Attuning to our dogs emotions
When it comes to working on a behavioural issue a dog is showing, in my opinion it is vital to figure out the actual root cause for this behaviour to occur in the first place.
Understanding the root cause allows us to understand what the dog is lacking or with other words, what he actually needs. Subsequently we can start providing and meeting this/these need(s) through individually aligned mental & physical exercise (=training) and often some smaller changes in the routines of the dog’s life with his humans.
To figure out the root cause for a certain behaviour or better,
to figure out what a dog needs, I apply a holistic approach which is based on
- gathering facts about the dog like the breed, age, upbringing, and current environment (mind)
- observation of behaviour overall and in detail in different environments (mind + body)
- attuning to the emotions (soul)
In this article, I want to talk to you about the latter, about the process of attuning to the emotions of our dogs.
What are emotions exactly?
For the sake of being on the same page, let’s have a look first at emotions as such, to then easily dive into the process of attunement.
Emotions are energies in motion (e-motions). These moving energies are reflected in physical sensations that we perceive with our felt-sense in our body: on our skin, under the skin, in our organs etc. This applies to every emotional being. Every emotion has a unique frequency, hence a unique physical feeling-signature, a kinda taste if you will, that we might be able to identify as a certain emotion or cocktail of emotions.
When we practice the art of Emotional Vipassana Meditation, we take time to sit down, close our eyes and explore all the different sensations being present at the very moment in our body, caused by our emotions. With the attitude of non-judgemental observation, we train our ability to feel these sensations arising and going away. We actually feel. Feeling is what we physically perceive, an emotion is the energy being perceived by our physical self.
The process of feeling and introspective “listening” to the energies being present can also be called attuning: We attune, like a radio dial, to the energies (frequencies) being present. We perceive them with our in-built felt-sense.
In the same way as we can attune to our own emotions, we can attune to the e-motions of other beings. People with the trained ability to perceive (feel) these energies from other beings in their own body are known as empaths. Little spoiler: Animals are empaths. All of them.
Have you ever watched your dog becoming really joyful and happy when you are joyful and happy? Or maybe the other way around?
Or did you see your dog calming down when you yourself pause, stop moving and take a couple of deep breaths? These are common examples for attunement between dogs and humans taking place. We can also call it mood transfer.
In my opinion, every human being has the ability to be an empath, hence to attune to the emotions of another human being or other animal. Everyone has an in-built felt-sense that they can use to feel what someone else is feeling. The perception of what someone else is feeling is a form of communication – as in that moment we are attuned to someone else, we literally understand them emotionally.
So I say, everyone has the ability to communicate with other beings through the felt-sense. Mind me saying, this is a very pure form of communication, consisting only of what truly is.
Like with most skills, attuning to emotions, no matter if we’re talking one’s own or someone else’s emotions, requires knowledge about emotions as such and one’s very own history of emotions. Also, a continuously progressing practice throughout the course of one’s life to train the ability to sit and feel is needed. In modern life, this is called self-awareness.
Why am I able to attune to the emotions of dogs?
I grew up in an environment where attuning to the emotions of my primary caregivers was crucial for my survival. Coming from a dysfunctional family, my parents never have been having the chance to see and heal their own childhood trauma. Both were in desperate need of being seen, heard and understood – of gaining a sense of self. They could feel themselves strongest when someone would understand them emotionally, when someone mirrored and validated to them how they felt (which is exactly what both were lacking in their own upbringing).
So my parents would most and foremost provide me with love and positive attention when I mirrored their emotions to them and subsequently when I showed empathy (validation) for their emotions. This gave them what they unconsciously were in utter need of. And it literally trained me to become an empath as I’ve been practicing the ability of attunement to the emotions of others from the very beginning of my life.
Years and years later as an adult woman, I adopted an old dog who showed unconditional love to me every single day. It was the first time for me that I was shown consistent love even when I were not attuned to someone else. By that my dog Kalitu allowed me to become aware of myself. He woke me up. As a traumatised shelter dog, Kalitu needed love, attention & training – his needs were the kick off for me to acknowledge and realise what I needed myself – but this is a whole other story. Nevertheless, this is where my deep bond to and love for dogs comes from.
Being awoken by Kalitu, I found my way into trauma science, emotional and physical trauma healing methods, diverse awareness tools like meditation, yoga and the teachings of many spiritual leaders and into the practice of Emotional Vipassana. Over the course of heaps of workshops, seminars, retreats and daily practice for the last several years, I’ve been continuously practicing my ability of attuning to my own emotions. Spoiler: This process will, fortunately, never be“finished”.
Attuning to my very own emotions was what I lacked as a child, as I was busy with feeling my parent’s emotions. All my healing work & practice has been the fundamental baseline to be able to ultimately distinguish between my own emotions (new skill) and the emotions of someone else (old skill), like a dog for example. I can now make the difference: what is mine & what is yours which enables me to actively choose to attune to a dogs emotion. Wonderfully spoken, what was my biggest torture back then has been transforming into my genuine passion and joy of today.
Why is it beneficial to attune to the emotions of a dog?
I consider emotions as our internal guidance system, they reveal what we need. If I feel pain, I’m in the need of compassion & comfort for example. If I feel fear, I am in the need of safety and love. If I feel stress, I am in the need of relaxation. Just to name a few.
Emotions teach us about ourselves, they tell us what we need. So, knowing what a dog feels therefore helps me figuring out what it is that this dog is in need of. It’s that simple. Combined with behavioural analysis and all the facts (age, breed, upbringing), I figure out the actual root cause for behaviour that we humans perceive as an issue.
How does the process of attuning look like?
It is important to me to mention that I approach every dog with curiosity for who they truly are. This is a matter of respect to their existence as emotional beings.
I invite them into the communication through firstly calming and centering myself internally, and secondly through allowing my own emotions to expand in my body (that’s the opposite of suppressing and denying emotions). I create awareness of what I am feeling in that very moment. This functions like an introduction of myself, I show to the dog who I am and what I feel in that very moment, I am being an emotional open book.
This can be considered a very pure and genuine introduction which creates trust right away. Dogs, of course, also have an in-built felt sense, to them, it’s natural to “read” our energy.
Many dogs, by the way, keep eye contact during the introduction and stay physically rather close, they also demonstrate an open and relaxed body language which shows me that my invitation for communication was accepted. This happens within seconds and can be understood as the allowance to see and touch each other’s soul.
I then consciously decide to switch to attuning to the emotions of the dog in front of me. This is a very gentle process and for me, at this point in my journey, it requires a rather calm environment. Feeling the sensations that arise within me, I piece by piece literally get the feeling of how the dog is feeling. I allow that feeling to be present within me which creates the attunement – dog and I feel the same at this moment which creates a bond of deep understanding.
After some time, I consciously release those feelings and come back to my very own emotions by again calming and centring myself internally. The workability of attuning depends on my own wellbeing: the more I am in alignment with what is emotionally present within me, the quicker the attuning can take place. If I am having a day where I am not in touch with myself (after all, we’re all just humans), things can take very long.
To sum all this up, my approach to working with dogs an holistic one with regards to their mind, body and soul:
I use my natural ability as an empath to attune to their emotions to find out what it is that they feel and therefore need. I apply my knowledge about canine behaviourism to read their body language and I also take the individual circumstance of each and every dog into consideration, like his age, breed, upbringing, personality and current environment.
All that blends together in an analysis that allows me to come up with a set of exercises that help humans to provide for their dogs what they truly need and by that, resolving the behavioural issues the dog shows.
For everyone finding themselves being further interested in the wide and wonderful topic of animal communication, I warmly recommend the teachings of Anna Breytenbach.