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  • Writer's pictureKrisztina Harasztosi

Mindfulness in dog training

If you use positive methods, it's almost inevitable that you'll incorporate mindfulness into your dog training. Now, I'm not saying you need to meditate or become a Buddhist to understand and train your dog. But being present, focusing on your dog during training sessions, and avoiding labeling behaviors as "bad" can significantly enhance your success. Also, helping dogs to settle and teaching them how to relax is super beneficial for both dog and human alike.

korean style bell wind-chime in the light of the rising sun
Meditation bell

While dogs need physical exercise, with certain breeds requiring quite a bit, they also need mental stimulation, enrichment, and learning how to relax and settle. If we primarily observe that high-excitement activities (like agility, fetching a ball, or running) cause an adrenaline and dopamine rush, we can say these activities bring immense pleasure to our dogs, especially if the activity aligns with their breeding. Dogs were bred to have specific functions, and their genomes were artificially modified for human use.

However, just as junk food causes extreme pleasure for humans but isn't good for our well-being, we must question if breeding dogs to be prone to these chemical highs truly benefits them. Are we considering their welfare, or are we artificially breeding them for our own sake without regard for their long-term health and happiness?


The rush of running stems from the love of hunting and the predatory sequence, originally meant to ensure the animal doesn't starve and can raise offspring. We've removed the function and emphasized certain parts for our own benefit, then claim these dogs enjoy these activities. They may get a rush because we've bred them that way, but they also need relaxation. The predatory sequence, when left unfinished without catching, possessing, and feeding, leaves them in an infinite loop of desire. Dogs need rest and to learn how to settle to have balance.

While welfare and enjoyment are different measures, owners must make a conscious decision about whether they want to raise an athlete dog, understanding that this comes with a need for increased challenges and a commitment to teaching the dog to switch off the craziness and settle.

schipperke, black dog lying in the grass and relaxed
Csikasz my dog relaxing in the grass

Teaching conditioned relaxation and settling is essential, along with providing mental enrichment that leads to the release of endorphins and oxytocin, rather than just adrenaline and dopamine. This, coupled with proper fitness conditioning, can help the dog to be more balanced (pun intended: balanced physically and emotionally) and also help to reduce the chances of injuries.


Dogs engaged in continuous high-excitement activities tend to become more emotional and reactive. Owners need to decide if their lifestyle is suitable for an athlete or working dog, or if they want a family dog. Balance and moderation are crucial. Overexcitement results in an overaroused state of the nervous system, leading to emotional impulsivity and an inability to think clearly.

I am not against dog sports as long as they are for the dog’s benefit, practiced in moderation, and accompanied by proper training in impulse control and fitness.

Breeders should focus more on breeding dogs for behavior and emotional balance if they are selling them to families, rather than for appearance. Similarly, dog owners should consider choosing their companion based on how well the dog fits into their lifestyle and family, and whether they can provide the time, money, and energy needed for the dog’s happiness and welfare.


And here we return to mindfulness. Choosing your dog with the above in mind requires conscious mindfulness to assess your situation and lifestyle accurately and find the right fit.

schipperke relaxing while owner reading a book
Csikasz, my dog relaxing

Mindfulness in dog training practice - The Conditioned Relaxation Exercise

I mentioned conditioned relaxation. Conditioned relaxation trains dogs to switch off from high arousal and helps them to settle and relax, whether it's due to anxiety or excitement.


One of my favorite exercises is very simple and beneficial for both the owner and the dog. I use this exercise with reactive dog owners who are usually more prone to stress while walking their dogs and need to learn to relax themselves to teach their dogs to relax.



  1. Find a Quiet Spot: Sit with your dog in a quiet, undisturbed place. This can be a yoga mat in a quiet room or yard, a bench, or in the grass at the beach or in the forest. As you and your dog become more adept at this exercise, you can practice in more busy environments like park benches or malls.

  2. Prepare Your Dog: Ensure your dog has had time to burn off energy, do their business, and sniff around before you start.

  3. Breathing Exercise:

  • Take a deep breath for 4 seconds.

  • Hold the breath for 4 seconds.

  • Exhale for 4 seconds.

  • As you exhale, drop a tiny treat for your dog.

  • Repeat this for 10 breaths.

I often don’t use treats and instead stroke my dog’s back or chest while doing this exercise. You can close your eyes or leave them open, but focus on your breath and your dog. My dog enjoys this exercise so much that she doesn't even want treats. As soon as I finish my yoga and sit on my mat, or she sees me sitting in a chair, she will come and want to sit with me.


Conclusion -The connection in mindfulness and dog training

Incorporating mindfulness into your dog training can profoundly impact both you and your dog’s well-being. By being present, understanding your dog's needs, and ensuring a balance between physical exercise and mental enrichment, you can foster a healthy, happy, and well-adjusted companion. Remember, the key to a successful and fulfilling relationship with your dog lies in conscious mindfulness and thoughtful training practices.


References

  1. Horowitz, A. (2016). Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell. New York: Scribner.

  2. Overall, K. L. (2013). Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. St. Louis: Elsevier.

  3. Panksepp, J., & Biven, L. (2012). The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


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