I like to view dog training as the means we use to reach a balanced state of cooperation and coexistence with our dogs. In this state, both dog and owner are centered, focused yet relaxed, and unhindered to live in the way that is natural, comfortable, and joyful for each species. Thinking of dog training in this way, it becomes less like a chore, a specific thing we must do to get the dog to stop stealing food or peeing on the sofa, and it becomes something much broader. It transforms into a way to live life with our dogs, side by side, giving and taking like the ebb and flow of the tides as we work together towards a common state of existence.
The building blocks of this balanced state are mindful training sessions with your dog, both planned and impromptu. It is during the training session that your full concentration is given to your dog and the two of you come together to work towards a goal in a peaceful and loving partnership. Be Zen-like in training, almost as if it were a meditation. Shift your mind, center yourself, and focus: never loose sight of your dog. Breathing is an integral part of the training session and makes for not only relaxed trainers but relaxed dogs as well. Consistent, deep and slow breaths help you stay calm and neutral in the presence of behavior that is difficult to handle or undesirable. (This is especially important when working with the fearful or aggressive dog.) You should act as a constant rock from which your dog can trust, and gain support and understanding. Extremes of emotion have no place in the training session; instead you should strive for a calm, joyful, quiet state of mind. Your dog will follow you.
Training shouldn’t be a struggle, with the owner wanting one thing and having to wrestle, push, pull, or jerk the dog into position to get compliance. Training is a dance you and your dog perform together. The mental and spiritual connection is of paramount importance but it is not something that happens overnight or by itself; you must work to build it. Consider your dog one part of a two-part union; that is when the magic will begin to happen. Like two dancers, both consistently consciously aware of each other, yet so very mindful of their own individuality within the dance, you and your dog should flow together yet remain separate beings. You can work to build and strengthen this connection while out casually walking with your dog on leash in quiet, peaceful surroundings. As you enjoy the scenery and your dog enjoys the barrage of sights, sounds, and smells, remind yourself to not loose focus of your dog. Talk, touch, and otherwise interact with your dog. Stop and start, change direction, ever mindful of the living being at the end of the leash and never dragging or jerking. Be mindful of a dog’s desires to sniff the ground, follow squirrels up trees, and wade in shallow streams. But as you are mindful of your dog, do not sacrifice your own desire to enjoy a pleasant walk and not be dragged behind an over-exuberant dog. Maintaining consistent interaction will help remind your dog that you are at the end of the leash, and make you a part of the equation instead of a mere incidental. Take this attitude of mindful, mutual respect and cooperation with you into the training session.
Dogs are perfect as is, in truth there is no good or bad behavior. Only labels we place on behavior gives behavior any sort of rating at all. When we stop looking at behavior as right or wrong, the emotionality melts away from training and our sessions become more productive. We must simply choose which behaviors we happen to want, and then reinforce them when they happen. The “other” behaviors aren’t punished or viewed as mistakes or disobedience. They simply “are”. Let those behaviors “be”, shift focus away from them, and instead focus on what you want out of your dog at a specific point in time. You will find soon that wanted behaviors will multiply and the unwanted behaviors will simply melt away.
To truly “accept” and “be” with your dog is the true essence of Zen Dog Training.