At the weekend I went dog-sitting at my parents’ house (they were very excitedly attending their debut civil partnership wedding, bless). Their dog, Ben, is a beautiful and lovely-tempered, but typically neurotic border collie. He’s from proper working farm stock and, as such, has huge amounts of nervous energy that would usually be poured into rounding up livestock, but instead leaks out into various neuroses, including fear of (in no particular order): lights, trains (rather unfortunately for my rail-geek Dad), pigeons, fast cars and motorbikes… You get the picture. He also does that classic collie thing of obsessing over ‘playing’ fetch. Except to him it’s not a game, it’s a job. Poor Ben.
Anyway, when I returned from my travels a few weeks ago, all relaxed and happy and, if I’m honest, completely hippified, I noticed a strange thing. I was dog-sitting Ben again, and had been warned by my parents that he was being particularly bonkers at the moment – this was mainly manifesting as a one-dog war being waged against the garden’s pigeon population. Sure enough, he did seem very on-edge and spent most of the time outside, barking at the puffy-chested blighters. However, later that day, when I was alone in the house and meditating in the lounge (as is my cliched post-travels hippy wont), I noticed Ben enter the room and settle down near me with a deep sigh. He seemed relaxed for the first time since I’d been home. The quiet minutes stretched out, and I really felt as though we were relaxing together, it was very strange.
On his evening walk later, I decided to do a bit of an experiment. For a start I firmly left his toy at home. I then turned the walk into a moving meditation, focusing on breathing deep and feeling really calm. I also in my head concentrated on Ben relaxing and trusting me to be in charge, as I realise that so much of his anxiety is because he feels he needs to be top dog and it stresses him out – he needs to be alphaed! The results were really spooky. Usually Ben strains on the lead, always trying to be in front; he freaks out when cars drive by fast, and it’s almost impossible to engage with him, such is his stress. This time, he almost immediately fell into step beside me and, even more weirdly, kept looking up to me for assurance. I deliberately minimised my speech and, if I needed to issue an instruction, kept it quiet and calm, ideally using a hand gesture rather than my voice. Ben’s obedient response was miraculous – it felt like we were really in tune with each other and he was completely chilled out, feeding off my calm vibes. I didn’t even need to put him on the lead along the side of the road, which is previously unheard of. I must have been putting out indisputable signs that I was in control of the situation and he could totally trust me and relax.
This weekend was another chance to practise my new-found dog-whispering, and again I had huge success. I’ve gone all Caesar Milan and it’s a brilliant feeling. With such a tangible response from Ben, it’s difficult to deny the effects of the energy that we emanate, whether this comes out through subtle body-language or something more ethereal. Whatever it is, if dogs respond to it, people must too on some level – I just think our ability to tune into it has become increasingly threatened by the hundreds of other stimuli that our minds are distracted by at every given moment.
So anyway, if you have a crazy dog, perhaps try cultivating a feeling of calm in yourself first, and see what happens…
Zen Ben under the arbour, both in fine form.
And, as I feel my blog would no longer be complete without a picture of a flower (!), here is a beautiful rose from mum and dad’s garden (this photo is dedicated to my lovely sister, Charl – our own English rose).