The psychology of dog parks


Dogs, and their humans, see and experience the world very differently.

For example, when a female has a litter of puppies and one of the pups is not thriving, what will the mother and thriving pups do? They will push it aside. Weak bird in the nest? Pushed out. Animals do not support weakness. Humans however, will find those weak, struggling animals and try to nurture them with an eye dropper every two hours, heating pad, or heat lamp to save them. We are humans, it is what we do. And we seem to be the only species that nurtures runts and weaklings.

For whatever reason, people project their humanness onto their animals, a term called anthropomorphism.

For example, there is a woman at my local off-leash park and she has an adorable pair of adolescent dogs who were formerly used as bait puppies. That IS really sad and her dogs really are adorable, but she has difficulty reading their current body language because of their past and she is fearful and over-protective of the two dogs. When they start to rough-house and roll around on the ground with other dogs, she becomes anxious and afraid then says to other dog owners that that it is her dogs who are “scared to death” when, really, it is she who is scared to death.

Another example of anthropomorphism is dog owners projecting their own thoughts or feelings onto their dogs. Yes, dogs do have thoughts and yes, dogs do have emotions, but sometimes owners who were bullied in their own childhood will think that their dog is unhappy or being bullied when their dog is engaged in normal play or social ranking behaviors.

Humans and dogs communicate very differently.

A human’s main form of communication is through speech while dogs are all about body language and energy. Dogs are very physical and they pounce on one another and they chest-bump one another. This makes many humans nervous or uncomfortable because we do not always know hot to interpret dog body language. Maybe we are afraid that our dog will get injured, maybe we are afraid the other dog will be injured leading to a lawsuit.

As humans, we find what we are looking for. If we are fearful, we will see all of the dangers. Pet owners project their fears into their dog’s body language.

Cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder and he has been studying the body language of dogs since the 1970′s. One interesting discovery of his is that, while humping can be dominance, humping a playmate during a romp was often an invitation to nearby dogs to come join the fun.

Humping is one behavior that is so misunderstood by humans and leads to conflict at dog parks. There are different types of humping and dominance humping leaves you in no doubt. It is quick, determined, and ferocious. Most humping is non-sexual, non-dominant, and is simply used by some dogs as a means of bonding, an invitation to play or, an attempt to find their place in the group.

Off-leash dog parks, which should be a place of fun and relaxation, sometimes become major stressors.

A lack of knowledge about the behavior of dogs often led to inter- and intraspecies conflict. Cesar Millan himself wouldn’t stand a chance at the local dog park because no one seems to agree and they are all experts.

What behaviors are *really* aggressive, which dog is or isn’t bullying, which dog owner is being unrealistic. And certainly our own personalities and behaviors shape how we interpret the behaviors of other humans and dogs.

Dog parks: where human psychology and dog psychology collide.

The first thing that we must learn is to become aware of how we are feeling so that we can address any weak areas. Are you anxious when your dog is misbehaving? Do you feel sorry for your dog? Remember, weakness is interpreted by dogs and other animals much differently than people. Do you feel intimidated by other pet owners?

Just like humans, dogs have wildly different personalities. Some dogs just immediately do not like one another’s energy. Some dogs are naturally introverted, some are anxious, some are happy-go-lucky and are confused by the timid-aggressive dogs. Timid dogs and aggressive dogs can benefit greatly from behavioral therapy and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend therapy, cognitive or behavioral, for timid or aggressive pet owners. While dogs are not able to see the world from our perspective, with a little help we can learn to understand the world from a dog’s perspective.


Bullying and the hierarchy of needs


Bullying: what is it? What are the consequences of it? And how can we fix it?

Bullying is known by lots of different names: Social exclusion, being ostracized, peer rejection, being left out, feeling like you’re alone in a room full of people, hazed, (and the list goes on).

Bullying includes (but is not limited to): getting teased, picked on, singled out, getting pushed, name-called, made fun of, misogyny, being tripped, always being picked last for teams, being systematically never invited to any birthday parties or pool parties, excluding you from team meetings, belittling you in front of co-workers, (and the list goes on).

Victims of bullying are often called names like: loser, fag, social misfit, loner, outcast, she-male, weirdo, four eyes, bitch, he-she, it, (and the list goes on).

Intended consequences of bullying include:

  • to hurt the person,

  • to make the other person feel small,

  • for the bully to feel powerful

  • to make sure the bullied person KNOWS they are not liked

Unintended consequences of bullying include:

  • increased aggression in the bullied (both toward self and others)

  • increased stress-related physical illnesses

  • decrease in wages across the lifespan for the bullied

  • increased impulsivity and self-destructive behaviors for the bullied

  • increased sensitivity to hurt and rejection in the bullied individual

  • increased mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and anger

Now, what can be done about it?

For school-aged people, what we are finding is that the best approach is for other students to stand up for the youth being bullied. This is referred to as the bystander approach.

Another approach is making sure teachers and school administration are aware of the problem, but all too often they turn a blind eye to bullying and resist becoming involved.

The child may also benefit from either therapy or a social skills group where youth can practice getting along and practice conflict resolution skills in a safe space.

For adults, Our choices involve having a direct conversation with the person who is bullying us. If that does not help we can have a conversation with that person’s supervisor or with human resources in order to develop a fair plan.

Another choice is to seek new employment because the stress related health problems are just not worth it.

If you have an on-going problem getting along with others (during school and work, or you have had a problem getting along at several jobs), then I strongly recommend therapy.

Therapy is a great tool to practice conflict resolution, anger management, and considering other ways we can handle our situations. Therapy can be short term, and you don’t even have to talk about your mother if you don’t want to.

Work-place bullying is more common than we would like to admit. In fact, some states are now considering bullying laws for worker protection.

We all have needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is a great guideline that any of us can look at to see which stage we are having difficulty with. In general, one cannot move up the triangle until the bottom is taken care of. This means, if you are struggling with securing food or shelter, then your esteem needs are not generally on your radar.

For most of us, our physical needs of food, air, and water are met easily. Our safety needs of a place to live and sleep without fear are also met.

Some individuals start to struggle with the need for love and belonging. For some us the struggle is temporary (like being bullied in middle school). We have family or we have friends who we share things in common with (volleyball, video games, music, etc). Some of us are lucky enough to find friends to pass the time with and some of us even fall in love and get married.

Esteem needs are a bit harder. This includes feeling like we are smart, capable, and contribute to society. Esteem is often met from having a career or a degree we are proud of or doing volunteer work for a cause we believe in. It is very difficult for those who were bullied in school or are bullied at work to ever truly meet this need.

The hardest need to meet is self-actualization. It is so hard that, in fact many people never make it. Self-actualization includes wanting what is best for others and not just for yourself. It is seeing things from the perspective of others and being able to do good to those who may be rude to you. So, chances are, if you see someone (anyone) holding a sign or screaming at you about some controversial topic, they have not achieved self-actualization, either.





Why didn’t she escape?


Mental Health in the news:

A girl, aged 15, was reported missing in August 2004 by her mother. The mother suspected her live-in boyfriend of abducting her daughter. The mother also suspected that her boyfriend had been sexually abusing the teen for about two months.
The victim tried to escape twice but the man caught her and allegedly beat her, according to law enforcement.
“He told her then, ‘You can’t go home, you’re here illegally, you don’t speak the language, your mom’s called the police, they will send you back,'”.
To evade police detection, he obtained false identification for the victim and subsequently moved several times, police said.
He arranged for both of them to work at a night cleaning service together so he could watch her, police said.

If the horrific allegations in the above story are true, this type of person is extremely manipulative and violent. The young, naive girl may have gone into “survival mode” and complied whatever instructions were given to her, no matter how outlandish, to avoid harm.

Survival mode is different for different types of people:
1. one is Fight. We do not know if this young lady ever tried to fight
2. another is Flight… to try and run away, which this young lady did on at least two occasions with unpleasant consequences.
3. and lastly there is Freeze, which is where a victim shuts down and does nothing.

An example of freeze could be what is commonly known as, “Learned Helplessness”. For example, when a dog being captured, and kept, in a glass crate, it will lose its will to escape even after the door is opened. Experiments on mice show that if a floor is electrified it will try to escape the shocks, but if you turn off the electricity to half of floor the mice will no longer to avoid shocks because they “learned” trying to run did not help them.

This young lady did try to escape from her hellish glass box and both times was caught and then mentally and physically abused and beaten down which appears to have resulted in learned helplessness. She went from Flight to Freeze.

These psychotic men tear down their victims sense of self until there is nothing left. They are masters of hiding their true selves. He was the only one giving her information and may have told her that her family would get locked up for being undocumented. Or that she would be deported. There are so many things someone can say to make someone else feel alone and scared. As someone who has volunteered as a rape crisis counselor, I know that many undocumented people do not realize that they can report this type of abuse without fear of being arrested or deported. This is information that those of us in the healthcare field need to be better about letting others know.

So, to recap, not only was she 15 when this traumatic event occurred, she was in a new country, she was probably told many lies by her captor, and she was ignorant about her rights. She probably did not know that the law would have been on her side.

The mind and psyche are delicate in these types of situations. It can rewrite the experience in order for a person to function and survive, (otherwise known as Stockholm Syndrome). Well into her captivity, after the young lady became pregnant, her motherly instincts may have kicked in to protect her child, despite the fact it was fathered by an alleged psychopath.

In the words of Elizabeth Smart, former long-term kidnap victim herself:

“It’s so easy for us to be curious and think, ‘Why didn’t you escape? Why didn’t you run away?’ But it’s really important that we don’t ask that question because all the survivor hears is, ‘You should have done something,’ and, ‘It’s your fault you were gone so long.'” And that’s what they do not need to be hearing right now.”

Be vigilant with your children, 80% of rape cases are carried out by friends or family members. So, please, always be vigilant. Because this young lady will need a lot of love (and therapy) to heal.

I know I need therapy. Great. Which kind?


I know I need therapy. Great. Which kind?

There are many, many different ways to “do” therapy. Sadly, most people who seek out therapy do not really know what they are specifically looking for. They know that they want their problems to be fixed, but they are unsure what to do.

Most people do not know the differences in the different types of therapy and blindly trust the therapist to help them solve their problems. That is, after all what we therapists are paid to do, right?

Well, yes. But, some schools of therapy say that the therapist should be involved and give directions. Others say that therapists should not give any directions and through supportive conversation guide the client to find their own possible solutions.

Some theories recommend working with only one or two members of the family while other theories recommend bringing in everyone involved. How does the average consumer know which theory is right for them?

This book is a brief overview of the major psychotherapies in use today. This book provides information including:

if the therapist is an active participant in the sessions or whether they are more passive

whether the theory focuses on problems of the past to be resolved or strictly present-oriented situations.