Meet Cowboy. We adopted this 1.5-year-old Mini Australian Shepherd this past August and he's been a part of our family and my business ever since. It still amazes me how he's fit in to both environments seamlessly....well, besides the jumping, but we're working on that. He's smart, polite, gentle, kind, loves to play with kids and comfort those who are sad. In therapy sessions he greets clients and soon falls asleep in his bed under my desk. He senses my change in body language as the end of our session draws near and usually gives our guests one more chance to pet him before we walk them to the door. I think he enjoys his job.
I have had clients with anxiety say, "He just calms me down" and there's some science behind that. Loving on pets can increase levels of oxytocin (the love hormone) in the brain. Oxytocin has calming and anti-depressive effects. Think of how you felt when you first fell in love....it's some powerful stuff.
Cowboy at work
I learn a lot from Cowboy about mental health. He insists that he gets a break, exercise, play, and affection everyday. When he's ready for a break he'll excuse himself and take a snooze in the master bedroom away from the chaos. When he needs exercise he's relentless and irritating until he expends his extra energy by convincing us to play fetch with him or take him for a walk. When he needs affection he asks for it and makes it easy for the giver...he usually climbs in your lap for easy access to his belly. He doesn't feel guilty for asking that his needs be met and is clear about what he needs.
Cowboy knows a lot about the importance of making himself a priority and getting his needs met and didn't need any specialized training or communication skills to accomplish this. I guess it's never occurred to him that he's not important or that he doesn't deserve it: no one's ever told him otherwise, and if someone did he wouldn't understand anyway. Thanks, Cowboy for reminding me how to do this for myself. I wonder what we could do or be if it hadn't occured to us that we weren't important or that we shouldn't listen to ourselves and honor our needs? Deep thoughts...maybe he deserves a raise??
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ARTICLES by Mika Ross