The poor little guy had to swim to safety while his human family waited to be rescued on the roof of their house. His beloved cats didn’t make it.
Duncan (the new dog) is obviously quite traumatised.
Watching his behaviour has brought home a few things that I already knew technically but I don’t think they’d reached my heart.
Here’s what they are:
It’s important to have people to turn to. Duncan (that’s the dog) sticks very close, like literally his nose is touching my leg at all times when he’s in a new environment. This is not just normal for dogs in new or scary environments, this is also our natural go-to. When you feel scared, distressed, uncomfortable, or sad, the most natural thing to do is stick close to people who care for you, make you feel safe and who have your back.
Interestingly, if Duncan is somewhere familiar but gets a little fright, all he needs is a full, arms wrapped around him, cuddle for him to feel safe enough to venture away from my side. Often that’s all we need too – some warm, loving reassurance.
Play and Joy are important parts of life. When you’re traumatised, play and joy are the last things on your mind. You’re so focussed on surviving that there’s no space left for having fun. But as Duncan has become more comfortable with us, he’s been having more moments of playfulness. So many good things happen when he engages in play – his breathing changes from stressed panting to calmer, easier breaths; his body relaxes; he stops seeking reassurance constantly and seems to lose himself in what he’s doing in a pleasurable, unself-conscious way.
There’s a lot of research on play that says even though play is actually purposeless, it is nonetheless super important for our wellbeing. Not only does it bring joy to the poor dog but everyone watching gets to participate in the absolute delight of seeing a being letting loose and enjoying themselves wholeheartedly.
Corny but….maybe love does cure all things. Ok maybe that’s too corny. Maybe connection cures all things. Connection, belonging, and yes, ok I admit – also love. Duncan is slowly learning that he has a valued place in his new pack, that he belongs with us all. And he’s doing that through being showered in love. And not just the cuddly, smooshy kind of love. Also the kind that sets boundaries and lets him know how to treat the others in his pack. Love isn’t all gooey, gushy niceness. Love is caring enough about other people (or dogs) to set appropriate boundaries even if it doesn’t feel comfortable for you or they don’t respond well.
Duncan can be very upset if he oversteps the line and is called on it but it has also made him feel safer to know what the rules are. We’re like this too – knowing what the boundaries are with other people makes us feel safer. Most people will say they feel better around people that are upfront and clear about what’s ok.
So …..the takeaways – connect with good people, play lots, set good boundaries and love loads.