Last Thursday was haircut day... we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff. (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes... I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy - it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)
For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement. Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing... Theo, however, is horrified. After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left... under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice. If he can't see us, he reasons, there's no way we'll be able to see him.
Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table. Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he's ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.
Our worries and stresses are subjective - it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation. When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be. If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement. But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.
So Luna caught a mole yesterday evening… I’ve no idea where she found it, as there are no evident mole hills in the garden, but she was exceptionally pleased with herself. She refused to relinquish her prize in the garden, and carried it triumphantly into the house, where she was eventually persuaded to part with it in exchange for three biscuits – a deal which she subsequently regretted, if her disappointed searching was anything to go by…
The mole was, sadly, deceased by this point and was decently interred under the hedgerow across the lane. Cat families will often be distressingly familiar with this scenario, but with our dogs it is not so frequent (although certainly not unheard of!).
We somehow forget, when we are throwing the fluffy, squeaky toy in a fun game of chase, fetch and throw-in-the-air before chasing again, that in addition to the joyful interaction we are both having, we are also assisting our little hairy friends to hone their hunting skills…
Dogs are natural predators – it is their essential nature to hunt small, squeaky, furry or feathered things. Why should we expect them to be less dog, and more human, just because we choose to share our lives, our homes and our sofas with them?
It’s just over three weeks since little Luna joined us, and we can’t believe how easily she has just taken everything in her stride… Nothing seems to faze her, and she is abundantly curious about each new experience. “What excitement can I discover here?” seems to be her motto.
She’s deeply fascinated by the numerous bumblebees that frequent the clover flowers in the lawn; having briefly experimented with eating one, she’s now decided that’s possibly a bit too exciting and is contenting herself with sniffing them, and then chasing after them when they fly busily off to the next flower… The fat woodpigeons who sit, apparently in deep contemplation, on the lawn are also good fun to chase – flapping heavily away at the last minute, only to perch on the wall and look down at her in high dudgeon at being so rudely awakened from their meditative trance.
An early exploration of the pond has fortunately not been repeated – no doubt to the collective relief of the newt population – but everything within the garden and without has been subject to her close sensory scrutiny. The paths and lanes we walk must smell astonishing to her; from her previous life in the suburbs of a city she is now surrounded by the sights and smells of horse and sheep, pheasant and partridge, hare, rabbit and deer…
And yet… every new experience is treated as a joyful discovery, enthusiastically widening her previous comfort zone of familiarity.
We’ve got the builders in, and the canine members of staff are really not amused… Even though they have been here over a week now, the dogs still go mad every time one of the builders walks across the courtyard. It’s a boundary issue, and nobody likes it when someone keeps crossing their boundaries. I’ve had to draw all the curtains on that side of the house so the builders can come and go without the attendant chaos.
What do we do when someone crosses (or tries to cross) one of our own personal boundaries? Do we make it known (however lovingly) that this is not acceptable, or do we keep the little yapping voice to ourselves, drawing across the curtain in order to keep the peace?
If you are finding yourself saying “yes” to others at the expense of saying “no” to yourself, perhaps it’s time to start listening to your inner dog…
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 Wydale, 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…
...and the Canine Members of Staff