I am very honored to have Luna Lupus from www.luna-lupus.com here to share her excellent expertise on what dogs can teach us about emotions! Since taking in my new puppy a month ago, I’ve become a lot more passionate about how much our dogs (and other furbabies) can give us in return for the care and love we give them. They offer us so much and they really can teach us a lot. I know my puppy has taught me a bit more about perspective as he constantly reminds me of what is most important! I hope you enjoy Luna’s post, it is very enlightening!
Dog owners like say that dogs are our biggest teachers. They teach us things about dog training, patience, communication and the power of unconditional love. But often times, if we only give them a chance, they can teach us more than that; they can teach us so much about ourselves. Dogs, like humans, are sentient beings with a wide spectrum of emotions. Just like us, they can be happy, angry, afraid and even depressed. Their emotions are not to be underestimated. As somebody who has been surrounded by dogs all my life and have done a fair share of work on my mental health, I started to notice the parallels between the way dogs and humans process trauma and emotions. Truth be told, we are not that different. However, our furry best friends can teach us some very important things.
Here are 5 things that your dog can teach you about emotions!
1. Feel your emotions
As humans, we like to repress certain emotions that make us (or those around us) feel uncomfortable; most common ones tend to be anger, sadness and fear. It’s a coping mechanism that we pick up at the earliest stages of our life. Dogs, however, are different. They feel the emotions in all of their entirety, they don’t worry whether or not they should be afraid or angry, they simply let their emotions be. I have been surrounded by rescue dogs for the last couple of years non-stop and even though they have been through some really rough things, they never cease to impress me with their ability to let emotions run through them freely.
2. Express your emotions
Closely correlating to the first point, expressing your emotions is the next step from feeling them. With dogs, this is usually the same thing – as they feel it, they express it. People, on the other hand, like to overthink things. When we feel angry with someone we love, we wonder if we should tell them or just keep quiet. When we feel sad, we wonder if we can show it on the outside or rather pretend to be happy. Allow dogs to teach you that expressing your emotions is liberating. Think of your dog when you come home from work. What does he do? Chances are, he goes nuts for you! Jumps up and down, runs around the house, barks in excitement because you just came home and that makes him the happiest. Dogs are not afraid of being too much. Every time you question whether expressing your emotions will make you seem “too needy” or “too sensitive” or “too out there” … think about your dog when he is angry, scared or happy. He is liberated and emotional at the same time. He is liberated because he is emotional! Expressing your emotions is not only healthy, it is also a freeing experience. Give it a chance.
3. There’s no such thing as bad emotions
Before you ask “But what if I want to express a negative emotion?” let’s tackle it straight away! Dogs understand that there are no bad emotions – humans don’t. Every single emotion has its purpose. When you encounter abused dogs you really start to understand that. Let’s take an example of a dog who is afraid of other dogs. When he is faced with another dog he will clearly express his emotions of fear; his tail will go between his legs, he will lower his head and turn it to the side, he might even begin licking his lips. He is visibly afraid. This is good. Why? Because he is clearly communicating with the other dog, saying “I am not a threat to you.” Every dog owner who is familiar with basic canine body language can tell the signs that I have just described (lowered tail, lip licking, head lowered and turned to the side) are calming signals. He is trying to get the other dog to back off. Can you trace this back to your own life?
When you are afraid, it’s your body’s way of trying to protect you. When you are angry, it’s your body’s way of giving you power to set boundaries. When you are sad, it’s your body’s way of demanding rest and emotional introspection. All of these emotions are positive and important. Just like a dog communicating with another dog, your emotions can help you recognize your needs and help you communicate them to other people.
4. Your emotions can be misplaced and that’s okay
Can emotions be misplaced? Of course they can. Both humans and dogs can find ourselves facing strong emotions in situations where they don’t necessarily serve us. To continue with the example I have described above, if the dog is suddenly acting fearful around every single dog he encounters, even when he is in no danger whatsoever, that fear would be misplaced and a result of a trigger. This is a very common symptom of anxiety and PTSD. It’s about experiencing great fear in completely neutral situations. However, that doesn’t mean you should abandon everything we’ve discussed so far! You should absolutely:
- recognize your fear (or other emotion)
- express it
- see how it can serve you
Let me give another example, a human one this time. If you keep getting angry at your partner and you can’t understand why, instead of beating yourself up about it, take a close look at that anger. In which situations does it occur? How long does it last? What does it remind you of? Every time I open the doors of my home to another rescue dog I pay close attention to their emotional responses and try to see if there are any underlying patterns that need to be resolved. Once I recognize their misplaced emotions, we can start working together towards a better mindset. Emotions are like a compass; they show you where you need to look, what you need to pay attention to and give you a great opportunity for personal growth.
5. Don’t allow your emotions to hold you hostage
At the end of the day, you are more than your emotions. When dogs are faced with a situation where they are angry or sad, they don’t contemplate it for the rest of the day. They are present in the moment and they let it go once it passes. They don’t dwell on their emotional responses. I know that accepting your emotions won’t happen overnight, but if you do nothing else today, at least give yourself a promise that you won’t allow your emotions to hold you hostage anymore. Don’t feel guilty for feeling a certain way, don’t worry about it all day long; look to your dog if you need to be inspired by somebody who is a master at living in the moment, no matter which emotion was running through him five minutes ago. From angrily barking at a squirrel to show her who’s boss, to lying on your couch in a relaxed manner, all within minutes. Dogs just get it: life is too short to live in the past.
I hope the next time you look at your dog, you don’t just see your fur baby and fellow adventurer; I hope you see a teacher, a guru. I hope you give him a chance to teach you even more about yourself. And above all, I hope you accept yourself with all of your emotions – just like your dog does, every single day.
Luna C. Lupus is a freelance blogger and a mom to her rescue dogs. She specializes in positive pet training, responsible dog ownership and helping people with challenging dogs. You can find out more about her work at www.luna-lupus.com