s a hypothesis, say, I think the dog wants to play. You know the dog is being a real pain in the neck right now. Jumping around and keeps barking. I have work to do. I want it to be calm. Well, you look and you just stop for a second. Say, “Oh, actually, she’s a little pent up and she just wants to play.” Okay. So that’s you anthropomorphizing because that’s the way it looks to you. And then if you begin to engage and the dog really does want to play, well, you were right. The dog wants to play. 

Doggy Dan: [00:34:59] Brilliant. So from now on, I’m going to feel like I can anthropomorphize and not feel like I’m … yeah. I just want to make sure when I anthropomorphize that I’m doing exactly that. I’m just saying this is an emotion that I see, that I observe, and I’m just saying that’s what I feel the dog is doing. That feels good. I’ve always wanted to check that with somebody who understood the word better.

Carl Safina: [00:35:21] Works for me. As I say, it’s the best first guess. I occasionally, I’ve had that kind of guess and then I’ve revised it because then what happened next, was… Oh yes, actually not. That’s actually not what seems to be going on, but it’s a good first guess because many of these animals, in their basic ways, are very, very similar to us. They have very similar needs and they are, you know, especially with dogs, they are literally part of our households. We have the same home cultures, we have the same routines. They know the cues. You know, if you never owned a car, a little jingle of something on your desk wouldn’t mean anything. But to dogs that go out in the car a lot, you reach for your car keys, they see you do that, or they hear that and they know what the cues and the routines are. Like this morning, for instance, we often take the dogs out in the morning. Not every day, depending on how busy we are or what needs to be done or what the weather like, but we often do.

So they’re kind of alert to the possibility. And this morning I noticed I was just looking at some email on my cell phone and then I put my phone in my pocket, and that alerted all of them because that’s sometimes the first cue. Now, it wasn’t that many years ago that we didn’t have cell phones and that would not have been a cue cause it didn’t happen, but they know what the cues and the routines are. 

Doggy Dan: [00:36:58] Isn’t it incredible. I used to have a Windows 95 computer and I noticed that when that sound of the Windows 95 machine turning off, my dogs would jump up and start running around, chasing their tails. 

Carl Safina: [00:37:15] That’s so funny.  

Doggy Dan: [00:37:17] and I started to realize that that noise to them had obviously meant, “Oh, he’s shutting his computer. That noise often leads to a walk.” 

Carl Safina: [00:37:23] Exactly. Yes. And hope springs eternal. Yes. 

Doggy Dan: [00:37:28] But tell me, have you ever experienced situations where your dogs seem to be preempting what’s going to happen? And you cannot identify any movement or pattern or word or sound that indicates you are going to go for a walk or get some food or do something? And yet they seem to have picked up on it. I don’t know if the word is “ESP” or … they seem to be using another sense. 

Carl Safina: [00:38:00] I’m not sure I’ve noticed that with the dogs, but I definitely noticed that with a raccoon that we raised. Raccoons are native to North and Central America, so not everybody is necessarily familiar with what that is, but it’s a small carnivore.

Doggy Dan: [00:38:27] Ha, we’ve seen them on the cartoons I think, more than anything. 

Carl Safina: [00:38:31] So anyway, we had raised an orphan that had fallen out of its nest-tree, almost emaciated. I believe we saw its mother on the road near our house, having been hit by a car. I think that was what the problem was. That raccoon, we raised it in the house. And then when it got a little bigger, you know it used to be outside a lot, sometimes in the house, it often preferred to be in the house because it felt very safe in the house, and what it was mostly afraid of was other raccoons. So it would often be relaxed like a cat in the house. And then, occasionally it would be a little rambunctious or we would have to go outside or do something or leave, and we’d have to put the raccoon outside.

All I had to do was have the thought, “Okay, time for the raccoon to be outside,” and you’d see her stiffen up and her back would go up, and I knew we were in for a fight at that point. I’d have to get the broom and help her find the door. And I always said to my wife, “I do not know what the cue is here.”

It’s a little tiny inflection of body language or something, or the way that I simply glanced at her, but she was just so unbelievably sharp at picking up whatever it was. I don’t know what it was. Was she reading my mind? I don’t know. I would say, I don’t think so, but it’s just incredible sensitivity to my intention.

Doggy Dan: [00:40:30] Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And having worked with about 3000 people with their dogs, the number of people who’ve told me similar stories about dogs who knew stuff is just mind-boggling. And a lot of it is around that whole, you know, dogs that know when their owners are coming home sort of thing… Dogs who know you’re thinking of going for a walk, and the second you think it, they’re there, they respond. And you look around and go, “Well, hang on…” I mean, I’ve got so many examples, but one of them was with my dear dog Peanut and I could go to the cupboard so many times. I was in the kitchen going to the food cupboard, creating some food or something and one time Peanut had lay in her bed and hadn’t moved for, I don’t know, she hadn’t moved for an hour. And then I went to the food cupboard and I was looking around and I saw these old dog biscuits there. I just saw them and I looked at them and I thought, “Ah, I should probably give them to the dogs, just get rid of them.” And there was Peanut. She was right there by my side straight away. And I thought, “hang on, I didn’t say anything.”

Carl Safina: [00:41:41] Yeah. 

Doggy Dan: [00:41:42] I’ve been here 10 times in the last hour. And she wasn’t just wandering around the kitchen. She was literally at my leg going, “yep,” she’s nudging me. You know, she was literally going, “Yes, give me them.” And the number of times that’s happened is just mind-boggling, and the timing… 

Carl Safina: [00:41:59] Well, clearly, their sensitivity to things is tuned up very, very high. And I think that it may be because they don’t have words to talk with and constantly send those kinds of messages back and forth. So they’re tuning to the cues is just extraordinarily sensitive. 

Doggy Dan: [00:42:27] Yes, yes, yes, yes. Wow. There was a story, I think it’s an elephant… Anthony Lawrence, I think is his name.

Carl Safina: [00:42:38] I’ve heard that story. Yes. 

Doggy Dan: [00:42:41] Yeah, and he went away I think somewhere for a while and he was away for four or five months and they said that he was picked up at the airport and brought back to the area where the elephants were in a car.

And he said that that morning that he was meant to return, all the elephants that had gathered at the gate of the huge sanctuary, and they’d never ever gathered at that point. But there’s one day that he was returning home, they were there and they just said it was just unbelievable coincidence or somehow the elephants knew he was coming home.

Carl Safina: [00:43:17] Yeah, I’ve heard other stories like that about elephants and they are really extraordinary. 

Doggy Dan: [00:43:25] Yeah, and, you know, we went to the UK for five weeks and we asked somebody to feed our dear cat. And they were very, very worried cause they said they popped over there, they only lived next door. They said they popped over two, three times a day, and they never saw the cat. But believe it or not, when we drove down the road, the cat was sat right on the end of the driveway. I just sat there like, he’s been there forever and you think, well maybe he heard the car, but, the way he sat there, it was like he already had been there waiting for a long long time.

Carl Safina: [00:43:56] So interesting. I think there’s a lot going on that we don’t understand. 

Doggy Dan: [00:44:03] That’s how I feel. And, you know, we’ve touched on a lot of things Carl, and feel like I could talk to you for hours and hours about so many other things, but I’m must bring this to a close. In terms of yourself, I believe you’ve got a new book coming out. Could you tell us a little bit about that? 

Carl Safina: [00:44:20] Yeah, the new book is called “Becoming Wild.” It’s about how animal cultures, cultures in non-humans, create a family, create much of the living beauty in the world that we see. And also how they learn how to create peace in stressful social situations, because living in social groups inevitably produces stresses and they need to have some skills to create peace and to reconcile and to get on with themselves. So it’s about the fact that many animals must learn how to become who they are supposed to be. They don’t all get everything instinctively.

And it’s a very overlooked and really important aspect of many wild lives, this need to learn how to do their life and the answers to the questions: How do we live here? 

Doggy Dan: [00:45:28] Wow. Sounds awesome. Sounds a little bit how I’m kind of stumbling through my life Carl, trying to figure out how to become the best man I can be.

Carl Safina: [00:45:39] The book showed me many, many parallels between how animals come to understand their life and how humans come to understand our life, and I found it to be a really extraordinary journey and it gets very deep into the lives and experiences of a number of non-humans. There are three focal species that I spent time with in the wild and then there are many who come in and make cameos. The three focal species are sperm whales, who have a social organization almost identical to elephants, and then macaws, the big parrots, called Macaws, and then chimpanzees, which are, if you’re going to talk about nonhuman culture, chimpanzees are sort of unavoidable in that context, but very instructive. So that’s what it’s about. And then everything from sparrows to bears to dolphins make their appearances in the book. 

Doggy Dan: [00:46:52] Fascinating. And you’ve got so many other books. Where’s the best place, if people are thinking, “I want to know more, I want to buy some books. I want to get hold of these books” … Where’s the best place to direct people? 

Carl Safina: [00:47:03] If you want to see something about all the books, you can go to my personal website, which is, but the books are available through anybody who buys and sells books. And you can get them online, you can get them in bookstores. You can get them wherever you can get books, so they’re widely available. 

Doggy Dan: [00:47:37] Brilliant. So Go there. Check it out.

Carl, It’s been eye-opening. Wonderful to talk to you, and I’m just so appreciative for all the work that you do out there because it’s always good to have somebody who’s more scientific than my sort of approach of just observing and feeling and experiencing stuff. To have somebody who’s actually gathering the data and doing the hard yards and spending the time and the hours, and then reporting back. 

Carl Safina: [00:48:07] Well, I think it takes both. I mean the people who were scientific in a way that did not allow themselves to be at all intuitive about it or, you know, just use their basic logic about what it appears to be to them, I think they’ve robbed themselves of some insights. So I think it takes both approaches. You know, insight is good. And then actually checking it out by testing it and getting the data and doing some experiments is also good.

Doggy Dan: [00:48:45] Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful, Carl. Well, there you go guys. I’m sure you’ve absolutely loved that. Fascinating stuff. Check out the website. I’ll put all the links on the blog page on my site relating to this podcast, but once again, thank you Carl, appreciate it so much. It’s been great having you here. 

Carl Safina: [00:49:04] Oh, well, I appreciate it enormously and I’m honored to be with you, and when it goes live, if you could email us the link, we’ll get that out and around quite a bit.

Doggy Dan: [00:49:15] Will do. We’ll do that, Carl. Alrightly guys, take care. That’s a wrap. That’s the end of this episode. That’s the Doggy Dan podcast show. Have a great day, and as always, love your dog. Bye.

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Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan is the founder of The Online Dog Trainer, a wildly successful online training program for dog owners. His goal is to continue to share his unique approach to dog training with like-minded people who wish to make a difference in the world of dogs. His training methods focus on creating and building the connection between dogs and dog owners, and are shared and used around the world.

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