Sounds a little far-fetched right?
Sure we all now accept that dogs can detect changes in the weather, detect cancer cells, sniff out drugs, bombs and help people feel better. But curing a public speaking phobia?
Well they did for me. They sat me down and said ‘look into my eyes….’ Joke!
So let’s get to the nitty gritty.
Feeling sick to the stomach
First of all what was my fear of public speaking all about?
Very good question. In fact, public speaking is one of the biggest phobias people suffer from so I knew I wasn’t alone. Basically, the thought or act of having to stand up, or even sit down, in front of people I don’t know, or even people I did know and speak with purpose filled me with absolute horror.
I would feel sick, break into a sweat, feel tearful and when it came to the actual speaking bit, it was like I became mute. I no longer had the ability to form a sentence and my mind was just a complete fog. It was debilitating.
A masochistic teacher and that piano catastrophe
Don’t get me wrong, I have the most supportive and loving parents in the world. This isn’t about blame, rather it’s about working out when I learnt that standing up in front of people was a terrible thing to happen.
I can think of a couple of occasions which may have led to this horror and some of you may be able to relate.
I was about 11 or 12 years old and had just started comprehensive school. One of the subjects I was never particularly good at was geography. Possibly because our teacher scared the living daylights out of me. Let’s say, I think he enjoyed humiliating his students into learning, which of course didn’t work. It stunted learning!
At the beginning of class, we had to go to our desks and stand behind them. I was next to my best mate Kelly who was amazing at sport but not so strong with geography. Just like me.
Mr Masochist (not his real name of course) wouldn’t let us sit down until we could answer one of his questions correctly. This day it was capital cities. Not my forte. I was a language guru and not one for memorising cities I’d never visited.
Needless to say, both Kelly and I were the last 2 left standing because we didn’t know the answers.
I remember to this day, how completely mortified I felt. Like I was stupid and everyone else knew more than me and that was that. I can’t even remember if I ended up answering a question or if he just became exasperated and told us to sit.
That is the only thing I remember about geography.
Another incident was during a music event.
I used to play the piano. I loved it and was pretty damn good. I enjoyed playing it for myself and had no interest in performing. But because I was so good, my music teacher insisted I play at a concert along with lots of other budding talented young musicians. I didn’t want to but said I would as I wasn’t a particularly confident child and liked to please those around me.
So there were other pianists, cello players, violin players and probably the inevitable recorder! I remember thinking everyone was amazing! So when it came to my turn, I felt really really sick and nervous.
I was playing a duet with my teacher so sat next to her and began.
But then I just froze.
All I could feel was everyone watching me, the sun beaming down on me like I was on stage in the spotlight and that my fingers no longer remembered where the keys were. I’m sure we attempted 3/4 times to get it right and each time, I felt more horrified that I’d made a total mess of it and let everyone down. How embarrasing!!!
I went on to grade 8 then stopped playing.
There will have been many other incidents that compounded my belief that I shouldn’t be in the spotlight and certainly shouldn’t be speaking or standing out.
Becoming a master in avoidance kept me feeling safe
And of course, all of these experiences then become parts of our subconscious mind so we almost forget why we have a fear and just totally avoid those situations.
That is until something happens in your life that means that the fear of public speaking is blocking you moving forward. And this is where the dogs come in.
I’ve always been an animal lover. Not just, “ahhh aren’t they cute” but always felt a really deep connection with animals, dogs in particular. Like I understood them and we were communicating. Loved it.
But I followed a fairly typical path. Got an education. Was good at languages so went to university and studied French and German and trained to be an interpreter and translator.
Guess what! I was terrified of the interpreting as it involved public speaking so I didn’t pursue it as I also felt everyone else was better than me so why would I be hired? More avoidance.
I then got a job in London working in recruitment for about 9 years until I was made redundant. I worked at Battersea Dogs Home for 5 years (amazing job!), moved to Oxfordshire and ran a successful dog boarding business from our home with my partner while working full time and caring for our 3 dogs and cats.
Finding my soul’s path
But none of this nourished my soul. Yes I was surrounded by dogs but I wasn’t learning. I wanted to understand the dogs better. I didn’t want to train them or teach them how to behave. I wanted to understand what makes them tick.
So I signed up for an 18 month dog behaviour training course with Sheila Harper where I learnt all about dog stress, body language, my own stress!!, and much much more. The biggest thing I got out of it was understanding that every behaviour is driven by an emotion and that actually the vast majority of dogs are very misunderstood.
The more I learnt, the more I recognised that dogs were constantly try to communicate with their humans but we just weren’t listening. We weren’t listening as either we didn’t understand their language or we chose to ignore it.
But then here comes the thing. In order to complete my qualification, I needed to teach a class of people about something I’d learnt in order to help their dogs.
How on earth was I going to do that??? I wanted to complete this qualification more than anything as I’d learnt so much and wanted to share it with others. That way they and their dogs could benefit and enjoy a happier relationship and closer connection.
Asking for help to face my fear
Thankfully, I knew of an excellent therapist. In fact she’s more than excellent. She’s the best. Her name is Annette Rainbow and one of the many therapies she offers is NLP which stands for neurological linguistic programming. Basically she works on the subconscious mind where we store all our memories and emotion.
I was really proud of myself when I went to see her as I said I had decided that I was going to do a talk on dog communication and although I was really nervous, I was up for it and it would be an hour long.
Annette smiled and said “an hour? Rachel, from what you have explained to me about dog language, you will need a whole day”
WHAT??? No way! The fear kicked in. Sweats, dry throat, sick. So Annette did her thing. At the end she asked, “So how do you feel about running a day’s workshop?” and I replied “Sure” !!!!!!
I know. One session!!
So I did it. Yes it was terrifying and I’m sure I stumbled along the way. But I did it and it was the most thrilling thing I’d ever done to that point and I felt extremely proud of myself.
But that was it in my mind. I had done my bit and didn’t ever need to do another event which involved public speaking.
I put it to bed.
Giving animals a choice and a voice
But then I qualified in Applied Zoopharmacognosy (animals self-medicating on plant medicine to heal themselves). I felt like I’d come home.
The fact that all animals can INNATELY detect the medicinal chemical compounds within plants and will select exactly which ones they need, blew my mind.
Because it meant the animals were given a choice and voice. Offering a range of remedies to an animal means that they can select what it is they need to FEEL better.
As I trained, I saw huge improvements in the health and wellness, and therefore behaviour, of not only my own dogs, but the case studies I worked with. Dogs, cats and horses alike.
It’s empowering the animal with the opportunity to improve their health and well-being. And the owner with the skills and knowledge to help their own animal. It transforms their relationship as the animal has been heard and the owner listens and understands.
Just writing about it fills me with so much happiness as I LOVE this work.
Embrace vulnerability and fear
So I decided I need to tell the world about this.
My passion for this subject and animal welfare is so huge and runs so deep that I just have to talk about it. To anyone that will listen. Be it one person or a room full of people.
I had to embrace public speaking again. My former nemasis.
By giving myself a voice and embracing my vulnerability and moving away from the fear of being judged, I am also now able to give the animals a voice too.
I’ve now spoken at events with over 100 people present. I hold regular workshops so people can witness self-medication in action and gain an understanding of how to help their own animal. No problem.
Yes I get a little bit nervous, but that goes as soon as I connect with the people and the animals. Even if only one person in the room goes home and gets curious about their own animal’s ability, I’ve done my job. I’m happy.
I have spoken at the Animal Energy World Conference, many Women’s Institute events, at local Networking events and for the Canine Health Concern group down in Cornwall that were so fascinated, I’m going back there again.
I actually now ENJOY public speaking. I know! Bonkers!!
Finding something I am passionate about and knowing that my fear and anxiety of being judged is less important than the need for animals to be heard and recognised as equal sentient beings is driving me forward.
The future is bright.
I’m excited about the future and being part of positive change in the world. Animals are our equals. They have much to teach us. We simply have to listen.
I hope this blog has inspired you in some way. It’s been cathartic for me to write so thank-you for listening and sharing.
If you are interested in hosting a talk or workshop about Self-medication in dogs or horses please contact me directly.
“Amazing experience, so humbling, we have so much to learn from our animals. Thank you Rachel you have changed our lives and this is only the beginning!” Vanessa, CHC Cornwall
“Rachel is an amazing teacher, making this topic come alive in a very real and down to earth way. She obviously has a deep love for what she does, and for the animals she works with. I highly recommend her to anyone who would like to offer their animals a way to express their needs, giving them a voice, in order to deepen the bonds of understanding, trust and love.” Robyn, Animal Healer, Equenergy
“It was fascinating and Rachel’s knowledge and love of what she does shines through and is infectious” Barbara, CHC Cornwall
Wishing you all courage, love and light.
Rachel Windsor-Knott’s goal is for the beautiful process of Botanical self-healing to become a natural part of sharing your life with your animal. She is an Animal Wellness Facilitator specialising in Botanical self-healing for animals (aka Zoopharmacognsoy), a Dog Behaviour Therapist and a Canine Communication Coach. She runs regular workshops, speaks at events and offers consultations in person and by Skype. Her online shop has natural remedies and starter packs for your animal.
Click here to explore the on-line shop and new starter kits.