The Highly Sensitive Dog

One of my new years resolutions was to walk more.  Since I live in a warm climate I could not use the excuse of cold weather to stay huddled inside. So there I was, one recent brisk winter morning, wearing my wide brimmed hat and sunscreen, all set to carry out my resolution.

As I rounded a corner I heard the soulful wailing of a dog. It wasn’t a usual bark; it sounded like it was coming from deep inside the animal’s soul. The depth of the crying sounded an alarm in my own heart and I found myself thinking that anyone who hurt an animal to that extent should be reported to authorities.

I felt like a detective, paying close attention as I passed each house, but I couldn’t identify the direction from which I heard the almost continuously wailing.

As I turned down a walking path I noticed a couple way in front of me with three German Shepherds. Within a few moments I heard the soulful crying again and saw that the man and woman had brought the animals over to a grassy knoll. The man kneeled next to the dog that was in despair.

As I walked closer I realized I was in a quandary, much the way I feel when I see a parent in public struggling with a tantruming child. I know I can help but I’m concerned they’ll take it as judgmental meddling. In this moment I couldn’t help myself and I stopped.

“Looks like you have a sweet dog who is struggling.” I gently said. ‘Yes.” sighed the woman. She reminded me of moms who try to explain the misbehavior of their children. “He is harder to train than the other ones.”

I smiled and shared that I help parents with children who struggle and that this sweet canine reminded me of toddlers who have breakdowns. I told them about Highly Sensitive beings and noted that this temperament trait exists in about 20% of most animal populations. ”Yes, indeed!” the woman exclaimed. “We believe he IS sensitive.” She seemed relieved that I understood.

“How do you help the parents?” Her question indicated that she wasn’t feeling judged by me and was looking for help.

I took a deep breath. “The first thing I help them with is to soothe themselves. These highly sensitive beings can feel our energy. So, not only are they overwhelmed by what they are experiencing, they can also read our stress, judgment and concerns.”

“Oh, yes,” she responded, ”I have learned that the ENERGY OF THE LEASH FLOWS RIGHT INTO THE ANIMAL’S BODY.”

A light bulb went off for me as she said those words. I had never heard energy explained that way before. It made so much sense. The leash is a metaphor for the energetic connection between all living things, especially between parents and children.

I took this as an invitation to continue. “If we are to be helpful to another being that is dis-regulated, the most helpful thing we can do is first soothe ourselves. Once we understand that it is a legitimate struggle it is vital that we calm ourselves and stop worrying that other people may be judging them or us.”

OH WAIT…I thought…wasn’t I judging just a short while ago?


“I worry,” she said,  “that he is disturbing the neighborhood and that people think we are hurting him.”

I got it….Boy, did I get it!

“Be aware of your breathing,” I suggested. “This will calm your own energy…see what happens.”

I started to breathe deeply, as did both the man and woman and within seconds the dog stopped whimpering!

“What do we do next?” This was the first time the man spoke. Apparently he was sold on the breathing

“Try to remember that he needs what the other dogs need…just more and bigger and longer….he needs you to be more patient, more understanding, seeing him and loving him exactly as he is. Do not compare him with the others….and in that way you can help him trust that he can handle what is being asked of him. It is a challenge but you will be thrilled when you see how well it works!”

And with that last bit of loving advice I wished them well and I was on my way.

As I continued down the path I was aware of a peaceful quiet rippling through the trees. The wailing had stopped. Perhaps the energy in the leash softened.