Thank the Barking Dog
This week’s edition is about how life with a Labrador taught me to quiet my inner critic. Enjoy.
This is Aubrey. He’s 13 years old, and he’s a lovely boy. In fact, he’s the reason I’m not in an asylum for the insane.
He’s pretty chilled these days, but when he was a puppy, Aubrey would go NUTS every time someone came near the door.
Postman, courier, neighbour, friend – it didn’t matter. If Aubrey heard you coming, he would bark like crazy.
I tried loads things to keep him quiet, but to no avail.
If I put him in the back of the house, he’d just bark louder and more intensely to make himself heard.
Sometimes I’d distract him with food. But that never lasted long. Like any Lab, Aubrey can eat faster than a narcissistic billionaire can make an unsolicited sexual advance.
So most of the time, I dealt with the barking by shouting “STOP THAT [OBSCENE GERUND] BARKING!!” at the top of my lungs.
You can imagine how well that worked.
After months of barking and swearing, a friend with far more experience of dogs shared the secret that changed our relationship with Aubrey (and our neighbours) forever.
His advice? “Say ‘Thank You.'”
My response? “WTF?”
“He’s doing his job. He’s trying to protect you. The more upset you get, the more he thinks there’s danger. If you want him to be quiet, don’t tell him off, just stay calm and say ‘thank you’ instead.”
It took a little practice, but it worked a treat. Aubrey would still bark at a knock on the door – but as long as we smiled, kept cool and thanked him for doing his job, he’d calm down in seconds.
A few years later, I learned that the same strategy worked for calming down the barking inside my head.
I don’t know about you, but the barking inside my mind – the howling inner voice of self-doubt – can be far worse than any bite. Mine can be a right yappy little bastard: quick to remind me of my failures and shortcomings whenever I try to do anything.
Try to bury, ignore, or argue with it, it gets louder. Distract it with food, it gets hungrier. Give it a drink, it gets bitter and morose.
I’ve finally come to realise that my barking inner-critic (and yours too) is simply doing its job. As harsh and even nasty as that voice can be – it’s coming from a desire to protect.
You may not like the way it’s going about it, but when your inner critic starts barking inside your head, it’s trying to help.
So next time the barking starts in your mind, don’t fight it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t force it away. Don’t feed it. And definitely don’t get it drunk.
Stay calm. Smile at it. Pat it on the head. Recognise and appreciate what it’s trying do for you. Let it know you’re in control and that things will be fine.
Say “Thank You.”