Marking Territory: Signs, Signals, Methods, and Value Added

Marking Territory, Signs, Signals, Methods

As a species we have found that we need to leave a mark to show where we’ve been. Apollo astronauts left an American flag on the moon. “We’ve been here,” it says. The flag is a symbol of accomplishment, exploration, discovery, dominance, and a declaration of territorial control. In the 1940-50’s there was the “Kilroy was here” scribbled everywhere. It was on buildings, posts, book jackets, and bathroom stalls. The “Kilroy was here” cartoon was an image of the upper half of a man’s head –with a big bulbous nose hanging over the top- and three or four ovals representing fingers on either side holding up a sign that had the “Kilroy was here” slogan. “Kilroy” represented the WW II generation that had been there, participating in the war, together. It was a mark that showed a shared memory and solidarity. Another mark, used during the 1930-40 depression was the “hobo mark.” Transients developed their own code, such as a piece of knotted twine, or an upturned cup, or an upside down sign and would leave their messages on fence posts and secretly known places, indicating where people in similar circumstances might be able to find work, lodging, food, or a police force that was friendly or hostile. Marks could show territorial ownership or a message. 

How, Why, When Dogs Mark Their Territory

Dogs mark territory the same way and for the same reasons. Dog urine and scat contain scents that other dogs understand. The amounts, shape, consistency, color, thoroughness of fecal digestion all have implications. The concentration and amount of the urine, the pattern of the spray, its height on the tree, all taken together, let other dogs know the marking dog’s gender, health, age, sexual status, aggressiveness, and more, like how long it’s been since they’ve been there. It is amusing to see Camille, our soon-to-be four year old boxer, balance herself on her front legs, back walk into a tree trunk to pee higher up. The girl is a marketing genius.
Dogs often go a step further and mark their marks. They turn their haunches to the urine or scat mark and dig deep furrows with their hind claws. Grass and dirt are kicked back onto their traces. This seals them and protects them. The aroma and visual marker of freshly exposed earth is like a flashing neon arrow, showing those who know the code, where their mark can be found. When dogs urinate on the ground, they often step in their liquid marking medium and continue the track in the direction they are heading. Just another piece of information for their eager readership. When I walk our dogs, the streams begin long and strong. As more and more sites are marked, the quality and quantity decrease. Pretty soon, legs are lifted and only a tiny air spritz is emitted, like a perfume atomizer. It is evidently enough of a message to send; the girls are satisfied and that’s all that matters. It is all about the boxers.
There are other signs of controlling (marking) territory. Mounting another dog is a sign of dominance, or control. Placing a paw or throatlatch over the withers is a sign of control. Horses and other mammals do this, as well. Several years ago, I observed one of our dogs, Oskar, attempt to demonstrate his dominance by keeping his paw on another of our dogs, puppy Jacques’ withers. Jacques, the Standard Poodle puppy, refused to acknowledge Oskar’s signal, and kept on walking. Sad Oskar. He persisted to no avail. He was demonstrating his pack status by using the right signal. The receiver wasn’t cooperating. He wanted to hold his paw in place, and ended up frantically hopping alongside Jacques on three legs to keep up. 
How, Why, When Humans Mark Their Territory

Humans mark their territory in the same way and for the same reasons. When one person places his arm around another’s shoulder as they are walking down the street together, it is a signal of ownership – and a sign of dominance. 
It is our nature to want to make a mark on the world. It can be a conscious decision or we could be doing it unconsciously. We are constantly leaving things that mark where we’ve been, like sunglasses, gloves, sweaters, water bottles and aromas. We – certainly not you or me – but, our species, also leaves a trail of waste products, like discarded plastic bottles, cans, BIC lighters and ball point pens. Wanting to do something that will have a lasting, indelible impression, we are expressing the attempt toward immortality. Some part of us, something that we created must last forever. In an impermanent world, we’d like to know that our existence has value, is valued; and if not valued, at least, remembered. That would be the motivation for the initials carved into the walls of ancient Greco-Roman palaces. The reason the Great Sphinx was built was to commemorate the pharaoh, whoever it was. Nobody knows for sure. Immortality evidently doesn’t last forever. Thousands of initials and drawings are carved on ancient Native American heritage sites. It is why people put padlocks on the bridges in London, Paris and Venice.  It is why graffiti and tagging is so evident in urban areas. “Hey,” the marks cry out, “look at me. I’m here. I matter.”
Cathedral of Learning

Last weekend, while visiting the University of Pittsburgh, Anastasia and I had an opportunity to explore the Cathedral of Learning, an immense 42-story Gothic Revival skyscraper that is across the street from the Carnegie Museum. The Cathedral, commissioned in 1921, houses classrooms (including the internationally renowned Nationality Classrooms) academic and administrative offices, libraries, computer labs, a theater, a print shop, and a food court. It has a magnificent four-story Commons Room at ground level. If you are a Potter fan, the large open area on the 2nd floor could easily pass for Hogwarts. A landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the 535-foot-tall Cathedral is the second-tallest educational building in the world, after the University of Moscow’s main building. In recent years, families of peregrine falcons have nested atop the Cathedral. 
Walking through the halls, we listened to our footsteps echoing off the bare stone walls. Gazing out into the cavernous study areas from the second floor balconies we could make out the dimly lit figures of students far below. Each was quietly reading. Perched uncomfortably on a heavy wooden bench or leaning over a pre-ergonomic ancient desk, each was immersed in their solitary journey. The hall is sparsely furnished. Huge fireplaces offer visual focal points. Impressive crests and shields appear, carved in wood or cast into stone. There is a sense of serious-minded austerity; a feeling of reverence, and the depth of timelessness. Confidence, competence, power, continuity. A world class compendium of knowledge. Surely this is a wondrous reservoir of knowledge. One senses the respect of all the sponsors, architects, builders and caretakers for the concept and delivery system of “knowledge.” The building is a tribute to tradition, to the prestige and power garnered by educational excellence. Aptly named the Cathedral of Learning, this temple was created to honor and praise the gods of education, of knowledge. It is a symbol and a means for continuity in the passage of information and wisdom. I got the feeling that this is the place where the rich and powerful leaders learn their licks.
View from the Top

As we were exploring, we met someone who told us about an observation area where we could get a fabulous 360 degree view. From there, she said, we could take in the vistas of downtown Pittsburgh, the confluence of the three rivers (Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny), the UP campus, the Frick mansion and lots more. Fortunately there was an elevator to the top, the 42nd floor. 
Ten young men piled into the elevator with us. They were hot. They were sweaty. They were very excited to visit and experience the top floor. Their giddy enthusiasm was contagious. We all darted from one window to another, checking out the sights, pointing out the things we saw to each other. Through one window I watched a tiny procession far below. It was a wedding party, slowly making its way out onto the steps of the Carnegie Museum. The bride’s white gown plumed as she lifted it. The stark white contrasted against the gray granite steps, the black tuxedos and colorful bridesmaid dresses. I could see the skyline through another window. When I turned to look out another window I saw one of the twenty-something kids furtively scratching his initials into the stone frame around a window. (Furtivedefinition: Something done quietly or secretly in a manner intended not to attract attention; the movements or behavior of someone who’s being sneaky or sly; attempting to avoid notice or attention, typically because of guilt or a belief that discovery would lead to trouble; secretive.) I was appalled and called him out. “How could you deface this beautiful structure?” I demanded. He turned to me without pausing, “Lots of people have left their initials here.” He nodded toward a collection of chips and scratches and continued to scrape his crude mark with the edge of his quarter. I immediately thought of Gino’s pizzeria in Chicago, with the tables covered with layers of carved initials (including by the way, “Kilroy was here”). There, it was acceptable; part of the ambience created by thousands of happy, party customers.  Here, it was a different story.

Bothered and Bewildered

This image has stuck with me. It bothers me. I know I’m preaching to the choir that agrees with me; at least I hope I am. We live in the era where one hopes that we have evolved to respect the land. Zero carbon footprint. That’s the goal, right? Leave nature as you found it. Leave it in better shape, if you can. Pick up refuse, recycle. Be kind. Be respectful. Save the planet. I keep thinking about this and have a need to find some sort of value in this experience. This is what I have come up with.
Adding Value

Was what he was doing adding value to the monument we were standing in? I understand the desire to paint graffiti. I understand the need to tag initials and gang signs. I don’t like it or approve of it. And, I understand it. We need to mark our territories. We have evolved to feel the need to let the world know, “I am me. I exist on this big, overpopulated planet. Here I am! I’ve been here! I was even here first!” Perhaps it was a Reptilian brain response.  He had to let his fellow humans know of his exploit. But, an elevator ride?  What kind of accomplishment was that?
Did this addition detract from the observation room or could it have possibly enhanced it? I’ve seen many murals on dilapidated urban buildings that enhance them; some of the noncommissioned artwork on the sides of train and subway cars is truly spectacular. It works at Gino’s. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without Michelangelo’s touch would just be another ceiling.
Was the Mark Worthy of the Edifice?

There is a direct correlation with marking and what we do every day at PetMassageTM. I see dogs’ bodies as potentially perfectly functioning temples of perfection. Dogs are duomos for love, basilicas of play, tabernacles of companionship, palladiums of entertainment, and holy places for support. 
The Mark of the PetMassageTM 

How similar this is conceptually, with PetMassageTM and the sacredness of dog’s bodies! When we PetMassageTM dogs, our tools are our hands, our bodies, our breath, our experience, and our training. We touch dogs –marking them- on their bodies, minds, and spirits. PetMassageTM marks leave lasting impressions of their experience and memory of our interaction. PetMassageTM marks affect each dog’s quality of life. The mark of the PetMassageTM is indelible. PetMassageTM markings last long; as long as the dog is alive, and presumably longer.

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