Alarm Systems: What We Can Learn from Dogs

Estimated: 3 minutes to read

The following is a list of things my new dog has alerted me to since she came to live with me on Friday:

  • The reflection of the TV in the windows
  • A pot that she nudged off the window 
  • A child who changed his clothes
  • Me wearing glasses
  • A fox prowling around my quail coop
  • A garbage can that had been moved
  • A person wearing a hat/mask/with a prosthetic limb

My new four-legged love is a watch dog breed. She has a beautiful, finely tuned, intricate and well-wired alarm system that has evolved over eons to be what it is today. I mean think about that for a sec! How absolutely amazing is that? This perfect sentient being, the result of time so vast I can’t even wrap my brain around it – and she’s here, trying to tell me about what I might not see. 

Hiking day

However much I love and appreciate her alarms, she needs a little guidance from someone with a broader perspective about which environmental triggers are actually threats that warrant action. And given her track record, I think that should be me. 

Not that my track record is that great either, but I do know (most times) that when kids change clothes they haven’t become a different being. So, I think I still have the advantage. 

When my little squish barks loudly at a potted plant that she knocked over, I thank her for her diligent warning, give her a treat, and say “good girl, thank you, that’s enough.” I let her know that her alarm going off was right and give gratitude to this amazing being who can sense things better than I can. Then, I step in and let her know that I’ve got this one. She can chill and not worry about the plant. 

A few nights ago she was barking at the window and there was a fox crawling around my quail coop. I praised her so much and opened the door and gave the command “Go find! Go find!” She went into action and chased off the threat — quite proudly I might add. 

Big smile

I wish we could all think of our own alarm systems this way; as loveable, fluffy, snugglers who have evolved perfectly over eons to protect us, but who just need a little wisdom to recognize when to take action and when to chill. 

Somehow it’s easier for me to give my dog a big hug and say thank you for telling me that there is a reflection in the window (!) than it is for me to beam gratitude at my churning mind at 3 a.m., reliving the so-called biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. 

But I at least thought I’d let you all know what my dog has taught me about loving my alarm system. Maybe we can all be a little friendlier to our inner alarms moving forward and learn when to chill and when to take action.

Elizabeth Duke, Clinical Director, joined the LifeWorks Psychotherapy team in July 2015. She trained as an Equine Assisted Psychotherapist and also has had a therapy dog. Clients who are experiencing depression, loss, or long standing difficulties in relationships sometimes find a therapy animal can offer a unique channel of healing that may not require words. Elizabeth is a member of the American Psychological Association; Division 32, Society for Humanistic Psychology; Division 44, Society for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues; and Kink & Poly Aware Chicago Therapists (KPACT).

One thought on “Alarm Systems: What We Can Learn from Dogs

  1. I absolutely love this post! I have a rescue dog who has a protection system that rivals any ADT system. Our household tends to bark at her when she springs into action but I have learned to thank and tell her I can take care from here when the alarm in her doesn’t turn off. How great to think about turning inward to recognize and appreciate my internal alarms. I love the possibility you bring forward here! Thank you so much!

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