To be physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone and make them your focus. During this time, it is important to manage judgment while you are present with them.
One of the many wonderful things dogs do for us is to hold space for us. They don’t understand what is wrong, but they can simply be there for us in this caring but otherwise neutral and judgment free way. It is one of the many reasons we feel such a deep connected bond to them.
When it comes to when our dogs having a hard time, many humans have failed to learn how to return the favor for our dogs the same way they do for us. We pet them, console them, provide affection, and unintentionally validate their worries. Like our dogs do for us, it is often better for us to acknowledge that we don’t understand why they are upset but are present, focused on them, and otherwise neutral. We may know that it is a trip to the vet, fireworks, or a thunderstorm that is upsetting them, but we are not worried, so by showing our dogs that we don’t understand their worry but support them is a really important way for us to teach them that there is nothing to worry about. It also sets them up to look at us as though we may in fact know a little something about what is worrisome and what is not. The dog across the street, not a problem, the chocolate we dropped on the ground… oh no!!!
When it gets right down to it, our dogs seem to know how to support us better than we know how to support them, but they are showing us how they would like us to do it, it’s just on us to master the skill of being present and being neutral. Next time your dog is nervous, skip the petting and try to find a more neutral approach and see how your dog responds… it may just be exactly what they need.