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How Mindfulness With Dogs Can Be Emotionally Healing

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.


Breaking the Grip of Stress

This is stress at its most insidious. As life's problems continue to come and go (more come than go), stress takes hold; you know it's there but sort of ignore it. You have things to do, stuff to sort out, kids to feed. As time goes by, stress turns into a parasitic vine that curls into every thought, act and word. Worried, frazzled people argue more, get sick quicker, and make more impulsive decisions without carefully considering the consequences. Needless to say, such things feed the stress mill even more.

The bad news is that stress is a fact of life. The good news is that mindful moments—free and ready to use at any time—can weaken the stranglehold during bad times and erase it during better days. The more you learn to incorporate mindfulness, the stronger the benefits could be. A great benefit for dog lovers is exploring an enriching way to deepen the bond with their pet.

Walking and Forgetting About Perfection

Take myself, for instance. There's a rumour of Italian blood in the family, and if my fuse is anything to go by, there might be some truth to it. Sometimes, when I take my Bull Terrier cross, Alice, for a walk, she sorely tests my maybe-Mediterranean temper. When we leave the house and go towards the lagoon, she walks perfectly. Then I try turning back. Alice knows the walk's over. Alice doesn't want to go home. She inches forward, sometimes coming to a complete standstill. More times than I care to admit, I had to carry her back. It's so exasperating; Zen dies a bad death each time.

Then I gripped something—perfection is mental poison. Not in the way that it kills, but it spoils. How many perfectly enjoyable moments have we sunk because they didn't hold up to our views of perfection? Instead of getting huffy with Alice (and this took saintly patience), I let her do what she wanted. The cajoling gone, she explored her way back home, nose on the ground, ears interested in some hidden bug in the grass. I even started enjoying our trips back because her slowness offered more time to observe her simple pleasures. On top of that, walking is a healthy exercise that tends to bring relaxation on its own.

Grooming to Relax

The need to relax is also a form of emotional healing, mostly from stress. Animals are also affected by tension, even if it's just the neighbourhood postman doing his rounds. Some dogs are just high-strung. Nearly all pets enjoy a good coat-brushing or hands stroking their fur. There's also some scientific evidence that such repetitive moves, like brushing a dog, knitting or building a puzzle, are an effective way to banish stress. This activity is a relaxing time for both the pet and owner.

Taking a Step Back

Make it about the dog's enjoyment and your observation; let it play as it wants, walk and do what it wants, and all you have to do is savour its happiness.

Make it about the dog's enjoyment and your observation; let it play as it wants, walk and do what it wants, and all you have to do is savour its happiness.

Watching Dogs and Letting Go

Mindfulness can be difficult to learn. Who can stay in the moment and just observe, which in essence is mindfulness, when things are tough? Our minds jump around like insane ferrets when troubled or overwhelmed. This tip is great, because you don't have to go for a walk when you don't feel like it. In fact, you don't have to do anything.

“Dog watching” entails being present and allowing yourself that experience, no matter how short. If you can, borrow the dog's energy. This is not some spiritual vampire thing or similar hokum. Imagine what your pet might be feeling. If he's sleeping, try to feel safety and comfort. If you have Alice the Explorer, feel her curiosity. Even boisterous dogs, splashing like a mad thing in water or chasing a ball, can bring mindfulness if you enjoy the animal's vitality and health as if it were your own.

During this process, the mind lets things go. It's normal for thoughts to intrude again, especially worries. Gently acknowledge them before returning your focus on the dog. The bills and teenage problems would still be there when you're done, but thanks to mindful moments, they'd no longer wring out your entire day. Eventually, one can become intensely submerged in a pet's activity or rest. Such moments of mental respite create space for healing, strength and clarity.

Searching for Positive Experiences

What are your dog's happiness triggers? If your pet loves biscuits, make snack time a mindfulness moment. Absorb the dog's excitement when he realizes, “Goody, Mom's taking the biscuit box out!” Got to love that face. Show the biscuit, watch it being consumed, experience the delight of the dog's snacking. Always remember that the best mindfulness moments are the simple ones. They are quick, easy and powerful. Squeeze them like oranges to get all the goodness from them.

Official Stress Busters

Illness is a great stress factor. Here, Langley the official therapy dog brings emotional comfort to a patient.

Illness is a great stress factor. Here, Langley the official therapy dog brings emotional comfort to a patient.

Minus the Dog

A final tip works when you need a mindfulness break but it's not practical to have your dog present—work, school or waiting at the doctor's office, you get the idea. This still involves your dog, though, and is especially helpful when other people have been making you feel bad lately.

The idea is simple, but capable of easing a stressful moment. Appreciate the dog's affection for you and the honesty of its presence (even though it's not there). Just think about how it will never lie or break you down, won't knock on the door with a debt summons or a divorce, pressure you to look a certain way or do things you don't want to.

Let's face it. Pets treat us better than most humans do. Savour the memories of your dog when it made you laugh, or feel comforted. Don't think the exercise too ridiculous. This mental healing technique is the reason therapy dogs exist; their unbiased nature is very calming to those who embrace the simplistic but powerful opportunity.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit


ziyena from the Somewhere Out There on October 10, 2018:

Agreed and nice to meet you :)

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on October 10, 2018:

Hi Ziyena, very interesting comment. I personally believe stress plays a role in some cancer cases in humans. I've always wondered if stress in our pets doesn't also contribute to some cancer circumstances. While I claim no medical expertise, I believe it's highly possible that a constantly stressed animal will get sick and even have a higher chance of developing cancer. My view only. :)

ziyena from the Somewhere Out There on October 09, 2018:

This is a great article. They are all loving and unconditional. The one thing that I've always wondered is if we are stressed then do our animals take on the stress? And if so, beside genetics at play, could this also be the case for cancer-related circumstances in our pets?

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