A few months ago, Huxley and I went to a weekend dog training seminar about increasing your dogs attention and focus. What I walked away from the seminar with was a new way to schedule the time I spend training the dogs. I learned that I need time to focus on myself, the trainer, and that when I take care of myself, I take better care of the dogs. Anyone who spends any time training their dogs knows the important rule that a focused trainer has a focused dog. But what I learned from Nancy Tanner was deeper than that. I interpreted a lot of her techniques to becoming a more focused trainer as suggestions similar to the old human saying of "don't bring your work home with you" and the old canine adage of "shake it off."
Training with a clear mind is especially difficult with three dogs to train. It is also infinitely important. I realized that with the way I had been training, I very likely brought frustrations about Wilhelm's distance
I changed the timing I scheduled to train the dogs. What I used to do was walk or play with all three dogs then sequentially train all three dogs, in random order, for about ten minutes each. The mistake I learned I was making was to not take care of myself in between. What I started to do was take five to ten minutes for myself between each dogs training session. (Those of you with only one dog can use this advice to be sure to care for yourself before you train whether it is after work or after a phone conversation with a friend.) Our training sessions began to take longer but, just like the joy of improving my own physical fitness in walking my dogs, I began to benefit from the time I scheduled to train the dogs beyond just having happy, healthy, well-behaved dogs.
In the workshop with Nancy, all of the human participants were offered several choices of exercises. Nancy told us that these exercises could only be done if you had a clear mind. And having a clear mind makes you a better dog trainer. Most of the exercises were balance exercises like balance boards and balls but Nancy also had a variety of hula hoops. She told us that even just standing on one foot for five to ten minutes is a great way to prepare yourself to work with your dog. As a former personal trainer and former yoga instructor, I am a huge fan of any and all balance exercises. As a fitness fanatic and yogi, I lit up with this new idea of doing a little yoga before and between training sessions with my dogs. And it is exactly what I have done.
Here are my tips for taking care of yourself before, during and after training your dog (or anytime, really):
- Perspective. One reason the dogs and I always walk before training is that a walk and the outdoors never fails to clear my head. Sometimes a little walk by myself is just what I need to get a different perspective. A standing or seated forward bend can give you a nice stretch and get the blood flowing differently as can legs-up-the-wall pose. Even just the simple act of sitting on the floor, in a new position or place can alter your attitude. Bridge pose is another great way to change your blood flow: Lay on your back with your legs bent to at least 90 degrees, deeper is better. Your heels should line up with your sits-bones (inner pelvis) and they should be close enough together for one shoe to be between them. Feel your entire spine flat on the floor then lift with your belly button to elevate your pelvis. Try not to clench your butt muscles. Imagine holding a grapefruit between your knees or place a pillow or something between your knees if you feel any knee pain. Relax your neck and shoulders and remember to breathe. This is a non-back bend version of Bridge- it should look more like a flat ramp than an arching bridge. Try holding Bridge with one leg or with your feet on a ball for extra balance challenges.
- Treats: Treat yourself! Who says the dogs get all the treats in training? I make myself some tea or some sparkling juice to sip while training the dogs. It is surprisingly refreshing. My attitude changes and so does theirs! Depending on what I am doing between training sessions (don't eat if your doing yoga poses) I will have some little treats of my own while I get centered and balanced for the rest of our training or just the rest of my day.