Focus on the Moment

Building Blocks to Dog Training

Utilizing mindfulness in dog training, as introduced in last month’s column, resists concrete description as applied to specific training goals. A methodology that works miraculously for one dog may fail utterly when the next person tries it. Is the problem with the method, or the application? Yes. And, no.

Dogs, like people, make sense of things based on their personal paradigms, which combine biological predispositions with experiential impressions. If “Bailey” perceives you as unreliable, he won’t respect you. If your actions fluctuate with your moods, she won’t trust you. If you punish rather than educate, he’ll fear you. Mindfulness brings you back to the moment, back to the bond that you (should) have with “Bailey.” It puts the love you share front-and-center so that effective communication arises from a joyful, playful curiosity. To enable “Bailey” to comprehend your intended message, interactions should be clear, consistent and, I’ll re-emphasize, present in the Now. Being mindfully aware when interacting with “Bailey” ousts the emotional/mental residue of whatever else is going on in life, freeing your body to convey your message, leaving you clear-minded and open to” Bailey’s” feedback.

Mindful training isn’t a particular technique. You could potentially apply it across the spectrum of training styles. Nature endows dogs with both the motivation and the capacity to make sense of our gestures and expressions, so if your state of mind is responsive Now and if you modify the methods to suit “Bailey’s” responses, ultimately she’ll understand. Prep by taking a few moments to relax and reconnect with yourself. Get centered.

When Bailey hasn’t eaten for at least 12 hours select a couple of her favorite toys, ones she goes slightly nuts over. Put irresistible goodies (in tiny pieces) in a baggie in your pocket. Wake her up with play…get her jazzed and happy and engaged with you, but not tired or bored. While playing, pause mid-motion, look intently at her face the way dogs freeze in invitation for the other dogs to engage in play… the instant you have eye contact enthusiastically say “Yes!” or “Good!” with a yummy tidbit, then renew playing. Gradually freeze longer, silently asking for patiently sustained eye contact before giving the “Yes!” and food reward. As she learns to participate with you, while maintaining eye contact softly say “Waatch”, then “Yes!” and reward as before…Voila! …you’ve introduced a stepping stone to virtually all other commands. The “Yes!” affirmation unlocks complex understanding.

Notice there’s no mention of control or even leash, though obviously if you don’t have a fenced yard you’ll need a length of rope or some means of preventing her dashing into harm’s way. This is all about setting the stage to understand and be understood. –Beth Dillenbeck