The Amazing, Intuitive Empathy of Dogs

The Amazing, Intuitive Empathy of Dogs

When I was 12 years old, fully in the throes of junior high angst, I had a difficult time telling others about painful events. Being called hurtful names by other kids. The time my backpack was stolen and thrown over a fence. About the bullies who teased me. I didn’t want to tell my parents because I didn’t think they would be able to change anything, and I worried that it would end up just making them sad. So … I told my dog.

At the time, I thought I was kind of a weirdo for confiding in my dog. But as I grew older and devoted my life to working with animals and people, I found to my delight that dogs are some of the world’s best counselors. They give veterans with PTSD the strength to venture outside. They help shy children work on their speaking skills. They sit in courtrooms while victims testify about terrifying events. They lie quietly next to people in hospitals who simply need a soft head to pat. They are sometimes as effective as medications in controlling anxiety.

I’ve often heard it said that dogs can sense when someone they love needs extra support, but until I witnessed it firsthand, I had no idea just how powerful that connection could be. When my mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year and came to live with us, I was beyond petrified, as was the entire family. It was so hard to simply sit there and be present without bursting into tears, which would only upset Mom more.

My dog, on the other hand, had no hesitation about inserting himself in the middle of it all. Brody became an ever-present companion by her side, a steady escort that helped to keep her upright when her balance was off, a head on her lap while she tearfully signed her Hospice admission papers, and a gentle snorer at her side every night. When she peacefully passed with my father by her side, Brody was also there to see her off.

How can I possibly explain what burden he bore during that time? He was not just there for my Mom but also for me, the kids and especially my dad. With my mother gone, Brody immediately transferred his watchful attention to him in a way that he never had before. Together, they went on long thoughtful walks during that period. There is no possible explanation other than the fact that Brody knew exactly what we needed from him.

Dogs see us at our worst and, unlike many people in our lives, are unafraid to be right there in the thick of things without judgment or discomfort. They are such a gift to us! I feel so fortunate to be able to give back and help their lives be long and wonderful in return.

Have you ever had a dog who went above and beyond the call of duty in a time of pain or need?

Tell us your remarkable story of canine comforting in the comments section below. And be sure to share this post with your friends on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments (6) -

  • Kris Leaver

    10/9/2016 1:58:16 PM |

    Oh, so very true about our dogs.  Recently, I "blew our my knee", and in the stumble, there was my sweet Poppy.  When I came home with a stabilizer , and  brought up a walker from the basement, she looked at me with such empathetic eyes, and sat with me, head on my shoulder, as I was icing.  She knew my pain.

  • Becky Stawarski

    10/13/2016 5:43:32 AM |

    I am paralyzed from the knees down, suffer from ptsd, and just have a lot of pain physically and emotionally from that. I recently quit my job to devote my time to my dog. I became certified in canine massage and I wanted to open my own business to help other dogs in need. My little min pin buddy and my other min pin shatzki that passed last January have been my greatest blessing. They were there during the Times when I contemplated ending my life, just pushing their noses on me, making themselves be close. They saved my life, literally. I started this business in July to honor them and I'm barely making ends meet  with medical bills etc but I'm still happy because I am able to give back to my dogs and other dogs that have given so much. My business hands healing hounds is just me dedicated to working with shelter, rescue, adopted, foster, dogs that just need someone to listen to them, someone to heal them emotionally. Buddy is my sidekick when I work with the animals always close by making sure they are ok. My life may not include enough money to pay the bills but I feel like the richest person in the world being able to take on some of these dogs pain, worry. (Sorry this got so long 😳 thank you!

  • Frank

    10/26/2016 2:51:35 PM |

    When my father was suffering from terminal cancer, our dog was a vital member of his Hospice team (even the nurses said so). She was very in-tune with everything that was going on with him and was able to make him laugh even during this dark time. I can't imagine how much harder his illness would of been without Maggie's support. She was at his side constantly. When he had the shivers, she snuggled up close for warmth. When he was in terrible pain, she never got closer than a couple of inches. Dogs are much more intuitive than some people give them credit for. I don't know what I'd do without my dogs!

  • Suzie

    10/31/2016 12:02:45 PM |

    My aussie has been by my side since we got him 2 & a half years ago.  He helped me through one of the worst times of depression in my life while I was still dealing with the suicide of a dear friend.  It wasn't until his 2nd birthday that I realized how happy I was & that it was because of him. Most recently, while I was pregnant with my son, I  slipped in the shower & he came barreling into the bathroom to check on me.  Seeing that I was alright he waited outside the shower most days after that.  Also, after the pregnancy, I needed to have foot surgery & have been on crutches. He slowly walks behind me when I am up moving around & even stands in front of the basement steps as I go passed them.  I am certain he is making sure that I don't fall down them.  He is my best friend (sorry husband!). As soon as he hears me crying, which is alot with a new baby & a broken foot, he is the first one there to crawl in my lap & he makes me pet him.  How can you not stop crying with a best buddy like that?!?!

  • Judi

    11/1/2016 5:50:25 PM |

    After a stroke that took much of my mothers ability to see or remember her way around the house, she told us about our Golden Retriever Beau.  Mom was always up several times in the night to use the restroom, but she couldn't remember how to get there.  Beau would here her up and go to her.  She would put her hand on his head and he would lead her to the bathroom, wait outside the door and lead her back to her bed.  He would do the same thing in the morning when she was ready to come to dining area in the morning.  We never taught Beau how to lead people, he just somehow knew her needs.  He never failed her and we all slept a little better at night.  

  • Mary Daigle

    11/18/2016 4:30:05 PM |

    It is wonderful to read about how dogs can help us heal.  I am currently working to get my dog Wally certified as a pet therapy dog.  I want to bring him to nursing homes and hospitals to visit the sick and the elderly.  I know pets can help us in so many ways!

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