Dog training isn’t all about training dogs. Quite often, it’s about training people as well.
Here’s the situation: your dog has attacked other dogs/people/pulled you over/yanked on you/etc. Now, whenever you see a situation in which your dog might react, you get stressed. You have anxiety over your dog’s behavior, and consequently, your dog is more likely to react because they can see you’re anxious about something, and they’re going to help! Nice of them, isn’t it?
These are the anti-stress/relaxation techniques that I use, and tell my clients to use, whenever we’re working with an especially difficult case of anxiety.
Daily activities (to be done every day):
1. Visualize. We know for sure it works in building muscle and playing sports, and most people believe it helps in everything else, too. When I’m dealing with something anxiety provoking, I visualize it going well. I also visualize it going poorly, and the way in which I would awesomely and miraculously re-gain control and end everything right. There are a whole lot of guides on how to visualize, so I’ll leave you to follow one of those links.
A warning: one study found that visualizing brought the same emotional satisfaction as actually DOING it, and therefore people were less likely to act. Act!
2. Police and replace negative thought patterns. If you find yourself thinking, “My dog will NEVER be able to walk nicely past another dog like that!” stop and think of three positive things about your dog. “My dog is doing better today than yesterday,” “There was that one time last week when my dog walked nicely past another dog,” “My dog can walk nicely past other dogs across the street,” “I’m trying new things, and me and my dog are improving.” Even, “My dog is ADORABLE.” Focus on the good, and start trying to weed out the bad. While there isn’t any scientific bases for this, I do find that if people start focusing on what’s going right, they’re more able to relax and more hopeful. If I constantly correct my dogs, I end up in a bad mood. If I correct while also praising for good behavior, then I feel like my dogs are pretty awesome!
Occasional activities (choose one each day):
1. Tense/relax. This is actually a relaxation technique taught to me by a physical therapist years ago. We tend to carry some tension in our muscles (shoulders, neck, lower back) when we’re, well, tense. It becomes so common that we don’t even notice we’re tense! So, purposefully tense a muscle group. Let’s say calves. Purposefully tense your calves, count to ten, and then relax them. The contract between tensing and relaxing gives your body a chance to see what relaxed actually feels like, and then to relax! Not only does it help you start to physically relax, but it feels pretty good, too. I do it all the time; when I’m driving, when I’m seated, when I’m watching a movie. If I notice I’m rolling my head or doing other tight-muscle behaviors, I’ll tense that muscle group and let it relax again. Now, say it with me: Ahhhh!
2. Breathe deeply (and tense/relax). We all know this, right? Breathe in slowly through the nose, and out through the mouth. The goal is to release tension (again) and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. You can do this in conjunction with tensing/relaxing, too. See something that will trigger your dog? Take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly, relaxing as you do so. If your dog is paying attention, they’ll do better at staying relaxed, too. If they aren’t paying attention and you have to correct, you’re far more likely to keep your calm — which will keep from feeding their energetic state!
3. Meditate or do yoga. I hate both of these. Slow down? Stop thinking? PISH! But I can’t deny that when I do it, I stay calmer and more centered overall. If you have a dog that’s really trying your patience, maybe it’s time for some you-care. The kind you don’t necessarily like, but is awfully good for you.
The lazy, impatient person’s guide to meditation: Set your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier. When it goes off, hit snooze. Grumble. Sit up. Curse a little. Take a breath. Imagine the air molecule you just inhaled whizzing around your lungs. Remember all the crap you have to do today. Wish you had some coffee. Bring your mind back tot he molecule, and exhale. Imagine it whooshing out. Did you turn off the oven? Well, it was last on days ago, so if you didn’t you’re dead, anyway. Inhale and think of air molecule. Exhale and imagine it zipping around. You’re bored of the air molecule. Your foot itches. Inhale and imagine it getting SUCKED into your blood stream. Exhale and follow the molecule’s progress to your heard. Is that your dog whining? Surely not. Think about the air molecule. The alarm goes off! Huzzah, you’re done!
Or, The lazy, impatient person’s guide to yoga: Find a spot where your feet will not slip. Get your iPad, laptop, or notebook out. Search “Sun salutation” on youtube (or click here). Sit and drink your coffee while watching it with one eye. Finally decide you should probably do this, too. Click on this person so you can do it without stopping constantly. Wish you were that flexible. Wonder where they find all these tiny, tiny yoga people. Do it six times. Smile at the way your dog wags when you go into downward dog. Decide you want someone with a different voice — okay, now you have to search for it yourself. 😉
Things like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises and the like may not seem like they’re help you when you hit your dog’s trigger, but in fact they will. Overall lower your body’s stress levels, teaching your brain how to react in an emergency (visualization), and re-coding calming behaviors into your neurons means that when a bad moment arises, it won’t be as bad as it was before. It’ll especially be better if you remember your deep breathing exercises in the middle of it!
Now go, and be calm!