Monday, April 26, 2010

Losing ground, gaining perspective. Click!

Today was one of those days, one of those days where you wonder why in the world you ever thought you were a dog trainer. Then, realizing that the pain from this healing sprained ankle is useful in this work of working with dogs in a yogic way.

Ellie's training over the last three weeks has been more sporadic, and more focused on running through the basics in the house and the back yard. With no distraction other than the occasional cat-in-the-way, she cruises through her come, sit, down, by me, close and off-leash cues. She's had a few dog park visits and some swims in the pool and some toy-tossing and has been learning her jump-on-cue to work off some of her energy.

Today we went back to our walking meditation, which had been coming along so beautifully before my ankle injury. At least, that was the intention.

Alas, Ellie was distracted by everything, all of the park walkers, dogs, the two guys practicing martial arts way off in the distance, the bird overhead. It took us about 10 minutes to make our way to the park, which is about 1 minute away from the house. I had to break out the clicker just to reward her for a semblance of attention.

I don't usually click during walking meditation. It's a common misconception among people who are unfamiliar with clicker training that you forever click for simple behaviors. Once the dog or horse understands the behavior, you don't need to always click and reward for that same behavior. It's useful, though, to occasionally do so, just as a little reminder.

But, several minutes into what is usually a rhythmic breathing and walking at a comfortable pace in a familiar pattern, I realized I needed to make a change. Ellie was back at her old lunging, leaping, and one dog-walker asked me, "Is your dog under control?" She was, but.

That mental state of wanting 'my dog to behave so I don't look like a fool' came up loud and messy. My breathing became shallower. I realized that my ankle was throbbing with pain and my stance was out of balance.

This agitated and unbalanced state is one I'm well acquainted with, although usually I'm seeing it in clients. It isn't that I don't fall into agitated and unbalanced states, it's just that it happens less and less the longer and more attentively I practice my yoga.

Now, it was me. Instead of serving my dog by breathing more rhythmically, exhaling longer, and being aware of my feet, legs, hips and connection to the earth, I was contributing to her agitation and lack of attention. When this happens with a client, I'm able to assist the client to stop and breathe and take a few moments to collect. With a client or student, we might spend a little time addressing what they are experiencing, and perhaps make some changes to help the person and the dog to be more comfortable and / or present.

So, I had this little observation conversation with myself. I just stopped, took 5 long exhales. When Ellie looked at me, I clicked and rewarded her. When she came to my side, I clicked and rewarded her. With her at my side, I evaluated the state of my ankle and thus my posture. I made a conscious choice to switch to the the Gentle Leader, which has the effect of reducing her pulling behavior.

We went back to our walking meditation, but this time I clicked and rewarded her for staying close. We walked in our pattern for about 5 minutes, then I let her do her sniff-walk as her big reward.

We walked home, and it only took us 1 minute.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dog Yoga according to Ellie

When I first started trying to practice yoga, Ellie would get so excited with me being on the floor, that I put her outside to play in the yard. The other day, she lay down with me as I did a relaxation with legs up the wall.

Today, I decided I would just do my practice, and see where she was. As I started to do standing poses, she jumped up on me, so I removed her from the room. I decided to open the room when I began pranayama, breathing regulation practice, just as an experiment.

I can only imagine how cute she must have looked, as she rested her paw in my open palm, then rested her head on her own paw. I kept my eyes closed and kept breathing, and she stayed right with me, for about 10 minutes. She withdrew for awhile and I settled into a meditation.

Then, I felt her gently place one of her tattered rope chewies across my arm and quietly leave the room.

Dog does yoga - what do you think? I'd like to read your comments.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ellie finds relaxation through yoga

Ellie isn't known to be the most relaxed dog. She is happiest, it seems, in the midst of movement. Always, before today, when I went to do my yoga practice, I would need to have her go outside, or hang out in her kennel, or behind a cross pen. She would mouth at me, get excited when I got on the floor, and run for her toys.

Today was different. Taking my own advice, I decided to take a break from doing taxes and lay down with my legs up the wall. She followed me into the yoga space (some cleared out floor in my 8 x 10 office/bead studio/yoga studio) and when my legs went up the wall, she lay calmly down at my head and gave me a few licks on the palm of my hand. She stayed with me for about 5 minutes, then quietly left. I found her laying belly up in her kennel in a perfect doggie svasana.

Maybe it doesn't seem like much, but it sure made me happy, and ready and refreshed to hit those tax records again. And Ellie's relaxing by my side.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Which is the happiest dog?

Take a look at these pictures of Ellie, and then vote (using the poll at the righ) for which picture (blue scarf or not blue scarf) shows the happy dog.

I would love it if you would use the comment section to let me know what helps you to your conclusion.