For 15,000 years, the lives of humans and dogs have been interwoven. The history of humanity has been shaped by dogs, yet training a dog can be quite challenging. I grappled with this myself when my dog first came to me some eight years ago.
We found some puppies available from a local rescue. The puppies were named after detectives, since the father was a mystery. Nancy Drew looked like a tiny rottweiler and we decided to take her home. We named her Jasmine, after the flowers we enjoyed a few weeks earlier on a trip to Hawaii. At 4 months of age, the mystery as to her lineage was solved when her scraggly beard and wild hair started to come in; she was either part hyena or terrier — we decided on the later.
Even though I had grown up training dogs and horses as a child, those simple methods were forgotten. I now read books on positive dog training and the clicker method. Juggling the clicker and treats and leash in two hands made me feel so incompetent. The speed of clicking was the culprit at any failure of the dog to execute a command. I clicked faster and gave her treats faster to no avail. It seemed like I would never get this new way to train dogs.
One day, I decided to just enjoy the day with my puppy. I left the treat bag and clicker at home and started out to the park. I was through with training, at least for that day.
It was a beautiful day and as we strolled together, I remembered my dog Tippy, the basset hound that I had as a kid. I thought of her and the walks we would take along the river. Everyone would stop us and want to pet my special dog that looked like Flash from the Dukes of Hazard. They would stroke her long ears and rub her belly and laugh when she howled as only a basset hound does.
As these memories came through my mind, I happened to look to my side and realized Jasmine was walking right alongside of me. Without having to worry about the treats or clicker, my thoughts were relaxed and we could just enjoy the time together. Could it really be that easy? Just think of a thought that makes you feel good, and she just walks nicely? Perhaps she is able to relax and be herself when I am in my own relaxed way.
Now when I am with a dog, happy thoughts are always there. The innocence and wonder I had as a child are the only tools I need. I breathe in the beauty of the day and experience the joy that naturally occurs. I teach my clients the same thing by reminding them to smile, look ahead, and know that your dog is right where they are supposed to be, by your side. We may use treats, perhaps a different harness, with some massage techniques thrown in, but training has left my agenda to be filled by what it is to live.
Perhaps the next time you are about to take your dog for a walk, you may try things just a little differently. Forget everything you know, expect and assume at that moment. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly and feel the smile come across your face as you awaken to the light of greater awareness within you. Let your companion guide you to a path you have never taken before or to one you may have taken a long, long time ago.