How (not) to practice yoga with your dog… lessons from a first-time “dog sitter”

Raf

The beautiful creature that you see in this picture is the dog that I’ve been “dog sitting” for the last weeks. And to be honest, I’m quite new to this. But if you can handle a 600 kilogram horse, why not a German Shepherd? That’s what I thought… Until I took my dear Raf out for the first time and, following the advise that I was given, let him run free in the dog park. Now I’ve been watching a lot of episodes of The Dog Whisperer in the past and Cesar Millan is definitely my hero. So theoretically I know how to handle dogs and I could endlessly repeat all of Cesar his mantra’s:

  • “You have to be calm and assertive.”
  • “You have to set rules, boundaries, and limitations.”
  • “No touch, no talk, no eye contact.”

And so on and so forth… But the most important thing that I took away from watching his show is that whatever a dog does is a reflection of your energy and how you behave. So again I know, in theory…

But as I was about to learn, theory is not the same as practice

Coming back to our first walk in the park, as soon as I let Raf go he starts running ahead of me and I see how he approaches an elderly lady who’s holding a dog, a bit smaller than Raf, on a leash. As I come closer she tells me that she has to go, so unfortunately they cannot play together this time. Her comment leads me to assume that they sometimes do so. Therefore, I ask her if they usually play in a friendly way. This definitely looks a bit wild to me! I’m quite relieved when she confirms they do, but immediately after that Raf takes a sprint towards the other side of the field and, wanting to play, her dog obviously follows him. To my surprise the elderly lady, who looks quite fragile, also starts to run after the two dogs, while still holding onto the leash. From a distance I hear her screaming for her dog to stop and I think to myself: “just let go of the leash!” As her dog accelerates she cannot keep up with the pace so she goes flat onto her face. Ouch… You might think that she would have let go by now but she doesn’t and her dog pulls her even further along, while she is face down on the grass. Luckily she then manages to let go of the leash and the screaming turns into loud crying… I’m in shock…

Given that sprinting is definitely not one of my talents it takes me several seconds to come close and find out that she has a big cut in her finger. She shows me the metal part that was wrapped around it. No wonder she couldn’t let go! Her crying turns into sobbing as she reaches for her back so I ask her if she is in pain. She says yes and I think to myself that there must have been a better – not so obvious – question to ask.  My inner critic is interrupted when she asks me for a tissue to stop the bleeding, which I don’t have. I notice that more and more blood is flowing out, so I kind of start panicking at this point, looking around to see if there is anyone who can help us. Why didn’t I take my cellphone with me now that I really need it? Pokemon Go is obviously not my thing… Fortunately, I then notice two teenagers on a scooter, on the road nearby, who stopped to stare at us, so I ask them to go get help and a bandage to stop the bleeding.

In the meantime the two dogs were running loose, happily enjoying their freedom. The elderly lady seems to be a bit panicky about this so she asks me to fetch her dog and hold the leash. For Raf this is a sign to start playing with her dog again. However, this time it doesn’t seem that friendly anymore and I wonder if her dog is a female and if Raf is maybe trying to hump her. Is he castrated anyway? I have no clue… So I call him by his name and tell him to stop, increasingly panicking because the elderly lady needs help, but here I am trying to keep two dogs apart. It should come as no surprise that he doesn’t listen to me. After what seems like ages, more people approach and a strong guy with huge biceps takes over the elderly lady her dog so that I can put a leash on Raf. At this point he is so hyped up that next thing I know he takes another sprint for his “playmate” and I have to let go of the leash. Now I’m really under the impression that they are fighting, but luckily my “biceps guy” comes to the rescue again. He takes the two apart and hands me Raf his leash. As much as I want to help this elderly lady, there is nothing I can do because I have to manage a hyperactive dog. Therefore, all I can do is watch as the people who have now gathered take her away to go see a doctor, while my legs are still shaking. As I hesitantly continue our walk, every dog that we approach now seems to be a target, so I decide to call it a day and turn around to go home.

Turning a stressful experience into something positive

Sounds like a stressful situation? Yep! My first walk in the park with Raf felt like a complete failure. But after I had given myself some time to calm down I realized that what had just happened in the dog park was a reflection of how I felt. I was stressed out so Raf picked up on this and behaved accordingly. He definitely did not see me as his pack leader at that point… 😉 Afterwards I also remembered something else that Cesar had said about going for a walk with your dog, which is to focus your gaze at where you are going instead of focusing on the dog, walking confidently and making sure there is no tension on the leash. So I decided to try again that same afternoon but this time make sure to be in the moment, be as relaxed as I could be and turn it into a sort of walking meditation. What followed was a successful stroll along the dyke (okay, I have to admit I didn’t go back to the dog park that day) where Raf walked next to me without pulling on the leash or trying to go after the dogs or birds that we passed by. I was amazed to find out that this stuff really works… Conclusion: mission accomplished!

The analogy with yoga

So what is the analogy with yoga? Whenever we do yoga we try to become as relaxed as possible. We watch our breath and turn our attention inwards, which can be very soothing. When people meditate at a certain spot, animals often prefer to sit there afterwards or be around the person who meditates because they like the energy it creates. This is something my yoga teacher told us during a teacher training. While “dog sitting” I experienced it first hand when at some point, while I was meditating in the garden, Raf approached me and rested his head on my leg. He lay there very still for some time. This implies that whenever you go for a walk with your dog, it makes sense to check how calm and relaxed you are just because whenever you are in such a state your dog will like to be around you and respond to your much better. Besides, you will be able to handle seemingly stressful situations in a much more calm and assertive way (thanks for putting the words in my mouth Cesar!). So next time, see if you can do a walking meditation with your dog and notice the affect that it has on you and your dog. Good luck! 🙂

PS: after a few days we went back to the dog park and since then Raf enjoyed playing with the other dogs in a friendly way. No more accidents to report here… I guess my regained self-confidence and relaxed attitude made a big difference!