The last year saw the introduction to our family of a beautiful Tibetan Terrier puppy, Tess. Little did I know how much she would teach me about Dogs and Mindfulness. What a joy this little girl has been, she has done so much for this family of humans and animals. My two old boys, two Lhasa Apsos, took to this cheeky little interloper very well. Old Syd, who will be 15 years old soon, has got a spring in his step and Billy has become so much more active since Tess arrived. I have certainly become more physically active running around and keeping up with Tess.
Training Tess, has been a very interesting and challenging exercise. I had only just started on the mindfulness route when Syd and Billy were young dogs. I have certainly learnt to appreciate how much dogs and cats are in the mindful zone and what we can learn from our canine and feline family members.
I had never thought about dogs and mindfulness and how we interact with dogs before I got Tess. Starting from scratch with a puppy made me aware of how much time as a human we spend in our head space when training a puppy and when with our dogs. Learning to focus on the moment and not getting lost in the past, future and head stories was certainly a great help with Tess.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” Looking at this definition you can begin to understand why Dogs and Mindfulness can be helpful with a dog relationship.
Puppies are such fun and bring many smiles to your face. It is so easy to become over
protected and locked in the fear of what might happen or what they might get up to; easily losing that joy of a young dog. One thing that did amaze me was my old Lhasa, Syd. He was nearly 14 years old when Tess arrived and as he was prone to be a bit grumpy. In my head the story was he would be a bit snappy and impatient with her. Oh how wrong I was, he seemed to fall for her like a doting dad, this was a demonstration of dogs and mindfulness . He was almost too patient with her and revelled in the attention of a full on pup. She would harass him and he would sit there patiently and never snapped at her once. Funnily enough it was, Billy, the younger Lhasa who got the hump in the early days.
I had not realised till we started training how easily it is to fall into negative and fearful headspace when interacting and training a pup. Once I had noticed these thoughts and using mindful techniques (following the breath) I focused on the moment. It soon made sense to me that my dogs live in the moment and to make the most of training and interaction I needed to be in the moment too.
Tess looks to me for guidance and she knows when I am distracted and not paying attention. One thing of the joys of a Tibetan Terrier you ignore them at your peril. In this busy instant life that we lead it is very easy to become lost in our thoughts and lose touch with the here and now. The internal chatter starts in our heads (monkey mind) and the judgements start and cause, fear, anxiety, stress and worry. When we can become more compassionate and less judgmental of ourselves, others and our lives, life is more calm and peaceful. The benefit is that your dog is calmer. Ok, some dogs are very excitable and full on, however if we are calm and in” the now” they will be less so.
Tibetan Terriers are intelligent and spirited dogs, great fun and good companions, however they do have a will of their own and can be a challenge. All breeds have their traits and when training can take time and patience. This is where mindfulness kicks in, it is easy to lose faith in yourself when things don’t work or the dog goes its own way. If you realise your dog is in the moment, for example if you recall your dog and they fail to come back straight away, the fact they came back all be it 10 minutes after you called the dog, is great.
The dog being in the moment is saying “I came back? what’s up?”. When we are mindless, not in the moment in the headspace, our, judgement, frustration and fears gets conveyed to the dog. The dog is confused, as we are stuck in the past or projected to the future worrying that you are a failure or the dog will not come back ever. When you can learn to go with the flow, ride through the discomfort of the fear you feel the dog will respond in better ways to you.
I learnt early on when going to puppy training classes, going with the flow, with no expectations Tess would respond and do the training task in her Tibetan Terrier way. Maybe not always with the blind obedience of the other dogs in the class but she did it. I learnt to just go with the flow take a chill pill and Tess obtained her puppy certificate. Her bronze exam was quite funny, she arrived smelling of badger poo which I could not wash the smell off. She was not very good at doggy etiquette at doors during class time. I took the attitude on test night to just go with the flow and see what happens. The best bit of her test was the doggy etiquette she was brilliant. I had no attachment to the outcome just go with the flow and see what happens, and she did it.
This approach can help when you have anxious or reactive dogs as your tension and anxiety can pass down the lead to the dog. Being in the moment, following the breath, and being aware of body tension can certainly help with this. One good thing you can do for your dog is to keep yourself calm and in the moment.
Mindfulness teaches us to be in the moment and to go with the flow moment to moment. Watching dogs, you notice that they are moment to moment animals. Dogs are very accepting with little judgement, they do not get stuck in the groove of negativity. They are curious and fun loving. Even an anxious dog will revert back to calmness once the fear has passed. Humans tend to fret and worry for a long time after the event. For example, your reactive dog sees another dog and there is barking and pulling on the lead. Once passed it is over, the owner is likely to go into monkey mind mode, creating stories in the head full of anxiety and fear. This passes down the lead to the dog and the dog picks up on it. Of course our brains are more complex than dogs and this is why we need ways of being, such as mindfulness that teach our brains to focus on the moment.
I am delighted when people tell me what a calm and gentle dog I have. (at home she
can be a complete hooligan) I am sure this is in part due to the mindful approach I have used with her. Yes, I can become frustrated and the judgements do kick in, however I notice and bring myself back to the moment. On my journey with Tess so far there has been challenges, things have happened, however being mindful has given me a better understanding of Tess and my other two dogs. I feel I have a deeper and more peaceful relationship with my dogs. The surprise benefit of all this has been Billy, my little rescue Lhasa. He has always been a challenge to train and now he is such an obedient little soul. What was different? he responded to the training I was giving Tess.