Polyvagal Theory and Dogs
Stephen Porges, a Distinguished University Professor at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and Professor of Psychiatry at University of North Carolina, is the author of the Polyvagal Theory. Polyvagal Theory explains how babies learn to tell the difference between when they are and are not safe, through co-regulation of their nervous system with their parent or caretaker.
Throughout our lives, we are in a state of social engagement and regulation, or dysregulation when the fight or flight mechanism takes over. This is a big simplification and I invite you to go to Porges’ website to learn more.
Porges has said that there are people who have difficulty co-regulating with other people and turn to their dogs for their need for social engagement. From my observations of dogs, I believe many of them do the same thing.
What does this mean for us as dog parents? It means you may have a dog who is a doggie social butterfly and loves trips to the dog park or you may have one who prefers either just you, or just people vs. other dogs. All those variations are normal and just fine. Dogs are individuals just as we are.
Regardless of whether you are an introvert or extrovert, more comfortable co-regulating with your dog or another human, take a minute today to appreciate your dog for the awesome, unique canine he or she is! And take another moment for a little co-regulation. Sit down together and massage that belly or take a nice slow sniffing walk together. You will both feel better for it.