by Dr. Isla Fishburn (reprinted with author's permission)
Canine wellness is about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of your dog. In order to maintain balance in your dog as a WHOLE organism, we have to observe and analyse several aspects of your dog’s life from before birth to present day. Over the next 12 days of wellness I will introduce you to some of the concepts of wellness, what these include and what we need to consider on a daily basis to optimise the health and longevity in our dogs.
Today, we are going to look at ABILITY TO THINK CLEARLY.
On day five of the twelve days of wellness I talked about balanced behaviours. Yesterday I talked about the importance of our dogs to experience prolonged rest. In fact, if we look at all of the topics covered so far; safety, good diet and digestion, movement, a sense of peace, balanced behaviours and prolonged rest, all of these are important for your dog to be able to think clearly.
Any animal is capable of problem solving and learning (even fruit flies do it!). An animal that is balanced will be able to both problem solve and learn better if they are in situations that allow them to think clearly. Of course, this makes sense, right? We can imagine how we would feel if in a situation that was anything but peaceful and were expected to do something that involved us to think and solve a problem (for me it takes all my brain power to complete a simple math equation in the quiet!).
It is now widely accepted (thankfully) that all animals, including dogs, exhibit the same primary emotions as humans. Of course, they have to because remember I told you what emotions are – changes in a biochemical response to a given experience. Any animal needs to exhibit these changes to maximise the dog’s survival and safety (and we already know the importance of this as this was discussed in day 1). It is the cells and what these cells have already experienced and been exposed to (e.g. an event, nutrition, toxicity, genetics, emotions, hormones, etc.) that influence these biochemical responses, and, these biochemical responses generate energy.
Anything and everything can influence changes in a dog’s biochemistry; everything that the dog hears, sees, smells, touches, tastes or feels. However, there is one thing that can influence the biochemistry of a human too, but is believed to not exist in other animals.
This is the power of thought. Of course, all animals can think because this is a form of problem solving and I have already said that animals can do this. What I mean by thought is that your dog does not sit at home worrying or dwelling about the past or what might happen in the future; your dog responds to experiences in the now. For sure, if your dog sees (or smells, tastes, hears, etc.) something that s/he shows rage, anger or fear towards due to something of a similar nature that has scared them or hurt them in the past, then of course they will respond to this in the same way. In such a situation we might forgive ourselves in thinking that the dog must have thought about this past event because of his/her response to a similar event occurring now. In reality, you are kind of right, but the dog doesn’t see that experience and think “oh, I have been here before and the last time I saw that I was hurt so I must protect myself from it now.” What happens instead is that a message is sent to the cells within your dog’s body. These cells have a memory of every experience and what biochemical responses were created as a result. So, when a new experience occurs that is similar to a past experience, the same biochemistry is activated in your dog’s cells, creating an emotion and thus creating a said reaction and behaviour. Get it. Got it. Good!
Yet, we must be alert to the power of thought because humans can do it, and humans spend a lot of time with their dog (or, at least they should). The reason we have to be careful of thought is because not only can it have massive impacts on our own wellness (which I will be discussing in another day of wellness – I know, exciting, eh!) but it can also have a huge impact on our dog’s wellness. Wait a minute, I hear you cry, I thought you said that dog’s don’t have the ability to think the way humans do? Yes. That is exactly right, but a dog that spends a lot of time with a human who spends too much time thinking or worrying about things that have past or that may happen, can really effect your dog’s biochemical responses as well as hinder your dog’s ability to think clearly. This is because what follows thought is energy – a biochemical response generated as a result of that thought.
Remember, every experience can affect your dog’s biochemistry, which also means the energy created by your thoughts and how this energy can affect your dog’s biochemistry, or, in other words, your dog’s energy. This is why I find meditating with your dog of great importance, as well as teaching people to focus on their own thought processes, mind patterns and relaxation. Not only will this improve your dog’s health and wellness but it will also improve your own (more on this later).
When a dog is able to think clearly, it is doing so because of balanced behaviours. The dog’s energy and thus biochemistry, is balanced and movement of Qi (remember when I talked about this? If not, go back to day three of canine wellness) is flowing throughout the body. This allows your dog to take in, learn from and feel safe in new experiences or teachings without your dog becoming frustrated, irritable, angry or exhausted (none of which are good for wellness and health). In such situations, your dog’s learning will improve, s/he will become more confident, s/he will feel more peaceful (which is what your dog’s cells seek – discussed in day five of canine wellness) and your dog will have fun. By thinking clearly your dog is being supported as a WHOLE organism and this will allow for your dog’s emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs to be supported (but this can only occur if all other aspects are in balance too – remember, your dog can’t be separated in to individual parts, and all that makes up a dog will affect its entire self).
Having the opportunity to think clearly will allow for your dog (well, his/her biochemistry, actually) to respond calmer and confidently in different and new situations, allowing your dog to exhibit positive emotions (e.g. joy, pleasure, peace, fun) rather than negative emotions (anger, rage, fear, frustration). Of course, if your dog is not given opportunities to think clearly, is forced to do something, or is not allowed to progress in his/her own time, then all of these will affect the way your dog will respond to future experiences because the dog has been forced to learn, think and respond whilst in a stressed state; your dog is responding as a result of his/her body being in the stress response rather than the natural orienting response (which I LOVE talking about, but won’t be doing so here). The orienting response is the natural response a dog exhibits when relaxed and is a direct association of the nervous system being relaxed, and, it is REALLY important for learning (but that is all I am saying here). Having to learn, think (which is irrational thinking when stressed) and respond when the body is experiencing the stress response will affect how your dog responds to further experiences as well as the emotional reactions, physical and spiritual wellness of your dog.
Of course, there is no rule as to what, when or how to keep your dog free to think clearly because, as I have said before, every dog is different. You need to listen, observe and learn about your dog and provide ample (if not all) opportunities for him/her to be exposed to situations where they are able to problem solve and think clearly so that their nervous system, biochemistry and WHOLE body is generating relaxed, safe and positive energies rather than stressed, erratic and negative energies, which will ultimately lead to imbalances along the emotional, physical, mental and/or spiritual planes.
On the eighth day of wellness, which is tomorrow, I will talk about how we can tap in to the natural capabilities of a dog as a canine, how this can support canine wellness and how it can be used as just one of several ways to provide opportunities for a dog to think clearly.