I am fascinated by the different approaches that the dogs have to their walks. Theo is excited by everything – and if something excited him on the previous walk, then he will remember and get even more excited as we approach the same place in the walk, obviously hoping that the same pheasant, hare or whatever will leap out again at the same spot (and if it did, he would probably explode with joy). He has a constant air of anticipation – “what excitement will happen next?” seems to be his motto.
Lily is mainly concerned with keeping her eye on us; if we stop for any reason, she will hurry across, jumping up and putting a paw on our leg, gazing up in mute, gentle enquiry with her beautiful black eyes.
Daisy, on the other hand, is a keen student of nature and takes her research seriously. When she finds something worthy of study, it will occupy her entire attention so that she becomes completely deaf to our calls, or to the fact that we are now a considerable distance ahead. Eventually, one of us will be forced to hurry back and encourage her on her way – at which point she will look up at us in amazement that we are not sharing her fascination. She will then dance along the path until, a few yards further along, she comes across the next object worthy of study… To Daisy, the journey truly is the destination.
Daisy is a perennially happy little soul. Her beautiful, long tail, as soft as dandelion seeds, is carried high over her back and streams out in the wind as she dances up the garden path; just about anything can cause a wag of this gorgeous appendage. After a haircut, however, Daisy often experiences some consternation when the wagging tail tickles her back, causing her to turn in circles trying to ascertain the cause.
Daisy’s tail chasing reminds me of a lovely story I heard… One day, Mother dog comes across one of her puppies chasing her tail and asks her what she is doing. The puppy tells her mother that she has just come back from Puppy Philosophy Class, where she learned that a dogs’ happiness is stored in its tail, which is why dogs wag their tails when they are happy. “If I can catch my tail,” says the puppy, “then I will have the secret to eternal happiness!”. Mother dog smiles, “I learned that at Puppy Philosophy Class too,” she says, “but what I have learned since then is that we don’t find happiness by chasing it. Like your tail, once you get to where it was, you find it’s moved on!” The puppy turns big eyes on her mother. “So how can we reach our happiness, then?” she asks. Mother dog smiles back at her daughter. “You don’t have to try to reach it,” she replies, “you already have it; happiness is always within you. When you know that, then as you move forward in the direction of your dreams, wherever you go, happiness will always follow behind you.”
One of Daisy’s self-imposed missions in life is to chase visiting birds from her premises. In our garden, she has plenty of opportunity to indulge this desire as it is the haunt of woodpigeon, pheasant and partridge, to say nothing of a host of sparrows who reside in the cyprus tree, from where they can tease her from the safety of its impenetrable branches. Of all of the canine members of staff, Daisy is the only one who watches birds flying, or sitting out of reach on the top of the garden wall (which, as far as Daisy is concerned, is clearly trespassing and therefore not permitted). Earlier this week, this created a small problem…
Being of a very diminutive stature, Daisy likes to stand on the small wall next to the pond when she is addressing the birds who sit on the top of the high garden wall – being 18 inches higher off the ground is not inconsiderable when one is less than a foot high to start with. An unusually prolonged episode of barking alerted us to the fact that something was amiss – generally the birds will stand only so much abuse before taking offence and departing. This time, however, there was nobody sitting on the garden wall at all, yet Daisy continued to bark. Bringing her back inside didn’t help – she simply waited to go back outside, returned to her station by the pond and continued her vigil, staring up at the top of the empty garden wall and barking with increasing vexation at a trespassing bird whom she could see quite clearly, even if we could not.
Eventually we worked out what it was… behind the garden wall, a large laurel bush has grown up and this year’s new growth had just reached the point where the topmost leaves had become visible to a small Lhasa Apso standing on the wall by the pond, whose job it is to guard the garden from the predations of trespassing sparrows…
The interesting thing is that we all do this… We are programmed to notice and recognise patterns in things (remember when you saw the shape of a creature in the clouds, or faces in the curtain fabric?) and in NLP we call this “deletion, distortion and generalisation”. In other words, we see what we believe and we believe what we see – and we will quite happily “disregard the rest”, to quote Paul Simon’s lyrics. A trick of the light, a different angle, a mis-heard or mis-read word, coming across something unexpectedly – these can all transform “reality” for us.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that – it lights the whole sky.” – Hafiz of Persia
Lily and her canine colleagues are all masters of the art of unconditional giving – and of receiving. Lily will happily spend long periods of time patiently cleaning Poppy’s eyes, or Theo’s ears – and they, in their turn, will happily let her. As a puppy, when teething, Theo would chew enthusiastically on his mother, Lily’s, ears, while she lay patiently, not seeming to mind the soggy outcome, or the subsequent crispiness of dried, licked fur.
What happens when we give somebody a gift, or an offer of help… Do we expect something in return? Are we offended if the person receiving it doesn’t like our gift, or chooses to give it away again to somebody else? The Aborigines would say, if we have that sort of attachment to a gift, then it is not a gift at all, it is something else. If it is a true gift then it is given unconditionally; we should not mind at all what the other person chooses to do with it, and certainly have no expectation of receiving anything in exchange.
And when somebody offers us a gift, do we receive it graciously and with gratitude – or do we feel beholden to the giver and consider that we have to reciprocate in some way? When we accept a gift with genuine gratitude we are already giving something back to the giver – the gift of true appreciation.
We’ve had a lot of rain this week here in Scarborough, and the canine members of staff have not been impressed. When we open the kitchen door to the garden, instead of their usual joyful and enthusiastic egress, they will look up with an expression which quite clearly reads, “In this weather? I hardly think so…” and will take mortal umbridge when we insist.
Daisy is particularly funny in this respect – she will wait by the door for it to open, decide she does not like the look of the weather, then continue to wait until we open it again for her – just in case it has magically changed in the intervening 20 seconds or so. When finally convinced that the weather is unsuitable for a Lhasa Apso of her diminutive stature, she will then cross to the other kitchen door, which leads to the car port and, eventually, the front courtyard, and wait there instead – because it’s always possible that while it is dark and raining in the back garden, it might yet be sunny in the courtyard…
On Tuesday evening, it had been particularly wet and, as John was going out again, he had left the courtyard gates open when he arrived home from work – a state of affairs which completely eluded my consciousness when I absent-mindedly let Daisy out of the kitchen side door, at her request… She often likes to spend quite a long time pottering around the courtyard, so we didn’t immediately miss her – and actually it was only when an extremely wet, muddy, bedraggled and very happy Daisy wandered back in through the open gate that we realised she had been on a further adventure than we knew!
Poor Lily recently developed an infection in one of her toes. We didn’t realise she had a problem at first – it was snowy outside, and so a certain amount of foot licking was only to be expected – but when this graduated to a fairly persistent chewing, we knew something was amiss and investigated… At first, I applied a “sock” which worked well… until I went for a shower, at which point it was quietly destroyed in order that the licking could recommence. After this we had no option. Lily was going to have to wear “The Cone of Shame”.
After the initial period of confusion, during which certain skills such as stair climbing and jumping onto sofas had to be adjusted accordingly, Lily found one or two benefits to her new sartorial adornment. Whereas before, when chasing frozen peas across the floor, for example, she had to contend with competition from Theo and Daisy, now her cone acted as both a scoop and an effective barrier, so that once captured, her peas could be consumed in peace.
The main purpose of the cone was, of course, to prevent Lily from worrying constantly at her foot, and thereby making it worse. This is often what happens when we worry constantly about something – the more we choose to focus on it, the bigger it appears in our mind as we return to it again and again. In Lily’s case the original problem was only very small; yet it occupied her entire being – and as soon as she was wearing the cone, she appeared to forget about it altogether.
There are a number of tools which we can use to create our own “cone” – distracting the mind from our worry (and thereby allowing it to reduce in size, or even disappear completely) while at the same time allowing our sense of peace and calmness to expand. Self-Hypnosis, Meditation, Mindfulness – when used regularly, these, and other methods, can be of immeasurable benefit to both our mental and physical health as we leave our worries outside our “cone” and allow our mind and body to heal from the stress we have created.
A week of wearing her cone (and some expert advice from John at Grace Lane Vets) soon saw Lily’s foot back to normal, and her erstwhile neckwear was consigned once more to the top of the cupboard in the utility room, where hopefully it will remain for a long time to come…
Tizzie is the newest member of the part-time section of the canine team. At just six months old, she is also the youngest; a fluffy, diminutive Lhasa Apso with formidable reserves of energy. Her favourite pastime during her visits is chasing Theo around the garden until they both collapse, exhausted, in the grass, until one of them decides it’s time for the next round. Tizzie is half his size, but nobody has told her that she can’t win.
Nobody has told her that she’s too small to jump onto the kitchen bench, either – even Daisy, with her balletic leaps, can’t manage the bench – but to tiny Tizzie it’s no obstacle… neither is our big iron bedstead, onto which Daisy and Poppy have to be lifted because it’s too high for them to jump. It took her a few attempts to work out her perfect strategy; but to Tizzie, for whom failure was not failure, but feedback, it was her goal; and she knew it was achievable. She just kept on going until she achieved it.
What would you do in life, if you knew you couldn’t fail? Is whatever has been getting in your way really real, or is it just a belief? Just think… what could happen if the belief was no longer there…?
Beliefs are not real – they are just ideas we have ceased to question. It’s perfectly possible to change a belief that is no longer serving you. So ask yourself – are your beliefs limiting, or limitless?
One of our part-time canine members of staff has recently left to pursue a new career with her original breeder. Poppy does not seem to like being an “only dog” when she is at home; a reduced appetite and general air of ennui suggest that she misses her colleague (despite the occasional bullying that was the reason for Snippets’ departure), so Lou is now looking for a suitable candidate to fill the vacancy.
As anyone who has ever recruited staff will know, this is a time fraught with questions and decisions. Before even beginning the search, it’s essential to consider the precise nature of the position and ask yourself what is important to you about the ideal candidate; what values and attributes should they possess in order that they will be the right one for the post? Is the position one that involves any reception duties, for example, and if so does this include any requirements of an auditory or vocal nature? Will they be expected to undertake any secretarial duties such as paper shredding or mail collection? Is the role of personal trainer an important part of the job, or just someone to assist with the steeper hills? Does existing training for the position matter, or are you happy to undertake their CPD (Continuing Puppy Development)? Would an older candidate with more experience be more suitable? Are you looking for the curious, innovative type, or someone who has a strong interest in sofa-based inner contemplation?
Would you prefer someone with a marked disinclination for going out in the wet and a deep and abiding fascination for researching how long they can stay in bed? Are any gardening duties required, such as clearing fallen apples and plums, digging the borders or scratching moss from the lawn? Is the occasional pilfering of supplies of, say, coal, going to be a problem? And, of course, there are the needs of any existing staff members to consider; what are they looking for in a colleague? Are there any roles they would enjoy sharing, or perhaps passing on to a new member of staff? Do you have someone who is already in a managerial position who might resent you employing someone of a higher grade, or are they the laid-back and gregarious type with little interest in hierarchy who just loves networking and making new friends? Are you going to include them in the interview process?
Looking through the various recruitment (ie adoption) agency websites is a good place to start your actual search and, as with any CV, you have to read between the lines and match as many of your required values and attributes as possible… Eventually, Lou has drawn up a shortlist of candidates for her vacancy and interviewing has begun…
Yesterday’s interviewee seemed very promising indeed on paper; we arranged an appointment at his foster home and took Poppy to meet him. Unfortunately, however, Poppy’s values concerning, for example, the purpose of her tail, were in direct variance to our candidate’s sustained suggestions, so that a radical and, I might add, vociferous difference of opinion occurred. Poppy said no – and we listened.
Here on the edge of the North York Moors it might sometimes seem as if time stands still while the rest of the world passes us by... but of course even here we are not immune from change…
A recent change, which might seem small in the scheme of things, was chronicled in an earlier Teachings of Dog – our full-time canine members of staff are now down from five to three and, it has to be said, things are a lot quieter round here…! It is remarkably interesting how differently the dogs behave depending on who else is around, and this sudden reduction in their numbers has really brought this to the fore. Theo and Lily now play and chase as they used to do before Poppy came along – when Poppy visits, Lily is more or less ignored by Theo. Lily will vociferously defend me against “intruders” (aka “visitors”!) if Theo is around, but without Theo she becomes quiet and welcoming. (Daisy remains pretty much Daisy, regardless of who is there!)
What about us? Do we also behave differently around different people? We certainly do... I was speaking with a new client this afternoon who was wanting help with some problems he is experiencing at work. Most of the time he is fine, but when in the company of certain colleagues he goes to pieces and loses his confidence completely; we’ve probably all experienced something similar at some point in our lives.
In NLP terms, this is known as “Perception is Projection” – in other words, we project our own “stuff” onto other people, which is then reflected back at us. For example, if a person unconsciously reminds us of someone we met in the past who made us feel a certain way, we are likely to recreate those feelings without consciously realising why – we project the attributes of the original person onto the new person and have the perception that they are the cause of our feelings.
Snippets the poodle gave an excellent demonstration of this – when she first came to us she was afraid of men, so any man who came into the house was, in her perception, a truly terrifying being.
When we become consciously aware of an unwanted projection it then becomes possible to do something about it, either by acknowledging that this person is not the same person as the original person who made us feel this way, or by addressing the underlying “stuff” within ourselves (often a limiting belief) that created the feeling in the first place.
Amongst the canine members of staff, however, doubtless Theo will continue to be best friends with Lily unless Poppy is around; Poppy will be very, very quiet when by herself, but act as a noise catalyst (or should that be “dogalyst”?) when with the others; Lily will have to be forcibly restrained until visitors are safely inside the hallway if Theo is around, and Daisy will remain Daisy, regardless of all the rest of us… until such time as another junior canine member of staff arrives, to shake up the mix yet again!
My niece has finally found herself a lovely cottage with an equally lovely landlady who allows her to have her dogs. So Poppy and Snippets moved to their new abode a couple of weeks ago and have now become part-time, visiting only at weekends and on Thursdays. We find it very strange having such a sudden reduction in our canine members of staff; watching “House” is no longer the same without Poppy to bark at the end credits (and we still have no idea why!) but the other dogs have adapted seamlessly and appear perfectly content in their reduced numbers… and when their friends arrive at the weekend, it’s as if they were never away.
We all adapt to change in different ways; for many it is a huge source of stress and anxiety. The dogs demonstrate such a beautifully elegant behavioural flexibility; for them, what matters is what is happening right now and they react accordingly. We spend so much of our lives being stressed about the past or anxious about the future, and often forget that the present moment is an antidote to that stress and anxiety. What can happen when we allow ourselves to be totally in the Now; accepting what is, with gratitude, wonder and curiosity…?
...and the Canine Members of Staff