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The Power of Patience in Dog Training

The Power of Patience in Dog Training

The Salukis Who Taught Me Patience

I’ve always had a karmic connection with sighthounds. These are the elegant, fast dogs with long, pointed faces – the Afghans, Greyhounds, and Wolfhounds of the canine world. They are ancient and regal creatures. Over the past 25 years, I’ve shared my life with a Borzoi, an American Staghound, and two Salukis, my absolute soul-dogs. Although I’ve loved just as many mixed-breed shelter pups, none have taught me the art of patience like these pointy-faced, silky hounds.

The reason is simple – there are no dogs more aggravating and fury-inducing in their stubborn commitment to independence. Unlike my current Sheltie mix, rescued from a dusty alleyway, or my past Pomeranian cross, the love of my life, sighthounds have zero interest in pleasing anybody. They do love fiercely, but they are singularly focused on their current point of interest, and not even dynamite can budge them from a pin-sized dot on the walking path they want to sniff for 20 minutes. Any fellow hound-person can relate to this exasperating experience.

I first fell for these gloriously self-centered beasts in grade school, when I checked out a book on dogs from the library. I couldn’t stop gazing at the exotic beauty of the Saluki or the elegant Borzoi. Fate intervened at 22, when I adopted my first beloved sighthound, a gorgeous female Borzoi named Zoia. I had to learn new, humiliating tricks to get her to come to me, like pouncing on the ground and blowing a duck whistle, because recall was never going to be her thing. I had to fascinate her, make it worth her while.

Zoia was incredibly expressive – they all are. Sighthounds communicate with their eyes, hunting, following, and judging with their vision more than their nose, though they use that a lot too. This incredible eye contact meant I saw myself reflected from her perspective, a crystal-clear mirror. Sometimes, that wasn’t a pretty sight.

It was my first Saluki, Seva, adopted just a year after Zoia, who took this to the next level. In her eyes, I found constant judgement. Like a spiritual guide, she would reproach me whenever I strayed from the path of righteousness, by her standards. She was a nano-degree from being human, her communication so blatant. If I lost patience with her – perhaps pulling her leash because she was too slow to potty, or removing her from pulling leaves off my favorite plant – she would look me right in the eye with a shocked expression, as if to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm it down! You’re blowing this way out of proportion!”

And every time, I knew she was right. When I lost patience with my dogs, I felt like a monster. It’s how I imagine parents feel. Never having chosen the journey of raising human children, I can’t say for certain. But there is no worse feeling than becoming so mindless, the opposite of mindful, as to pressure a dog into conforming to some abstract human measure of time.

Over the years, my dogs have trained me. My precious sighthounds have freely given their advanced Zen training, molding my behavior unlike my Aussie-cross, Koda, who simply wants to anticipate my every need. They have transformed me into the patient person I am today. Traffic doesn’t faze me, long lines are an exercise in relaxation, and I’ll happily return my cart to the corral 20 spaces away.

I’m not exaggerating when I say my dogs have completely converted me from a control-freak, impatient lunatic into a monk-like embodiment of patience. We find our teachers in the most unexpected places, and they come in all forms.

The Power of Patience

So what’s the deal with patience, anyway? The truth is, we start with an expectation, our brain’s categorization of a future reward. We have a set, comfortable time period to wait for this result – say, “The traffic should start moving in 30 seconds.” Our patience expires when that expected timeline runs out, depending on our individual threshold, which could be 5 minutes or 50.

My dogs have given me an incredible gift, because a person’s patience threshold is a big deal:

1. Patience Brings Greater Mental Health

A higher patience threshold decreases stress, improves cardiac function, and reduces depression. And it’s generally wise to examine our relationship to expectation overall. As the Buddhists have long taught, as our expectations for outcomes increase, our mental health decreases. It’s okay to want things, but when our happiness depends on an impossible set of detailed circumstances, and is shattered when they don’t materialize, that’s just psychological paralysis. It’s not an effective strategy for moving forward, which the impatient person craves more than anything.

2. Patience Strengthens Decision-Making

It allows us to calm down, see the big picture, and make an informed decision, rather than letting urgency or fear call the shots. There’s power in patience, and it’s essential for navigating major life changes. Rather than jumping from one unsatisfying situation to another, it lets us feel our way to the more intuitive, heart-centered answer, not just the perceived safest one. Impatience gives fear a much louder voice, when it’s wisdom we need to heed for growth and lasting happiness.

3. Patience Builds Stronger Relationships

There is nothing that builds a positive reputation faster than patience. People feel safer, more loved, more free to be creative, more accepted, and more respected by us when we give them the gift of patience. It makes us better listeners with more compassionate hearts.

4. Patience Cultivates Self-Possession

In other words, it helps us take control of our reactions. Rather than allowing emotions and reactivity to run the show, it brings a greater mindfulness to our day. Patience makes us better communicators, and without it, we can’t master the art of conversational intelligence.

So I ask you to reflect – are you a patient person? What is your threshold? And if the answer isn’t pretty, consider what it would take to expand it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend adopting a pack of judgmental sighthounds like I did – that was my karmic path, not necessarily yours.

Tips for Developing Patience

If you don’t have 25 years to devote to Salukis, here are some ideas to build your patience:

  1. Breathe. Take several deep, lung-expanding inhalations daily, holding for a moment and exhaling slowly to the count of five. Nothing resets the nervous system like a good old-fashioned deep breath.

  2. Slow Down. Prioritize your time and be realistic about what you can fit into your day. If you’re constantly stressed by your schedule, the problem isn’t you – it’s the schedule. Make some adjustments, or risk running yourself into the ground.

  3. Meditate. Any way you can. Listen to guided meditations, join a group, read a how-to book. It doesn’t have to be an hour a day or look a certain way. Find a method that resonates and give it a try, without expectations for perfection.

  4. Develop Emotional Intelligence. Learn to identify and verbalize your emotions. It’s amazing how much stress relief comes from simply saying, “I feel afraid,” when stuck in a traffic jam.

  5. Exercise. Take a walk, dance, bike – move with the intention of lowering stress and increasing your patience tolerance.

  6. Let Kids and Animals Be Your Teachers. When they dawdle or take their time, use it as a cue to breathe and feel gratitude. Nature demands patience, and these little representatives of it can share their expertise.

The I Have Dogs website is full of resources to help you and your canine companion thrive. By cultivating patience, you’ll not only improve your life, but also deepen the bond with your furry friend. After all, as my sighthounds have taught me, our dogs can be our greatest Zen masters.

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