Recently, several close friends have taken up the practice of Yoga and have become self proclaimed addicts, and my husband has also built three studios in the last six months (check out www.trowmechanical.ca). Hence, if you are a person who listens to the voice of the universe, I was getting some clear signals to pick up Yoga again myself. So, I attended a class at the recently opened Inspire Yoga studio in Georgetown (www.inspireyoga.com) and thoroughly enjoyed the teachings of Diana, the studio’s owner. Though much of what I learned related to positions and how to use my muscles properly in those positions, we also spent a fair amount of time talking about breathing, focusing the mind, and directing your body’s energy flow. Of course, being me, I immediately found a way to relate this to dogs.
At some point in my work with every dog owner, I teach methods of communicating with your dog in canine language – such as proper body posture, calming the mind, and maintaining emotional stability while working with your dog. What seems most difficult for owners is not understanding these methods, but employing them. Don’t forget, the majority of dogs I see have caused their owner’s so much stress and emotional upset that it’s difficult to break that automatic response when employing the techniques for behaviour modification, and ultimately, if you can’t achieve the state of mind required to truly communicate with your dog, you’ll find it very difficult to see true changes in their behaviour. Essentially, we need to change our own behaviours in order to change our dog’s. This is why a truly good trainer or dog handler can take your dog’s leash and “magically”, the dog behaves with us. It’s not that we’re doing something different with the leash than what we’re teaching you – we just have a honed technique of maintaining the mindset that dog’s listen to.
Being an “A” type personality, my mind is constantly in overdrive, and I’ve always sought out ways to try to quiet that mind so that I can focus on the task at hand. Obviously, this has been a crucial obstacle to overcome when doing the work that I do. My yoga class offered me some new and easy ways to manage this: focus on breathing, close attention to what each muscle in the body is doing during any given pose, and eliminating negativity from the mind and body while drawing in positivity. Dogs do this all the time, both measuring their own physiology, that of their canine opponents, and most importantly, that of the owner. Unless you can present me with a dog who speaks English, the only way a dog can communicate with the world is through body language – so clearly they are better at speaking and reading body language than their human counterparts. The clearest example I can offer relates to dog ‘spats’ – two dogs meet, their eyes lock, their breathing slows and nearly stops, their muscles become stiff and still – then “Wham!!!” they quarrel. If you pay attention to your own or the handler’s body language, the human often does exactly the same thing. I frequently find owners of leash aggressive dogs approaching other dogs, and when the two meet, the owner will stiffen, become completely still, stop breathing and stare hard at both dogs. More often than not, it’s the owner’s bodily reactions that create or increase the tension between the greeting dogs, and a fight ensues. This is why we hear so often from trainers that when two dogs meet, you should always have a slack leash (which forces you, with the leash in your hand, to consciously relax), and also why many dogs do so well when off leash and so terribly when on leash.
By using the techniques of yoga, whereby practicing physiological and mental control in a calm environment without distraction, we can begin to implement these techniques in more stressful or busy situations – like when we walk a dog aggressive dog. This type of focus on what we are doing will in turn cause your dog to stop picking up stress signals from you, and be better able to focus on what you really do want to communicate instead of what you are inadvertently communicating. So if you’re having trouble getting through to your dog – try a little Yoga, it just might help!!