Mindfulness and Dogs
What does mindfulness have to do with dogs? To me, pretty much everything. It affects how I train my dogs, walk them, and how I interact with them.
When I am training a dog, my first goal is to develop a mindful connection; so the dog can notice I am there and am worth paying attention to. To make this happen, both of us need to slow down and attend to the other. If I am only paying attention to my goal and not how to engage the dog first, well, I may as well stop while I’m ahead. This is how people get frustrated and are drawn to forceful methods. And if my dog is jumping on me or distracted by a squirrel or more interested in the cat poop that is just out of reach, she won’t even notice me enough for any training to occur. Good dog training takes building a partnership based on trust and making the process fun and rewarding for both of us.
When I am walking my dogs, I walk three at once on 10 foot leashes. If we are not all mindful of each other we won’t get very far! Moving forward only happens when none of the dogs is pulling. That means they have to be aware of me and each other and I need to pay attention to them. No cell phone, no daydreaming. This is something we do together. Most of the time, it works pretty well. Mindfulness on a walk also means the dogs get to sniff where and when they want as long as, once again, they are not pulling.
What are the mindfulness benefits of a sniffing walk? For the dogs, they get to practice a balance between awareness of me and the leash with one of their favorite activities; sniffing. And for me, the mindfulness benefit is becoming more aware of both my beloved canine companions and the world around me. I find myself noticing birds singing, a butterfly on the the magnolia, a deer in the woods behind the neighbor’s house. I get to slow down and sometimes, quite literally, smell the roses. I get to just be.
How does mindfulness affect how I interact with dogs? I take the time to notice their body language and to be aware that our relationship is not all about me; it goes both ways. I love to kiss the top of my little dog Sadie’s head. I know it’s a very human thing and not her favorite, so I ask. I lean in. If she turns her head, I know she is telling me she isn’t interested and I pull back. I give her space to agree or refuse. Now, Sadie sometimes approaches me and presents her head for me to give her a kiss. What a lovely gift to get from a dog!
We all need to stop and smell the roses; human and canine alike. Take some time to do it together.