This post was prompted by a few things which all happened to coincide this week.
First a light heartened Twitter conversation around the use of puppies in therapy made me think about the relationship with my dog, which I mentioned in Post 10 (https://underwaterbreathes.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/post-10-walking-with-the-dog/ )
Then I stumbled upon two reports.
One looked at the empathy levels within dog’s when responding to happy and distressing sounds. The report showed that dogs have an increased level of empathic emotion when hearing a distressed tone from a human or another dog. Now that might appear obvious, especially if you own a dog. This research suggests that the dog’s own emotional system is effected by the emotion of the other dog or human more than previously thought, suggesting a higher level of cognition in the dog. (This article references the research https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/04/well/family/the-empathetic-dog.html)
Secondly, new research suggests that dogs became domesticated somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago (https://www.nature.com/news/ancient-genomes-heat-up-dog-domestication-debate-1.22320). While there is debate about dates, most research seems to agree that dogs were most likely the first animal to be domesticated by and live alongside humans.
So a dog has been our best animal friend for a long, long time and they understand us at an emotional level, which makes them pretty smart – plus they can scratch their ear with their back foot which is also kind of cool.
So what has this to be with mental health and wellbeing. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from our canine friends…
Don’t act on emotional impulses– there was someone at the door, yes there was, I don’t go into a barking meltdown for nothing, what you mean the postman wasn’t here to steal my treats, you sure?… or just because you feel something does not mean it’s real or that you should act upon it. Take a moment to pause and consider, turning an emotional reaction into a considered action.
Be brave – look, it does not matter that you are a Rottweiler and I am a Westie, this pavement is wide enough for both of us…or you may feel scared, anxious or unimportant, it’s okay, do your thing and be yourself, that’s more than enough. I love this quote (which I haven’t mistyped):
“hmm..well I guess everybody tells me i am too small and too slow to make a diference in this world but i am making a diference in my own world and i hope that is enough”
Jomny Sun, ‘everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too’
Take plenty of rest – you know, barking at nothing, sniffing everything on a walk and chasing squirrels means I need my bed, a LOT…or ensure you get enough sleep and try to stick to a routine of when you go to bed and when you get up. Poor sleep negatively effects your emotional state, reducing your ability to just be yourself and making you more prone to be critical, less understanding of yourself.
Learn new tricks no matter your age – see, I might not be a puppy, I can learn how to do the paw handshake thing, as long as there is a treat and it seems to make you humans happy for some reason…or they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can. Something as simple as learning a new fact each day, no matter in what subject as long as it interests you or doing puzzles will help exercise the mind. These can create new neurological links and pathways, which can help offset ageing within the brain.
When loved ones come home, always greet them warmly – you were like gone for FOREVER, look at my waggy tail, give me the face for a friendly lick , now the belly needs a rub to make up for you being gone for AGES…or give your loved one a hug when you see them, science has shown it increases positive emotions in both and it’s more memorable, leading to increased openness and closeness in relationships.
Set your limits – nope, I am not moving from sniffing this lamp post until I am ready…or learn to say no, if you can’t do something as you already have enough to do. It’s better to say that than place yourself under increased pressure. You can only do one thing at a time, multitasking is a myth. (Try to hold two thoughts in your mind at once – see, can’t be done)
Explore everything with curiosity – look, everything has to be smelt and looked at, just in case it’s edible, you never know when you’ll spot dropped food on the floor … or treat each moment with awe, looking at even the ordinary as if you hadn’t seen it before. Be mindful and aware, you’ll see so much more.
Delight in simple things – no matter how many times I chase this ball it’s FUN!…or there is so much joy in simple things, just pause and consider. Perhaps take a minute to look, to really look, at the sky and see what shapes are in the clouds, what colours there are, all supplied from nature and all you have to do is stop and observe.
Play is good – what do you mean the floor shouldn’t be covered in toys, wasn’t my fault you stepped on Squeaky ?…or taking a playful approach to a task might help make it more fun, easier to achieve and will definitely allow more creativity in your thinking.
When you fall down, get back up, shake it off and start again – who knew that if you run that fast you tumble over?….or it’s okay to make mistakes, to fail. Start again, that is now in the past and now is a new chance to try again.
Accept treats – he is going in the drawer, oh yes, what it’s going to be…..yes a doggy biscuit, always welcome, all I had to do was the paw/handshake thing…. or learn to accept praise and nice comments about you, don’t deflect them with humour or embarrassment. Accept them without question and in the spirit they are offered. Remember them, to recall during times when you are struggling.
Be yourself – I will come in from the garden when I am ready thanks…or be true to your values and the person you are, not what others may expect or want you to be. Understand your values and principles, if you compromise them that will cause you stress and allow self-criticism to dominate your thinking.
At the end of each day, a hug, perhaps even a belly rub, will make you feel okay and loved.
I have probably missed some other lessons we could learn, let me know of any you think of. Hope it’s made you smile, made you think….and most of all something about being like a dog might just help your day.