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Calm Tails: Using Mindfulness to Soothe Your Dog

A person soothing a brown dog by leaning down and touching its forehead with their foreheae

Mindfulness: Focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment.

A “Tail” of Mindfulness and Healing

Elaine was a first-time dog owner whose life changed when she adopted Max, a spirited but anxious golden retriever. Max's separation anxiety symptoms were evident from the start: destructive behavior and incessant whining when Elaine left the room.

The turning point came when Elaine attended a local pet care workshop. The workshop discussed canine stress levels, social situations, comforting environments, and using mindfulness to connect with and calm pets.

Elaine hesitated at the community center's door, clutching the pet care workshop flier. The room buzzed with the chatter of fellow pet owners, each sharing stories of their furry friends. The speaker, a serene woman named Dr. Lila, began to speak.

"Welcome, everyone! Today, we're going to explore how mindfulness can benefit us and our pets, too," Dr. Lila said. 

Elaine raised her hand, her voice slightly anxious. "My dog, Max, suffers from severe separation anxiety. Will mindfulness help even if he's, like, over-the-top distressed?"

Dr. Lila smiled warmly at her. "Yes. As you'll see, mindfulness is about being present and responsive. It's a practice for us and a way to connect deeply with our pets' emotional states, even if they are 'over-the-top stressed,' as you say. Let's try a little exercise. Imagine you're at home with Max . . ."

As Dr. Lila guided the group through a visualization exercise, Elaine closed her eyes, envisioning Max’s anxious whines as she prepared to leave the house. Dr. Lila's voice continued, "Now, instead of rushing out, spend a few minutes sitting with Max. Touch him gently and speak in a soothing tone. Observe his reactions and adjust accordingly."

Opening her eyes, Elaine felt a spark of hope. She turned to the person next to her, a young man with a worried look that mirrored her own earlier expression. "I think this could work," she whispered.

"I hope so," he replied. "My cat is the same. It's worth a try, right?"

As the workshop concluded, Elaine thanked Dr. Lila. "I'm going to try this first thing tomorrow," Elaine said, her voice filled with positivity.

Dr. Lila nodded, encouraging. "Remember, Elaine, mindfulness is wonderful but takes time. Be patient with Max and yourself."

Elaine left the workshop feeling empowered to form a plan to create a calming ritual for Max (and for her). 

Note from Stephanie: Although visualization is a valuable tool for fostering mindfulness, by itself, it cannot fully address the desensitization process.

Mindful Awareness and Separation Anxiety in Pets

In mindful awareness, we learn to be fully present with ourselves and those around us. This principle can be incredibly powerful when helping your anxious pup overcome separation anxiety. By being mindful of your dog's body language and emotions and carefully implementing a desensitization process, you can help them learn that alone time is safe and manageable.

Understanding Your Dog's Signals

Dogs communicate primarily through body language. By being attentive to your dog's signals, you can better understand its emotional state. Signs of anxiety may include (but are not limited to) pacing, panting, trembling, or excessive drooling. By recognizing these signs early on, you can intervene before their anxiety escalates.

The Desensitization Process

Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to being alone for short periods, starting with small increments and gradually increasing as they become more comfortable. It's important to start this process slowly and always end on a positive note, ensuring your dog feels safe and secure.

Mindful Observation and Response

It's crucial to be mindful of your dog's reactions during desensitization. Notice how they respond to being alone and adjust the process accordingly. If you notice signs of distress, step back and proceed more slowly. You want to help your dog feel safe and secure during this time.

Building Trust Through Patience and Understanding

Patience and understanding are key when helping your anxious pup overcome separation anxiety. You can build trust and confidence in them by being patient with the desensitization process and understanding your dog's emotions. This trust is essential for them to learn that alone time is not something to fear.

Setting the Stage

When you use mindfulness with your dog, you set the stage for a calm, focused time together.

Here’s a cozy way to start:

1— Sit down with your dog and take a few deep breaths. Yes, this will help you relax, but did you know it helps your dog tune into a calmer vibe, too?

2— Give your pup some gentle pets and talk in a soft, soothing voice. Watch how they react to different touches and sounds, and try to pick up on what makes them relax. Make this a regular thing, especially before moments you know might stress them out, like before you head out the door.

3— Carry your mindful vibe into playtime or walks. Be there in the moment with your dog: no scrolling through your phone, listening to music, or being distracted. Notice how your dog lights up or changes its pace during these times. Paying close attention helps you learn what makes your dog happy and teaches them that hanging out with you is always a good time. 

By merging mindfulness with the desensitization process, you can help your anxious pup realize that alone time is secure and manageable. By staying attuned to their cues and emotions and proceeding with patience and empathy, you can steer both of you toward a calmer and anxiety-free existence.

Assistance is Available (and it's fun, too!)

Are you finding it tricky to practice mindfulness with your dog? Have you noticed some persistent issues? Would you like a  “Dr. Lila” of your own? 

Canine Zen's Behavior Specialist, Stephanie Barger, is a fantastic resource. She offers free care calls and an initial consultation, allowing you to discuss your concerns and learn how professional guidance can make a big difference.

Chatting with Stephanie is the next step to ensuring your dog's happiness and well-being. Learn more here.

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