This week I saw two clients whose dogs have fairly serious behavior issues.  One had even bitten a human.  It’s a big deal.  These clients were overwhelmed and stressed, not only by their own everyday lives like all of us are, but now by the added pressure of their dog’s behavior issues.  It brought to mind one of the C’s of being a Clever Owner:  Care.  Let’s talk about care or caring.  The verb care means “to look after and provide for the needs of.”  As a human who owns a dog, you are responsible for the needs of yourself and your dog’s self. Why do we need to talk about self-care in a dog training blog? Well, mental health goes hand in hand with behavioral health.  And a large part of mental health is self-care. Meeting the needs of the self…. And your dog has self-care needs as well.  Often the root of  behavioral issues are unmet self-care needs of the dog.

First put on your own mask.

Self-help books are full of analogies for this idea. We’ll use the airplane oxygen mask analogy.  Part of my training plan for clients can be to get them to spend some time on their own self-care. You can’t possibly give 100% to your dog’s behavior needs if you are gasping for air. So put on your own oxygen mask first, just like they tell you to do on the plane.  Make a list of some things you can do for your self to feel cared for and ready to give to another – your dog.  Really.  Write it down. And if you don’t know what to write,  perhaps that in itself is a wake up call to get to know your self more.  Do you need quiet time to meditate and clear your head?  Perhaps you like to wander through a museum by yourself, or maybe you like to create and make art of your own.  I have a friend who puts on her headphones and listens to positive affirmations. Whatever it is, do it.  Your dog needs you to come fully prepared to be able to help them deal with their demons.

Now sign your dog up for a yoga retreat…. Wait….

Dogs need self-care but for them it obviously looks a little different.  Most importantly you have to ask them what to put on their list. It is, after all, their self we are tasked with the care of.  They might not sign themselves up for a yoga retreat or even a walk with you.  In fact, that might be what the stressful training session is about if your dog struggles with dog reactivity!  But they do often like some space to sniff on their own terms.  Maybe your dog loves to get down on a raw bone.  Jonny is in LOVE with cow ears.  I don’t love them but I know for a fact he does.  He literally flips for them.  It’s a blast to watch him with one.  He tosses it in the air and then pounces — it’s A-dorable.  He enjoys his walks, etc., but LOVES a cow ear.  He often gets them after a boarding dog leaves.  Hosting house guests is hard work for him and for his troubles he gets a cow ear night as a thank you for being a good host dog and sharing his stuff/beds/mom.  He also likes walks with dog friends, but he likes some dogs better than others.  So not every walk with another dog counts as a de-stressor.  I have a client dog he is friends with and rides in the car and walks with well. But it is not a self care moment by any means.  It is work.  That dog asks a lot of him.  Get to know your dog.  What would he do if he could for his/her self care?  Kongs, walks, snuffles, walks with a friend, dog walks with a special human friend?

Pay attention to how often you ask your dog to do things for you and how often you do things for them.  Remember to pay them back; being your dog is hard work!

A dog list might include: food toys, Snuffle mat time, bones, cow ears, Lap of Luxury, water treadmill, T touch, massage, nosework class, decompression walks (term coined by Sarah Stremming), chiropractic care, diet, friend time, acupuncture.

Your list might include: Therapy – to truly dig into the Self, massage, chiropractics, floating (it is amazing!), yoga, acupuncture, mani-pedi, diet – eating right and meal prep counts as meeting your own needs — learning to manage your time well, exercise, friend time, or alone time.