Adventure Pup Mindfulness Challenge #3

One of the most rewarding parts of my life is the time I’ve spent in animal shelters. If you’ve ever been in a shelter you might have experienced animals that seem anxious, sad, or shut down. They’ll either sit at a distance with their backs to you, or pace back and forth, showing their teeth and giving low, warning growls. Whenever I’ve worked or volunteered in a shelter, I’ve enjoyed attempting connections with those that need it most. The dogs that are fearful, mistrusting, and defensive. Every introduction starts the same; I enter their room and take a seat as far from them as possible, turn my gaze and body away, and sit quietly, making no attempt to get close to the dog and allowing them all the time and space to make their own pace. The presence of calm, unobtrusive humans allows dogs to experience only positive or neutral human interactions and gives them the opportunity make their own decisions about those interactions. This helps dogs build confidence and work on trust at their own speed. 

One very memorable meeting I had with a shelter dog was with a herding mix named Phoebe. Phoebe came from a pretty bad breeding situation and had a difficult time trusting humans. She would sit in the back of her kennel and avoid looking at people, but when you entered her kennel she would begin pacing and growling. In order to get her used to being around kind humans, we had various staff and volunteers go into her kennel and just sit. 

My experience sitting in Phoebe’s kennel was life changing for both of us. I started by sitting on the opposite end of the kennel from her. She was in a larger run, so she had the space to get away from me if she wanted. The first few times I went in there I sat for about half hour without her getting any closer to me. At first she growled and paced, then would she would stop pacing and give out short, low growls if I moved or made a sound. On my forth time going into her kennel she didn’t pace. She gave me a couple short growls, but she sat still at the back of her kennel, looking away from me. The sixth time I went in her kennel, I brought a book and sat by the door quietly reading. After twenty minutes Phoebe laid down. After half hour I stood up and walked out of her kennel and she stayed in her spot, lying down quietly. After a couple more visits something miraculous happened, Phoebe came over to me and sniffed the air around me. I sat quietly reading my book, and saw her approach in my peripheral vision. I continued doing what I was doing, not changing my posture or behavior. She stood about three feet from me and stretched her body forward, lifting her nose into the air and sniffing my airspace. She settled and laid down, a little closer to me than normal. The next time I went into her kennel, I took my usual spot and within a few minutes Phoebe walked over to me and sat just a couple inches from me with her back to me. I didn’t read, but continued sitting quietly and after ten minutes she laid down by me. The next time I went into her kennel, Phoebe approached me with a small tail wag and sat by my side as I sat down. I didn’t read, I just sat there watching her without staring at her. I was fully present with her, but didn’t push her to connect with me. Then she laid down, and positioned her body so she was pressing up against  me. I took a deep, slow breath in and when I let it out I softly put my hand on her rump. Her tail lightly tapped the ground, and then she laid her head down and closed her eyes. We sat together quietly for an hour. A few days later Phoebe was adopted by a young woman that was more than happy to go slow and sit with her for hours. 

Phoebe was one of my very first mindfulness teachers. She taught me how to be still, calm, and quiet. Most importantly she taught me how to be present in the moment. Rather than escape in my book, she showed me that being in that kennel with her and actually being present was much more meaningful and enjoyable. 

Adventure Pup Mindfulness Challenge #3- Sit Stay

Our third challenge is going to seem like nothing is happening, and hopefully that’s exactly what you achieve. Nothing. Boredom. Existence. 

Sit with your dog. Anywhere. Sit with them at the park, at your house, or in a shopping mall. Set a timer for five minutes and simply sit with your dog. Sit and observe. That’s it. No distractions, no phones. Just sitting quietly with your dog for five minutes and watch them. 

They can be calm or amped, it doesn’t matter for this exercise. All that matters is that you observe them. 

You might be thinking, “What?! Do nothing but sit and observe my dog for five minutes?! That’s ridiculously easy and stupid.” Maybe it is, but most likely it’ll be the best, and possibly most difficult five minutes of your day. The reason I didn’t set this for our first challenge is because the modern human hates being bored. We fill all our boredom spells with digital screens. We can’t even wait for our coffee anymore without glancing at our phones. Can you last an entire five minutes just existing in this world? Your dog sure can! Sit and be with them. Observe. 

Do they pace at the end of the leash, wondering why you’ve stopped moving? Do they sit next to you, appreciating the break? Do they sniff, mark, or dig at the earth? 

What’s happening in your mind? Are you reaching for your phone? Have you completely spaced out thinking about that movie you watched last night? Are you fully immersed in your dog’s ears, watching them turn like a periscope to every sound? 

Your behavior is tied very closely to your dogs. If they seem bored sitting for five minutes, it’s most likely because you’re bored. If you are the type of person that is constantly going, your dog is most likely the type of dog that has to keep moving. If they stop they may get anxious. With more practice, they can learn to enjoy the pause.

If your dog is sitting or laying calmly at the end of their leash, it’s most likely they get this chillness from you. They are content to just sit and observe if that’s what makes you happy. Much like our children, dogs pick up on our neurosis. They are effected by how we behave. This exercise is meant to help you see how you behave under the stress of boredom, your dog is basically just an anchor to keep you focused and grounded in the practice. 

If you really struggle with this challenge, lessen the time that you’re sitting and work your way up to five minutes. You might even have to start at just 30 seconds to get going. 

If you want to prolong this exercise, please do so! In an ideal world I’d love if each and every one of us to spend at least 30 minutes a day just sitting and being with our dogs! This is one of my favorite things to do with Link!

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