How Your Dog Is Affected By Your Family’s Emotions

As humans, we all experiences a very wide range of emotions for any given situation, at any given time. And oftentimes, we tend to ‘assign’ those same emotions onto the animal that spends the most time at our sides – our dogs.

The following is just a short list of some of the statements I consistently hear from my clients about their dogs:

  • “She knows exactly what she did wrong! The minute I came into the room, she ran!”
  • “He ate the arm of the couch because he was angry (or mad) that I went out without him!”
  • “He destroyed my son’s favorite pair of slippers to get even with him for yelling at him!”

In general, I spend a great deal of time dispelling some of the myths regarding a dog’s ‘emotions’ and more importantly, their ‘actions’ –  which are more reactions than actions.

What do I mean by this? Let’s review the above statements and break them down. In each one, the person is assuming that the dog’s actions are based on an emotion. The reality is that to feel guilty, or to retaliate out of anger requires a cognitive thought process… one of “I’ll show you!” Sorry folks… dogs do not possess the ability to dissect everything the way we do. They live in the moment and rely heavily on instinct. They clearly read your body language, their instinct of self-preservation kicked in and they decided to get out of the line of fire! They had no clue why you were displeased…. they just knew by your body language that you were!

On the flip side of that, there are basic emotions that dogs can/do feel for example, they can feel anticipation of something good or bad to come. If your child comes home from school every day at the same time on the bus, you will see them excitedly pace in front of the window or door as that time rolls around, and display excitement at every bus that passes until they see one stop and your child disembark. They can also feel happy when your child runs in, drops down on all fours and lavishes love on them. And because they can physically feel barometric changes, if thunderstorms frighten them, they may exhibit stress-related behaviors in anticipation of the impending storm. Other human emotions that dogs can feel and display are fear, feeling threatened, anxiety, sadness, and pleasure. I do not know for sure if they actually feel love, but by their obvious displays of affection, I like to think they do.

So why did I explain all of that and what does it have to do with my topic? Because how we feel, behave, and act can have a profound effect on our dogs, and can cause them to act or react in a positive or negative way. I had touched on this a bit in my article on teaching special-needs kids how to use “calm energy”. In one of the examples, I discussed the differences I saw in the way the dog reacted to the hyperactive child versus how they reacted to older or calmer family members, and then related my own personal struggles in my early training career of working with small toy breeds.

Even a calm, even-tempered, well-mannered and well-trained dog can react negatively in situations that they had once previously enjoyed but have since started to feel hostile.

My dog Reilley had enjoyed going everywhere in the car with me since he was a baby. All I had to do was grab my keys and he was running to his ‘Service Dog in Training’ vest so he could join me. About a year ago, from what seemed to be ‘out of nowhere’ he was hiding when I got my keys and didn’t want to go! I had to use firm commands to get him to come out, and when we got into the car, he would start whining, crying, and shaking. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why! Then one day the reason suddenly became very clear.

We had just finished at my doctor’s, he was calmly and quietly lying in the back seat, and someone cut me off. We were not in an accident- not even close- but the barrage of angry insults that came streaming out of my mouth had him crying and shaking all over again! And suddenly, I got it. In general, I tend to be a pretty up-beat easy-going person, but there had been quite a bit of emotional upheaval in my life at that time, and because I dislike driving to begin with, that became my time to ‘let it out!’ My husband had spoken to me numerous times about this and I knew my behaviors upset him, it just never occurred to me how much my actions and behaviors were affecting my dog!

How can this relate to your household?  Dogs rely completely on routine, schedules, rules and consistency… and in an ideal world, we could always stick to that! Unfortunately none of us live in an ideal world…. and things change. But in a dog’s world, just one of those four things changing on them can totally throw them out of balance. We all get angry, upset, frustrated, over-exuberant… and so do our kids! But scroll back up to that limited list of emotions that dogs feel… anything outside of those can be very confusing to them. Also, just because they may feel those feelings, it doesn’t mean they can understand them! A dog calmly sleeping when an argument erupts, or a door gets slammed, or shouting begins, can become frightened, causing them to resort to one of two behaviors that come instinctively to them; Fight or flight. Some dogs when panicked will take off and hide, others will steel themselves to do battle.

Remember also that sometimes it is not just family arguments or a child’s sudden temper tantrum that can set them off… An innocent game of tag between your child and their friend’s is confusing to your dog. They don’t understand the friend is ‘tagging’ your child – or even that it is a game! They see someone hitting a member of their pack, and they may suddenly go into ‘protection’ mode. Your teenager daughter’s high-pitched squeal while on the phone with her girlfriend may have startled and then annoyed you, but if Rover was relaxing on your son’s lap chilling, you may need a few band-aids as you remove his nails from your son’s leg!

So how do we keep everybody in the household (including the dog) safe? Well, the best place to start is by observing your dog during some of these times, and how they react. Start a journal marking down the date, the time, the action, the child’s reaction, and then the dog’s reaction.


  • 1/5/18 – 5:00 pm: Told John to turn off the computer and do homework 3X. He ignored me. I got angry and stormed upstairs while yelling. Argument ensued. Dog peed on the rug during that time-frame.
  • 1/6/18 – 7 :00 am: Woke Jane up for school three times. She missed the bus, expected a ride and I refused. Argument ensued. Dog started whining and panting and then hid the rest of the morning.
  • 1/11/18 – 6:00 pm: car backfired, dog started growling before he ran under the bed.
  • 1/12/18 – 4:15 pm – Michael came home from school, front door closed quickly behind him with a loud bang, dog barked at him then ran under the bed.
  • 1/13/18 – consistently noticing since the bedroom door was slammed, all loud noises scare him.

Essentially what this is creating is a document of how the family’s behaviors (yours included) are directly affecting the dog’s behaviors. Now, it is time to call a family conference. Begin by stating to your child or children that you are noticing some troubling behaviors in the dog lately, and to understand why these behaviors were happening and to best figure out how to help him, you began documenting what was going on prior to the behavior. Before reading any of the entries out loud, make it clear to everyone that this is not about pointing fingers or laying blame, but rather a group effort to figure out what you all, as a family, can do and change to help Fido.

Assuming the dog and the kids have a good solid relationship, it stands to reason they will all be interested in banning together to help him. You can also ask if there were any behaviors they might have noticed that you missed. If finger-pointing and blame begins, remind them gently that it is not about getting each other in trouble… its about your concern for the dog, who has always been nothing but kind and loyal to everyone, and helping him to overcome his new negative behaviors.

You can also potentially start an alternative list…. A ‘positive reactions’ list, that chronicles tender, loving or kind moments that you happen to notice. This way, if any of the kids are choosing to not be involved, you can gently remind them, “Michael, last week when you were really upset about not making the team, Fido sat next to you and didn’t move for hours because he knew you were upset and needed a friend. Are you willing to be his friend now when he really needs you?”

Once everyone is on board and willing to help, go back over the list one by one, and say something like, “Okay… John… how could you and I have communicated better about the computer, so we didn’t both get so angry?” etc.

Allowing the kids to have an active role helps to create unity… everyone coming together to create a calmer, happier environment ‘for the dog.’ All the while learning to be a bit kinder to each other. Talking without screaming and listening to each other. Acknowledging that they heard what the other one has to say. What they may not realize, however, is that they are learning to work together…and coming together as a family. Which in the end, is helping everyone! What a beautiful gift!!

How to Improve Your Child’s Thinking Skills Using Their Imagination

 Thinking, speaking or acting impulsively without planning or thinking things out poses social challenges for children.

We can help children better manage their impulsive thoughts, words, and actions by using a storytelling activity we call The Thought Bubble Technique. In this visual conversation activity, we help children think, write, draw, and talk about what characters in a story might be thinking, feeling, saying or doing. The Thought Bubble Technique encourages children to use their imaginations while building their thinking skills.

Here is how you do it.

Open a book with vivid imagery such as a Dr. Seuss book. Let your child or student turn the pages until he discovers a page he finds interesting. Tell your child, “We’re going to use our imaginations. We’re going to imagine a thought bubble is over the head of each of the characters on the page. Then we’re going to imagine what they might be thinking.”

By looking at the images on the page ask your child to make up a story about what’s happening on the page. What are the characters thinking? What are the characters saying? What are the characters doing? How are the characters feeling?

Help the child “THINK OUT” how is the thought, feeling or action helpful or not helpful? How might the other characters respond? How can the characters shift their thoughts, words, feeling or actions so that each story has a happier ending?

The key is to use the creative exploration of images to help the child thoughtfully reflect on how words, thoughts, feelings, and actions are prosocial, facilitating relationships or challenging causing others to feel uncomfortable, unhappy or withdrawn.

Use your own creative license, adapt the “Cognitive Conversation” with the child to help him or her see things in a new way. Thoughtful exploration leads to the mindful development of new thinking skills.

Download Your Copy of the Thought Bubble Technique here.




Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at


Struggling With Depression After Childbirth? You are not Alone

The baby blues

During the first week after childbirth, many women get what’s often called the ‘baby blues’. Women can feel down or depressed at a time when they expect they should feel happy at having a baby to look after. ‘Baby blues’ are probably due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body after childbirth.

Symptoms can include:

  • feeling emotional and irrational
  • bursting into tears for no apparent reason
  • feeling irritable or touchy
  • feeling depressed or anxious

All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.

Is it postnatal depression?

Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around one in 10 women (and up to four in 10 teenage mothers).

Many women suffer in silence. Their friends, relatives and health professionals don’t know how they’re feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you’ve just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don’t stop you leading a normal life.

When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Emotional signs of postnatal depression may include:

  • loss of interest in the baby
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • not being able to stop crying
  • feelings of not being able to cope
  • not being able to enjoy anything
  • memory loss or being unable to concentrate
  • excessive anxiety about the baby

Other signs of postnatal depression may also include:

  • panic attacks
  • sleeplessness
  • extreme tiredness
  • aches and pains
  • feeling generally unwell
  • anxiety
  • loss of appetite

Getting help for postnatal depression

If you think you have postnatal depression, don’t struggle alone. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend. Or ask your health visitor (*nurse) to call in and visit you. Many health visitors have been trained to recognize postnatal depression and have techniques that can help. If they can’t help, they’ll know someone in your area who can.

It’s also important to see your GP (*physician). If you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you.

Treatment for postnatal depression

Milder cases of postnatal depression can be treated with counselling. This can be given by the health visitor or a therapist. More severe cases often require antidepressants and you may need to see a specialist.

It’s important to let your GP know if you’re breastfeeding. If you need to take antidepressants, they’ll prescribe a type of medication that’s suitable while you’re breastfeeding.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Association for Post-Natal Illness or the National Childbirth Trust.

Your local children’s centre can put you in touch with your nearest postnatal group. These groups provide contact with other new mothers and encourage mums to support each other. They offer social activities and help with parenting skills.

Avoiding alcohol

Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact, it’s a depressant that affects your mood, judgement, self-control and co-ordination. It has even more of an effect if you’re tired and run-down. Be careful about when and how much you drink, and don’t drink alcohol if you’re taking anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

Postpartum psychosis

This condition, which is also called puerperal psychosis, is extremely rare. Only one or two mothers in 1,000 develop a severe psychiatric illness that requires medical or hospital treatment after the birth of a baby. This illness can develop within hours of childbirth and is very serious, needing urgent attention.

Other people usually notice it first as the mother often acts strangely. It is more likely to happen if you have a severe mental illness, a past history of severe mental illness or a family history of perinatal mental illness. Specialist mother and baby units can provide expert treatment without separating you from your baby.

Most women make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often the result of a traumatic birth, such as a long or painful labour, or an emergency or problematic delivery. It can also develop after other types of trauma, such as:

  • a fear of dying or your baby dying
  • life-threatening situations

The symptoms of postnatal PTSD can occur alone or in addition to the symptoms of postnatal depression.

The symptoms can develop straight after the birth or months afterwards.

It’s extremely important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Your midwife, GP or health visitor will be able help you. If you’re worried about talking to a health professional, consider asking a close friend or family member to come with you for support.

There are effective treatments available, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medications. Read more about treatments for PTSD.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

NHS Choices logo


Child Health & Safety News 3/12: Children’s Health 250th Transplant

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Health News: 5 Apps That Should Terrify Every Parent, According To Experts

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we overlook something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed.  Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 20 events & stories

  • “The portion sizes of some of Britain’s most popular foods are to be cut, with health officials telling the public it is time “to get on a diet”.”  2018-3-12
  • Babies who look like their father at birth are healthier one year later: Nonresident fathers spend 2 ½ days more per month with children they resemble  2018-3-12
  • 7 Things Therapists Know About Child Behavior 2018-3-11
  • It takes two seconds to write your child’s details on the back of the car seat it may save their life  2018-3-11
  • Porn Is Not The Worst Thing On  2018-3-11

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
Meet the 15-year old who was Children’s Health’s 250th heart transplant recipient 

Considering Children With Special Needs in a School Emergency

In the aftermath of the terrible Florida school shooting many people are examining the plans to keep individuals with special needs safe in the event of a lockdown or evacuation. Most schools are conducting drills and training to make the procedures more familiar to students and staff. While this is a very good practice, students with special needs may have additional issues with such drills and emergencies. Many rigid kids get very upset about having their routine disrupted.  The alarms and announcements may be upsetting to children who are sensitive to loud sounds.

Here are some “special needs considerations” you may want to discuss with your child’s school that may make the process of conducting drills and trainings go more smoothly. It may also, in fact, save lives, should a situation arise when these drills turn into a real-life emergency.

Preventive measures – If possible, students with sensory issues or their teachers may be given an early warning so that such children can be equipped with headphones or moved away from speakers or bells. Of course, in a real emergency no such precautions will be available.

Lockdown – If a lockdown occurs the usual protocol is that everyone should hide in the nearest classroom or structure. While your child’s backpack, cubby or homeroom may be fully stocked with every medical, emotional and sensory item the student might need during the day what happens if the class ends up locked down in another part of the school? What if the lockdown drags on for hours?

Accessibility needs in the case of evacuation – If a child uses a walker or wheelchair, are all their classes on the ground floor? If not, will the elevators be operational? Are the elevators key operated, and if they are who has the key? What if the power goes out? Are there ramps? Many older buildings are not very accessible so check out if the school has been brought up to the current ADA code.

Medical needs – In the case of a lockdown or evacuation, does the child have any medical needs? Will any epi pens, medicines, feeding or toileting supplies be available? Discuss this with your child’s teacher or school and see if kits can be kept in several places on campus.

Emotional needs – In a lockdown situation students are asked to remain quiet so as not to draw attention to the room. Will the student need something to keep them occupied, like an ipad with headphones or a weighted west? How can these items be made available during an emergency?

Depending on the staff to student ratio, you may be able to formulate a specific plan for your child in such events that takes into account their sensitivities and needs, or a more general plan if there is a larger special-needs population.

Take the time now to discuss these issues with your school and formulate a plan – and hopefully they’ll never need to use it.

A Wrinkle in Time is Sensory Friendly 2x at AMC: Mar. 13 & 24

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Families affected by autism or other special needs can view a sensory friendly screening of A Wrinkle in Time at an AMC theatre on Tuesday, March 13th at 7pm and Saturday March 24th at 10am (local time).  Tickets can be as low as $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Still to come in March: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Tues 3/27)


Editor’s note: Although A Wrinkle in Time has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for thematic elements and some peril.  As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.