I love listening to Whitney Houston songs when I’m feeling low-energy or could use some Woman Power style motivation while I’m writing.
There’s one song in particular that reminds me of the very tender way our dogs see us.
I’m sure if dogs could sing, they would want to sing “I Look To You” for us all the time.
When Whitney Houston sings this song, she’s singing about her personal struggles. Her strength has been depleted and she does not know where to go. Her levees have broken. The rain is falling down on her.
She’s looking to her hero to guide her, because she does not have what it takes to overcome the flood on her own.
Your Dog’s Flood
As humans, we sometimes forget just how devastating many triggers can be for our dogs.
Even something as simple as clipping your dog’s nails can be traumatizing for them.
The vet’s office? Even worse. If it’s not your dog’s first time, they associate the building with painful shots and rear-violating thermometers. Other animals in the waiting room are whining and pacing. Your dog’s heart is beating fast.
On top of that, your dog knows that your mood has changed.
You’re busily filling out paperwork. Digging for your wallet. Worrying about what the vet will say. Praying that your dog will not bite anyone.
Your Dog “Looks To You,” Says Science
One of my favorite studies on dog behavior is about the power of social referencing.
The dogs in the study were prompted to approach an unfamiliar object – a fan laced with green ribbons. An “informant” approached the fan first, and either showed a positive or negative reaction. The informant exchanged looks with the dog, then looked back at the fan, reacting by either smiling and saying, “That’s lovely,” or by frowning and saying, “That’s scary.”
Sometimes, the informant was the dog’s owner. Sometimes, it was a stranger.
Dogs approached the fan with confidence when the informant was their owner, with a positive reaction. Naturally, dogs avoided the fan when the informant seemed afraid of it, especially if the informant was their owner.
Simply put: your dog depends on you to help them decide if something is scary.
Is That Really What The Song’s About?
If you know anything about Whitney Houston’s life and death, the song gets much more depressing. That’s probably why I don’t think about the real meaning when I listen to it.
Instead, I think about how cute dogs are. They’re sensitive, perceptive creatures that need emotional guidance. Their problems affect them deeply, but as smart, capable humans, we can take all of the pain away simply by being there for them. Their story always has a happy ending.
How To Be Your Dog’s Hero
At the vet’s office, act like you’re in your living room on a typical day.
Smile at your dog. Give them pets. Offer treats, though your dog might be too nervous to accept them.
When your dog is acting calmly, tell them how good they’re being. Tell them they’re good even if they’re not being perfect.
Remember to control your own fears and anxieties.
At times, when I’m clipping my dog’s nails or holding her for a vaccination, I find myself holding my breath. I try to release that tension. I smile and say, “Wow! A nice shot to keep you healthy from your nice doctor!” or “Wow, beautiful nails! You’re being so patient! Thank you!”
I do notice my dogs looking at me when something is scary. I notice stressful things going more smoothly when remember how much they depend on me to guide them.
Remember: your dog depends on you for strength and guidance than you might realize – and they’d express it in a soul-baring song if only they ever could.