For the Asking

For the Asking

Huw Le Lytle answers all your questions in his column of wit and wisdom, For the Asking!

img_0904Huw’s for the asking!

BY Huw Le Lytle

In today’s questions …

Just Justice

Q: Dear Huw, how do you deal with injustice? Will you be getting an advent calendar for Christmas? What is your favourite number and why?
Mariah, Leamington Spa, UK 

img_8854A: Dear Mariah, what a wonderful set of questions. The first one of course is one that has preoccupied philosophers for centuries. I would say that justice (and so also injustice) is at the heart of our interactions with each other and our social life. It is part of our social and cultural institutions. And it is all about mutual benefits and advantages. It is all about fairness. Take the dog park, for instance. We all get to take turns at the water fountain, we all need to respect each other’s space, and we need to play fairly and happily with each other. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. And sometimes I wonder if that is because people and dogs didn’t get to play enough in the first place. Play is very important. Clever people have said that play is where we learn our social skills and it is also where we learn right and wrong. And if we have learnt our lessons, we dogs will play fair! There is lots of disagreement over whether dogs have a sense of justice. But what thing everyone does agree on is that we do understand the right and wrong way to do things if we want to make sure all the play and fun goes on for as long as it can.

And that is perhaps what is lacking in some humans. They have lost their sense of play. They are so anxious to win the toy, that they forget that it isn’t even about the toy, it’s about the tug. And it’s a sad thing, because every time they get it wrong they lose out too. Sometimes there isn’t a lot you can do about those humans and dogs. But one thing you can do when you sense injustice – you can simply walk away to play another day and another way. Try not to let bad sports ruin your games. The way to win is to keep playing.

img_1267And yes indeed, we will be getting an Advent Calendar. I am very excited about this. I know there are even Advent Calendars that have dog treats in them! I am not sure what Advent Calendar will show up, I will have to wait and see. Maybe there’s a calendar to count down the days till I get my Advent Calendar. Actually, maybe that’s just a calendar …

A favourite number … hmm, that’s tricky. When it comes to pillows and ribbies, my favourite number is “lots”.

Q: Dear Huw, when we’ve visited our own Dr Wonderful (aka, our vet), because someone is sick, she mentions that dogs live “in the moment”. To me, that explains part of your extraordinary ability to love and forgive, but I am wondering what you think?
Mary, Portland, Oregon USA

A: Dear Mary, that is indeed an interesting question and one that Aubrey Beardsley has actually thought about at length in one of his posts, Unguarded Moments.

img_8879It really does depend on what you mean by “living in the moment” because it can be taken to mean quite a few different things. What it shouldn’t be taken to mean is that we forgive and forget everything and so humans can act with impunity. What it should be taken to mean is that we do make the most of what we have when we have it.

But I am still not entirely of the “living in the moment” school. I worry that “living in the moment” is sometimes taken to mean living without consequence, without cares, and without intelligence! It is also usually taken to mean that we have no sense of time. And if so, then I think “living in the moment” underestimates us a little. Some clever people are finding evidence of the way we dogs actually manage time. We are not completely out of touch on these things. Apart from obvious timekeeping, like sleeping at night and waking up in the morning, there are other things that show that we can process time. We may not think in terms of appointments, but we can tell the difference when Human says, “back in a minute” and “back in a while.” We have got used to what these mean and we use what we remember to learn a sense of duration. It becomes part of our memory map.

And memories are important. Aubrey Beardsley says that we shouldn’t think that “living in the moment” means that we don’t remember, because memories are how we learn. Aubrey says “living in the moment” is instead perhaps more about our optimism, that we don’t hold someone accountable for the actions of someone else, that we give everyone a chance. But you only have to look at the wariness and caution with which some dogs look at their owners and you know that they are holding them accountable for how that particular owner must have behaved. I would not want to be living in those moments. As Aubrey Beardsley says, if you want to see us living in the moment, give us always good moments and watch us live!

img_9792The other thing about “living in the moment” is that people sometimes say it means that dogs don’t judge. I hear people say “dogs don’t judge” quite often. In fact, I hear it all the time. But I simply don’t agree.

Of course we judge, but we don’t pronounce sentence. We don’t condemn. We revise. We forgive.

Of course we judge, but we judge on the actions you take, not the covers you wear. So we don’t care what car you drive, as long as we can come with you on the ride.

I guess you could say that we exercise a kind of moral judgment, but not a social (climbing) one. And there are lots of clever people out there studying what we do to prove what I am saying. For instance, some clever people have shown that we will judge someone if they are not nice to our owner. And other clever people have shown that we will stop approaching someone who continues to trick or deceive us. In fact, if you watch those people who keep teasing their dogs, pretending to throw the ball, you will notice that their dog usually just ends up walking away from them. And that makes me a bit sad, because teasing is never nice.

So, for me, “living in the moment” is about fairness and justice. It means that we give everyone a chance – we give everyone a fair go. But be in no doubt, we do judge, but we judge justly.


If you would like your questions answered by Huw, please send them to or use the form below. He’s Huw for the asking!

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