The other evening, I was out with my youngest son, and our two year old dog, called Molly. Molly is a cross between a Lurcher (who are invariably made up of all sorts in themselves) and a mixed Terrier. That combination of breeds simply means that fundamentally, as a sight hound, she will seek to run like the wind after anything that moves. Anything that is, that looks remotely like a fox, squirrel, and especially a cat. She will bark, growl, whine and/or strain at the lead to such an extent that for a couple of seconds, she is walking down the street on her hind legs only! When it comes to other dogs, she is bizarrely selective. Some dogs can provoke a “Scooby Doo” response where her legs are desperately trying to enable her to take off but are simply paddling the ground; while others will barely generate a second glance.
Well, on this occasion, she saw a fox jogging across the road and pulled so hard on the lead that not only did she almost pull my son over, but her leather collar snapped and she was off to the races! Fortunately, the modern day fox is still very cunning and hid somewhere, and after just a few minutes, Molly very obediently returned to us once she was satisfied the fox was nowhere to be found.
And what, you may well be asking, is the point of this little anecdote which, if you are not a dog lover, carries precious few, relevant lessons. Well I beg to differ. Because the next day, I decided to perform a brief experiment on Molly. (No animal was harmed during the course of this experiment of course!)
I was walking along the street with her alone this time. Instead of reassuring her that there were no foxes behind the bush, or cats, or squirrels for that matter; I decided to try something different. I have to confess that if I’m a tiny bit bored, I will occasionally tease her by saying, “Where’s the fox/cat/squirrels?” Upon hearing anything like that kind of question, Molly begins whining and performing her now highly amusing hind leg-walking, circus act. But this time was much more interesting. Instead of mentioning foxes, cats or squirrels, I said, “Where’s the blog?” Followed by, “Where’s the email?” And finally, “Where’s the hookoo?” Her reaction to all three of these words (and yes, hookoo is a brand new word I have just made up) was identical to her now normal reaction.
What does this prove you may ask? Well apart from the obvious lesson that a dog can’t tell the difference between a fox and an email, it does of course prove that it has nothing to do with the actual word but rather the tone of voice used to communicate that word. If I had simply been talking to myself (which I am known to do from time to time, especially if I’m really bored) and happened to mention out loud, “Where’s the email then?” referring to some long-awaited email that still hadn’t shown up in my inbox, would Molly have started walking on her hind legs? I don’t think so.
What can we humans learn then, from the hopeless ignorance and overreaction of many of our canine friends? I would like to suggest at least five things in no particular order:
1. It’s all in the tone – I have spent a lifetime trying to learn this and it just may be that a dog has finally given me the revelation of how significant this can be in every aspect of life. The way you say anything is so much more important than even the words that come out of your mouth.
2. Assuming most people are able to distinguish between certain words better than most dogs, it is always worth taking a breath before reacting to what you think you heard. You never know, it may be that the tone wasn’t wonderful but the actual word the other person used wasn’t meant to be as offensive as it sounded. After all, you don’t really want to lose your lead or rather, your rag, and tear off down some dark alley do you?
3. It’s out of your control anyway – the vast majority of the time that Molly wants to chase down another creature, she is not able to because of the lead and the weight holding on to that lead. The irony is, when she is let off, out in some field or on the beach, she simply runs over to play and either spends a few minutes chasing around, or being chased, or simply returns from an indifferent encounter. So recognise when you have no control and don’t give in to an overreaction that will serve no one except the pharmaceutical companies when you are forced to take medication due to the cumulative effects of stress.
4. Enjoy the walk – wherever you happen to be and whether you have certain constraints on your movements (time, financial, physical, emotional etc.) or not, take time to enjoy the walk and become one of those people who genuinely “Walks their Talk”. Eventually, you won’t have the lead holding you back and guess what, you won’t want to waste the time you have by barking after any individual who happens to be annoying you. You can learn to appreciate others (warts and all) and simply have fun chasing, even sniffing (but not in the way that dogs do!) or rather, learning about other people.
5. Invest your energy in the good stuff – I love watching Molly racing up and down the beach, trying to catch those tiny birds that skim along the surface of the breaking waves. By the time we get home she’s ready for a good, long nap, having poured out all her energy on something that she certainly enjoyed but was never going to come away with anything except her own contentment.
Learn to invest in things that will profit your life properly, not synthetically. What I mean is this: look for opportunities that will generate a potentially rewarding return on your emotional intelligence, not necessarily your material possession. Take time out with someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with forever. Enjoy rather than endure some things you have to do, simply because you realise it’s going to feel better during and especially after it’s finished. Most of all, understand that the best things in life are not things at all.