To get our ideas to become our dogs ideas we need to start with the "ideas" first. Thoughts become Emotions which become Behaviors. The same is true for people, which is why it can be so important to be aware of your own thinking when working with your dog. Oftentimes animals pick up on our thoughts before we do!
They really are incredible
So once you have a handle on your own mind, maybe you want to give your dog one of your ideas- maybe to have more focus on you? Or to ask you before they go do something (can I please chase the squirrel?)?
To get their focus on us we are going to have to realize when their thoughts are not on us, and start there. Interrupting or redirecting a thought, is much easier than interrupting or redirecting a behavior that's already gone through it's full emotional range and is 100% going to happen or already happening.
Sometimes we even want our dogs to do something, but we can't stop thinking about what we don't want them to do! Like lunging on the leash at that nearby (or not so nearby) dog- we anticipate it and can essentially create that behavior in our dog in many cases, solely from our thinking! Our mind is on what we don't want and so it attracts exactly what we don't want. In many cases it is best to think step by step about what you do want and believe in that.
Even if it doesn't happen your dog will be happier knowing you were being present to them every step of the way, rather than reacting to some future event that hasn't actually occurred. It will also create less of an aversive association if you are not also negatively reacting to what triggers your dog. A lot of times our dog's trigger becomes our trigger
When we live in the future of a behavior, we react to that behavior. Our thoughts of the future negative behavior, trigger our emotions, which trigger a physical reaction in us.
"My dog might lunge at this dog"- imagine lunging
Anxiety and stress creep into our emotional field
our body starts to tense and stiffen bringing tension into the leash , our breathing to speed up, our voice to tighten, our eyes to crease.
Our dog notices all of this and our dog lunges.
....but who started it first?!
Is it in response to our behavior or the dog nearby? It's kind of like who came first the chicken or the egg?
It doesn't totally matter. What matters is that you are aware of it and actively work on your mindset.
Either way getting at the root rather than the symptom of our dog's behavior will be key and being aware of our own behavior in these situations will help get us closer to what we want. So remember focus on what you want, track your thoughts, track your dog's thoughts and you will start to have a better idea of where your focus and your dog's is.
Of course all of this is true riding horses as well as many riders out there will know and understand. In both cases the same mindfulness can be applied, and your goals reached!
On a horse it might be you have a horse that likes to throw their shoulder into the arena in the corner (or counter bend) at certain points. If you can interrupt that thought, before your horse actually does it, you will be much more successful redirecting that thought than trying to push 1000 lbs back over to the wall.
Animals remind me of this on a daily basis! If I keep my thoughts in check I will have a much easier time observing theirs and predicting what they might do!
Believe in yourself, believe in your dog, believe in your horse and you can accomplish it all!
Please share stories or pictures of times you could predict what your mindful guardian was about to do,