These days we’re often told how important it is to be 'present' in our lives which, to me, means focusing on the present moment rather than being distracted by other things. And while there are benefits for being present on a personal level, I think it's even more important to be present for the sake of those who are around us, whether they are people or are our pets.
I don't know if there’s a better example of living in the 'present' than our pets. When they're not paying rapt attention to us they'll be 'in the moment' with what’s going on around them in their environment. Of course this is in stark contrast to we humans who often get so preoccupied with our thoughts or messing around on our smart phones, rather than being present and attentive to our dogs.
To be honest, I hadn't given a lot of attention to this topic until recently when a number of unrelated experiences all occurred within a couple of days of each other, and prompted me to put my feelings into written words.
So... here’s a shout-out to some of the people who brought this topic to my mind:
To the people at the dog park:
By all means say “hello” to the other folks who gather near the entrance of the park, but why treat your visit like it’s your opportunity to get out and socialize, rather than it being your dog's opportunity to do so. Why not move around the park with your dog, visiting with other dogs and exploring the nooks and crannies and scents that abound? Think of it being like taking a young child to the playground… being their guardian… being present to observe, to ‘be there’ to interact with them, play with them, and even to protect them should the need arise.
To the lady whose dog charged at my client-dog last week:
The moment your dog saw my client-dog he became very aroused, but you didn’t notice because you were concentrating on whatever you were listening to on your headphones. As we approached each other I don’t think you noticed that I crossed to the other side of the road, but it was because of the body language your dog was displaying (tail straight up, ears up, hackles up, stiff walking gait and mouth puckering). And I was a bit surprised that you didn’t check-in with your dog, to see what was causing him to strain at the end of his leash. Yes, I thank you for reacting quickly after your dog slipped out of his head-halter and charged across the road at my client-dog, but being 'present' for your dog during your walk would have helped to prevent this unpleasant event from occurring.
To my neighbor who almost got hit by that car:
I’ve seen you walking your dog in the neighborhood often enough to know that she’s reactive to the presence of other dogs, and I’m guessing that you were distracted by your telephone conversation and didn’t realize you were crossing the street directly towards me and my dog. When you finally noticed us and suddenly reversed your direction in the middle of the road, I'm really happy that you and your dog didn’t get hit by that car.
To the girl throwing the ball for her dog at the public park:
I work with a lot of reactive dogs so it’s challenging (and frustrating) when people let their dogs go off-leash in public places that are designated as on-leash. Because your little dog was so focused on chasing his ball, I didn't think there was a need for me to be a 'party-pooper' and ask you to leash him up while in the presence of my reactive client-dog. Additionally, you nodded your head when I asked if you could throw your dog’s ball in the opposite direction (away from my client-dog and I) just to make sure everyone remained calm. If you had remained present instead of getting preoccupied with texting on your phone, you probably wouldn’t have sent my client-dog over his threshold of reactivity when you absent-mindedly threw the ball directly towards me, with your little dog in hot pursuit.
No one is perfect (me included)...
To be clear, providing these examples is not intended to be mean-spirited, so I apologize if the tone comes off as being a bit ‘snarky’. Instead, my intention is only to provide some real-life experiences in order to illustrate how easy it is for people to be distracted, and what that can mean for our dogs, even when we are supposed to be spending one-on-one time with them.
No one is perfect (me included), so I think we could all do a better job of returning all of the presence and attention our dogs provide to us, by being truly ‘in the moment’ with our dogs when we’re spending time with them.