August 17, 2013

Dog Training is a Yogic Practice. ~ Julie Buckner

No, this is not my dog in Shoulder Stand. And no, this isn’t a warm and fuzzy, furry piece about doga (dog yoga). I’m talkin’ about something serious: Dog obedience training.

Training a dog is not a metaphor for yoga practice; it’s not a simile, either. Dog training is yoga.

As a long-time yogi, I can find the yoga in everything. The teachings are everywhere, really (in traffic, at the market, washing dishes, at the manicure salon, etc. You don’t have to go to a self-realization fellowship to get enlightened).

Recently, I discovered yoga while training my dog.

Some background (and full disclosure). It had been a while since I’d had a dog, let alone trained a puppy. But, after three and a half years of persistent lobbying, my boyfriend and two kids finally persuaded me to get a dog. He arrived two months ago, in the form of a 5-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever puppy.

Here are the ancient teachings about Lab pups: They chew everything. They eat everything. They jump up on everything. They gulp their food so fast that their stomachs can become inverted (not a benefit of Sarvangasana for dogs). They stay a puppy for two years (longer than most breeds). Then they get fat, old and lazy.

Here’s the disclosure: I really didn’t want a dog. I didn’t need a dog.

I have two boys (ages 16 and 11); a partner/boyfriend; an ex-husband; a mother; a suburban three bedroom, two bath house with pool; two businesses (I own a yoga studio in L.A.—and have a “real job” too); I manage a staff of 30. I’m living my Yamas and Niyamas—and every once in a while I go to asana class and take a breath or two.

I really didn’t want to spend my “me” time picking up dog poo.

Which brings me back to dog obedience training. Despite my efforts to not be the sole caregiver to this new furry friend, I was quickly becoming “The One” (i.e. the only one).

But the universe is friendly. I happened to be chatting with a friend who works at the local Lululemon. She recommended that my puppy and I see her dog trainer, Julie Iles of Lockwood Canine Training Center. “Whether your dog needs obedience training, serious behavior modification or just boarding, we’ll teach you how to develop a mutually rewarding relationship with your dog.” Moksha. Sign me up!

In our first session with Julie, we were guided in her holistic approach. I immediately saw her wisdom. Her teachings were profound, like those of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, like Krishna’s in the Bhagavad Gita. What she was offering was a science, an art, a technology, a medicine, a way of being in the (dog) world.

On the most simplistic level, obedience training is yoga because it’s a practice. A practice that requires effort and consistency. It takes discipline. It’s a commitment. You have to show up and do it, every day.

How else is dog training a form of yoga? Well, I needed a teacher to get started. To guide me in the practice. Only then I could take the practice home with me and make it mine.

And, if you screw up, you just start over again. If you don’t practice for a week, don’t beat yourself up, just throw down your mat and start again. If your puppy pees in the house, don’t throw him out, just throw down super odor-absorbing paper towels and start over. Beginner’s mind.

The moment I really recognized my teacher’s wisdom is when she said this: “You need conflict in order to have obedience.” That’s pretty profound! But what does it mean?

Clearly, becoming enlightened was going to require more than a single class.

And it was gonna take more to get my puppy on his four-legged path. This required serious study—at doggy boot camp. So we sent pup straight there. Twenty-one day intensive, full immersion. A regular, consistent practice—with zeal, as Mr. Iyengar says.

So, I’m learning these Eight Limbs of Lockwood Canine Training Center:

1. Loose-leash walking past distractions: Yogas Citta Vriti Nirodhah, Sutra 1.2  The dog learns to walk past his Citta Vrittis—without a leash. Awesome.

2. Down-stay around distractions. There they are again, those Citta Vritis. Nope, not gonna get tricked by those.

3. Come away from a distraction: Abhyasa and Vairagya. The mind can reach a state of Yoga through practice and detachment.

4. Sit and wait to be invited through doorways. When the student is ready, the guru appears and invites him as his disciple.

5. Respect your house, your belongings and you! Ishvara Pranidhanam, especially when it comes to Saucha (my cleanliness mantra: “Go pee pee and poo poo outside”).

6. Have good manners around people and other dogs. Yep. The Yamas and Niyamas are all about ritual observances—how we treat ourselves and others.

7. Learn several creative ways to exercise mind and body every day. Throw in some Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana…and…

8. Ahhhhh, Samadhi. Absolute Awareness. Pure consciousness. Bliss.

No pee pee poo poo in the house. No chewing. No biting. No jumping up on people (or on the kitchen island). No gulping. No inverting. Don’t Asteya (steal) the kids’ shoes and socks, don’t steal my bras and run around the backyard with them. Sit. Stay. Heel. Down.

Down Dog.

Ultimately, what I’m learning, what I’m studying, is that dog obedience training isn’t really about training my dog, it’s about training me. It’s not the dog who needs training; I’m the one who needs my practice. The dog is doing just fine, thank you. Svadhyaya. Dog obedience training is about discovering who I am.

All is coming.

And the dog’s name? Bodhi. Bodhisattva. 


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Ed: Dejah Beauchamp


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