I have loved and lived with animals my entire life. Growing up, we generally had at least two dogs and one cat in our household. The earliest memories I have are of two horses, one dog and a cat. Another time we had two dogs, two cats and on separate occasions, guinea pigs and a bunny. The last scenario I recall in my childhood home (after the guinea pigs, bunnies and cats) was one dog…a big one, a Great Dane (Tiger) who was later joined by two more Great Danes which were his offspring. I thank my dad for my love of animals and especially my connection to dogs. I feel as though I have always understood them, and that is no surprise as they considered me and my family part of their pack. We were all communicating without words on a regular basis, and this was normal for us. My siblings and I grew up learning to recognize and appreciate the amazing sensitivity and sense of structure/community dogs have.
Today I live with three dogs and I love to watch them communicate, care for each other and solve disputes as they go through their day. They each look for the other two when one of them sends out an alert bark and when everyone is assembled, they jet out the doggie door together! When one of them leaves the house to go to the groomer or vet, the other two seem to worry and look for the other one until they come home. Upon the return home, this dog is greeted with the same enthusiasm the pack has when their humans come home. These three really thrive and seem to depend on the pack order for reassurance each day. Much like we do with our family members or work mates.
Dogs and humans have similar social and emotional brains. Like us, they seek order and security in a community or pack. In a pack, the distinct leader is in the front of the pack and helps the pack hunt for food and water and find shelter. The middle dogs are generally the most easygoing and are mediators for the pack. The back of the pack consists of the most sensitive dogs, and their job is to alert the pack about danger. Dogs derive their behavior from their ancestors (wolves) dating back 14,000 years ago and a pack of dogs or wolves is actually a family unit. The pack or family is very important and must have order for all members to survive and thrive. This pack is much like a neighborhood, household or workplace. They are all communities and all individual members of the community are important for the survival of the group. We each have distinct roles and responsibilities, much like the leader and the back of the pack.
A dog or a wolf left to fend for themselves without the help of a pack is vulnerable and lacks the strength or stamina to hunt that it would have if he were part of a pack. The same is true for humans. We do not thrive without a sense of community and social connection. When we are a part of family or community, we learn to communicate effectively to meet our needs and survive. We learn to trust and how to work as a team for mutual goals and needs. Similarly, dogs and wolves work together in a pack to hunt, protect one another and find shelter. In a family unit, mom, dad and older siblings work together to care for and protect the infants or toddlers and teach them how to talk, eat, walk and avoid danger, etc. Wolf and dog packs work the same way. Everyone in the pack redirects, protects and cares for the young, while teaching them necessary skills for survival.
Benefits of maintaining a family, community or pack include the following:
- We learn to be respectful of others’ boundaries and learn to solve problems without violence.
- We offer support to individuals who are affected by stress, struggles and the chaos of modern life.
- Both dog and human communities work together to avoid chaos and disharmony.
- Being part of a community can have a positive effect on mental and emotional health.
- We feel safe and protected in a community versus feeling fearful and vulnerable if we are alone.
- Community provides a sense of belonging and social connectedness.
- As a part of a social family, community or group, we avoid feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression.
- Community provides role models.
- With belonging, we experience a sense of safety and security.
- Communities inspire their members to promote self-discovery and build relationships.
- Community provides encouragement and sympathy.
Humans, like dogs, are social animals and are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. When we experience a trying ordeal alone, lack of emotional support and friendship can increase anxiety and hinder coping ability. A similar scenario is when a dog is feeling threatened and alone, it may become aggressive and attack out of anxiety and fear. In human behavior, this can show up as violence, domestic abuse and crime. Look at the number of adolescents in the media attacking others with guns and committing crimes seeming to have no regard for human life.
Years ago when I was a child and adolescent, it was unusual for children to stay in their home and isolate. We didn’t have electronics and video games to entertain us and interact with. We rode our bikes everywhere and created games to play with each other, and we learned how to work as a team, solve problems and became aware of boundaries. We built relationships and created our own communities. Now, with the prevalence of impact of cell phones, electronics and video games, many children and adolescents are growing up in isolating environments. The need to interact personally with one another is absent as they can text, snap chat or play games remotely. These same electronics have become a barrier for interaction with adults as well as with parents and their children. Some parents seem to use these devices as babysitters to keep children quiet and occupied.
When we are not part of a community, not only do we lack support and a sense of belonging, we can also experience increased depression and anxiety, along with increased levels of stress hormones, poor sleep, a compromised immune system and cognitive decline. Areas with poor community structure experience higher crime rates, increased drug use as well as domestic abuse and neglect. Studies show that these areas also have higher rates of suicide and ethnic conflict.
As I watch my dogs at home, I am reminded of how important our human interaction and being a part of a community are. Martin Seligman, a leading psychologist and founder of the Positive Psychology Center, developed a theoretical model of happiness and outlines PERMA as the five key elements necessary for our well-being:
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- Positive emotion,
- Meaning, and
Communities can help foster these characteristics to produce healthy and happy members of society.
For the sake of your health and the health of your family, friends and loved ones, learn from dogs! Create and foster community around you! Community can mean anything from the people in your backyard to the surrounding ecosystem or your local schools and hospitals. For so many of us, this sense of connection is what makes us thrive physically, mentally and emotionally.
Here are some ways to increase community around you.
- Check on your neighbors and offer help
- Volunteer to support causes for children and elderly
- Shop in your local small businesses
- Clean up neighborhoods
- Attend community events
- Be friendly and reach out (to offer help as well as ASK FOR HELP)
- Volunteer to help build houses
- Volunteer at local animal shelters
- Create or join a support group
- Mentor young men and women
- Deliver meals to home bound persons
- Volunteer to work with mentally disabled adults and children
Talk to your children and family members often and commit to spending time with them daily, weekly and monthly! Our greatest needs are love and human connection. Whether this starts at home, school, work or in your friendships, create your own communities and teach others to do the same. There is strength in numbers, and WE ARE ALL ONE.
- Dogs and Humans Have Similar Social and Emotional Brains
- Why socialization is important
- The Importance of Community
- The Importance of Community Development for Health and Well-Being
- Connecting with community
- Community Engagement and Positive Mental Health
- The Perils of Social Isolation
Lisa Adams is nurse, Health and Wellness Coach and Certified Flowtrition Practitioner. She has combined over 25 years of experience as a registered nurse with training in Flowtrition and health education to provide her clients with the most comprehensive and holistic approach to preventive healthcare and wellness. Lisa believes that wellness starts from within and that if we trust in our body’s ability to heal as it is designed, amazing things happen. She also believes that optimal health is achieved in a multi-system approach that includes not only physical wellbeing, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. Lisa’s passion and objective in coaching is to increase awareness in individuals about the way their body functions and especially how it responds to stress.
“The body cannot begin to heal
while in a constant state of tension.”
~ Lisa Adams ~