Your dog is your mirror. That’s why dog trainers say you need to be in a calm state in order to keep your dog calm. Dogs respond to a fraction of our mood, not even a thought, but just our energy.
I was stressed out to the max one day but was calm on the outside. No human noticed any change in my psychological state. I decided to take my dogs to the dog park to de-stress myself. I was as calm as could be during the drive and in the park. But alas, my soulmate dog was agitated and yelling at every dog that came near us.
On the other hand, when I was happy and relaxed, he behaved like an angel even when some dogs were in his face or trying to mount him; he gracefully and calmly stopped them.
Have you noticed what happens when you just think about taking your dog on a walk without moving or saying anything? — You continue working on your computer and just thinkabout it, then your dog comes right next to you saying, “Yes, yes and yes!”
Or, when I was quietly petting one dog upstairs, the other dog who was taking a nap downstairs at the other side of the house, ran up the stairs to join us. I can only explain that the downstairs-dog sensed the upstairs-dog’s happy energy and wanted to join us.
If they are this sensitive and keen to others’ moods, how can anyone blame them for acting up when they’re only projecting our own psyche?
It was only about fifteen years ago that I heard a newscaster on TV say with a serious expression on her face that scientists just discovered that dogs may have feelings. I said out loud, “Seriously? Does it have to take the scientists and millions of dollars of research funds to figure it out?”
So, yes, we, the dog people, know that dogs do have feelings. What is astonishing is their ability to sense our feelings no matter how subconsciously they’re hidden. Sometimes, they tell you when you’re not even aware that you’re internalizing your stress.
When it happens to me, I take a deep breath, drop down on the floor and meditate with them, and the negative energy melts away like magic. This is why they make such excellent therapists for PTSD and other emotional and psychological conditions.
For probably the same reason, dogs thrive in anticipation — in a way, it seems to be all about anticipation to them; i.e., you think about a walk and they anticipate in excitement, or you think about feeding them and they anticipate in joy.
When my late big dog Forte became paralyzed from the waist down, I was devastated and Forte became depressed. We were going down in a spiral. I realized one day that we could spend the rest of his life in misery, or enjoy every moment we had together. That changed everything. He was happy to trot around in his wheels, and seeing him happy made me happy. Then seeing me happy made him happier, and that made me happier, and that made him happier. We spent almost every weekend in the mountains of Idyllwild (yes, his wheels had the mountain bike tires) without ever feeling depressed again because we lifted each other’s spirit.
They are there for us to show us our inner state of mind and to help us get a grip of our own emotions. So, if they’re agitated, instead of telling them to pipe down, ask them what’s going on. What they show us as the mirror of our soul is far more accurate than any shrink can. And that’s perhaps why dogs are “man’s best friend.”
Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.