These days we’re often told how important it is to be ‘present’ in our lives, which to me means being focused on the present moment rather than being distracted by other things. And while there are certainly benefits for being present on a personal level, I think it’s even more important for us to be present for the sake of those who are around us, whether they be people or our pets.
Frankly, I don’t know if there’s a better example of living in the present than our pets. But can’t our pets be distracted too? Yes of course, but that’s because they’re so aware of what’s going on in their environment (an essential survival tool for all animals) which is in stark contrast to we humans who are often preoccupied with our thoughts or messing around on our smart-phones, rather than being present and attentive to our dogs.
Some recent experiences inspired me to write this article, because they caused me to think about how I can continue to improve my own level of presence and attentiveness to my dog and client-dogs… so here’s a well-intentioned ‘shout-out’ to the people that brought this topic to my mind:
To the People at the Dog Park:
By all means say “hello” to the other folks who gather near the entrance of the park, but don’t treat your visit like it’s your opportunity to get out and socialize, rather than it being about your dog. Why not move around the park with your dog, visiting with other dogs and exploring the nooks and crannies and scents that abound. Think of it like taking a young child to the playground… be their guardian… watch over their interactions to make sure they remain appropriate and ‘be there’ to interact with them, play with them, and even to protect them if/when it’s required.
To the Lady Whose Dog Charged at My Client-Dog Last Week:
The moment your dog saw my client-dog he became very aroused, but you didn’t notice because you were concentrating on whatever you were listening to on your headphones. As we approached each other, I don’t think you noticed that I crossed to the other side of the road because of your dog’s body language (tail straight up, ears up, hackles up, stiff walking gait and mouth puckering). And I was a bit surprised that you didn’t check-in with him to see why he was straining at the end of his leash. Yes, I thank you for reacting quickly after your dog pulled himself out of his head-halter and charged across the road at us, but being present for your dog during your walk would have helped to prevent this unpleasant event from occurring.
To My Neighbor Who Almost Got Hit by That Car:
I’ve seen you walking in the neighborhood often enough to know that she’s reactive to the presence of other dogs, and I’m guessing that you were so distracted by your telephone conversation that you didn’t realize you were crossing the street directly towards me and my dog. Thankfully, when you noticed us and suddenly reversed your direction in the middle of the road, you didn’t get hit by that car. That was way too close a call (no pun intended).
To the Girl Throwing the Ball for Her Dog at the Public Park:
I work with a lot of reactive dogs so it’s challenging (and frustrating) when people let their dogs go off-leash in public places that are designated as on-leash, but your little dog was so focused on chasing his ball that I didn’t think it was necessary for me to be a ‘party-pooper’. Additionally, you nodded your head when I asked if you could please throw your dog’s ball in the opposite direction (away from my client-dog and I) just to make sure he could keep his wits about him. If you had remained present instead of getting preoccupied with your phone, you probably wouldn’t have sent my client-dog over his threshold of reactivity when you absent-mindedly threw the ball directly towards me, with your little dog in hot pursuit.
To be clear, providing these examples is not intended to be mean-spirited so I do apologize if the tone comes off as being a bit ‘snarky’. Instead, my intention is only to provide some real-life experiences in order to illustrate how common (and easy) it is to be distracted and what that can mean for our dogs, even when we are supposed to be spending one-on-one time with them.
No one is perfect (certainly me included), so I think we could all probably do a better job of returning all of the wonderful presence and attention our dogs provide to us, by being truly ‘in the moment’ with our dogs when we’re spending time with them. Our dogs will only love us all the more for it!
Andrew Thomas is a professional dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Langley, British Columbia in Canada.
Having decided to formalize a lifetime worth of experience with dogs by gaining private certification and starting his business in 2010, Andrew’s desire from the outset has been to do his part in helping to break the cycle of family dogs being given-up on, abandoned and even euthanized unnecessarily, due to behaviour issues.
With a mission to help dog owners establish happy and rewarding relationships with their dogs, Andrew’s philosophy and methodology are founded in modern behavioural science using force-free methods, and building human-canine relationships based on trust.
Andrew strives to be a reasoned and informed voice in promoting and supporting animal welfare issues for canines and equines, and he is as a strong proponent of adoption and rescue.