The Teachings of Dog – No 25: What if everything really is alright in the end?

At about 5pm every afternoon, the canine members of staff begin to anticipate their supper… I don’t know how they know it’s 5pm (because they seem to know it even if the clocks have just changed!) but within five minutes of the hour they will waken, stretch and look at me with liquid, expectant eyes.  If I’m working in the sitting room they will sometimes attempt to claim my attention by trying to climb on my head. I also don’t know why 5pm is their chosen time – they have never had an absolutely fixed supper time – but 5pm always signals the beginning of the suppertime anticipation…  They don’t just believe that supper will arrive – they absolutely know it.

What if we were to apply this philosophy to our own lives?  We know that we tend to get what we focus on, so if you have a firm and unshaken belief that everything will be alright in the end, despite what challenges and opportunities for learning that the universe offers you along the way, then where do you think that belief will take you?

When you set your life goals, focus on them and believe in them with the passion of dog suppertime – you might not know exactly when it’s going to happen (although you can feel when it’s getting close!), and you absolutely know that it will.

At the end of the day – if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.

The Teachings of Dog – No 24: Why we believe weird stuff

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.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • You don’t have to believe everything you see, although if it makes it more fun, then go with your imagination.
  • If something is bothering you, make sure it’s true before you start to shout about it.
  • If you can see something that nobody else can, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there.


The Teachings of Dog – No. 23: When the Gates of Life are left open…

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!

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • The best adventures can only be found when you step outside your comfort zone.
  • If you really want something, go for it.  There’s always a risk – but sometimes it’s worth taking to avoid the regret later on.
  • When life offers you an opportunity for happiness, take it – you never know when life will leave the gates open again.

The Teachings of Dog – No 22: Why break the habit of a lifetime?

We had some old friends round for supper the other evening.  We hadn’t seen them for ages, and they were enchanted to meet the two new part-time canine members of staff, who were visiting us for the weekend.  Fortunately one of my friend’s favourite pastimes is to be submerged beneath a pile of tiny dogs, which is just as well…

Towards the end of supper, we let the dogs into the garden for a spot of milling about.  Shortly afterwards the sound of “ear applause” outside the door alerted us to their return and we opened the door… at which point a black and dripping form hurtled through the open doorway, into the kitchen – and through into the hallway, up the stairs, along the landing, into our bedroom, round the outside of the bed and onto the bed – with all of us in hot and hilarious pursuit.  Tizzie had fallen in the pond again…

It is interesting how we all become creatures of habit.  The very act of doing something over and over in the same way creates a neurological pathway in our brain, so that the behaviour becomes automatic and a habit (or ‘strategy’ in NLP terms) is born.

What if we want to create a new and useful habit, such as daily flossing, or exercise, or self-hypnosis…?  Sometimes the idea of making changes to our existing lifestyle can just seem too big.  Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit – but we can reduce this dramatically through setting a positive, specific goal, and then attaching the new “habit” onto something that we already do.  “Daily flossing” for example can be made more specific by stating is as “flossing every night after cleaning my teeth” – so that it becomes an extension of an existing habit, and not a whole new habit in itself.  Small change is always easier than big change!

In the daylight of Sunday morning, I watched the dogs in the garden.  They all know to avoid the pond, and when returning to the back door from the lawn this necessitates quite a long detour.  Tizzie has evidently decided to create her own new pathway and cut out the loop – and the trackway made by her little feet was easy to see, once you knew it was there… as was the newly-formed (and doubtless inadvertent) slipway, created the night before due to a misplaced foot in the darkness.

Tizzie’s Teachings:

  • New behaviours sometimes take a while to get right every time; remember there is no failure, only feedback.
  • Always look before you leap – even if you think you know where the edge of the pond is.
  • Don’t leave mud to dry – if you take action straight away it will mostly come out in the wash.


The Teachings of Dog: No 21 – How Not to Worry

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…

Lily’s Teachings:

  • Constantly worrying about something only makes it worse, as what we choose to focus on expands in our mind.
  • Discovering a way to change your focus can have immeasurable and unexpected benefits.
  • Frozen peas are even more fun when nobody else can reach them.

The Teachings of Dog – No 20: “All I want for Christmas is…”

It’s that time of year again… enticing cooking smells drift from the Aga, the postman brings parcels to the door (much barking required from the canine members of staff), friends call in for a visit (more barking required – the dogs do take their jobs very seriously), fairy lights abound in the house and, to Daisy’s complete enchantment, a large tree has once again appeared in the living room.

Daisy absolutely adores the Christmas Tree – she wanders slowly around underneath the lower branches so that the pine needles scratch her back; an expression of bliss on her little face.  Last year’s tree had an abundance of low branches, allowing her to disappear completely underneath and into the realm of The Presents (to our occasional consternation, as we wondered where she was).  Her disappointment when the tree disappeared after Christmas was tempered by her eventual discovery that the two cypress trees at the top of the garden provided a similar effect, with the advantage of year-round accessibility.

This year, however, our tree’s lower branches tend more toward the upright and I was initially worried that with Daisy’s diminutive stature it might prove disappointing.  However, immediately after its installation, Daisy discovered that she could still get the full Christmas Tree effect by executing a close circuit of the trunk.  As far as Daisy is concerned, her Christmas is already complete.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • Never underestimate the small pleasures in life.
  • If you look hard enough, you can find the joys of Christmas all year round.
  • The simple Christmas presents are often the best.


Joy and Happiness

The Teachings of Dog: No. 19 – Limitless Beliefs

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?

The Teachings of Dog – No 18: Finding the Right Candidate

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 heirarchy 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.

Poppy’s Teachings:

  • Don’t ignore your instincts, however attractive the candidate appears to be
  • Listen to input from your other staff members and be prepared to change your criteria for their benefit, and the benefit of the whole team, if necessary
  • Learn from each applicant, allowing the picture of your ideal candidate to evolve
  • When Poppy says no – Poppy means no.

The Teachings of Dog – No 17: Perception is Projection

Here in Wydale it might sometimes seem as if time stands still while the rest of the world passes us by (which is why it’s such a good place for a retreat centre!), 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 The Teachings of Dog No 16 – 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!

The Teachings of Dog: No 16 – Being Present

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…?