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FEATURE - February 2018
Zen and the Art of Loving a Dog in the New Millennium
by Pat Hennessy
What makes a relationship? Merriam-Webster defines a relationship as the relation connecting or binding participants, such as a kinship. Relationships are the glue that holds us together. Today in our society we are so busy with jobs and activities and tied to our devices that relationships are transforming. While social media has taken the place of many human-facing interactions, our need for companionship has turned to our animals. In addition, our furry family members often have several hours per day alone due to longer working hours for us. Let’s take a journey through the looking glass as to how you can enhance your relationship with your animal companion and build a stronger bond.
One way to connect with the world and stay grounded is to get outside and explore nature. Try taking your dog for a walk on a different route or drive to a new location to experience novel sights and smells. For your dog, it would almost be the equivalent of a vacation to Hawaii. Take this time to really enjoy the walk, take in the scenery, and observe your dog. Watching your dog can give you insight into his personality or even potential health issues.
On the fun side-you might notice Gracie really following a trail, so maybe tracking or scent work would be a good exercise or job for her.
On the health side-you see Duke eating grass or rubbing his hind end on the ground. That would be something to keep an eye on as it could mean he is dealing with a health issue (digestive, parasite, anal sac, etc.), or it could be nothing more than marking his scent–but you would never know unless you observed it.
You would miss these clues if you were busy tweeting and you should certainly use caution if texting and walking, as you could end up face down on the sidewalk or get tangled up in a leash (and you wouldn’t want someone posting that video on You Tube!).
Keep Lines of Communication Open
One of the best things you can do is practice your dog’s “cues” (aka “commands). Strengthening what she knows and teaching her something new. The advantage to keeping up with cues is that it gives you choices of behaviors if you need to redirect attention, for example keeping her from chasing something out into the street or calling her away from the front door. Teaching her new cues will build her vocabulary; the more cues she knows the more words you have in your line of communication.
Along with practicing old cues, pick a new one occasionally to teach–even if you don’t plan to strengthen them over time, like “shake” or “high five”. There are benefits to doing this:
It keeps your pup’s mind sharp (like working crossword puzzles)
It positively reinforces your dog focusing on you
It creates bonding time with your loving companion–and it’s fun!
If you really want to stretch your girl’s mental acuity and show off her talent, try chaining two or three cues together to make a routine, such as waving good-bye, doing a down, and putting her paws over her eyes.
Feed The Inner Wolf
Provide a balanced, quality diet–to keep your dog’s body tuned, foster better health, and reduce unnecessary vet bills. Along with keeping your dog active and fit, the flipside is to keep his body running on the right fuel (like you would do for your car). It’s important to feed a diet that is appropriate to your animal companion’s species. Dogs (and cats) are carnivores. They need a diet balanced of protein, fat, fiber, calcium, vitamins and minerals while being low in carbohydrates free from grains, added salt, and sugars. The ingredients should be bio-available (ability of nutrients to be converted by the digestive system and utilized by the body). Most grains aren’t digested by our dogs and cats and serve as fillers in pet food.
Learn To Relax
We know it’s a good idea to make time for ourselves each day, doing something to strengthen our core or inner-being, such as meditation or yoga. Try a few of these techniques to improve the human-animal bond:
Meditation: Find a comfortable spot sitting next to your dog (or cat in your lap) and place your hands gently upon their fur. Take deep breaths and feel the inhale and exhale of your animal partner. Clear your mind and resonate with the energy of your companion. Visualize how much you love him and tell him, “thank you for being a friend”.
Doga–Doggie Yoga (or Meowoga for cats): Get a large blanket or mat and ask your dog (or cat) to join you. You can choose many poses, but in the words of the late Chuck Berry, “Let’s do the twist”. Perform the pose on your own, with your companion by your side. Feel the stretch and relax. Now, using a high value treat (such as freeze-dried liver), ask your dog for a sit and then holding a treat a few inches away from his nose move the treat toward the right shoulder then toward the left shoulder (observing him turning his head each way), then offer him the treat.
TTouch™: Again, ask your dog to come sit by you. There are many touches to this technique, but let’s do one of my favorites. Place your thumb and index finger at the base of the ear (one on the outside of the ear and the other on the inner part of the earflap, but not down in the ear canal), gently stroke upward or outward (on a floppy-eared dog), with the same gentle pressure you would feel a rose petal. Do this technique as many times as it takes to cover the surface of the ear (once for a Yorkie but several times for a Basset Hound).
Aromatherapy: Add some essential oils to a diffuser while you are doing your meditation, Doga, or TTouch™.
Companion animals have been a part of our lives for thousands of years. Their roles have changed with ours as time goes by. Their service and dedication to us sets them apart from all the animal kingdom. The best way to honor that service is to recognize who they are, treat them with love and respect, knowing that they will return the favor. As Roger Caras says about dogs, they “are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
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Pat Hennessy is the founder of N2paws, LLC, an organization that provides a holistic approach to companion animal care through behavior & wellness coaching, energy work, essential oils for animals plus fun and educational classes such as Doga. Pat is an Advanced TTouch™ practitioner, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, and member of the IAABC, IAATH and AWA. You may contact N2Paws via email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 816-522-7005, or visit the website www.n2paws.com.