An update from the world of canine wellness news: Dog meditation is officially I thing. But before you (and your pup) roll your eyes, know that it’s much less kooky than it sounds—and it could have real health benefits for both of you.
Meditation—and mindfulness, the in-the-present mental state it brings—have been shown to improve your sleep, lower your body’s reaction to stress, increase empathy, and help treat high blood pressure, inflammation, even psoriasis. And (duh alert) moving your body, like when you walk or jog with your pup, has tons of benefits in the physical and mental health departments. Last year, research published in Translational Psychiatry confirmed that it’s not all ‘in our heads’: the combo of meditating and exercising reduced depression and made healthy humans feel happier. So it only makes sense to combine meditating with another thing we know makes people happier: dogs!
But before we get into meditating together, it’s important to understand a few basics. “There are many different types of meditation, and they’re all meant to help you focus your mind,” says Jenn Sturiale, founder of Mutt Meditation. One form that lends itself particularly well to doing with your dog is walking meditation: Traditionally, you take super-slow steps in a confined area, focusing hard on the act of lifting your knee, setting down your heel, rolling through your foot, and so on. “The idea is to focus your mind on the present moment, not where you should be going or what you should be doing,” she explains.
The concept of meditating during dog walks came to Sturiale as a way to connect better with her pet at a time when she normally felt distracted. “I’ve found I return from walks much calmer and with a quieter mind and usually a happier disposition,” she says, “and I’ve appreciated the time spent with my dog and watching him interact with the world. It changes it from a to-do list item to a connective, joyful experience.”
So it’s really a human-canine win-win: You’ll experience a dose of stress relief, rejuvenation, and increased bonding with your dog; and he or she will benefit by picking up on your calm vibes and likely getting a better walk out of the deal (because you’re actually paying attention instead of mentally constructing a grocery list!) Ready to give mutt meditation a try? Follow these four simple steps the next time you put on your pup's leash:
- Right before you leave the house, ask your dog to sit and take three deep, slow deep breaths with your eyes closed and ground yourself in the present moment. This is a calming exercise that often kicks off meditation.
- Head outside and, for the first few blocks, just be mindful of your steps: Feel your foot walking on the sidewalk, how the heel hits and then rolls forward until your toes are on the ground. Really bring your attention to the process of walking to help slow down your thinking (don’t pay attention to your dog’s paws padding the ground though, that would be distracting!)
- Now bring your attention to the leash in your hand: Is it a rough rope, is it heavy, is your dog yanking on it or sticking close to your side? It’s not about judging these things—it’s about noticing what is and appreciating the dog on the leash for who he is. It sounds a little woo-woo, sure, but this type of mindfulness really helps you appreciate your canine companion and your time together—even if the weather sucks or your dog’s being squirrelly.
- Keep this mindfulness up throughout your walk. When your thoughts wander—which they inevitably will—don’t give up; just bring your attention back to the present moment (kind of like how you have to call your dog back when he’s wandered too far away from you). You’ll be surprised how zen you feel by the end of the walk—and if tail-wagging is any indication, we’ll bet your pup will love it too.