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.

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