Awakening the body and the mind

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By Kimberly Burgan, Certified Pet Dog Trainer and Accredited Canine Behavior Consultant (PetSafe guest blogger)

I arrived at class today, not knowing what to expect. The standard meet-and-greet rituals took place before everyone relaxed and sat down. The instructor, along with many of the other participants, were all communicating fluidly using words and gestures that I didn’t understand at all! I felt a little left out…unsure of what to do, but there I sat, because that is what I was told to do.

A little bell sounded and everyone alerted. I took a deep breath…and attempted to mimic the others. For a little over an hour, I followed the indirect cues provided by others in class along with the direct cues from the instructor (although I had no idea what was coming out of her mouth!). I looked where they looked. I tried to contort my body into foreign positions just as they did, which left a burning sensation in muscles that I didn’t even know that I had. I tried to breathe just like them. Although I was unable to perform as well as the others, it didn’t stop me from trying. I did, however, experience some low-level frustration. By nature, I am a pleaser and a perfectionist; usually, I get most things right on the first try.

Finally everyone began to relax. That part, I understood. Some more bells rang and my classmates began to sit again. I followed suit. Class was over. My body felt “worked,” even a little sore, but my mind felt alive, free, well stimulated, and focused. Learning something new had been invigorating!

Confused?

(Photo courtesy of yogaworks.com)

I am a dog trainer who attended a yoga class for the first time today. Yeah…yeah, I know I was supposed to be “relaxing” and “freeing my mind of conscious thought,” but I couldn’t help but fully examine how my experience paralleled that of a pet dog arriving at its very first group training lesson.  

I had almost no understanding of the terminology being used by the instructor; however, as a behavior consultant, I knew that animals learn best by modeling the behavior of others. By choosing to practice selective mimicry, I felt sure that I could make it through the class regardless of that fact that I had chosen not to prepare. Have you ever thought about that? Our dogs don’t get a “Dummies Guide for Surviving Your First Obedience Class,” do they? I jumped right in, just as our pets are expected to do, but to my advantage, I didn’t have someone towering over me with goals and expectations of their own. The tasty lure had been dangled in front of my nose? It was of the “inner drive” flavor…the desire to push myself and get it right!

Thank goodness the instructor also modeled breathing for the class. It not only helped me to survive, but prompted me to think about the importance of the break time for our pets, between each short training session. As a dog-friendly dog trainer, I have always encouraged a physical (and mental) break opportunity, however, I will now consider—on a deeper level—how the different positions feel to my canine clients and will be sure to get them moving, stretching and breathing come break time!

So, at my own pace, I took away much more than basic yoga instruction today! I twisted my body into several new positions. Some were considered basic, while others were more advanced, yet they were all new to me. I couldn’t help but think that I should be grateful that I didn’t have someone physically forcing me into each position. Can you imagine how that would have felt? There are still pet owners, and professionals alike, who have not yet abandoned the idea of physical shaping as a primary training tool. Not because they are horrible humans, but because they simply don’t have any other strategy! It is my hope that this experience reaches many…and causes several to rethink their approach. There’s a kinder and gentler way, folks!

Wait, there’s more, and this is by far the best part! Parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed were awakened today–simply because I used them. I actually used them because I was prompted to try something out of my normal, daily routine. We may think we are consistently and effectively working Fido’s body on that daily walk or that rockin’ weekend agility course, but when we present something new, no matter how elementary, we might just have the capacity to create new sensation, feeling, and awareness for our pets—not only for the body, but perhaps more importantly, also for the mind!

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could offer those same invigorating benefits to your canine companion? You can—through unfamiliar physical and mental stimulation! Not to worry! It doesn’t have to be a trip to Disneyland or anything, it could be something as simple as offering a new toy, a new game, or a jaunt in a new environment.

Jump out of your dog’s routine…out of his “normal” exercise or training by introducing something new today. Not sure where to start? Your further learning has the potential to offer the gift of waking up mind and body and ultimately, a better quality of life for the one who gives 24/7 to his human companion. Oh, and for yourself—consider checking out yoga. It might just make you a better dog owner (or trainer!).

Paws UP, my friends!

Kimberly Burgan, CPDT-KA

Kimberly Burgan Dog Training | Austin, TX | www.kbdogtraining.com

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