Those of us who are dog lovers know how cued in and responsive they can be to our emotional state. I’ve been under a great deal of stress the past several weeks and my Nani Girl has been constantly at my side, following me and keeping an eye on me. And yes, while she wants to make sure and catch any stray crumb I might drop, she’s obviously being extra attentive to me lately.
There is an interesting article in the New York Times today about the empathy of dogs and how helpful that is proving to be for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A Mississippi Iraq war veteran, Benjamin Stepp, is featured along with his therapy dog, Arleigh. Arleigh is able to sense when her owner’s agitation and anxiety begins to increase and provides cues to him to put in place strategies that will help calm him down. This is fascinating because so many of the problematic symptoms related to PTSD exist in the body, independent of conscious awareness. Sometimes by the time the mind recognizes something is amiss, the distress level is so high that it’s much more difficult to rein it in.
So often in in my work with clients we develop strategies to check in on distress level so that if they begin creeping towards the “danger zone” of distress they can put in place a plan of action to get to a more manageable level. But with issues such as PTSD it can prove difficult to be aware of the distress level because it’s not always at a conscious level and underlying physical sensations themselves can be so triggering. How wonderful that dogs are able to provide an extra level of awareness to help people dealing with PTSD better manage their symptoms and decrease reliance on medications. Read the New York Times article, “The Empathetic Dog” here.