I want to spit some science at you today.
A lot of you out there know me as an esteemed, renowned scientist—and if that’s the case, I don’t know who you’re watching! I’m not a scientist at all. But I was talking with a client today, who happened to be a psychologist, about a recent study that I want to share with you as well. After I shared a training tip with him, he said that it was exactly like a piece of research that he had read about that was published not too long ago.
Here are the basics of the study. They found a group of—I think—a hundred people who all had anxiety issues. So they split the group into two: the first group got training that advised them of how to behave when they started to feel stressed. They were given meditation techniques and coping mechanisms. The second group received the same technique, but were told to take a half hour to do them every single day.
A year later, they measured both groups on a number of scales. The people who did the exercises as part of their daily routine were overwhelmingly more able to cope with stress. The people who were taught “in-the-moment” techniques had improved their anxiety, but far less than the ones who were given a more proactive approach improved far more.
Where am I going with this?
This particular client’s dog has some issues with anxiety and aggression issues, so we were focusing on maintaining a baseline. If you’ve read any of my stuff or watched any of my videos, you’ve probably heard about this topic before. Essentially, if we imagine a continuum in which one end is complete chaos and the other is total control, most dogs are already closer to the chaos end. They might not be going crazy all the time, but they probably don’t come when called or wait on their owner like they should. They don’t destroy the house or pee all over the place, but they’re not on their best behavior either.
So I talked to this client about what to do when their dog is acting anxious or aggressive. But I also encouraged them to establish a calm baseline for their dog, through daily meditative exercises, during the remaining 95% of its life. These exercises don’t take too much time out of the day, but they produce a dog that waits at the door, who heels properly, and who doesn’t jump on guests or freak out at distractions. That’s what a calm dog looks like.
We always recommend 30-45 minutes of down stay every day. I call that “doggy meditation,” because the dog can relax and self-regulate. As I explained this to my client, he expressed amazement at how close it sounded to this study. Dealing with stress proactively and teaching the mind how to think is so much more valuable than trying to handle anxiety as it occurs.
Now, I’m not saying that dealing with stress in the moment is negative. In fact, the group in the study that learned to do so improved as well. So when we’re working with dogs who have anxiety or aggression, we also show them exactly how to deal with problems as they arise. But it’s even better to keep those practices up for the rest of the dog’s day. Calming exercises and protocols produce a dog that exists on a different plane and can handle themselves when life throws difficulties their way.