Your dog and your mental health – a guide
Therapy animals are brought to people who have suffered trauma for comfort. They are also brought into courts to accompany children who recall traumatic events and are trained to calm, guide and find children and people with disability or special needs. These animals are heroes. They are lifelines. But so are ours.
You have probably seen the very popular quote “My dog does this amazing thing where he just exists and makes my whole life better because of it.” There are so many studies, teaching us the benefits of purely owning a pet. A simple google search will throw out many articles about it. It gets better when we intentionally train with them or intentionally include them in activities.
One of the philosophies of force-free or positive reinforcement training is to focus on what our dogs are doing right, instead of what our dogs are doing ‘wrong’. Just changing that habit of ours is going to change our brain chemistry, and start changing our mindset and perspective to a more positive outlook, we can then apply this to the people around us and ourselves too.
When we are training our dogs, we have to consider things from their perspective so that we can make it easier for them to understand what we want to teach them. When you momentarily put all distracting things aside to focus on guiding your dog through an exercise with patience and kindness you are being mindful. Small mindful moments can lead to larger mindful moments and turn into living a mindful life. Learning to regulate emotions and lessening anxiety, depression, anger and judgement.
A big part of dog training as well as behaviour management is managing expectations. Trainers and behaviourists do this through establishing and planning criteria that we can work on until we get the dog where we want him/her to be or until we get the behaviour we want. Small increments that the dog can be successful at, thereby meeting expectations. Creating expectations for a dog is a process and not a once-off event, it changes all the time and we adapt our training accordingly. Revising your expectations is a good thing! If you have unrealistic expectations for your dog, his life will be stressful, it’s not different for people. We have to revise the expectations we place on ourselves often too.
There are many other ways how training with our dogs can help us become restore and maintain our mental health. If you are interested in how to work on your mental health whilst including your dog there are learning opportunities on the way, but here are three strategies you can apply now.
Keep an eye on our social media platforms for workshop announcements on mindfulness therapy with your pet.