Dog Relationships as a Gauge

Let’s shift our focus momentarily from how to train our dogs to how we pay attention to our dogs. The insight from this new perspective might surprise you, and may even help you find a more centered, deeper connection with your dog.  Keep in mind, dogs are often prescribed as therapy animals. They have an amazing ability to calm the human mind — but only if the human pays attention! This blog post is a marked departure from my previous posts. Rather than examining training techniques, this post considers: To what degree our relationships with our dogs are a reflection of our overall quality of life.
A friend of mine hurt his hip last week and it significantly limited his mobility. While visiting him I noticed that his dog was particularly anxious compared to normal. It occurred to me that these two things were not unrelated. Because my friend was unable to walk his dog or take his dog to day care that week, his dog was “bouncing off the walls.” My friend’s quality of life took a hit that week and his relationship with his dog mirrored that. This particular dog has an issue with marking in the house. When he doesn’t get out enough, and has pent up energy, he puts that excess energy into marking anything new that he finds in the house. He’ll even mark the new plastic bag in the garbage can! He doesn’t do this when he goes to daycare every week! The quality of my friend’s relationship with his dog directly follows whatever else is going on in my friend’s life! It’s almost as if my friend’s dog is protesting his human not being able to pay attention to him. I’m optimistic that both will soon return to their normal, mutually beneficial, relationship.
Love means different things to different people, and probably to dogs, too. I value the ability to be fully present in both myself and in others. I honestly believe that “The Simplest Act of Love is to Pay Attention.” So if I want to show a person, or a dog, that I love them, I give them my undivided attention.In order to give my undivided attention, I must first have undivided attention to give. That means I have to clear my mind, be centered, and be fully present. This is easier said than done in our society and our complicated lives, where multitasking — doing more, faster — is often viewed as better. But better can mean something different. To me,  doing a better job means more thorough, higher quality, more attention to detail. These things often come at the expense of speed and number of tasks accomplished.  Few would argue that quality time spent connecting with others (human or dog) is time wasted. Quite the opposite! Deep, meaningful connection is for many people what life is all about. Albert Einstein said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
If I am unable to commit the necessary time, energy, and attention to detail to whatever I am doing, then I am  less likely to be successful in that endeavor. This plays out in all of our lives every day. If you don’t have the time to take your dog to the dog park because you have to work late, then your relationship with your dog suffers. If you are too busy in your life and can’t stop thinking about everything going on long enough to be fully present while walking your dog, your relationship with your dog suffers. For me, relationships are the thing I value most in life. More specifically, it is the quality and depth of connection in my relationships that I value. I do my best to align all of my actions with my desire to support these values. Even though our relationships with dogs are different from those we have with people, they do have similarities. Both require nurturing and both pay big dividends on time so invested. Make time for your dog; you will be glad you did!
I believe dogs intrinsically value our ability to be fully present as well. A client last week told me that her dog hates her phone and tries to knock it out of her hand when she is talking on it. Another client told me that his dog tries to get him out of bed every morning by knocking off the C-Pap mask that he wears while he sleeps. Of course, both of these dogs may simply have wanted to eat! Whether or not dogs value us being fully present in our interactions with them, I believe that I am not doing myself or anyone else any favors by trying to divide my attention. I believe it diminishes the experience for everyone involved and especially for me! Most people I see walking their dogs are either talking on their cell phones, listening to music, or talking to other people. Is it possible these people are “more present” when they are multitasking? Maybe we value different things? I suspect many people don’t give much thought to what they value or if their actions align with their values. A quick look around the dog park shows the contrast. The owners that are following their dogs around, watching them have fun, smiling as the dog bounces from scent to scent, and sharing the experience with their dog are having way more fun than the owners that are texting or talking on their cell phones on the periphery!
I used to tell myself I would like to become better at multitasking. Now I accept the fact, and am grateful, that I am not a good multitasker. Multitasking is the opposite of the direction I want to go. I want to be fully present as much of the time as I can. For me, it is not possible to be fully present to the task at hand and multitask at the same time! Dogs teach us to be fully present in more ways than one. They “ground” us and remind us we are animals too. On a fundamental level they show us what it means to be alive. They model to us what it is to live in the moment. They model unitasking at its best. I’ve yet to see a dog driving and texting at the same time! I like to feel that my dog and I are on the same wavelength. That’s what I seek, and that’s the relationship I cultivate with my dog.
Take a close look at your relationship with your dog. It may just show you how satisfied you are with your life, or where you might want to take a closer look. If you can’t walk your dog every day, or can’t stay focused when you do, or would like to take your dog to daycare twice a week but can’t, it may be time to make some changes! Sometimes owning a dog can seem like work. Keep in mind, you can get great joy from your dog if you are paying attention!
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Nice job, Jaimie! And love the photo!

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