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Mindfulness and Dogs – Training Your Dog To Be Calm
Everyone knows that there are times when we really need some downtime. And more than just physical relaxation, we need to give our minds a mental detox. A time to just be still, calm and in tune with our surroundings. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as just focusing in on the present moment; freeing our mind from the constant barrage of worrisome thoughts and allowing ourselves to reflect on all the little things that bring us joy and happiness.
Our ‘four-legged furry friends’ are ideal partners to share the present and just ‘Be’. And believe it or not, they can serve as a wonderful inspiration to us as well! We can learn a lot from dogs about Mindfulness. Their whole lives are lived more of less in the present moment; always aware of the stimulus around them and always reacting in a spontaneous and genuine manner. Their intuition comes from listening and interpreting our tone of voice, body language and mood. In fact, dogs are often tuned in to us more deeply than our (human) family and friends.
You should consider that time spent with your dog is never wasted. It strengthens the bond of your relationship and grows your mutual trust and confidence. Dogs have a special way of giving us exactly what we need. Love, acceptance and forgiveness are all virtues we find in dogs. They never hold a grudge and they greet us with happiness and affection; reminding us to just be content and enjoy the moment.
So how do we train our dogs to be calm and relaxed around us during those times when we want to practice Mindfulness meditation. The following are a few simple strategies you can use to get your best friend to chill when you don’t want distractions.
Train Your Dog To Be Calm And Relaxed
Being able to hang out together without the need for words, or actions is important. So, one habit you should develop with your dog is to turn you back to them while being still and quiet without eye contact. This will encourage your dog to be near you in the same space but without the need for constant interaction.
Practicing this will help condition your dog to being calm and relaxed when you yourself are still and thoughtful.
If your dog becomes frustrated by your lack of attention and begins to bark, then you will need to teach a ‘Quiet’ behavior. Now lets look at that process. Firstly, make sure to keep some treats handy. When your dog is near you in a relaxed and quiet mood, get their attention and say ‘Quiet’. If he remains quiet say ‘yes’ and reward him with a treat.
After numerous repetitions using the command and rewarding the calm and quiet behavior, your dog will begin to understand that silence is what you’re after. Be prepared to spend a few weeks getting this command to work well enough so that you can use it when your dog barks. From there on, when your dog woofs or growls, use his name to get his attention. Give him the ‘quiet’ command. The minute your dog is quiet, say ‘yes’ and reward him with a treat or calming pat.
Teaching Calming Behaviors
‘Touch’ is the most useful tool when encouraging calm and relaxed behavior. Using slow and gentle pats down the side of your dog combined with a quiet and temperate tone of voice will help to induce calm. Another technique that you can teach to your dog is called ‘paw rest’. Simply let your dog rest his paw in the palm of your hand, then reward him with gentle soothing pats. Over time, as your dog grows more familiar with this behavior you can increase the duration of time. This training is a great first step in leading them to other calming behaviors.
Once your dog has learned to be calm and relaxed in your presence without craving the need for constant stimulation, you can move on to your own mindfulness exercises. Your dog will recognize when your mood and energy is changing and you are becoming calmer and this prompts your dog to rest his mind and body too.
Here is a simple mindfulness exercise you can do with your dog.
Go to the park, sit comfortably on the grass and let your dog to lie next to you. Quietly and deliberately, slow your breathing and acknowledge the environment around you. Feel the warmth of the sun, the breeze, and focus on the slow rhythm of your inhaling and exhaling of each breath. Acknowledge any thoughts that come into your head and then consciously release them. Continue this as your energy becomes more and more calm.
Now that you are in a place of calm, you can involve your dog with the ‘paw rest’ exercise. Keeping your body movements small and understated and without speaking, gently put your hand under your dog’s paw. Feel the weight of his paw in your hand. Hold his paw for 10-15 seconds, then gently place it back on the grass. Remaining silent, repeat with the other paw.
Lie On Your Mat Command
For practicing Mindfulness exercises at home, you will need another important command. ‘Lie on your mat’ is a very useful command because it teaches your dog when you need them to settle. It does not have to be mat. It could be a blanket or rug or any place that he identifies as his spot. This then becomes his chill out spot!And he knows to remain there until you release him.
Please note that before you commence to teach this command make sure that your dog is already trained in the ‘Down’ command. The steps for ‘Lie on your mat’ are fairly simple. 1. Give your dog a mat or blanket that becomes his spot. 2. With your dog on-lead, point to the mat and give the command ‘Lie on your mat’ encouraging him to lie down. Say, ‘Yes’ and reward him with a treat. 3. Repeat and then gradually increase the time you expect him to remain on his spot.
In conclusion, I really would encourage you (above all), to cherish the time you spend with your dog. Practicing mindfulness has tremendous benefits in relieving stress. But when you combine that calming experience with your dog, you will be building new and deeper levels of connection in your relationship. And what could be better than that!
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