How to Be Present with Your Pup

Founder’s Note // As anyone who follows us on Instagram knows, TSG is filled with “dog people.” Visitors to our headquarters office are always greeted by a wagging tail, and the personalities and adventures of our furry companions are frequent topics of conversation. While it’s not exactly a requirement that employees must love dogs, the 20-person TSG HQ team collectively owns 23 canines. So it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The invitation. Recently, TSG co-founder Christy Ford—whose current brood includes Chewy, a Brussels Griffon, and Auggie, an English bulldog—was invited to participate in a two-night pilot class designed to teach owners how to optimize their dogs’ health and happiness and deepen the human-animal bond. Interested in picking up tips on how to make Auggie, who the Ford family rescued a few months ago, feel more relaxed in his new home, she RSVP’d for herself, her two dogs, and her three children.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a day when a dog hasn’t been in our office.”

Christy and crew arrived at dog daycare and training center All Things Pawssible on a Tuesday evening, where they joined a dozen dog-and-owner pairs. The evening before, owner Karen Quillen, who has been training dogs for 15 years, and Annmarie Johne, owner of Open Heart Yoga Center, had led a (humans-only) discussion on the benefits of a holistic approach to dog health, including the emotional connection that dogs share with their owners. Now, it was time to put the movement and mindfulness part of the equation into practice. The goal: To deepen the trust between dog and owner while each helps the other relax.

The experience. Following a stroll around the room to let the dogs sniff strategically-placed scented items they would find appealing (“Aromatherapy for dogs,” Quillen said), Quillen offered instruction on garnering a positive response from your pet by talking to them in an upbeat voice, then helping them calm down with a comforting tone and massage.

With the dogs in a better mindset, they took their positions next to their owners’ yoga mats. Johne, who the evening before had talked about the ways dogs read and carry their owners’ emotions, then guided owners through breathing and stretching exercises that included periodic pauses to “check in” with the pet by petting or talking to the them. Dogs were naturally incorporated into poses—a pat and reassuring word during table pose, an affectionate rub during child’s pose—and as class went on, they gradually became more and more calm.

Chewy, no stranger to stimulation and massages thanks to his years of being a shop dog at And George, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Even Auggie, who can be a bit anxious, started to unwind and eventually lay down (no small feat). By the end of class, at least one dog had fallen asleep, and the owners seemed noticeably more relaxed as well.

“We think that we spend a lot of time with our dogs, but when you think about it, most of the time you’re running around and just letting them in or out or taking them on a quick walk. No wonder they get anxious.”

The takeaway. The session finished with a simple homework assignment: To spend five minutes a day sitting with your dog while at ease, connecting with your animal. While this might sound like something most owners do without even realizing it, the amount of time spent being truly present with your pet probably adds up to less than people think. And in an age when puppy Prozac can seem like the norm and owners spend trips to the dog park on their smart phones, both dogs and owners can benefit from being more mindful about time spent together. Auggie, for one, is responding quite well to his new meditation and massage routine.