In so many ways, every dog is a therapy dog.
1 – Dogs Are a Reflection of Our Energetic State
Watch a dog for any length of time and you will learn things about their human companions. Dogs reflect our inner emotional and energetic state. They become a mirror, often giving us a glimpse into ourselves that we struggle to see otherwise.
In order to have a calm and happy dog, you have to learn how to moderate your emotional state and manage your anxieties. They become a living form of biofeedback. As your breathing rate slows and your thoughts become centered, your dog soon settles and becomes ready to listen.
One of my favorite quotes from Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer” is, “Dogs tell the truth. People tell a story.” And isn’t that the truth. We claim to fine. But our dogs often reveal otherwise. We would be well-served by listening.
2 – Dogs Give Us Unbridled Love
There is nothing like being greeted by a dog when you come home. That open mouth that seems to show pure delight. The wagging tail that carries the enthusiasm through the entire body, too big to be contained. And the immediate request for affection and bonding. They don’t care that you screwed up at work or that you accidentally put on two different socks that morning. Dogs default to acceptance rather than criticism. Which is often a welcome change from the rest of the world.
When you’re sad around a dog, you’re never sad alone. They seem to know when we need a snuggle and they’re not afraid of a few tears. No matter how much we worry that we’re not enough, that we’re unlovable or that we’re not a good person, our dogs help to remind us otherwise. Their love is not contingent on anything other than being a part of their pack.
3 – Dogs Force Us to Step Outside
I can’t tell you how many mornings I step outside into rather unpleasant weather and I’m tempted to give up on my daily pre-work walk. And then I look down at Kazh, whose tail is already wagging in anticipation of the outing despite the weather, and I obligingly lace up my shoes.
Dogs inspire us to step outside – both literally and metaphorically – when we’d often rather hide within ourselves. Their cold, insistent nose nudges us, reminding us that there is life to live and adventures to be had.
They remind us that exercise is important. With their “live in the moment” mindset, they help us to see even the most mundane act as part of a glorious adventure. On walks, they insist on stopping to
smell pee upon the roses, a reminder that the journey is as important as the destination.
4 – Dogs Encourage Interaction With Others
When I run alone, I rarely talk to people. When I run with a dog, I rarely return home without meeting someone new. Dogs are not only social creatures, they are social lubricant. They force us to interact with others even when we’re in a hibernation and isolation mood. Not only do they encourage interaction, they encourage positive interaction. It’s hard to be grumpy or judgmental when you’re petting a new dog.
We are also social creatures. Our mental health improves when we are around others. We thrive when have established human – and animal – connections. Dogs help to nurture these relationships when we’re struggling to do on our own.
5 – Dogs Help Us Build Confidence
I love teaching children how to walk my pit bull. At first, they’re hesitant. After all, this is a dog that greatly overpowers them on a physical level. And then I explain how the dog responds to confidence. Walk with your head up. Your shoulders back. Stride with purpose and conviction. The dog will listen if you believe in what you’re doing.
Dogs are experts at sniffing out insecurities. If you’re not sure, they have no reason to pay any attention to what you’re asking them to do. But once you learn to believe in yourself? That dog will do anything you ask. And that’s a great motivator to begin to trust yourself.
6 – Dogs Teach Us the Importance of Boundaries
Have you ever entered a home that is ruled by the dog? It tends to be pretty chaotic. Like humans, dogs will try to get away with whatever they can. They will test your boundaries.
Many people struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries. They’re concerned about being liked or being perceived as easy to get along with. And so they let others get away with too much. It’s hard to set boundaries with people. They push back, often painfully, by picking at our biggest fears.
Dogs offer up a wonderful training ground to learn how to set and maintain boundaries. They still test us, but we are much less likely to take it personally when a dog tries to sneak up on the couch than when an addict claims, “You’d help me if you loved me.” Our dogs help us learn how to use boundaries. It’s then up to us to use them with humans.