You’re Not Alone: The Magic of Dogs Bringing A Mother & Son Closer Together

One of the most exciting things about the work I do utilising the human-canine bond is how transformative parents find the skill of empathy even when it’s hard. Empathy is not always our default response-it’s a skill and a choice to be connected. Here’s one story of how the work helped a mother communicate the message ‘you’re not alone’ to her 7 year old son.


“Whilst there are too many moments for me to share as highlights I was particularly struck by the depth of emotion shared by Angela and Harry (golden retriever) and by Harry’s instinctive show of empathy to another delegate when she was so brilliantly open with her emotions.  This morning I faced a situation where I, without much thought or preamble, modelled Angela – not with a dog but with my son.  It feels like a very profound learning for me and to embed it I feel sharing it will help.

On the walk to school this morning my 7 year old son Jed did something which was extremely hard for him to do and which was emotional for him. To cut a long story short,  he very quietly apologised to another child’s Mum for his behaviour towards their child on the last day of school a week or so ago before our schools broke up for mid term. Jed had said he wanted to apologise and I had encouraged him to do so. He did so very genuinely, on the edge of tears and in his own words. The other Mum was fabulous and took Jed’s hands and reassured him that it was ok, he was ok, he wasn’t to worry about it and that her son was “no angel either” at which point they shared a smile.

As Jed and I walked away I was filled with an enormous sense of pride and love for my wee man.  He was on my left hand side, as Harry had been for Angela and I was instantly struck by the desire to model Angela’s love for Harry.  So as we walked together I told him, as Angela does to Harry, how proud I was of him, how I thought what he had just done was awesome, how much I loved his wish to make things better and just how much I loved him. I pointed out to him (literally) how tall I felt with pride at his behaviour and his caring attitude and we hi 5’ved.  As I did so and moved just a tiny bit closer to him as Angela had done to Harry, he reached out and took my hand (not something as a 7 year old boy he does spontaneously very often these days as it’s “just not cool”). We then got to school and had our “way hay” celebratory moment, we laughed and joked about whether he’d come home from school with today’s jumper, and yesterdays which had been left behind and we bet on whether today’s scarf would find its way home or be left in his tray – he giggled the entire way to the school door.  I went back to my car and cried – and I’m doing so again as I type.

I was struck, as I often am, in the moment so much so that it stopped me dead in my tracks.  In the moment of modelling Angela, I realised I do not hear myself overtly and consistently praise Jed for just who he is and the many, many positive things he brings to life.  I, like many others I suspect, will more often than not hear myself scold, moan at, or point out where I think he could do better. I would have always felt that pride and love in the situation as I had done earlier but I am sure I would not have voiced it to Jed openly and earnestly.   And whilst I tell him every day how much I love him I was suddenly struck by how lost that could become in the noise of all the other less positive things he hears from me “eat up your dinner”, “why are you taking so long”, “why can’t you listen to me”……Will my ” I love you handsome” at night before he goes to bed be enough to cut through all that other stuff, to sustain and secure him?

There was a clarity of that moment when Harry was happily bobbing around the room being very lively.  Angela was siting chatting to us and then she simply stood up to demonstrate her calmness of state when entering the show ring.  Without a single word or glance in Harry’s direction, and with Angela merely standing still he suddenly stopped chasing his tail.  Looked at her and walked quietly over to her taking his place by her side and expectantly looked up to her as if to say “ok I recognise this, we’re going to work”. I was struck by how powerful their connection was that even when he was happily doing something else he sensed a change in her, as he did with that amazing show of empathy to Sarah during her brilliant show of emotions.  I am blown away by the love and security that Harry obviously feels that he is so sensitive to state changes and can be “in the moment” with a person without preamble, thought or instruction.  I am left thinking of ways to model this more so that my loved ones feel I am as sensitive to their state changes and can give of that empathy as easily and without thought or preamble as Harry”

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