Your Barking Dog

Taming your inner critic.

Animals have always been a big part of my life. When I was a child, neighborhood dogs would visit me much like children visit their friends.

“Wanna come out and play?” they’d ask. I’d skip out the door, disappearing for hours as we’d explore creeks, woods, and secret hide-outs. Today, I’m still around lots of dogs. They are true friends, and I can’t imagine life without them.

Here’s a little-known fact: dogs bark for different reasons, and they each sound different. I can tell from a distance who is barking and why. Charlotte, my beagle, loves to bark a low, baying, hound-type bark. Poodle, a setter mix, is a ventriloquist — she can bark without moving her lips. She opens her mouth and out comes a repetitive, high pitched noise that could shatter glass. Opie, a basset hound mix, aptly named after Opie on Andy Griffith, has a low, slow, deep bark enunciating every sound and syllable. Minnie, a tiny chihuahua/miniature pincher mix, has a bark the size of Big Ben, chiming in every hour on the hour.

Every now and then, they like to howl, together and in unison. One group will start and, like a gospel group in tune with one another, they each sing their part until all you can hear is a perfectly pitched howl made up of individuals belting out their voices. Picture The Sound of Music with dogs, and you’ve got it!

We are not so different from the dogs. We, too, have a barking dog inside us. Unfortunately, our barking dogs often don’t sound so melodious. They are the voices that snipe and snip and criticize everything we do. Our barking dogs, or inner critics, can take us down and level our self-worth in an instant. Furthermore, our barking dogs roam and look for others to bark at.

One summer, when I was in college, I worked at an inn in the mountains of NC. The owner, an impatient and crabby man, would bark orders, causing us to jump and hurry whenever he was around. If we made a mistake, he would literally yell at us in front of others. He would humiliate anyone in his path. I learned to fear and avoid him.

We learn to fear and avoid our inner critic, too, though we can’t ever seem to get away from it.

So, what’s the solution? How do we tame our barking dog? Here’s the surprising answer: make friends with it. Take your barking dog home with you. It needs your attention. What is it trying to say to you? My guess is that the voice you hear is outdated, inaccurate and in need of some TLC. Be kind to yourself. Love who you are — all of you. Your barking dog needs love and attention, too. We all do.

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