Growing up my best friend had a dog named Pepper that I was absolutely terrified of.
Every time I came over she would jump on me and intimidate me into a panicked state of submission.
Pepper sensed my fear and it only made her more aggressive. She knew instinctively, based on the vibes I was putting out that we had beef for some reason and continued to torment me in response to my alerted sympathetic state.
I begged my buddy, Scott, “Please, lock her upstairs so we can play video games downstairs in peace.”
Scott explained that if I would remove my fear of Pepper, Pepper would calm down and fully accept me.
I thought he was full of sh*t… but I was determined to prove him wrong and show him that Pepper was indeed a demon dog sent from the depths of hell to torment me.
So I indulged his little experiment and firmly set my mind with the intention of showing Pepper no fear. Total monk mode. She could bark, she could bite, she could call me names… I didn’t care. I would play this game of chicken unflinchingly by zenning myself out momentarily and whatever was about to happen would happen.
When Scott released Pepper, she seemed confused for a moment.
It was like she recognized me on the outside, but that I’d become someone different on the inside. She sniffed, and circled like a shark, but finally let down her guard and started licking me playfully.
I was totally blown away!
While part of me hated that Scott was right… a much larger part of me loved the realization that I could change my relationship with a dog by simply changing my mind. I’ve felt like a bit of a dog whisperer ever since.
I’ll admit, I’m not eager to test my luck with sharks, but the lessons about activating one’s parasympathetic nervous system apply outside of the animal kingdom as well.