What brought me to mindfulness and meditation? I remember many years ago, I heard the average person lasts 3 years in rescue or shelter work. Well, I clearly didn’t get the memo I laugh because I have been doing rescue for over 25 years, training for over 20 years and shelter work for over 13 years. It’s been an emotional journey for sure that has taught me so much about love, life and myself. I left the corporate world years ago and never looked back. I worked in management, finance/mortgage collection and even worked as a licensed private investigator for years but nothing could prepare me for my current work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my work and am blessed beyond measure to do what I love. However several years ago as my experience grew as a dog trainer, I began to take on more challenging cases and many aggression cases. I obtained my behavior certification which increased my difficult dog caseload immensely. I have worked with (and adopted!) dogs raised in puppy mills, dogs rescued from Korean meat farms and dogs shocked in the name of “training” to the point where their necks were severely burned. I have worked with dogs that were sent away to boot camp that afterward a human couldn’t get near as they were so fearful after those harsh “training” experiences. I have worked with dogs rescued from the floods, hurricanes and more. I have seen dogs neglected and abused, some as I said in the name of “training” by humans.
Add into this the clients I see who love their dogs but struggle personally with behavior problems with their companions. Not only are the dogs I see often anxious and stressed but so are their owners. Often my clients have tears during our consultations. They admit to frustration, trying desperate measures like boot camps, prong collars and shock – all things per studies show only makes aggression and anxiety in dogs worse! Experts estimate that about 30% of dogs show some sign of anxiety. I would say it’s much higher! My clients also often confide in me that they too have anxiety issues. Did you know that studies also show a correlation between stress and anxiety in people and their dogs! People who are shy, anxious, tense, neurotic or aggression may induce those behaviors in their dogs?* Did you know that people who are happy and confident and who use praise and don’t correct tend to have happy confident dogs? Now that doesn’t mean every human with a dog with behavioral problems is the cause but there can be a connection between our behaviors, lifestyle and training methods and our dog’s behaviors and emotional states.
And what about the correlation between our dogs and their people? As an observer/tester for a national therapy dog organization (Alliance of Therapy Dogs) and someone who has had 5 therapy dogs over the last 2 decades, I know first hand the joy and benefits that therapy dogs can bring to children lacking confidence or learning to read and the elderly in senior facilities so that’s now new but our relationships with dogs goes far beyond that and they are impacted by us and our emotions too! When babies cry, dogs stress level rises. Studies prove dogs can tell the difference between a happy face and an angry face. MRIs show that the same area of the brain that lights up when a dog sees his owner is the same area of the brain that lights up when an infant sees his mother! We are now training dogs to detect seizures, low blood sugar and even cancer. Do you think we are NOT connected? Science shows us again and again what any dog lover will tell you – there is a huge correlation between us humans and the dogs we share our lives with!
Our relationships with dogs goes far beyond that. They are impacted by us and our emotions too! When we are stressed our dogs are stressed. In order to help our dogs, we must also deal with our own emotions, behavior and stress! I became passionate and committed to learning more so I could help dogs and their people, and immersed myself in the science of not only how dogs (and humans) learn but how stress, trauma and adverse situations can impact behavior.
Meditation can help us both!
When we are stressed are stressed, our dogs are stressed. In order to help our dogs, we must also deal with our own emotions, behavior and stress too!
Meditation can benefit both us and our dogs!
My first introduction to meditation was over a decade ago. Introduced by a mentor and friend, I was intrigued and like many, I thought “I am too type A to mediate”. I began to learn everything I could about meditation. Often that learning was put on hold as it so often happens or in the case of losing a valued mentor who sadly passed on during this journey. I had always believed in the power of daily prayer and as a Christian with a strong faith in God that continues today, I have always believed we are part of a bigger picture and that we need to slow down and learn to appreciate our unique journey through daily silence. I slowly began to expand that silence and I found that the busier life got, the more I needed that time to recharge my batteries and remind me to take time to be express gratitude. In addition to a mentor in my life, my formal introduction into meditation started almost a decade ago when I obtained my Reiki Master Certification (Usui Ryoho Reiki). Again that experience drew me closer to making meditation a priority in my daily life. About 2-3 years ago, I began working towards certification and coursework to help me learn more but it wasn’t until after a car accident that I really focused on the daily path of meditation for healing. As the saying goes “Everything you need with come to you in the perfect time” applied to my journey with meditation. Regardless of how busy I was, I realized I did not have time NOT to meditate!
Also when I became a behavior consultant and took on more challenging cases, it no longer was an option for me NOT to meditate to deal with the emotions and to stay positive! It helped me deal with my daily work. It keeps me grounded, positive and smiling most days! Sound too good to be true? Meditation lowers blood pressure, relaxes he mind and body, increases resistance to illness — and leaves us feeling more “okay” with the world and those we love. I would like to share a few facts:
- Meditation builds “brain muscles”. Meditation can actually change how your brain functions, building resilience and improving your performance. … Specifically, it can change those parts of the brain associated with anxiety, mind wandering, mood, fear, stress, empathy, emotion, and pain.
- Researchers have found that long-term practitioners of mediation show less activity in the amygdala area of the brain and therefore experience less physiological arousal related to stress. This reduced activity does not occur only during a meditation session but is a persistent pattern in people with a regular meditation practice.
- Imagine your brain is a computer. Meditation is like upgrading and defragmenting the hard drive. It heals the nervous system and the body.
As a Certified Meditation Teacher, my goal is to help people, their dogs and improve the bond and connection between both while also lowering anxiety for both. Believing in a holistic approach to treating behavior, looking at our own lives and our time with our dogs become an integral part of working with dog behavior. What better way to lower stress in humans AND dogs than to do it together!
Food, water, love, meditation. We cannot change their pasts — or ours — but through meditation, we can help both our dogs and ourselves
But why MEDIATE WITH YOUR DOG? They love it. It’s great relaxation for you and your dog. It’s a great bonding experience. Dogs help us be mindful and be in the present moment! They can help us destress and at the same time, we can help them destress. Through meditation, being in the moment and breath work, we can truly connect with our companions in a unique way and help each other. I am looking for the people who want MORE whether it’s to connect with their dog or help their dog “heal” from trauma. And it’s fun!
*Schöberl I, Wedl M, Beetz A, Kotrschal K, (2017). Psychobiological Factors Affecting Cortisol Variability in Human-Dog Dyads. PLoS ONE 12(2): e0170707. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0170707
WATCH FOR UPCOMING MEDITATION ONE TIME SESSIONS (NEXT DATE: FRIDAY, SEP 28 AT 6:45PM) AND AN EXTENDED 4 WEEK CLASS ON MEDITATING WITH YOUR DOG IN FALL/WINTER 2018!