And here’s the go-to read if you have any doubts:
Zupan, M., Buskas, J., Altimiras, J. & Keeling, L. J. Assessing positive emotional states in dogs using heart rate and heart rate variability. Physiol Behav 155, 102–111 (2016)
Yes, dogs notice and respond to the emotional states of their human companions.
“How would your mother know you were beginning to get back to your old self and feeling happier?” I asked a client the other day.
“She wouldn’t” was the short reply.
“What do you think she might notice when you next see her if you were more confident and happier with yourself?” I persisted.
“She wouldn’t notice anything, she’s too involved in herself”.
“And she’s your mother so I imagine she also notices everything!”
“Even if she did she wouldn’t say”
“So what might she notice even if she didn’t say?”
“Maybe I wouldn’t be so sharp with her, maybe”
“How would you know she’s noticed even though she didn’t say anything?”
“I’ve no idea!”
“How do you think she’d show it?”
“I really don’t know”
“How long have you known her?”
“All my life, of course”
“I guess that makes you a world expert, so what do you think you might notice about your mother that somehow showed that she’d noticed you were happier?”
“I suppose, maybe, she wouldn’t be so sharp”
“What would she be instead?”
“Perhaps she’s smile – that would be a miracle!”
“And if you were not so sharp yourself how would you respond to her smile?”
“I’d smile back”
It would have been quite insulting to suppose this woman was less emotionally perceptive than the average dog so the persistence carries the positive message that she knows what is going on in her life and relationships. For this reason it is wise never to accept the idea that one person in a family isn’t in touch with the emotional state of anyone else in the family, A person might at times not notice what they are noticing but they will still be noticing and when asked (possibly with a little persistence) they will remember.
The same goes for ‘not knowing’ how another family member might react to a change. The “How long have you known . . .?” question works well if there is a small space for humour.
Alternatively we might go straight to the research:
“How would your partner know you were more at peace?”
“He wouldn’t – he’s completely cut off!”
“If he did?”
“No! He wouldn’t!
“There was some research a few years ago that showed even dogs notice these things. I don’t know your partner but if he was as at least as tuned-in as a dog what might he notice?”
“Maybe I wouldn’t be so irritable”
“What might you be instead?”
“I don’t know – interested, maybe”
“How would he know you were interested?”
“I might ask him about his day”
“How might he respond?”
“He’d be surprised!”
“Would it be a good surprise?”
“Yes I think so”
“How would you know?”
“He’d probably smile and might even ask me about my day”
It’s just a matter of trust – trust that the client and members of their family are not below dogs in the pecking order of emotional awareness; and trust in the process, gentle persistence is not pressure it is respect for the client’s struggle to find an answer and belief that there is always more to the client’s humanity.
10 October 2021