I started practicing yoga and meditation regularly in 2020. I didn’t start with any particular goal in mind, just the desire to try it out. I’ve found that I really love it and now I do it every day. While I have learned a lot of things through yoga, one of the most impactful is the concept of a practice. Yoga is a practice to return to again and again. This is how one builds strength, flexibility, and mindfulness of the breath. Yoga teachers often encourage students to take their practice with them when they leave the mat. So it has become second nature for me to start seeing other things in life as a practice too.
There’s a reason people call it a “yoga practice.” While I can’t delineate for you all the ancient yoga philosophy, what I can say is that a core tenant of meditation and yoga is coming back day after day to do again what you did yesterday. This might sound monotonous at first, but as I’ve become more acquainted with this way of thinking, I actually find it both comforting and incredibly practical. I get to come back tomorrow and do it again. How lovely.
The concept of a practice is counter to the fast-paced nature of the western culture in which we live, where we want quick fixes and immediate results. We want to be productive and we want to reach goals quickly. We don’t want to slow down and take time to realize that the process is the goal. But in fact, we can realize that everything worth doing is best done by making it a practice to come back to and embrace again and again.
The concept of a practice could be applied to anything one does. It certainly applies to exercise forms besides yoga. It could apply to art, writing, working with your hands, doing your job, or doing the dishes. And it certainly applies to dog training.
If someone were to read at this point that dog training is a practice you have to come back to again and again, that could seem very overwhelming. This is especially true if your dog has a behavior issue. You need results and resolution, absolutely. But how are you going to get there? When people first start working on a behavior modification plan with their dogs, they are often full of energy and a desire to commit. This can quickly go by the wayside if they realize that behavior modification is generally not a quick process. They can start to feel like they will be stuck on a path forever with a dog who is reacting at strangers, fighting with another dog, or chewing up the house. And this doesn’t sound much like a practice, but more like a nightmare!
No, I don’t mean to imply at all that we can’t meet training goals and reduce the amount we have to train. But what if we start thinking of the process as just that, a process? One that has to be revisited, honed, perfected, and practiced.
All dog guardians already have some simple practices in their lives. We each get up every morning and feed our dogs breakfast. This is a simple practice that we don’t skip. Some of us may even enjoy giving our dogs a meal. Others may not think about it much as they complete the task, but it is still a practice. We can think about training and behavior modification the same way.
Many of you who know me personally or professionally or read my blogs know that I have a dog who barks and lunges at other dogs. She’s done these behaviors since she was a puppy. I very intentionally adopted her knowing we were in for a journey together. I strive to think of our process together as a practice. We return to our practice when we are facing triggers together out in the world. I look at this as a unique opportunity to meet my dog where she is at, returning to the practice of helping her. This has allowed me to have patience with the process, and to give both of us space and time to work together towards small goals, all the while enjoying life together. I have patience with her, and this is how she improves.
When training, what if we had more patience with the process? What if we had more patience with our dogs and with ourselves? What if we chose to feel honored and empowered to come back to the practice of helping our dogs again and again?
This also brings up another question: If training is a process, when do we stop that process? When is training “done?” Setting small goals and achieving them is crucial. A day will come when most of our dogs won’t need management, redirection, or cues in a given situation. We won’t have to pay as much attention because they are finally “trained enough.” But I don’t think training ever really stops because training is learning. When new situations arise, new triggers present themselves, health changes, weather changes, life circumstance changes, our dogs have to learn the ropes of those changes. And if we’re lucky enough to have our dogs when they are elderly, the way they perceive their environment and the help they need may change. In this way, learning is never through and just being a guardian to a dog is a practice in and of itself. It’s something we get to come back to day after day. And that makes us very lucky people indeed.
You don’t need to be into yoga or practice a yoga mindset to think of dog training as a practice unless you want to. Instead, simply put training in your daily life. Just like you feed your dog, try to view training as just something you do. Not an obligation, not drudgery, but a practice to come back to again and again.