When I as a little girl, I spent hours colouring in my dog sticker book. I was obsessed. I think it was part of my early foundation in veterinary medicine. Nowadays, wherever I go, I enjoy playing the game “identify the breed of dog”.
Maybe all that colouring explains why I love the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) idea of painting a picture to explain the disease process. The patient provides the clues, like colours in an artist’s palette, through their history or physical exam findings. The TCM practitioner uses these to craft an image that best describes the disease.
“The Five Elements” is an elegant TCM metaphor for illness. It uses descriptions from nature to understand disharmony in the body. Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water are linked in a clockwise circle. Each Element is associated with a season. Wood with Spring. Fire with Summer. Earth with late Summer. Metal with Autumn. Water with Winter. They’re also linked to colours, organs, emotions, odours and more. The Elements control each other through a complicated set of interactions so when the system is not working, it leads to imbalance and disease.
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is no different but the fun for me is interweaving dog breeds and personalities along with the concept of the “Five Elements”. Dr. Jorden Kocen introduced this during the second week of my animal acupuncture course. As he lectured, I envisioned a kennel of dogs running around in my imagination!
With Dr. Kocen’s lectures as a reference, let me describe what I was seeing. No, this is not “Dogs Playing Poker“! It’s more like a combination of poetry, story-telling, TCVM and art, all mixed together.
A side note: Cat breeds and personalities can be classified according to the Five Elements too. But most cats wouldn’t subject themselves to such simplifications. They’d look at you and think they’re too good for that. The kitties would say, “Leave all this nonsense to the dogs. We have better things to do!”.
So here’s my ode to dogs and the Five Elements…
Terriers, such as Jack Russells and West Highland Whites, represent the Wood Element. They like to get their way and may be considered pushy. Wood is associated with Spring. Think of new Green leaves that grow on the trees, with a gentle Wind blowing through the branches. Liver and Gall Bladder are the associated body Organs.
Toy breeds, like Chihuahuas and the lion-maned Pomeranians, are out-going personalities. Little “Cracker Jacks” that live in the moment. This Fire type enjoys Heat in the Summer and their favourite colour is Red. Heart, Small Intestines, Pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart), Triple Heater (the TCM equivalent of the endocrine system) are considered Fire Organs.
A grounded personality, with a solid foundation in the Earth, is represented by the Golden Retrievers and Labs. They absolutely adore their family, as they lounge about in the Yellowing grass during the Damp humidity of a late Summer. Spleen & Stomach are ruled by this Element.
Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are herding dogs, with efficiency as their middle name. If they could, I think they’d use a clipboard and check list! (One sheep…check.) The Metal Element is reflective and seems White. The season is Fall and Dry leaves cover the ground as the trees slow down for a few months of rest. The Lung and Large Intestine are affected by changes to this Element.
Giant Breeds (such as Great Danes and Bernese Mountain Dogs) are “still waters that run deep”. They are deep-chested, so the image here is of large bodies of Water that appear Blue-Black as you gaze down into them. It makes sense then that the Kidney and Bladder are considered Water Elements. Water types thrive in the Winter and the accompanying Cold weather.
Of course, these are exaggerations of canine personalities. Just like the Myers-Briggs test or the doshas in Ayurveda, these categories serve to indicate particular tendencies. Most of us (including our animal friends) are a mixture of the Five Element types. Using animals as a mnemonic is a helpful tool for me in learning how to use TCVM.