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Why you (and your dog) haven't been able to heal your anxiety

These teachings are directly from the book Anxiety RX by Dr. Russell Kennedy. I have added how I see relationship with our dogs to these concepts with my 22 years of training and observing people and their dogs.

Quote of the day: 1% of change in optimization day after day compounds to an exponential amount. ~Ben Hardy

Why you (and your dog) haven't been able to heal your anxiety

    1. We are guided by our memories every day

    "The more intense the memory (good or bad) the more it influences our behavior, perceptions and beliefs in conscious and unconscious ways. The more powerful the emotion, the more powerful the lingering effect." Chapter 13 Issues in Our Tissues.

    We react from old memories. We make up stories about what is happening right now from our past memories.

    I find this very interesting when it comes to relating to anxiety ridden dogs. They do not have the prefrontal cortex to logic. They think and learn in pictures. They pick up on emotion. They repeat reactions from pictures that flash before them.

    They pick up on energy. When you react, they will react. When you even think about reacting they've already absorbed it.

    When you think about the fact that a dog can alert on a seizure 45 minutes before the person knows it's going to happen that makes a lot of sense. You can see how you and your dog may be on a hamster wheel of anxiety.

    2. You can't heal a FEELING issue (anxiety) with THINKING approach. To heal you need a feeling solution.

    You have a dog that's got anxiety. You try to think your dog out of it. Perfect example. Dog is reactive to other dogs either fearful or overexcited.

    You think that the best approach to calm your dog is to make them sit while another dog walks by. Stay calm. Chill. Don't react. In fact, you repeat over and over again, "It's okay. Sit. It's okay. That other dog isn't a problem. Sit. It's okay."

    That's a thinking approach. You think you can tell your dog it's okay while you make her sit there and it will actually change the feeling.

    That's like me telling you it's okay to sit and stay in your seat on an airplane when you are deathly afraid of flying. Me telling you it's okay, that doesn't fix the feeling.

    3. In anxious people, the mind goes faster than the body

    The body has a regulating influence on the nervous system, but if we are bypassing the slow and grounding, present-moment wisdom of the body by constantly thinking speedy, future-based, anxious thoughts, how are we supposed to tap into the calming effect of the body? Anxiety Rx Chapter 16 The Compulsive Need to Think.

    Let's relate this to making your anxious/reactive dog sit while another dog passes by. Your dog is literally not able to think his way out of this. He's just basically being forced to tolerate and hope for the best. That's really what we do to ourselves when we try and think ourselves out of anxiety. We're sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon trying to think ourselves out of the overwhelming feeling of fear of falling over the edge when in fact we are sitting on solid ground.

    Instead we must create a new feeling.

    4. Change the thoughts and you'll feel better for the rest of the day. Heal the alarm and you'll feel better for the rest of your life.

    quote theanxietymd

    When it comes to dogs, I watch this in action all the time, only oftentimes there isn't even the gratification of feel better for the rest of the day. It's more like, hope to feel better by chattering away to your dog that "it okay" when the feeling inside is complete unease.

    Let's say you've got a dog that is reactive in some way or another to other dogs, particularly while on leash. Asking your dog to sit and watch seriously is a bad "thinking" way out of it. Like the flying scenario, your dog isn't going to be better by being forced to sit and deal with it.

    Instead you've got to create a better feeling. You've got to heal the alarm!

    Movement is key here. Get your dog moving with you. Focus on movement and having some fun with it. It's why I like to practice the the Art of Anxiety Free Leash Training.

    5. You and your dog are what you can perform skillfully without thinking about it

    I will harp on fundamentals with dogs to train them out of anxiety. Why?

    Because if you practice a new skill to the point that you can do it without thinking about it, you (and your dog) are good at it. You can leave the old anxious story behind. When you are good at something you feel better. When you feel better anxiety has left your focus field.


    What you focus on expands.

    What you focus on, you (and your dog) become.

    What you (and your dog) focus on, you create more of.


    6. Calming the Chaos Experiment

    If you've got an anxious, fearful, reactive or over excited dog, do the Art of Anxiety Free Leash Training exercise so much so that your dog is focused on you and the time you are spending together in movement more than anything else.

    Do it in your house. In your backyard. In your front yard. In your driveway. On the streets near your home. Do it until it's so normal that your dog focuses on the movement and direction that you going without thinking about it.

    Create good "feeling"... in other words, your dog likes food, give her treats sparingly when she does it right. Create a feeling of goodness. Your dog likes physical attention, the pay off can be in pets, or it can be simply in the emotional frequency between the dance you are creating between the two of you. A simple word, yes, or good can be a huge payoff of satisfaction to your dog.

    Just like the exercise of naming what went right every night before you go to bed, your dog will pick of the feeling of doing it right and as you up the distraction the foundation stays solid. You can replace "alarm" with "I know exactly what to do" in this practice with your dog with or without distraction with enough practice. Stay focused on the dance with your dog and let go of the fear and the 1% of change in optimization over a long enough period of time compounds to a exponential habit.

    Join Calming the Chaos Experiment here to leave anxiety behind for you and your dog!

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