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On Dexter and Diet

This is the second installment on the psychological behavior of Dexter the Dog and why hypnotherapy matters (to humans.)

It is important to understand and communicate with them effectively.

"Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” - Orhan Pamuk

Recently, Dexter's behavior has changed, and we don't particularly understand why. Ever since we brought him home from the shelter, when he was about 18 months old, we noticed that he was particularly sensitive in his dining habits. He doesn't like to eat if there is another living being in the room, even if that is a cat he outweighs by 70 pounds. He wolfs down dinner, is OK with lunch, and is almost moody about eating breakfast. That's been the pattern anyway. It's our suspicion that, at some point in his young life, he had to defer to older dogs for food, or he was in competition with them. We know he was found in the wild, but he is otherwise so perfectly trained that he surely lived in a good home as a puppy.

It has also been the pattern that my husband puts the food in the bowl and Dexter likes to lick the spoon. But recently, if I'm working at home, he sits with me in my office, and when breakfast or lunch is served, Dexter looks to me for my opinion. He looks me dead in the eyes. I say, "It's OK, sweetie, it's time to eat your food." Then he trots off to eat it.

Why he suddenly looks for my opinion, we have no idea. Is it because I fuss over him more now that he's been diagnosed with a form of lupus? Is it because I put zinc on my own face before I put some on his snout to protect his lupus affected nose? Is it because I talk to him while we walk as if he could understand me? Or did something negative happen to him – which we doubt because he is with one of us literally every minute of the day. In any case, he’ll never be able to tell us, at least not in words.

Do both animals and people have subconscious programming?

With respect to hypnotherapy, and the study of human behavior, we can make some comparisons. Dexter has preferences for how he eats. Some of his preferences may come from difficult experiences as a puppy. Some of his preferences may stem from the fact that he has an autoimmune disease. He just may be more sensitive in body and mind than other dogs.


If Dexter were human, we might wonder if he had some kind of eating disorder. Some people eat too much or eat too quickly because they are afraid of scarcity or they had to compete with siblings for food as a child. Some people withhold from food because they don't see themselves as worthy; instead, they bow to the needs of others. Some people need permission before they do anything that is self-satisfying. Some people let others go first and apologize unnecessarily for wanting to be treated equally. While people, not animals, tend to have body image issues (I don't think I've ever seen Dexter look in a mirror), both people and animals have sensory preferences. My daughter, for example, has sensory issues surrounding food and texture. This probably stems from her early days in a Chinese orphanage. She does not have issues surrounding temperature, which is interesting because, since the water there can be contaminated, all babies on formula take it boiling hot. She had to learn to eat body temperature, or even cool foods.

How do early experiences affect diet?

So, when helping a client with weight loss or an eating disorder, it's important to understand every aspect of the background. Since food and sleep are all we really need to survive, what we think of food and why matters. How we feel about eating matters. Like Dexter, my daughter never acclimated to eating first thing in the morning. It was a nightmare for me as a parent, because I knew from experience that, if I sent her off to school with an empty stomach, she would be climbing the walls with hunger by noon. However, I knew that making her eat was also wrong. She is just designed to eat at about 10 o'clock in the morning. And I told her for years that once she went to college and got her own job, she could choose to design her life the way she preferred. We compromised with a spoonful of peanut butter and some water. I confessed to trying to get her to eat broccoli for a span of time but then we capitulated to her natural tastes. As an adult, a genetic test revealed a battle to get her to like broccoli would’ve been futile. This story shows how even the most well-meaning parent can create trauma surrounding food. It also shows that human beings come with innate preferences. To live in such a way that those preferences are honored can be a real joy. To suppress those natural instincts can be a living hell.

Respecting food or any other issue, hypnotherapy can help clients rediscover and celebrate their core being. It can help provide individuals with perspective if they’ve suffered from living in a manner that’s incongruent with the self. It can grant forgiveness and reconciliation after a lifetime of trying to please others. Hypnotherapy can create a healthy relationship with the body. Clients soon eat to live rather than live to eat. They learn to listen to their bodies. They enjoy a realistic body image and come to love themselves exactly as they are.

One thing I can say about Dexter is that he’s about the sweetest, most people and animal friendly creature I’ve ever seen - proof that he grew up trusting people and other animals than dogs. He avoids only coyotes, and that makes sense - if he indeed spent much time on his own in the wild. People remark that, for a solo large-sized dog, he’s not neurotic. We think that’s because one of us, or the cat, is always with him, plus he has loads of dog friends that he sees regularly. In short, we try to meet his needs to the best of our ability.

Adult humans, however, must take care of themselves. If they have a faulty sense of self or expectations to live as others desire, they may feel confused and unhappy. If they don’t know who they are, respect their bodies, or know how to listen to their bodies, they also may fail at self-care. A good hypnotherapist knows how to get a client back to equilibrium so they can live in health - body, mind and spirit.

Understanding their behavior and preferences

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