What Is Limbic Resonance?
Limbic resonance refers to the energetic exchange occurring in a caring and safe relationship. This interaction stimulates the release of certain neurochemicals in the limbic region of the brain.
So how does this translate to our relationship with our dogs?
By making eye contact with your dog, you not only know what emotions they are feeling, but may also begin to feel those emotions yourself. In this way, limbic resonance can both help and hinder training interactions with our dogs.
While many scientists are hesitant to discuss the emotional lives of animals to avoid anthropomorphism labels, we now know that dogs’ brains contain emotional centers that are nearly identical to humans. Anyone who has lived with a dog has no doubt witnessed signs that their canine companion feels joy, fear, anxiety, and many other emotions. The physical structures responsible for these feelings light up in brain scans the same way that a human’s would when they experience these same emotions.
This is not to say that a dog's emotions are identical to ours. Dogs lack the highly developed pre-frontal cortex (responsible for complex thoughts) that we have, which means that certain emotions (such as guilt) are probably not possible for them (I know that’s hard to believe considering how visibly they react to our disappointment when we catch them misbehaving!)
Regardless of their exact emotional range, emotional contagion is no small matter. This is especially true in situations where you or your dog are upset. Simply looking into your dog’s eyes when he is stressed or worried is likely to raise your stress level, and if you’re anxious about something, your dog is likely to be influenced by your worry. There’s a good reason many vets take dogs into the back room for procedures involving needles, and it has less to do with your dog than it does with you. Sometimes a dog catches sight of an owner’s worried face, and suddenly begins snapping or trying to escape.
The good news is that we can also use limbic resonance to our advantage. By learning to become aware of your own emotional state, you can begin to influence your dog for the better. If you’re stressed or anxious, focusing on calming yourself first will do much more for your dog than trying to immediately conquer the issue or worse off, ignoring your distress.
Dogs are great emotional mirrors, reflecting and amplifying our feelings. Their love and commitment to us can become a valuable tool toward our emotional well-being and, by extension, theirs as well.
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