The human-dog relationship can have a key role in people’s personal growth and psychological development, especially with its beneficial impact on the process of building a person’s self-identity. This is one of the topics I have most focused on in my career (since 2003, when I attended the course Cani di vita_ San Patrignano), first since I experienced it myself, and then because I decided to learn and study why and how that happens.
We should remind ourselves that health is not only the absence of psychological or physical diseases, but rather the ability to express and develop one’s own peculiarities. And well-being goes even beyond that: it means being comfortable and happy in our peculiar, and “healthy” feet.
Well, the relationship between children and dogs doesn’t only help humans become healthy, but it also fosters their way to well-being.
Indeed, dogs help children’s growth and personal development in many ways: for instance, children interacting with dogs improve more easily their verbal skills, and this enhances their both analog and digital communication abilities. This interaction also facilitates the process of imitation and identification, which are key to each child’s personal growth process.
Similarly to the difference between well-being and health, also the concepts of abilitation and rehabilitation should be clarified and reconsidered in reference to the human-dog relationship. It is now a known fact that this relationship can be extremely helpful to help human rehabilitation, which consists in going back to the condition that precedes the occurrence of some debilitating event. But, as much as this process can apply to physical and specific health problems (like, for example, in the case of guide dogs for blind people), it does not apply to other types of disorders, such as addiction, deviance, social exclusion. In cases like these, we should rather talk of abilitation, that is the improvement of human conditions. In fact, abilitation is the process of bringing the subjects, both adults and children, to a condition that is better and more advanced than their “starting point”.
With respect to both the concepts of abilitation and rehabilitation, we should highlight how helpful the human-dog relationship might be. Let’s see some examples:
- Managing aggressiveness
Let’s think, for example, how helpful dogs can be in getting back our ancestral ability to effectively send and decode non-verbal signals. Let’s take the case of aggressiveness: when we turn aggressive to someone else, we won’t just stop in front of his/her stunned look. Instead, dogs naturally teach children how to do that: how to realize and decode someone else’s level of suffering; they teach them to manage aggressiveness when playing together, by showing children when their positive energy crosses the line and turns into violence.
- Accepting separation and death
We live in the constant fear of death, just as we live in the constant search for homeostatic equilibrium, which we lived in our mother’s belly, when every need was corresponded by unlimited satisfaction. And dogs teach us to deal with death by teaching us how to cope with separations: children learn that death is nothing more than a separation longer than the ones they constantly live everyday in the relationship with the dog, because the dog always goes back and forth all day, it goes in and out, it’s not constantly present, almost suffocating (especially during the early years of the child’s life), like a mother. Instead, the dog provides the dynamism and perception of external mobility, which then helps understanding and embracing the concepts of separation and death.
- Overcoming excessive attachment to objects and personal certainties
Dogs also help us untangle ourselves from some detrimental patterns we are fundamentally caught in: our constant the need for “actual fetishes”.
We need actual fetishes to work, we need our rituals, many of which are magical, while others become even obsessive: we need a home that is owned, as well as we need to take care of some things that become our personal certainties. The need for these certainties often becomes so strong that it becomes itself a fetish, that can end up hindering or halting the evolutionary growth of the human being.
And dogs, with their liveliness, creativity, dynamism, with their ability to constantly question their relationship with their young human partners, keep offering them the chance to transform actual fetishes into transitional objects, that is to say, objects that can be used for a limited period of time to overcome a specific difficulty, conflict or obstacles in their personal growth, and then abandon them, moving on, further ahead. This means more emotional growth and more psychic and affective self-development!
In conclusion, during the most important stages of men’s lives, (especially the first 5 years), dogs are able to teach humans how to get the courage to become independent and self-reliant, to do things on their own, they do help children overcome issues and move on, to grow up, but above all, to grow according to their own rhythms, which usually are different from those our society forces them (and us all) to comply with.
Dogs are not human, but they are able to prompt those particular feelings and emotions that attract our innate human nature. We can and should use this “special power” to help children grow and help young people become better adults, but we will only be able to do it if we understand how to properly connect with dogs. This will also lead to better coexistence of men and dogs in our society.
Thanks to Nicolò & Budda & Sara for the pic.