The Guard Dog

I once had a dog who was very protective of me. He was a Doberman, one of those sleek ones, mainly black with some chestnut brown markings on his chest. His name was Charlie and I was very attached to him. I’d go out with him everyday and became so familiar with his ways, and he with mine that I thought he was perfect. Sure he had the habit of sometimes barking at night and, occasionally I had to clean up after him but on a day to day basis, we just got along together.

One thing he did like to do was to protect me: whenever a stranger – or not even anyone that strange – came to the door, he would bark and even growl at them. He had a sense that they might be dangerous and so he became an expert at warning them off.

A certain time arose when this began to be a problem; he would only allow really familiar faces into the house and I never even got the chance to get to know those people, didn’t have the chance either to accept them or reject them – I never even got to know the names of most of them.

Charlie thought he was keeping me safe by growling, the people soon went away and we could forget they had even knocked.

There was one person who kept knocking though, and came back and back. We got into a routine of knock – growl – go away, knock – growl – go away. Until one day…..

… day I decided to see what would happen, my interest was piqued and I let them come in. Charlie did his best but this person, let’s call them Ms Regret, made her way over the threshold. Charlie stood his ground at first, barking and baring his teeth. She stood her ground and so did I. So Charlie started to explore, to sniff. Ms Regret held out her hand and Charlie noticed that she was just trying to communicate something. He let his guard down, literally.

Ms Regret came in, I offered her a drink and we sat and chatted. I didn’t like all that she said and Charlie, the intuitive dog that he was, sensed my discomfort every time, sat up, at times stood and began to bare his teeth again. I was curious and so asked Charlie to sit again, assured him we’d be ok and let Ms Regret have her say.

She wasn’t being mean, she wasn’t threatening, she was just there, part of my life.

As she talked, Charlie fell asleep, no longer afraid, and I learnt from her – all sorts of things that I hadn’t known before, all sorts of new thoughts and awareness came to me. Charlie had wanted to protect me, keep me safe from any danger. Trouble was, he had come to believe that everything unfamiliar or new was a threat especially those people we were in the habits of refusing entry to. My welcome mat had been put away; once it was unpacked, the danger turned out not to be a threat after all, the danger was information I needed to help me reflect and not react to life’s challenges.

Our brains can be like our Charlies, protecting us from unpleasant experiences, thoughts and memories. The brain thinks it is being clever by avoiding that potential threat and will quickly jump into action to keep us safe, making sure we shut that door quickly. Trouble is, parts of our brains generalise all discomfort, perceiving even thoughts and memories to be life endangering. If we put out the welcome mat to the unpleasant and difficult, and logical brains can sit and have a drink with them, be curious and perhaps Charlie will go back to sleep so that we can decide how dangerous they really are.