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A Talk with Rupert Sheldrake
Author, Dogs That Know When
Their Owners
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D
ogs That Know When their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals
is a fascinating look at animal perception.  Author Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist who studied natural sciences at Cambridge and philosophy at Harvard, then earned the Ph.D. in biochemistry at Cambridge. He has studied biochemistry and cell biology, the development of plants and aging of cells. Read his full biography.

Your editor, Barbara Petura, interviewed him recently to learn how his ideas can benefit people and their dogs. Click here for the interview.


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Barbara Petura:   What one or two key factors led you to write this unique book about dog behavior and perception?

Rupert Sheldrake:   I became a biologist in the first place because of my interest in animals and plants. As a child I kept many pets and was intrigued by their behavior. I was especially fascinated by homing pigeons and the way they found their way.

Sheldrake.jpg (13783 bytes) For many years, I have been aware of how much we don't understand about animal behavior, but it was not until about ten years ago that I realized that many pet owners have observed behavior in their pets which seems to defy explanation in conventional terms, and yet which could be investigated quite simply.

I realized there was a huge potential for research in this area and was astonished to find that no one had ever tried systematically to investigate what was going on or how it might be explained.

The immediate stimulus for thinking about telepathy in pets came from a neighbor of mine in my home town, Newark-on-Trent, in the English Midlands, whose son was a merchant seaman and who was often away for long periods. She told me she always knew when he was coming home, although he did not inform her in advance, because the cat started waiting at the front door hours before he arrived, when his ship docked in Southampton and he was about to catch the train. So she knew when to get his bedroom ready and to get in extra food.

She took for granted this behavior of the cat, but I found it completely astonishing. I didn't know whether to believe this or not and asked many other people with cats and dogs if they'd noticed similar behavior. I soon found it was common and that was the beginning of the idea for investigating this subject.

Barbara:   Which dog and its behavior was most important to your research and theory development for this book, and why?

Rupert:   The dog whose behavior I've investigated most closely is Jaytee, a Terrier-cross belonging to Pam Smart, who lives in Ramsbottom, near Manchester in north-west England. In 1994 Pam contacted me and told me about Jaytee's anticipatory behavior and she and her family volunteered to take part in observing him and to conduct some simple experiments. One thing led to another and we have now done more than 250 experiments with Jaytee, many of them on video-tape.

He's exceptionally reliable at knowing when she is coming home, starting waiting for her just before she sets off from places as far as 40 or 50 miles away. He does this even when she comes home at randomly chosen times (communicated to her by means of a pager when she is already away from home) and when she travels in taxis or other unfamiliar vehicles. The people at home do not know when she is coming.

Details of these experiments are summarized in my book called "Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals".

Barbara:  You say that our "mechanistic view of the world" is outmoded and too narrow. What do you mean? And what new view of the living world should replace it?

Rupert:   The mechanistic view of the world dates from the 17th Century and was first proposed by the French philosopher Rene Descartes. He thought the whole universe was a machine and all animals and plants were just inanimate autometer. He denied that any animals have souls and thought that only human beings have minds. This went against all previous views in Europe and elsewhere. After all, the very English world 'animal' comes from the Latin word 'anima' meaning soul.

In some way this view of life has been quite productive, but it leads to an attitude toward animals which underlies factory farming and experimentation on animals in laboratories, in which they are treated as if they are in fact soulless automata.

This is very different from the way we think of our pets. I think it would be much more healthy for biology and for science in general to treat living organisms not as machines, but as what they actually are: living organisms. I think it would be best to see the entire universe as like a great organism rather than as a machine, and I have described how a new kind of science can develop and is already developing in my book "The Rebirth of Nature".

Barbara:   Given your research findings, what might dog lovers and other pet owners do to change their relationship with their animal companions?

Rupert:   I think the most important thing to do is to pay attention to our animals. Some people have told me that, after reading my book, they have noticed things about their animal's behavior that they had not previously observed. The most important conclusion from my research on telepathy is that the strength of the bond between the animal and its guardian is crucial. If anyone is interested in exploring their relationship with their animal in more detail, I suggest various ways in which they can do this in Appendix A of my book "Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home".

Barbara:  We can't see radio or television signals in the air until they are picked up by radio and television receivers and converted to sound and pictures. We can't see the Earth's magnetic field most of the time, except when they are lit up in the form of the auroras. Is your concept of the morphic field phenomenon similar to these?

Rupert:   Yes, I think morphic fields, like electric and gravitational fields, are invisible and connect things together at a distance. But morphic fields are not the same as gravitational or electro-magnetic fields. They are more like the fields of quantum theory, called quantum matter fields. In quantum theory, if two particles have been part of the same system and then move apart, they retain a mysterious connection at a distance, called quantum non-locality or non-separability.

In a similar way, I suggest that morphic fields continue to link animals and people that are part of the same social group. They underlie their bonds. And when they are apart the morphic fields continue to connect them and act as a channel for communication. I think these underlie the phenomena of telepathy, and also suggest they play a part in the sense of direction, linking animals to their homes.

Barbara:  How can people who train assistance, service and therapy dogs benefit from the thinking in your book?

Rupert:   People who train dogs may be interested in the experience of specialist trainers that I summarize in my book. For example, many dog trainers may have had no personal experience of dogs that can alert people to epileptic seizures. And yet it is possible now to train dogs to do this and seizure-alert dogs can transform the lives of many sufferers from epilepsy.

Many dog trainers are already aware that dogs can pick up thoughts and commands telepathically. Barbara Woodhouse, for example, made this very explicit in her books, but most trainers may be unaware of the large range of telepathic experiences that pet owners have had and of which animals are capable, and I hope that my research will prove useful to people in their practical training work.

Barbara:   What did the research for and writing of the book teach you about yourself?

Rupert:   Through studying the unexplained powers of animals, I realized how much there is in human experience, including my own, which is also unexplained. Human beings can do most of the things that animals can do, but not as well. Animals teach us much about human nature because so much of human nature is shared with that of other animals and our pets often have abilities that we have lost or suppressed.

When we see human telepathy in this biological context, it becomes much more natural and much less spooky. In doing this research, I learned how little scientists understand about animal and human behavior, and it made me more aware than I was before of the need to be open-minded about the world we live in.

Barbara:  What kinds of reactions has the book received -- from the general public and from the scientific community?

Rupert:   Most animal trainers and owners have told me they enjoyed the book and found much in it that shed light on their own experience and observations. Many scientists too have reacted in a similar way - after all, many scientists themselves keep pets. However, the book has annoyed dogmatic skeptics, who are convinced that nothing like telepathy is possible and that there are no unexplained powers. But they have not shed any new light on animal behavior through these attacks but merely reiterated their own prejudices.

The question as to whether animals do or do not have unexplained powers cannot be settled by arm-chair argument. It can only be settled by investigating the facts, and that is what I have tried to do. I think these investigations show that there is much that is in fact unexplained, but which could be explained if we widen our scientific horizons. People interested in the range of comments, including the attacks by skeptics, can look at the 'comments and controversies' section of my web site.

Barbara:  What gave you the courage to publish ideas about living things that most other scientists hesitate to acknowledge?

Rupert:   It took a long time before I came out in public and published ideas on living organisms that go against the machine theory of life. I have had grave doubts about this theory and the narrowness of conventional biology since I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, but it took many years for me to think about these problems and try to develop an alternative approach and I did not publish anything on this subject until I felt I had collected enough evidence and worked out possible alternatives.

I was convinced through discussions with many of my colleagues that the views I was developing could hold up, even though they went against accepted dogmas. The fact that I was not married and had no family responsibilities when I published my first book was a big help, because I did not have to worry about the financial consequences in the way that I would have done had I had a family to support. I was also helped by my friends, and in particular by a group of scientists and philosophers in Cambridge to which I belonged, many of whom were convinced that new ideas were needed in biology. Their support made it easier to take the steps I did.

Barbara:  Are you or others continuing this research on animal behavior so that more will become known in the future?

Rupert:   I am continuing this research on animal behavior. I am still adding to my database, and hundreds of new cases have been included since my book was first published in hard-back last year. I am also engaged in research on several particularly talented animals at the moment and plan to publish the results in scientific journals. I already have studies on another dog that knows when its owner is coming home in the press in the journal Anthrozoos, which specializes in human-animal relationships.

I also hope to encourage others to take up this kind of research so that our understanding of animals can be deepened. I think this will benefit both people who keep animals and the animals themselves. When we realize more fully what amazing potentials our companion animals have, I think we will treat them with more respect. In society as a whole, I hope that a change in attitude to animals will help to reduce the amount of abuse and suffering to which some animals are unfortunately subjected. But above all, I hope this research will help us to appreciate our animals more, and to recognize how much we can learn from them.


Rupert Sheldrake was interviewed via e-mail by
Barbara Petura, Webmaster, WorkingDogWeb.com
on November 2, 2000. Thank you, Rupert!


Click to order this book online

Click to read a review of Dogs That Know


Author Rupert Sheldrake welcomes contacts from people interested in his work. You can learn more by reading his books, visiting his Web site or contacting him by by e-mail at   ars@dircon.co.uk   or by using a convenient contact form here: http://www.sheldrake.org/contact/

You can also write to him at this conventional address:
Rupert Sheldrake
20 Willow Road

London NW3 1TJ, UK

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