"Hearthrug!"


Jus’ like ol’ Rhymin’ Simon says, “Detroit, Detroit got a hell of a hockey team.” In honor of whom, today’s post will use a sports metaphor. Our dog trainer left two commands to the discretion of the dog owner. The first, today’s topic, was to be in English [not Japanese], so that visitors to one’s home could easily use it [without consulting the cue card of Japanese commands we hand all who enter here]. We were to designate an area in the home as the Penalty Box, to which the dog would be sent, briefly, for incidents of “unnecessary roughness” [to borrow a sports term]. No G-water would be served there, however. In our household, typical infractions include: too vigorous herding of our 3 cats, too emphatic barking at intruding neighborhood dogs on our property, and–most egregiously–challenging guests who have been designated by the Management as “Welcome.” A second guest-challenge results in being tethered, by a longish leash, to the hearthrug area, and commanded to “Fuse” [pronounced Foo-say, lie down]; and a third challenge results in being sent off to the “locker room” [her downstairs dogroom, which is larger and more comfortably furnished than either of my kids’ college dorm rooms].

The hockey metaphor is apt, because no one in this household is kidding themselves that Lili subscribes to a policy of absolute non-violence. There is presumed in hockey to be a certain degree of “necessary roughness” [euphemized as “checking”] that is part of the game. I grew up hearing droll Midshipmen at Dahlgren Hall hockey matches chant, “Impede him! Impede him! Make him relinquish the puck!” Likewise, another old chestnut from Coronation Street is “Why keep a dog and bark, yourself?” The English telly dog trainer, Victoria Stillwell, advises that when one’s dog first barks to announce the approach to one’s home of a non-resident, one should say “Thank you!” [in our case, “Arigato!”], since that is what dogs were bred to do. Only if the dog carries on barking after being thanked, should s/he be corrected.

Let us apply this principle to the barking dog in our head [the amygdala]. It was “bred” to warn us of potential danger. [It’s just trying to keep us alive. Give it a break, already…and maybe some G-water.] Upon first noticing our hackles rise, we should be grateful. It means we’re alive and taking notice of our surroundings. Now, let’s assess the threat: pain & suffering, or just fear, or an annoying intrusion, or our old nemesis, humiliation? At this point, the barking dog should “belt up,” so we can start dealing with the situation.

But, what if it doesn’t “belt up”? What if it winds itself up into a frenzy of over-the-top, adrenaline-fuelled fury? Well, then, we need our own personal command to send it to the Penalty Box. [Coincidentally, in Cognitive Therapy, this is often called “Thought Checking.”] Here’s where the Emotive Speech Function can help. Back in the day, well-brought-up English boys were trained to say “Rats!” [as opposed to an actual oscenity or profanity], whereas girls were encouraged to say “Crumbs!” These quaint bowdlerisms are fun to collect: “Crikey!” “Gor blimey!” “Gordon Bennet!” Whatever the outcry, the meaning–to others and to oneself–is clear: “rush of blood to the head” [amygdala]…”am about to flee, fight, or freeze”…”need to chill.” Interestingly, although being told by another person to “chill” or “relax” [melded these days into “chillax”], only increases one’s sense of humiliation, telling oneself “You must chill!” is often just the ticket, to drain the adrenaline, stop flailing around, and start dealing.

Personally, these days I tell myself “Hearthrug!” [Incidentally, I have never had G-water. It might be vile. I just notice it’s what the Red Wings drink, while chillaxing in the Penalty Box.]

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Filed under aggression happens, leading a pack, limbic system, pragmatics

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