The Mindful Dog Project
The Mindful Dog Project should really be called Mindfulness for Dogs and Their People. It is an evolving way of living with our dogs in which we attend not only to what we need and want from them but what they need and want from us.
Keep coming back to this page for more information on how to live mindfully with your best friend!
In any relationship, you get more when you give more. Put another way, when each parties’ needs are met, both parties get more out of the relationship.
We tend to think of dogs in terms of what we want from them; companionship, love, polite behavior, no peeing in the house or destructiveness. Perhaps we want a dog we can hike with off leash or to compete with in agility or rally (obedience). We may get frustrated when it is hard to get what we expect from our dogs. They are too active, not active enough, they jump and pull on the leash, they bark at people and other dogs. We may try a bit of training and give up because it seems not to be working or it costs too much money to keep it up.
I want you to take a step back and think about those issues from your dog’s perspective. Let’s take a look at one theoretical dog who I’ll call Ralph. Ralph is 2 years old and a Golden Retriever mix. His owner Lucy works 9-5 and he stays home by himself from about 8:30-5:30.
Lucy comes home tired from work each day and wants to relax but she always opens the door to a hyper out of control 80lb dog who rushes out of his crate, jumps all over her and then pulls her down the street when they go out. She tries to give him exercise every day with a brisk walk but he keeps wanting to stop and sniff things. It gets so annoying she has sometimes resorted to just taking him out to relieve himself. To add to her frustration, Ralph has started to lunge and bark at other dogs. When he was younger, he was so friendly with them but now he is starting to seem kind of scary and other people hurry their dogs past them.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. None of these issues are a quick fix but they are usually due to one extent or another to a common issue; lack of mindful connection between the human and their dog.
We need to slow down. We need to pay attention to the needs of the being at the other end of the leash. We may have gotten a dog to meet our needs but dogs are not machines. They are not human beings but they are canine beings.
Research has shown that dogs have not only the same brain parts as humans, they also have the same emotions. They feel love, loneliness, sadness, anger and fear. Along with that, they have evolved (and we have ‘evolved’ them ourselves through breeding) to want to connect with us. In fact, many dogs prefer humans to others of their own kind.
Although dogs have the same emotions as humans, they are of course still dogs. Along with a lower ability to reason they have doggie instincts. I have never seen a person down on all fours sniffing bushes, but I see lots of dogs doing it! There are things that are extremely important to dogs, that help them be emotionally and physically healthy, that have little or no meaning to us.
If you want to have a dog who is able to attend to you and is a pleasure to be around, you need to do two things. One is training. Two, and this is paramount, you need to make sure your dog’s needs are met; physically, mentally, and emotionally.
How do we meet our dog’s needs in ways that enhance the relationship without adding even more stress to our busy lives? Here are the basics:
1. If you crate your dog, make sure it is big enough.
This means it is large enough for your dog to stretch out in if he is lying down. Imagine staying for hours in a cage so small you cannot stretch your arms out or lie down without being curled up, or in which you cannot stand up straight. Think of how you would feel when someone let you out.
2. Let your dog sniff for at least half the walk.
If she wants to stay in one spot for five minutes, do not hurry her along. Depending on the breed, a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours. She can detect layers of smells that have been left in that spot and what they mean in ways we will never get. She truly is reading ‘peemail’. It’s important to her. Let her do it. And one of the benefits to you is slowing down. While your dog is getting to slow down and be mindful, you can do the same. Use that five minutes or however long to turn off the cell phone and look around you. Attend to what your dog is doing, notice the birds singing, the sky, the sounds around you. You will be amazed at the difference in your sense of well-being along with the difference in your dog’s behavior. It really is good to take a moment to ‘smell the roses’.
3. If you have a dog who enjoys the company of others, find compatible dogs and schedule play dates.
They may only be 15 minutes long but they will make a world of difference to your dog.
4. Train your dog.
And do it in a way that is fun for both of you! Choke, prong, and shock collars (also called e collars and stim collars) are not fun for your dog! They can lead to fear, worsened behavior such as increased aggression, and even physical injury from puncture and burn wounds and damage to the esophagus, thyroid, and blood flow to vital organs. Only go to trainers who use humane, science bases methods such as clicker training and other positive reinforcement. Reinforcement should be either food or toys, never just praise. Over time the rewards are phased out as the dog develops a permanent association between doing the behavior and getting a happy feeling from doing it.
5. Learn dog body language!
Dogs cannot communicate verbally the way we do but they do communicate. That bite or growl that seemed to come out of nowhere actually had a whole series of statements before it given by your dog that she was anxious, scared, overwhelmed or very uncomfortable in some way. Remember, dogs may not be human beings but they are canine beings. They have feelings and just like us they have limitations on what they can handle in a situation. Learn to know your dog and what she is trying very hard to tell you.
6. Give your dog some choices.
Imagine living your life not able to make any choices for yourself. Someone else chooses what you eat, where you sleep, and what you do every minute of every day. Dogs need choices. Provide more than one kind of treat, let him decide which way to go on your walk. Provide more than one kind of bed or in more than one room so he can decide which one he prefers. Think of other ways to provide choices to make life more interesting.