An exercise to try at home
I wanted to offer a practical guide for you to discover if your dogs are responding to your feelings. In this post I describe four categories of 'emotions' that I have worked with which can serve as good indicators to see if your dog's behaviour is linked to you. If you are like me you might not always notice your feelings, but that doesn't stop your dog responding to them. Give yourself permission to be curious about your feelings, especially the ones you don't like to admit to. See if you get any surprises. If you have more than one dog you might find that different dogs display different responses to the same feeling in you. That has been my experience.
We can be fearful or afraid when we feel our natural 'right to be here' is challenged. It doesn't have to be a scary man with an axe coming towards you, it might just be a neighbour coming towards you in the street causing you to panic about what you are going to say. Try to notice times when you feel fearful and check out how your dog responds. Do they bark and lunge, are they silly and excited, do they cower? Or something else?
Guilt is what we get when we deny ourselves the right to feel and have pleasure. Our dogs can feel our guilt. Notice when you feel guilty around your dog. Can you notice a change in behaviour? Are there times, or things that you do, that make you feel guilty towards your dog, like leaving your dog to go to work, or not taking her a walk one day? Can you accept that you feel that way? When I notice myself going on a guilt trip, rather than resist the feeling I try to acknowledge and accept my response as part of me. That way I don't get so overwhelmed and it seems to subside quicker.
We feel ashamed when we feel our right to act and be an individual is challenged. It is very easy to feel that we are not good enough, that we don't meet some made-up standard of being. Do you ever feel ashamed when you're with your dog? Maybe those times when he runs up to another dog in the park, uninvited, and you feel bad about not being able to control him. Notice that feeling. Maybe you think 'OMG, I'm so embarrassed, why can't I have a dog that behaves. I'm just going to avoid meeting people altogether' This is a common scenario for me. If that's how you feel, notice it. Be curious, acknowledge and accept the response as part of your experience.
When you are upset, what does your dog do? When you cheer up, does their behaviour change? My dogs have shown very different reactions to my tears, reflecting their individual personalities, but all very noticeable behaviours. One would try and lick me, another would just sit next to me and another would leave the room the moment the tears started coming.
I am certain that there will be instances where you will make a connection between your feelings and your dog's behaviour. As a result of doing this exercise other things might happen. You might start to notice how you are feeling more often. Just noticing how we are feeling in any given moment can be really helpful to us going about our day. Even more helpful is being able to accept those feelings as part of our experience, even if we would rather disown them. Being open to and accepting of how we are emotionally, brings a richer dimension to our lives.
If you want an example of this in action you can read my post 'why does your dog hump you' which describes an experience I had with one of my own dogs.
If you would like an example of how I try and make sense of my emotional experiences you can read 'What's the real problem?'
I hope you will give this a try and if you do i would love to hear how you got on in the comments below.