One of the hardest aspects of living through a pandemic is the unpredictability of it all.
Of course, navigating the world as a human always comes with the occasional curveball. But, by and large, we know what to expect from the world around us. We know if we do X, we can expect Y to happen as a result.
We know how to behave in such a way as to get the outcome we want.
And that ability to go through life with an understanding of what comes next, being able to predict what’s going to happen, makes the world easier to navigate and easier to understand. It provides us with comfort, security…it’s a psychological safety net.
Which is why the unpredictability of the pandemic hit us so hard. Having no sense of what was coming next, of which rules we’d be asked to follow and when, and of everything being uncertain led to unprecedented levels of anxiety and stress.
And here’s the thing:
Our dogs’ brains and nervous systems work in much the same way as our own.
Thankfully they’re mostly blissfully unaware of pandemics and many of the other stressors that cause us anxiety, but they have their own lack of certainty to deal with.
They’re living in a world that doesn’t belong to them and navigating that world, with its very human rules and expectations is hard. It’s made even harder by the fact that many of us don’t communicate with our dogs enough, or in the right way.
We don’t give them the information they need, which causes them stress and worry. And so they mitigate that psychological discomfort by making their own predictions, by creating a sense of potential outcomes. They find their own way to reduce the anxiety and stress that comes from not being able to predict what comes next.
Of course, the result of that is that they make all kinds of predictions that are just wrong.
Predictions that we’d rather they didn’t have.
Like the prediction that your friendly local parcel delivery person is hell-bent on all kinds of mischief, and they’d better bark at them until they go away.
Or the prediction that if they make enough noise at 4 am you’ll get out of bed with a spring in your step and a song in your heart and gladly engage in an early morning game of fetch!
But what if we had the power to change those (less-than-desirable) predictions?
We already know just how incredibly intelligent our furry friends are, how capable they are of making predictions and altering their behavior accordingly (hello, Pavlov, right?). But so few of us dog owners take advantage of that power of prediction.
So few of us realize just how much potential there is in the power of prediction in making not only our lives better, but improving the lives of our dogs too.
So why not take a little time this month to think about the predictions your dog is making as they try to navigate this crazy old world we’ve brought them into. What would you want to change for them, and for you? And what if you could change their predictions? What if you could change their expected outcomes?
What new associations would you like them to make; how could you create a new way for your dog to interpret and react to the world?
If you’d like to explore this some more, if you feel like your dog is feeling anxious or stressed, or you need any support at all in creating a happier, healthier relationship with your dog, I’m here to support you. Find out how I can help.