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Caring for a dog can be a complicated business.

Mentally, logistically, financially and, perhaps most influentially – emotionally.

Which has led me down this little neural pathway of thought…

I wonder if caring for a dog can trigger our own earliest experiences of how we were cared for, or not, or how we were seen and listened to, or not. I wonder if our behaviour and emotions from a time when we were very young, can be played out in this arena.

Caring for an animal (or human), who is largely dependent on you is perhaps so emotionally charged because it touches on our own raw, and perhaps previously unknown, earliest experiences of dependence.

Much is said about dogs as ‘furry babies’ and their human carers as ‘parents’. Although often said in jest, it could point to the inescapability of the underlying relationship, the power differential between, and the tumult of emotions that can lie in wait to emerge in this temenos between human and dog.

In humans, research has taken place, and continues to do so, around ‘ghosts in the nursery’. This was a phrase coined by Selma Fraiberg in 1975, when describing psychotherapy with mothers and babies. It conceptualises how our experiences from earlier times, with our own caregivers, can get intertwined with life now, warp perceptions of the present, and in this case, get in the way of seeing the real baby who is now alive.

Much of the work of parent and infant psychotherapy can be viewed as wading through these projections, carefully untangling the thorny expectations a caregiver might bring, from the reality of who this baby really is, and how their relationship could thrive.

I wonder how many of these primitive anxieties are activated by caring for a dependant animal, who, in many ways is so similar to our species, but in other ways so very different.

At the same time as musing on this I go to a workshop on Canine Myotherapy run by the Galen Centre. Since Cauta came to the UK he has had an intermittent limp, which on vet’s advice we have been monitoring and feeding him with supplements to help ease. Apparently it’s an old injury from being hit, by a car or something else, that has healed wonky. The next step would be more invasive treatment if needs be.

So here I am at the workshop and a thought bubbles into my mind…

If….if Cauta is in pain, from the left front leg he sometimes stumbles on, or his back end which can move so stiffly, or both, letting the tension go which holds him together will be difficult… Therefore moving, which encourages circulation and helps ease the pain, is crucial, and adds to why he is desperate to go out. And if walking and running is potentially painful, playing, particularly wrestling, may be the one thing that distracts him from the pain. Being pumped full of adrenaline is a sure fire way to have pain relief for at least a few minutes. So no wonder he seems desperate to reel in other dogs to get his adrenaline hit. At these times his sympathetic (the fight or flight mechanism) nervous system is well and truly online and fired up.

Of course, it isn’t the whole story, but it certainly adds another dimension to his observable behaviour, and perhaps adds more clues about what may be going on for him, and why he may do what he does. Other pieces of the puzzle are, I am sure, his stage of development. It seems clear that he is smack bang in the middle of adolescence, a time where the drive to play with others is sky high, and the ability to self-regulate…well, not so advanced. Also trigger stacking comes into play, and all this ‘social niceties’ business could be all so new to him, who knows how he socialised (or if he did socialise) back in Romania?

Either way, I now have some techniques to try out for him (mwahahaha), perhaps more insight in what may be happening in his physical body (and therefore directly influencing his emotional and mental state, and range of choices available to him ), and a practitioner to contact if we need to go deeper.

So sometimes this complicated business can seem a little clearer.

With thanks to those who responded to the last post, Julia Robertson, Lucie Armstrong and the Galen Therapy Team.

For more info on Canine Myotherapy:

The seminal research paper on parent/infant relationships:

Ghosts in the Nursery. (1975) Fraiberg, Selma et al.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry , Volume 14 , Issue 3 , 387 – 421

And a link to the 1000 days campaign, on the importance of the period from conception to two, in us humans: