Staring up at me every morning is my companion and walking partner. She wags her tail when I am around and calmly sleeps when I am not. This was not always the case, because my 3-year-old dog was a “rescue”. She has a complicated past. Most of her previous life remains a mystery, but she arrived wild and seemed to have had her share of anxiety. She was afraid of people, doorways, and had innumerable triggers. She didn’t know how to walk on a leash or eat out of a bowl. Essentially, she didn’t know how to be a dog.
I searched every resource I could think of and read up on training options. I tried many techniques to calm her down and to help her adjust. Most of the techniques focused on creating a routine and making sure she knew she was safe. What helped the most was creating a safe place that she could come back to when she felt scared and anxious. The fears and triggers were still present, but her approach to them changed. The changes did not happen over night and it has taken years to encourage new behaviors. She now knows her routine; when she wakes up, when she goes on walks, and who the safe people are in her life. She is no longer anxious when I leave, because she knows I will come back.
One day, while researching training options, the situation reminded me of language used in a therapy session I had attended and the connections became clear. Caring for my dog and training her brought a new perspective to the depression and PTSD that I had faced. The approaches to healing that I used for my dog helped me take time to be mindful about my own healing. Training my dog to react differently to her triggers and creating a safe world around her mirrored the types of things I had worked on when undergoing treatment for depression and PTSD many years ago. I now look at my healing journey as a way of constantly retraining myself. My dog reminded me that there is help for depression and taught me that creating a routine, intentionally including supportive people around me, and having a healing place to call home can heal even the wildest heart.