Finding our Peace with Packs

“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.”
~ Nhat Hanh ~

Finding our Peace with Packs

Definition of mind·ful·ness
1.       the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
"their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition"
2.       a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

I have been participating in a class called Peace with Packs which is a six week class at the main shelter of KC Pet Project focusing on mindfulness and I want to share this experience with you. The idea behind the class is to explore the symbiotic benefits of the human-canine bond in a one on one and a pack setting. This is very beneficial to the humans in attendance while also benefiting the shelter dogs who themselves may be feeling stress, anxiety and trust issues from their past experience. 

The facilitators of the class are Anthony Barnett (10 years of experience working with dogs) who got the idea while he was outside hanging with a group of dogs, Jill Reese who is a licensed therapist, and Matt Holt who runs the playgroups at KC Pet Project
Being in an area with or walking a dog, and simply being there; not adding any energy to the situation by clapping or calling the dog, simply being present and in the moment. If the dog avoids you during this time it is important to be an observer and be present with your senses. What do you notice about the dogs fur, face, ears, eyes, and so on?

The dog I was with the first time did not come to me and the first thing I noticed was his eyes. He looked somewhat sad, withdrawn and unsure when I walked in and sat down in the chair. He walked around and got a little closer each time but never came over to me until we all went into one play yard and he brushed my leg on the way by but that was the extent of it. 

The second time with an individual dog just happened to be with a dog that was new to the shelter he was not sure about me at first (I assure you that most dogs like me). We eventually got time to interact during an exercise but until then, my mind did not wander from the space and present moment I was occupying. I watched the dog explore, the bugs, birds, plants, and even the berries that fell from the tree. Everything remained clear to me for a short time and my mind did not wander.

It is interesting to be in with a pack of dogs and be present as they explore the area, each other, and the humans with them. Some play with each other, while one or two seek the attention of the humans and one retreats to a quiet spot under a table to observe. I first was amused by everything going on and then felt relaxed to be simply observing. Someone asked why one of the dogs had purple spots on her and I thought of the berries that dropped out of the tree earlier, she had rolled on the ground while playing.

During the fourth class we did a mindfulness walk, during which we followed Matt and one of the dogs. The whole object was to let the dog lead and stay in the moment as an observer. I noticed every rock I stepped on like the soles of my shoes were paper thin (not in a painful way), the trees turn out to be more dimensional with additional shades of green, and I observed the creek that runs under the bridge. I was aware of the passing cars and other noises but in a brief, undistracted way. I am realizing that being mindful does not always mean that everything is perfect and Zen like. Sometimes it is simply being aware that things are not perfect and how that is affecting your body.

The last class was a mindfulness walk on our own with a dog. The dog I walked with a nine month old extremely sweet Pit Bull named Flamingo, who thankfully was adopted this weekend. It was very different walking mindfully while holding the leash, because now you are responsible for that dog but trying to be mindful. Once we got near the street I could see that she was somewhat nervous, so we stayed around the driveway area, which was fine because we were not there to do anything. 

I have been practicing with my own dog and I have noticed that walks are better if I stay mindful and relaxed. If I feel pressed for time or frustrated, he definitely responds by being tense with me and our walks tend to stall somewhere along the way. He has moments where he freezes up and if I react with anything but patience, he takes longer to snap out of it. So again, my dog is my mindfulness teacher and the great thing about dogs is, you can tell them anything. They will not judge you or make fun of you and they can't tell anyone what you said.     

Resource List:

KC Pet Project: 4400 Raytown Road KCMO 64129

KCPP Mission
To end the killing of healthy and treatable pets in Kansas City, Missouri by using the most progressive and lifesaving programs and promoting effective animal control policies.

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GameDog Guardian:

The Game Dog Guardian

Why “Game Dog Guardian”?
My respect for the pit bull does not come from his ability to lash out at the world, but rather his ability to stay the course when the world lashes out at him.

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Symbiotic Behavioral Treatment Center:

Anthony Barnett TED Talk:
Our Mission: To enhance the mental health and well-being of people through evidenced-based treatment and to aid in the physical and psychological recovery of abused and traumatized dogs with interactive training and the application of the human-canine bond in a therapeutic environment.


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