I’m really proud of this show because it started with a unique premise. Instead of just helping one human pack and their dog or dogs, I set out to help entire communities — households, neighbors, work places, and so on. The goal was to identify dogs that were causing problems for more than just their owners, and then bring solutions that would make everyone happy.
People have described the process as “transformative,” but I think that all of the transformations throughout the series have had one thing in common, and it’s one of those almost magical-seeming powers that dogs have but that we fail to notice all the time.
Dogs have a natural ability to heal. And note that this isn’t “heel” in the sense of following close behind their human. This is “heal” in the sense of making someone whole again, whether it’s in mind, body, heart, soul, or all four.
You can probably think of obvious examples, like service dogs that aid people with disabilities so they can get around in the world, or dogs that sense medical conditions, like an impending seizure or low blood sugar, so their humans can prepare for or prevent the issue. Dogs have also been trained to sniff out some kinds of cancer, which they can detect long before any medical tests could.
They can heal the mind and heart by providing comfort and support, and therapy dogs are becoming more and more common for things like PTSD, social anxiety, and autism. In a similar way, dogs have been helping elementary school kids to improve their reading skills, and they do it with one of their best talents: listening to humans.
On average, the kids in the program improve their reading level by a whole grade, and it’s because the dogs hang onto their every word while not judging them for their errors. This creates a safe place for them to practice and make mistakes without criticism.
The Fostering Hope program, which I started as part of my Cesar Millan PACK Project, does something similar by bringing together shelter dogs and foster children. The dogs help the children improve their self-confidence and develop empathy, while the children help the dogs become well-behaved and adoptable.
And, of course, in offering us their love and companionship, they help us heal our souls by having a connection with another living being. Through that being, we can connect to and re-join Nature.
Where the curative power of dogs gets really amazing is when they heal a person who has been wounded in all four of these areas: instinctually, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. There are many such stories, but one is particularly striking — the story of a young man in Guatemala named Erick Cruz. His life was pretty routine and directionless until a Monday in May, 2012, when he had a stroke on the way to work. Still in his early 20s, he wound up in a coma and then in a wheelchair. He was no longer the physically active young man he had been.
He fell into a deep depression after this. He had lost his friends and the ability to work. He could barely talk or move. Most of all, he felt guilty for having become a burden on his mother.
Then, a year later, his ex-girlfriend brought him a Chihuahua, but Erick wasn’t interested at first. The dog was active and energetic, and all that Erick could see was that, “She reminded me how bad things really were.” But the dog wouldn’t leave him alone. He named her Fibi (after Phoebe from “Friends,”) and she finally sparked something in Erick. He realized, “If Fibi could be active and healthy, then so could I.”
Through working with Fibi and training her, Erick slowly regained his confidence and discovered something to live for — a talent for dogs. He was also finally able to walk, if haltingly, and eventually went on to have his own dog-training business.
His healing all began when he stopped thinking and listened to his instincts: “Trust the dog.” He intellectualized this with the thought that if she could do it, he could, and the more Fibi showed her trust and loyalty to him, the more positive his emotions became.
It was when Erick learned that he should not focus on his shortcomings but on his strengths because Fibi couldn’t even see his weaknesses that his soul became whole again — he reconnected with his own spirit, which had always been unhampered by his broken body.
He just had to learn that lesson from a very determined little dog.
That’s the most powerful lesson our dogs have to teach us, and their greatest gift to us. If we learn to listen to them and follow our instincts, we can find the path to self-healing — then lead our dogs on the path to a happy, balanced life.
Stay calm, and be whole!