What would your life look like if you were more engaged in it?
The Tragic Loss Of Engagement
More and more I notice how we, as a society, are allowing ourselves to not be present; to be ‘tuned out’ in our daily interactions with our loved ones; especially our children and our dogs. Perhaps we think they won’t notice.
Believe me, they notice.
We live in a day and age of go, go, go. We are constantly multi-tasking, using our cell phones, and just plain distracted. We are often having multiple conversations and thought processes all at one time. Our minds are completely overloaded and running on overdrive. This not only exhausting, but it prevents us from being fully engaged, fully present, fully ‘tuned in’ to our interactions with one another.
Have you ever appeared to be listening to someone, looking right at them, even nodding your head, yet you are not at all hearing what they are saying?
In body we are there, but not in mind. Our mind is somewhere else and we are not at all engaged with that person. There is no connection. Being there in just body without mind is NOT enough. We all want and deserve more. We are often too caught up in our gadgets, our own minds and our own thoughts to be present and engaged with each other. Often we are just waiting for our turn to talk, to tell our story. Our story is more important! Or is it!?!
How does this lack of engagement affect all the relationships in our lives?
Perhaps this is where we could take a closer look.
Engagement & Dog Training
How much better does your dog respond when it is engaged with you?
The key to successful dog training, regardless of the training method you choose to use, (positive, reward-based, escape/avoidance, etc.) is getting your dog engaged with you and keeping it engaged long enough to teach the behaviour you want.
If your dog is not engaged with you, it is not ‘tuned in’ to what you are asking of it and most likely will not respond the way you want.
The best thing we can do when we are beginning a training session with our dog is to get them fully engaged with us. This is a two-way street, as we also have to be fully engaged with them if we want to keep and hold that engagement, and form a connection. We turn an inactive dog (not paying attention) into an active dog (paying full attention). When you have an active dog, you and your dog have connected and the dog is ready to listen and learn. The best, or I should say the easiest way to achieve this with a dog is to have something in it for them, a reward of some sort. Food, a toy, or even just praise are examples of things that show the dog that there is something in it for them: a high value reward.
Engage & Stay.
The theory is simple. Putting theory into practice is often the challenge.
As humans, the reward we are looking for is to not just have someone listen, or ‘apparently be listening’, but to be heard. To form a connection in that moment and to stay there until that moment has passed.
Engage & Stay.
We are all seeking true, authentic connection with another, dog or human. We can help create those connections.
The Cell Phone; Our New Best Friend
Cell phone (n)
- Portable phone: a portable telephone operated through a cellular radio network
- A portable gadget that allows us to become completely disengaged with each other and the world around us. (See Gary Turks’s excellent YouTube poem, ‘Look Up’)
- A device that keeps us constantly busy, and our minds constantly cluttered promoting more ‘doing’ and less ‘being’.
I started to really take note at the disengaged world around me. Airports are a particularly great example of this. Its not that we have lost the desire to engage and connect, it’s that we are engaged and connected with something else…our cell phones.
It really hit home when I realized my cell phone had become a cue for my dog.
I used to multitask on dog walks and get caught up on calls or texts. Thus, in those moments completely disengaging with my dog. If a dog walk is not the most opportune time to be fully engaged and present with your dog, enjoying the simplicity and peacefulness of those moments, I don’t know what is?!
Goose learned that pulling out my cell phone = she will completely disengage and ignore me until she is done or she notices I am engaging in unwanted behaviours (aka…being bad)
I, unknowingly, made my cell phone a conditioned physical cue for disengaging with me. I was no better than the countless others who have made the cell phone their new best friend.
I had, enough times to make it fluent (it can take up to 100 times of repetition and consistency to make a behaviour fluent), chosen this trifling little gadget over my true best friend: my dog. That was the push I needed to put a stop to my disengaged behaviour.
If this can so easily happen to a dog, imagine how it might affect our loved ones, or even more frightening… a child.
Now, my cell phone only comes for walks in case I am about to be eaten by a bear and need to make a desperate call for help. I have realized in my own life how important it is to try and be more present and engaged with people, my dog, and the moments that I am sharing with them. I value being fully connected with them in those precious little moments that we only get once.
What would life look like if we all tuned back in to the beautiful world around us and the beautiful people and beings in it, and tuned out the falsity of life through a cell phone?!
There are countless invaluable life lessons that I have learned and continue to learn from my dog daily, many of which will be infused into this blog over time.
I know what I have learned, but I am curious to know what you have learned. I have begun asking this question to different dog owners, and now I am asking you:
What is the most valuable thing your dog has taught you about life???
I would like to share my cousin’s beautiful answer to this question. I am sure most of you have experienced the loss of a best friend that resonates with her words. It took me a box of kleenex to read it, and for her to write it.
“Life never gives us more than we can handle; you will almost always
have to let go of something to grow and change and take on new challenges”
“The most important and empowering thing that I learned from Stoney and our time together is letting go”
“I wasn’t ready for her to go and now almost two years later I still miss her so much it consumes me. However, when I reflect on my new situation, I realize I couldn’t have had her and my son Ryder together. It would not have been healthy, happy or easy for either of us. She was too attached to me and me alone, and I was the same with her, though I also felt that connection right away with Ryder. Stoney would have been cast aside and her needs would have now been secondary to those of someone elses. No matter how much I would have not wanted this to be true, no matter how unintentional and how much I would have tried to be different, I am quite sure that is what would have happened.”
“I remember her last two days so vividly they could have been last week. I remember how she seemed so tired and didn’t really want to play fetch very much. I remember that night, how she was whining in her sleep and I couldn’t wake her up. I thought I had lost her right then, when I picked up her head and she was just limp. But she was still with me, she opened her eyes, licked my hand and I cuddled her and cuddled her. And then she just kept getting sicker and sicker. I remember the next day when she rolled over and lay in my lap, and looked up at me. I knew exactly what she was telling me, I was going to lose her and that she was sorry to leave me alone with my baby coming any day. But I think she also knew it was time and it was better for all of us this way. I think she tried to let me know that it was best this way, but I was blind to it at the time.”
“I said my goodbye, I told her I loved her and that she would always be in my heart. Even now I am still trying to let her go and move on, move forward to the next stages in my life. It’s a complicated and difficult process, and I know it will take a lot of time to truly let go and make peace with the loss of my girl who was and is still so much of my soul. That was her lesson, and her legacy for me.”
Amanda’s journey continues on her new path in life with her son Ryder and her new pup Sky. Sky and Amanda are training to be a Search & Rescue Dog Team with Revelstoke Canine Search & Rescue & BC Search Dog Association.
A big thank you to Amanda for opening up and sharing your experiences of love, loss and learning from your best friend…at your side.
I would love to hear from all of you on this topic. Please submit your answer below or alternatively email it to:
What would it be like to take your dog on vacation with you?
It can be amazing!
People always ask me why on earth I would want to take my dog on vacation. For most, vacation is a time to escape life as they know it & relax. For me, (if the situation is right) bringing my dog on vacation is an opportunity for both of us to learn & grow.
The lessons my dogs have learned and experienced in this unfamiliar environment are invaluable. We need to work through new & often unforeseen situations together. This makes us grow as a team and our bond deepens. Yes!
Being out of your element, out of what is familiar to you, forces you to adapt and find new comforts in the unknown world around you. This is true for you and your dog. This can be both challenging and exciting.
For starters, let me emphasize that having the right vacation spot and accommodation is key to a stress-free, enjoyable trip. I have a found my home away from home on the beach at Villas Las Olas in Punta De Mita. David & Lisa are wonderful hosts and have become dear friends over the years. Punta De Mita is a quiet little surf town, with beautiful beaches, great surf, and great people…without all the tourists!!
Villas Las Olas is dog friendly. They have a small pack of their own consisting of numerous Mexican refugees that have found food, a new home, and most importantly… love. I admire and respect them for not only showing compassion but actually bringing all these little dogs into their lives that had no hope of surviving otherwise…giving them a second chance.
Sometimes all we need in life is a second chance; a second round; a new start.
This is my fourth trip coming down to Mexico, with my dog. Granted it is far more convenient to bring a working dog down here, as they fly at our feet at no cost. A much appreciated privilege for Search & Rescue dogs.
What has been interesting for me, is that I am here with new pup, Goose. The last 3 years have been with my last dog, Griffin. This has been a humorous eye opener that we can easily take for granted how an older dog handles itself in new unfamiliar situations…just from years “under their collar” and more life experiences. Working with a young dog requires us to find our patience, and remember that they just don’t know until either they figure it out for themselves or we show them.
I never really thought about all the lessons a dog could learn down here as well as what I could learn from them, until I brought my young, inexperienced pup. I always kind of said that we were “not” doing any training down here, when in fact, we are training daily.
Our biggest challenge, although both understandable & humorous, has been teaching my little rookie to be a good surf dog. This entails waiting on the beach patiently, with all the other dogs, until your handler comes back to shore. I took for granted that Griffin would patiently wait by my pack (perfect, so it doesn’t go missing) until I paddled in. I assumed Goose would do the same. I should have known after doing a year of imprinting search work, where we encourage the dog to come run after us and find us, that he would want to follow me. Our first attempt he swam in after me, despite being pummeled by waves, got caught in my leash, and we both took a good tumble through the waves. Its taken 6 days and being tied to a tree (in the shade of course) for him to realize he is to stay on the beach and await my return. Patience, understanding his inexperience, and adapting, have proven to be most necessary. Haha!
Patience and understanding are always key qualities to bring forth in what takes time for anyone, human or animal, to learn something new.
What has my dog learned here in Mexico?
- To wait on the beach until I return from the surf or a swim, for his own benefit.
- To get that ball quick before the next wave comes and gets him.
- If you lose your ball, find a coconut; they too float.
- To disregard territorial Mexican dogs barking at him and nipping at his heels (and there is a lot) and just keep on moving. A great lesson and quality to have for a young, often overly confident, male shepherd.
- That he is never going to catch a Pelican and so staying engaged with me & our play is far more rewarding.
- To ignore all the free-ranging chickens & roosters. Extremely helpful in managing high prey drive dogs.
- The ocean is not so good for drinking.
- How to manage & fit into a pack structure.
- “Leave It”- If he wasn’t fluent in that command before, he sure is now. Leave everything; garbage, shit, small animals, birds, other dogs, people..everything!
What can you learn by observing your dog in a pack?
Watching, over the course of this past week, how Goose and the dog pack here at Villas Las Olas have interacted has been interesting to say the least. Just as it takes time to get to know, accept, and fit into to any social structure, whether human or animal, Goose had to find his place among this pack. At first he tried to avoid them all at all costs. Now its really neat to see that they have accepted him and even the more playful, younger ones are engaging in play with him. Although he is still at the bottom of the food chain, he is in. That was his own doing, I couldn’t help him on that one. Good job Goose!
What have I learned?
- Patience- teaching a new dog takes time, repetition, consistency, and adaptability- every dog is different.
- Understanding- that every young being is naïve until we give them the opportunity to learn something new.
- Accept & Embrace Change- although this trip is a different experience with a different dog, it has its own uniqueness and awesomeness.
- Laugh- when things go a little sideways (and believe me they have) instead of getting frustrated.
What is the best part of bringing your dog to a new, unfamiliar place?
It deepens your bond & increases your understanding of your dog thus creating a better all-round relationship between the two of you. Who doesn’t love the opportunity to allow any relationship in their life to flourish?
Goose and I have a very strong bond after only one short year together, however, seeing how he handles himself in these new exotic situations paints me a clearer picture of who he is, how he thinks, and how he will handle unfamiliar situations in the future. This will be an asset in both our daily lives together & our working partnership.
Dogs, as well as children are much more adaptable than we tend to give them credit for. If we never take them out of their “box”, their comfort zone, they will never have the opportunity to learn many important life lessons that can benefit both them and you for a happier & funner (yes I using that word despite what my English teacher would say.. I love it) life together.
Maybe taking your dog to an exotic location seems a bit too daunting, but I recommend you try a trip somewhere, anywhere, where both of you will be out of your comfort zone. Then see how it all unfolds.
All you need is patience, an open mind, and your smile.
“Life is not about the destination; it is about the journey”
Why not take your best friend on that journey?
A great friend of mine said this to me one day when we were discussing different challenging situations & moments in our lives. Something we all share and can relate to. I think it so true and wanted to share it.
“Sometimes you need to lose balance to find balance” -Joe Lammers-
We all experience things in life that can throw us off balance. Yet life seems to have a way of working itself out, and sometimes losing your balance is all you need to find your new balance.
And your journey continues.
What if you could transform your life with just one word?
What if you could transform your ability to train your dog with just one word?
This may seem far-fetched, but I am telling you this little word has big results. Both in training & communicating with your dog, and in your own life. Bringing forth more smiles and more wags, which ultimately brings forth more joy for everyone.
The power of “Yes!” came into my life through dog training. After numerous years training & working with my dog in search & rescue, I decided I wanted to learn a new style of training. I love the opportunity to learn new things, tackle new challenges, and grow! What I found has not only transformed how I train dogs, but has seeped into my daily life and has shifted my entire perspective…of everything.
Who/What I found was Micheal Ellis & Reward-Based Training. The foundation of this training style lies in using verbal markers, both a positive and a negative marker, to “mark” the behaviour you either want or don’t want. Thus creating 4 very important “C’s” in dog training. Clear, concise, consistent communication. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to communicate with all the loved ones in our lives in this manner. But that could be another topic of discussion altogether.
We use our positive marker, most commonly “yes”, to capture the desired behaviour’s of our dog at that precise moment they do what we want and then we reward the dog with either a treat or a toy. This lets the dog know exactly what behaviour they did to get that reward, and reinforces them to give us that behaviour in the future.
After losing my best friend and partner of 6 years, Griffin, I brought a new dog into my life, Goose. I started training him at 8 weeks old with reward-based training, and the difference is incredible and far surpasses what I could have expected. He has far surpassed his predecessor, for his age. At only 12 months old I have validated him in 2 search & rescue profiles (Wilderness search & Avalanche Rescue). Besides how it has excelled our search work, it has changed everything in our daily lives. Everything is easy with him. The difference is our communication system. The difference is Yes!
So how does this relate to our own lives?
As I was in the process of learning this style of training, I heard a song on the radio that made me laugh. LMFAO’s song “Yes” Although somewhat distasteful, the concept of the song grabbed me. He is essentially “marking” all the great moments in his day; with a “Yes!” nonetheless. Ha-ha…brilliant! Check it out.
What would it be like if we “marked” all the beautiful, positive moments of our day?
Could it transform your life?
I am going to put money on Yes!
I have infused this simple little word into my day, and I now focus on finding the Yes! moments and putting less time and energy on the negative moments. I find that when you open your eyes to the Yes! moments, you no longer see as many No! moments. You start to smile as much as your dog wags his tail…and that’s a lot. You shift your perspective on everything and you see more joy in your day. What could be better than that?
Will you join Goose & I in marking all the Yes! moments in your day?
I challenge anyone who reads this to try a Yes! week. You can choose any word or phrase that tickles your fancy. (Yes!, Awesome!, Hell Ya!, etc.) In all aspects of your life, from marking your own happy moments, to marking positive moments with your children, your spouse, your friends, and your dog. Make a conscious effort to mark all the awesomeness in your day & all the awesome moments you share with loved ones.
It just may transform your life too!
” To a dog there is no time, there is just now; may we also live each day here & now”
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