Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Relationships

Simple Ways to Deepen Human-Animal Relationships

The new book "The Human-Animal Connection" is an excellent guide.

Key points

  • People and animals are partners in healing; animals are not tools of healing.
  • When we recognize that animals have opinions and we listen to what they are experiencing, everything changes.
Stephen Andrews/Pexels.
Source: Stephen Andrews/Pexels.

I've long been interested in the general topic of human-animal relationships, especially how to improve them in a time when countless nonhuman animals (animals) find themselves being exploited by humans globally. After I read Genie Joseph's wide-ranging, comprehensive, and practically minded new book, The Human-Animal Connection: Deepening Relationships With Animals and Ourselves, I realized that her science-based coverage of numerous aspects of human-animal relationships with a strong practical bent on how to put them into practice was right on the mark for improving the ways in which humans interact with other animals.

Genie's 33 principles help to guide readers' journeys of self-discovery through respecting animal wisdom and embracing their own “animality.” I found the principles to be an invaluable source of useful information. They include the following:

  • Come to your senses
  • Love beyond words
  • The healing power of play
  • Animals have opinions
  • What animals can teach us about being a happier human
  • Trust: the foundation of healing
  • Rebuilding a sense of safety
  • Freedom of choice
  • The power of names

I'm pleased that Genie could take the time to answer a few questions about her on-the-ground, easy-to-read guide for developing and maintaining human-animal connections that work for the humans and the animals themselves.

MB: Why did you write The Human-Animal Connection?

Genie Joseph: I knew there had to be a better way for human-animals and other animals to connect more deeply. After thousands of hours of volunteering in shelters, especially working with shy and traumatized animals, I felt we humans must cross the communication gap. We need to know and respect each other more deeply to achieve cross-species connection. It does not serve us to be in the dark about how animals are feeling and thinking. When we recognize that animals have opinions and we listen to what they are experiencing, everything changes—for them and for us.

Genie Joseph
Source: Genie Joseph

MB: How does your latest book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

GJ: I have worked with more than 4,000 service members, veterans, and their families using laughter and improv comedy with a method I created called Act Resilient. Act Resilient uses a variety of methods, improv comedy, laughter therapy, emotional flexibility skills, expressive arts, and animal-assisted therapy. Even one session improves morale and well-being.

We had tremendous success reducing the symptoms of posttraumatic stress. (We were given President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award for this work.) When I started including therapy animals (dogs, cats, horses, miniature horses), and I saw how animals have a way of healing that is beyond words, I combined my two programs into The Human-Animal Connection. It is based on 33 practical principles for healing both the human and the animal through learning to connect more deeply.

MB: Who do you hope to reach in your interesting and important book?

GJ: Today, many teenagers are really struggling, with stress, anxiety, depression, identity issues, self-judgment, and isolation. Social isolation is dangerous—as many horrific crimes have been perpetrated by loners. Our teen program, Canines Teach Compassion, where we bring therapy dogs into high-school classrooms, lowers stress levels by 62 percent. We identify shy and traumatized shelter dogs that have the potential to become excellent therapy dogs. We teach the kids how to train them and how to evaluate stress levels in dogs as a way of understanding their own emotional states. We teach them how to “observe behavior neutrally," without judgment. Through this process, they learn that all dogs learn differently, are motivated differently, have fears (for example, students teach them how to go through a doggie tunnel), and have different strategies for coping with new or challenging situations.

Genie Joseph
Source: Genie Joseph

In one game, students are paired up and lead each other holding leashes, with the person playing the dog having their eyes closed. They get to feel what leading with mixed messages or jerky direction changes feels like, compared to the experience of being in sync and how it feels to move together as a team.

In Canines Teach Compassion, we recognize that you can’t have compassion for others until you have compassion for yourself. We must stop comparing ourselves to others to begin to make peace with the war within. To demonstrate this, we will line up five very different dogs of all colors, sizes, and breeds and point out that while they are all different on the outside, they have much more in common; they are all dogs. And, most importantly, the chihuahua isn’t trying to be the bullmastiff because they accept themselves for who they are. Students see how well these dogs get along and accept each other with their differences. They learn how to calm the dogs using our Human-Animal Connection methods. At the same time, students are learning how to manage their own nervous system and emotional responses. Even if they aren’t initially motivated to do this for themselves, they will do it to “make the dog feel better.”

MB: What are some of the major topics you consider?

GJ: Emotions are contagious, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This means that animals who share our lives pick up our stress and are affected by it, especially sensitive animals. This is why our therapy teams only work for one hour a day. But it also means that humans can learn to be peaceful and that this calm energy can be a healing force.

The Human-Animal Connection has more than a dozen “soothing touch” methods, but we also work with what we call invisible touch, which is energy healing. This allows us to work with animals in zoos, frightened shelter animals who can’t be touched, animals who are at a distance, and even those who have passed on.

The 33 principles of The Human-Animal Connection help us to experience the deep wisdom every animal being has, which leads to a natural respect for animal wisdom. It helps us to move toward an awareness of the unity and equality of all living beings.

Spirit Animal Press
Source: Spirit Animal Press

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

GJ: In our program, people and animals are partners in healing. Animals are not tools of healing. And we are not the healers. We are all in this together. All our behavior comes from the same need to feel connected and safe and positively regarded or appreciated. It is easy to adore a loving animal. And sharing this love can heal us both. Sometimes when there is major trauma, love is not enough. That is where understanding-communication and soul connection can touch past the pain. This is how I believe we can begin to heal our world.

References

The Human-Animal Connection: Deepening Relationships with Animals and Ourselves (Spirit Animal Press; 2022).

Dr. Genie Joseph is the executive director of The Human-Animal Connection, a 501c3 organization dedicated to bringing people and animals together for the benefit of both. The Human-Animal Connection offers free therapy dog visits to veterans, active duty members, health care providers, and anyone experiencing stress in the field of service to others. She also is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and creator of The Act Resilient Method and author of the book by that same name. Act Resilient, which works with therapy animals, has been presented to more than 4,000 service members and their families, and for this work, she was given President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award. Her team at Tripler Army Medical Center was given a National Award for Workplace Resilience from the American Psychological Association.

Do Your Dog and You Agree About What You Want Them to Do? Healthy Dog-Human Relationships Require Mutual Respect; Dog-Human Relationships and the Five Love Languages; Dog-Human Relationships From the Dog's Point of View; Kindred Spirits: Transformative Human-Animal Relationships; The Cat-Human Relationship and Factors That Affect It; A Practical Guide to Improving Animal-Human Relationships; Entangled Empathy: How to Improve Human-Animal Relationships; Our Complex and Contradictory Relationships with Other Animal Beings.

advertisement
More from Marc Bekoff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today