More direction, less affection.
I know this is the age old human/dog issue! 🙂 Our dogs fill so many voids and gaps that us emotional humans struggle with daily. We each have our issues, our insecurities, our fears, and our need to nurture and be nurtured. And our dogs are the perfect receptacles for whatever we project on to them.
Unlike the boyfriend or girlfriend who will let you know that your 1000th text of the day is getting a little needy, your dog will just absorb and absorb. (Our dogs are great at setting limits with physical interactions, but not so much with emotional ones.) They don’t understand that you’re leaning on them becuse you’re lonely, unfulfilled, scared about your future, or heartbroken, they only understand that the person spending time with them is in a soft, weak, non-confident space, and this creates all kinds of issues and fallout in our dogs.
Because our dogs are soft, cute, love to be touched, are always wanting to interact with us, and are not so good with setting emotional limits, they become the operdect target for our emotional needs. And they way we usually express these feelings or needs is through touch and affection. We lean on our dogs mentally and we lean on them…literally. 🙂
Most of the dogs that come though our program are suffering from way too much affection and far too little direction. This lack of direction and structure creates stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, and these feelings manifest as being overly protective, overly suspicious, overly reactive, overly dependent, overly aggressive and on and on.
We don’t intend to undo our dogs through love and devotion – and neediness – but often that’s exactly what happens. Our dogs are both blessed and cursed by being the perfect foil for our human experience. Because they allow us to project just about anything we desire into and onto them, they are fragile partners in this dance of life.
Us humans seem to have a never ending battle of dealing with feelings of loneliness and emptiness – not always of course – but I think if we’re honest with ourselves we’d agree that life can be seriously challenging, scary, and yes, sometimes lonely and empty feeling. Our dogs bless us by helping us to feel more connected, more loving, more kind, more seen, more appreciated, more safe, and less alone. It’s our job to ensure that we return these blessings to them in the form of fulfilling their true needs.
Our job is to set the boundaries for our dogs that they can’t set themselves. Our job is to realize that just because our dogs will absorb all that we have to share – both positive and negative – that doesn’t mean they should. It’s kind of like a buffet, just because it’s all you can eat doesn’t mean that’s the best thing to do. We need to advocate not just for the health of our dogs physically, but also for the health of our dogs emotionally.
I know it’s an easy turn of phrase, but more direction, less affection is a good one if it lodges somewhere in our brains. It’s not that affection is a negative, or that leaning on our dogs is inappropriate, it’s just that we need to be aware that it’s up to us set limits on ourselves and what we share, with a view towards giving our best to our dogs, and doing what’s sometimes harder for us (doing our own hard personal work) in order to be easier on our dogs.
And I promise you that giving more direction and less affection is indeed hard work, but boy will your dog thank you for doing it. Affection and love are easy, direction and leadership are far tougher.
Real love, healthy love, does the hard work. 🙂