With the struggles going on in the world now with COVID -19 and the rise in cost of living amongst the trials of today, mental health and mindfulness is becoming more and more important for our general health. Our dogs can experience mental health issues too with stress and anxiety being more recognised and diagnosed every day. If you’re stressed, your dog is more likely to be stressed too – so why not tackle the problem together!
Where do you start?
Firstly, if you’re familiar with meditation and mindfulness, the key is to be calm and quiet for a time and not overthink it! Listen to your body and go with what feels right, the end goal is to feel relaxed, grounded and more connected to the world around you – or your dog!
Some studies (I’ve included a few in the references section below) have investigated the benefit of including your dog in meditation and have found that there is benefit both to you and your dog! That’s pretty cool right?
We already knew having dogs around improves mental health, that’s why therapy dogs were introduced to health care settings. But did you know your very own dog could lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, and improve your health, just by being with you? Planning time for meditating with your dog maximises the benefits to both you and them.
So… You start by deciding to be open minded and give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen… you and your pup have a cuddle once a day and get nothing else out of it…. sounds ace!
Dedicate a time of day
If your dog is super active in the morning and sensitive to the comings and goings of children on the school run or people getting off to work on a weekday, that’s probably not the best time to schedule a peaceful time. Choose a time you’re both usually feeling the need for a bit of a refresh and starting to wind down; perhaps in the afternoon just after work to separate work / home life; especially useful for those of us that work from home maybe?
Make sure you have a signal to the start of meditation
Some people use the chime of a clock or an alarm or even just a word that you can say, it could be as simple as “meditation time”. Something that triggers you and your dog to know it’s about to be calm, together time. Words or signals are a very common way of training dogs so a word followed by an action will over time become associated with each other.
Consider WHERE would be most effectively to meditate
Link the action of going to a quiet place, to the word or sound you will use to signal the beginning of meditation. You may want to use an oversized pillow, a throw or blanket on the floor or perhaps you have a little reading/ relaxation nook you feel comfortable in. The key to WHERE is making sure you and your dog won’t be easily distracted from together time, there is little foot traffic and minimal outside disturbances or sounds in your chosen place.
A little quiet, soft music may help to relax you or you may prefer a quieter ambience.
How do you go about training your dog to meditate and is that even possible?
So, you have your meditation signal and place, now how do you train my dog to meditate?
You likely don’t need to! Dogs are naturally pack animals, curious and inquisitive. If you start a new behaviour like sitting calmly in the middle of your lounge, after time your dog will likely come and sit with you; if you’re laying down, your dog will likely mimic that too… we’ve all seen the videos online of dogs mimicking their owners’ doing yoga. They just want to be a part of what we do, it’s the joy of being a dog.
How long should sessions be?
When first exploring meditation with your dog, let them join in as and when they want. Allow them to come and go as they wish; don’t force interaction, you both want to feel good after a session of meditation. Limit the session to 20-30mins and perhaps do something fun your dog will enjoy after like a little walk outside or time with a favourite toy or chew. This will encourage your dog to participate as they know they get a reward after quiet time/ meditation time.
During meditation how do you encourage calmness and grounding in your dog so you can both benefit?
Encourage calmness and an introduction to being present in the moment to your dog by example. If you’re calm, your dog will mimic this given patience and time. You may need to encourage your dog by calmly speaking to them or gently stroking them in a rhythmical motion. Most dogs enjoy a nice massage, running your hands over their bodies, up and down their legs. If your dog moves away or doesn’t want you to touch their feet for example, that’s fine, let them dictate what they are comfortable with. Spending this time together is about bonding too.
Once your dog is nice and calm and focused entirely on you, their surroundings and being relaxed, you too can take some time to be present, keep your hand on your dog, feel their fur under your hand, their smell, feel the rhythmical up and down of their chest as they breathe, you may even feel their little hearts beating if you position your hand over the left side of their chest.
It may take time to work up to your dog being fully involved and relaxed enough to join in, to the full extent, take a few weeks and let your dog be involved for a few minutes initially. Slowly increase the time your dog is involved and how much touch they want or interaction they need to be calm and a part of your meditation. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.
Have a lovely cuddle
To summarise, meditation can have huge health benefits and has been shown to benefit you and your dog. Meditating with your dog can be a bonding experience, but make sure you are both happy with being involved and what’s happening. Enjoy it! The human animal bond is a very special thing, your unique relationship can be very rewarding, take time to be present in it, and appreciate each other.