Pets as Mirrors

Your dog may know you’re stressed before you do.

Your fur babies can help clue you into the state of your nervous system. Do they seem relaxed, clingy, stressed? Horse riders have long understood that the animal beneath them is highly tuned in to their emotional state. Other social animals like dogs do this too. While temperament and early life experiences can influence how anxious your pet is, they also attune to your energetic state.

Numerous studies have shown that your dog will sync up with your emotional state and stress level. If you know the signs your dog exhibits when stressed, this can be valuable information for you to implement more self-care tools.

Often, it’s not until I notice my dog Koa acting weird that I realize I’m more anxious or in my head than usual. When my energy is scattered or tense, he mirrors this and his behavior changes. Some of the telltale signs: he drinks excessive amounts of water when stressed, becomes fearful of being put on a leash and sulks under the bed. He picks up on the energy of other people around him as well, not just me. This is one reason why a lot of dogs exhibit anxiety in crowds of people.

If you have a pet, notice if they act differently around you when you’re stressed. Then start to pick up on their behavior as a mirror of your nervous system. Often you’ll notice the change in their behavior before you’ve even registered that you’re out of balance. This can be a helpful way to tune into needing to slow down. Slowing down enough to pet your dog or cat for 5-minutes is an amazing way to help you both down-regulate and relax. When you touch your dog or cat, both your brain and your pet’s brain pump out oxytocin chemicals. Oxytocin gives us a sense of calm and belonging and is a primary chemical driver of feeling bonded to those we love.

P.S. This mirroring process is even more true for your kids. They mirror your emotional state and the anxiety or calmness you genuinely exhibit the most.

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