Snap Out of It

February 12, 2007


Cesar Millan and dogs © MPH Entertainment

I have been catching up on the popular TV show, THE DOG WHISPERER with Cesar Millan and have now watched two seasons on DVD. I know I ‘m dreaming, but I think watching this series should be required of all potential dog owners.

There was one issue that Cesar continually brings up about dogs that I had been blind to. Dogs can get in an “obsessive” state where their little dog minds think over and over:

Get the squirrel!
Walk! Walk! Walk!
Food! Food! Food!
Lick, lick and more licking.
Attack that dog across the street
Growl at this person/dog invading my territory
Growl at someone invading my personal space

For some reason, unless there is some outside interference, the behavior continues. Cesar encourages us to make the dog “snap out of it.” He imitates the variation in the dog’s expression, from an intense stare at the object of their obsession, or to a calm submissive upwardly gaze. Dogs latch onto things with their minds, and left unchallenged by the alpha male of the pack, or its owner, bad habits develop–growling, biting, spinning, licking, barking, shadowing, jumping, etc.

This phenomenon made me wonder whether there is a correspondence in humans. We obsess, but in more of a start and stop manner. It can be a lifestyle: smoking, stuttering, saying ummmm, doubting yourself, substance abuse, dominating conversations and so on. We can go to work, have meals, sleep, and put off our obsessions, but they are still there, lurking. We pay therapists to help us “snap out of it.” Cesar has great success with short leashes–tight and high on the neck. What is the human equivalent of that? Probably a personal shadow who catches you slipping into obsessive behavior and stops you.

But it also occurs to be that there are two activities (at least!) that I don’t want to “snap out of.” The first is music. Music is a drug that takes us, if we let it, on mind journies that we co-create with the composer. There is, built into the listening experience, a stupor, a glazed-over stare that is in the face of someone lost in a piece of music. All narratives that take place over time share the same part of the brain that trances-out in attention. Another obsession trance that is best to not disturb is the art of making love. Stopping to think what you are having for dinner, or an appointment you don’t want to forget is a bad kind of “snapping out of it.”

I come away from this information realizing that there is a time to obsess, and a time to snap out of it. Some people are fortunate to have partners who aid in this balance. For the rest, either the pack, or personal inner strength, keeps us in check.

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