Our Dogs Share/Mirror Our Emotions
By Dr. Jeannie Thomason
We are all aware of the well-known phenomenon that people who live with animals are affected less by stress and anxiety and live longer lives. However, are you aware that this phenomenon works in reverse as well? Scientific research and anecdotal evidence prove that animals will not only mirror our moods/emotions, they often will have the same symptoms of pain, stress, and dis-ease as their humans have.
Another well known fact is that companion animals can alert humans to new medical diagnoses and even provide support for their human’s existing illnesses as well as keep them focued and in the moment if they have anxiety disorders. This is almost a sixth sense they appear to have. Companion animals KNOW when their owners are sad, depressed or anxious/stressed. Whether by the scent the human puts out or by observing barely noticable body language or even being affected by the human’s electrical frequencies, they just know.
When we are sad – our dogs become sad
Perhaps you have noticed your dog will immediately pick up on when you are sad or not feeling well and adjust his behavior accordingly. He may lose interest in his toys, pick at his food or stop eating, become more subdued than usual, Usually, your dog will quietly observe you from a corner of the room. After a while, he may come over and lie down at your feet or gently rest his head in your lap. Many dogs will even try to lick away tears as they fall. A dog’s person is the center of his entire world, so sensing your feelings of sadness will have an effect on him too. This goes for feelings of fear and anxiety as well as our feelings of joy, peace and good health.
It should come as no surprise to us dog lovers that dogs are capable of intense feelings. They are highly social, pack animals with strong emotional connections to other dogs. They have their own social structures and bonding rituals, many of which mirror human social structures. The same emotional connections that dogs experience in packs can transfer easily to any group setting, including cross-species situations. To your dog, you are family, part of the pack and most likely or least should be looked at as the leader of the pack. It is as simple as that.
Of course, there are many other fascinating things that your dog understands about you that you may not be aware of. Sometimes their abilities can be downright spooky, but there are strong scientific explanations for your dog’s behaviors. Understanding how your dog perceives you can help you relate better to him or her.
In a study published in the journal “Animal Cognition,” researchers found that a dog was more likely to approach someone who was crying than someone who was humming or talking. Furthermore, they found that dogs respond to weeping with submissive behavior. In other words, dogs seem to be trying to placate a person who is upset. What is more, it was found that dogs will approach anyone who is upset the same way, regardless of whether that person is their owner or not.
New science suggests that, contrary to what neurologists previously believed, the heart actually has a stronger electromagnetic field than the brain does. It also sends messages to the brain, through neurotransmitters, that influence thoughts and behavior.
When we describe someone as being “goodhearted,” it means that the person literally has a force field of energetic vibrational frequencies radiating from their heart. Dogs appear to have been aware of this energetic field for centuries and have been found to naturally gravitate toward those who emit “good vibrations”.
Dogs will also know if a person is fair and to be trusted based on their body language and how you treat others. Some dogs can respond to very subtle changes in human behavior. So even if the owner doesn’t know why some other person makes them uncomfortable, the dog may be responding to very subtle threats and unusual behavior. It appears that what the dog is responding to; is not something inherent in the person’s character but rather to the unusual or threatening behavior that is directly observable by the dog.
In my years of working with people and their companion animals I have observed often just how deeply the attitude and moods of the owner can affect their dogs – both in happy, healing ways and in anxious, harmful ways that can cause the dog to become physically ill (often with the same symptoms as the owner may have if they are ill).
When I worked as a vet tech years ago, I will never forget a client who brought in her dog who had been attacked by either a bear or cougar. The chest and one fore leg and shoulder had been torn open quite deeply. The chest area healed well but the leg and lower shoulder became badly infected. So badly infected that we had to amputate the leg to save the dog’s life.
When the dog had healed well enough from the surgery to go home, the owner came to pick him up. She was in tears and shaking and kept telling the dog how terrible it must be to lose a limb, how painful it must be, what a poor, poor baby!
The dog who had been standing on three legs quite well and was even hopping on three legs to go outside to go potty, refused to stand up for the owner so she had us carry the dog to her car.
A few days later she brought the dog back in – crying again and telling us he was dying! “He won’t get up, he won’t eat, he must need stronger pain meds, maybe she should put him to sleep”, etc.
We took the dog into the exam room – asking her to stay in the waiting room for a few minutes and we would come get her. We laid the dog on the table and began talking to him as we took his vitals. We were telling him how happy we were to see him again and that he was healing so well! The dog began to thump his tail, faster and faster and then in his excitement, he tried to stand up on the table. We grabbed some treats and encouraged him to stand up for us and he did! We then called the owner into the room – her mouth dropped open and she was totally surprised to see her “poor dying dog” so revived and happy.
We had a little talk to her about how important it was to not feel sorry for the dog but to remain upbeat, happy and encouraging to him. We told her to tell him how well he was healing and how wonderful he was doing using his three good legs, what a special and exceptional guy he was.
She agreed to try out what we told her and sure enough, about a week later she came back to the clinic with the dog, on leash, walking and whose tail was going a hundred miles a minute and smiling. She could not thank us enough for the advice, she told us he was a totally different dog, he was eating well and was so happy and active and was even able to run now! What changed? Her attitude and emotions regarding the dog and the state she THOUGHT he was in.
When we gaze at or talk to someone (or even something) we love, a chemical reaction takes place within the body. Dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin are released into the system and cause a chemical reaction that leads to feelings of happiness, joy, infatuation and even ecstasy. The same thing happens when we look at a person or thing we do not like. However, in this case the body releases a completely different set of hormones that are associated with hate, resentment and fear. It is believed that dogs can detect these subtle hormonal and or electrical frequency changes in us, and will react accordingly.
Let’s say you are avoiding a person, watching that person closely and even becoming nervous or anxious if not fearful, you are sending out signals that you distrust someone. Don’t be at all surprised if your dog barks, growls, or lunges at that person if he or she tries to approach you. The dog is again, mirroring your feelings and possibly smelling or sensing the hormones your body is releasing.
I hope you can see how important it is to keep in mind how your own feelings and attitudes affect your behavior and in turn, how your own attitude and behavior can help put your dog at ease thus decreasing the chances of a confrontation in which you, your dog, or another individual may be injured. And how you can ease your dog’s anxiety and fears just by being cheerful and calm if your dog becomes frightened or ill.
A dog’s temperament, actions and reactions are a direct reflection of his owner’s ability to understand him and give him what he needs emotionally to remain happy, healthy and strong to support and comfort you.
Remember, there are no bad dogs, most temperament issues are due to the owner’s own temperament. Please don’t let your dog down, be the person he/she thinks you are!
Note: if you do suffer from depression and/or anxiety, there are safe, natural, drug free remedies that can greatly help both you and your dog. More about the effects of stress on the immune system and how it affects our dogs in the next post.