Prior to training as a kinesiologist, I worked as an animal behaviourist. Throughout my years of instructing dog training classes, I observed the uncanny similarities between dogs and their caregivers, from physical appearance and personality, to the way they move. Quiet, anxious caregivers typically had dogs who were reserved and often unwilling to offer creative, problem solving behaviours. They were less likely to engage in play with the other dogs, instead choosing to sit back and observe, though always well behaved and controlled. Flamboyant, confident, and expressive caregivers tended to have dogs who were overly friendly and exuberant, but who also failed to respect the physical space of others. They continually tried to engage other dogs in play instead of concentrating on the task at hand. As they moved through the classes, from puppy to advanced, the similarities shared between dogs and their caregivers grew exponentially.
These striking similarities in behaviour and personalities were more common than uncommon, therefore I knew a connection existed beyond mere coincidence. I witnessed that somehow, as a pair, they were influencing each other’s behaviour. Over time, the mirroring of personality and emotions became more pronounced. I decided to explore this phenomenon through Kinesiology, and was amazing at how energetically entwined we are with our animals.
As an Animal Kinesiologist, I initially worked on energetic, emotional, and physical stresses in animals alone. Typically, these imbalances would show up as changes in behaviour, or the manifestation of physical dis-ease within the body. It wasn’t until much later that I started to incorporate the animal’s caregiver in the sessions, working with both of them together. As soon as I started to do this, my results sky-rocketed, resolving the animal’s issues quicker, and at a deeper level. The caregivers also remarked on the positive changes they felt, and how the sessions deepened the bond they felt with their animal. This made me curious as to what I had uncovered, and I was encouraged to explore the science behind these results, discovering why addressing the connection between an animal and their caregiver is so impactful.
The concept of our animals mirroring our emotions is still considered too ‘out there’ for the pragmatists of this world, but research scientists are now proving this concept, and finally confirming what animal caregivers have known for years – our animals mirror our emotions.
I recently read an article outlining the work of Primatologist Frans de Waal. De Waals research has proved the complex range of emotions expressed by animals, showing they are very similar to our own. Despite this, many scientists still argued that it is impossible for animals to have inner emotional lives that resemble ours. Although increasingly we are finding from numerous sources that there is very little distinction between animals and humans in terms of emotions, cognition and consciousness, some scientists still remain unconvinced.
Why would some choose to discount these findings?
The reasons for this are ironically related back to the convenient denial of our own emotions.
Discounting the complexity of animal emotions has been the justification of many acts of cruelty towards animals, therefore perhaps refusing to accept these scientific discoveries has more to do with avoiding coming to terms with the wrongfulness of our treatment of animals, than celebrating the advancement of our connection with the animal world. Are we ready to accept our part in acts of cruelty? Do we have the emotional capacity to reconcile internally the pain and suffering we have been a part of? Perhaps rejecting the evidence and turning a blind eye prevents our emotional remorse at the expense of animal suffering.
Perhaps we stifle our emotions by choosing to stifle and ignore the emotional capacity of animals?
Just as emotions affect the behaviour of animals, so too does it affect the lens through which scientists view animal behaviour. De Waal contemplated that we deny the complexities of animal emotions in the same way we hide from ourselves and our emotions. Some scientists still resist in embracing and acknowledging animals as our family, because in acknowledging the full range of animal emotions, we must also accept that those emotions exist within ourselves.
An increasing number of animal researchers now contend that we are hiding from ourselves when we deny the humanity of animals, and the animality of humans. Science is now changing the way we understand ourselves as we embrace the emotional complexity of other creatures. De Waal states:
“Anyone who wants to make the case that a tickled ape, who almost chokes on his hoarse giggles, must be in a different state of mind from a tickled child has his work cut out for him.”
De Waal’s research is fascinating. He observed that pet owners, more so than scientists, had an understanding of the similarities and complexity of animal emotions, as they were relating to the animal in their life, with nothing to prove, categorise or quantify. Caregivers need not compare the emotions displayed by their animal, to those of other animals, simply allowing the relationship to just be. Not only were pet owners ahead of science in their awareness of the complex emotions expressed by their animals, but they are ahead again in the way they are now aware that their animals will mirror their emotions back at them. There are many discussions at the moment around the ways in which dogs and humans exchange information on their emotional states.
In a research paper published in Scientific Reports, Ann-Sofie Sundman and her colleagues, outlined the synchronisation of long-term stress in dogs and their owners. It had previously been known that acute stress was highly contagious amongst humans and other species, but the long term effects (as would be observed by pets and their caregivers) had never been quantified. Until now.
In simplistic terms, cortisol is the hormone released by the body to calm the nervous system. Cortisol is stored in the hair of dogs which means each hair shaft is essentially a record of that particular individuals stress. It was noted that the stress levels of the dogs correlated to the stress levels of their caregiver. Many factors were considered in how this correlation came about, but interestingly, living conditions or the presence of other dogs did not influence the long-term cortisol levels, nor did the personality of the dogs themselves. The personality and stress levels of the dogs caregiver was the main influencing factor. The data concluded that:
“Since the personality of the owners was significantly related to the cortisol levels of their dogs, we suggest that it is the dogs that mirror the stress levels of their owners rather than the owners responding to the stress of their dogs.”
Given the long-term association between dogs and humans, these results will be of little surprise to many. It demonstrates the concept of cross-species empathy; a concept which underpins the theory of an energetic connection that is powerful enough to allow one living being to influence the energy of another.
These experiments explained perfectly why I was seeing such a boost in results by treating the animal and the owner simultaneously. In order to release the emotional stress from the animal, I had to release it from the owners too to prevent the animal mirroring the problem over and over. The love bond shared between a human and their animal creates the perfect motivation to address those lower vibration energies and emotions that are causing anxiety and physical tension for both. Perhaps by being witness to our animal’s behaviour problems, our animals are in turn, highlighting the destructive cyclical pattern of behaviour we hold onto within ourselves. Therefore, in order to change the behaviour of our animals, we must first change our own.