A Pet’s Nurturing Soul

8 Sep

A Pet’s Nurturing Soul – Where does it come from?

A palliative pet lies on a bed with a dying man and licks his hand and rests its head on his lap.  Is the dog feeling compassion?  Probably not.  Stanley Coren, the renowned psychologist at the University of British Columbia, explains in his new book “Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants to Know” that a dog’s range of emotion is roughly equivalent to that of a child at the age of two and a half years.  It is likely then that such a complex emotion as compassion is not within the scope of a palliative pet.  What dogs do feel beyond the basics of distress, contentment, disgust, fear and anger are the more complex emotions such as joy, suspicion and true affection.  Multifaceted emotions such as contempt, guilt and pride appear to be beyond the scope of a dog’s emotional spectrum.

So in the above scenario so familiar to hospice volunteers and staff, what are we witnessing?  Probably an extension of an innate nurturing quality.  A mother dog with her pups is finely tuned to signals of physical and emotional distress in members of her litter and as a member of a pack, a dog is by nature acutely aware of the status of the members of the pack.   As dogs themselves feel distress, it is not surprising then that they can pick up on the emotional states of persons at the end of life and recognize that these newly adopted members of their pack require nurturing.   Outside the structure of the pack the ability to pick up on emotional and physical distress of prey was key to successful predatory behaviour in their evolutionary history.  However within the pack, nurturing served to maintain the overall wellbeing of the group.

Are some dogs better suited emotionally for palliative care environments?  Coren describes research that clearly shows that personality (dogality?) testing on first generation puppies of crossbred Border Collies and Newfoundlands showed a blending of the personality types of the parents.  Newfoundlands are generally very social, calm and affectionate.  Border Collies are generally high energy, intense and focused on herding opportunities.  The emotional profile of the offspring of these parents showed that they were “more affectionate than their Border Collie father, but more intense and excitable than the Newfoundland mother.”  Clearly then, genetics play a major role in the emotional profile of dogs.  Hence animals bred for their sociable nature rather than guarding or fighting are on the whole more likely able to tap into the nurturing, affectionate, and loving nature so valued in palliative pets.

Please feel free to comment below!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: