Zen Dog Training – On Achieving Balance

I like to view dog training as the means we use to reach a balanced state of cooperation and coexistence with our dogs.  In this state, both dog and owner are centered, focused yet relaxed, and unhindered to live in the way that is natural, comfortable, and joyful for each species. Thinking of dog training in this way, it becomes less like a chore, a specific thing we must do to get the dog to stop stealing food or peeing on the sofa, and it becomes something much broader. It transforms into a way to live life with our dogs, side by side, giving and taking like the ebb and flow of the tides as we work together towards a common state of existence.

The building blocks of this balanced state are mindful training sessions with your dog, both planned and impromptu. It is during the training session that your full concentration is given to your dog and the two of you come together to work towards a goal in a peaceful and loving partnership. Be Zen-like in training, almost as if it were a meditation. Shift your mind, center yourself, and focus: never loose sight of your dog. Breathing is an integral part of the training session and makes for not only relaxed trainers but relaxed dogs as well. Consistent, deep and slow breaths help you stay calm and neutral in the presence of behavior that is difficult to handle or undesirable. (This is especially important when working with the fearful or aggressive dog.) You should act as a constant rock from which your dog can trust, and gain support and understanding. Extremes of emotion have no place in the training session; instead you should strive for a calm, joyful, quiet state of mind. Your dog will follow you.

Training shouldn’t be a struggle, with the owner wanting one thing and having to wrestle, push, pull, or jerk the dog into position to get compliance. Training is a dance you and your dog perform together. The mental and spiritual connection is of paramount importance but it is not something that happens overnight or by itself; you must work to build it. Consider your dog one part of a two-part union; that is when the magic will begin to happen. Like two dancers, both consistently consciously aware of each other, yet so very mindful of their own individuality within the dance, you and your dog should flow together yet remain separate beings. You can work to build and strengthen this connection while out casually walking with your dog on leash in quiet, peaceful surroundings. As you enjoy the scenery and your dog enjoys the barrage of sights, sounds, and smells, remind yourself to not loose focus of your dog. Talk, touch, and otherwise interact with your dog. Stop and start, change direction, ever mindful of the living being at the end of the leash and never dragging or jerking. Be mindful of a dog’s desires to sniff the ground, follow squirrels up trees, and wade in shallow streams. But as you are mindful of your dog, do not sacrifice your own desire to enjoy a pleasant walk and not be dragged behind an over-exuberant dog. Maintaining consistent interaction will help remind your dog that you are at the end of the leash, and make you a part of the equation instead of a mere incidental. Take this attitude of mindful, mutual respect and cooperation with you into the training session.

Dogs are perfect as is, in truth there is no good or bad behavior. Only labels we place on behavior gives behavior any sort of rating at all.  When we stop looking at behavior as right or wrong, the

emotionality melts away from training and our sessions become more productive.  We must simply choose which behaviors we happen to want, and then reinforce them when they happen.  The “other” behaviors aren’t punished or viewed as mistakes or disobedience. They simply “are”. Let those behaviors “be”, shift focus away from them, and instead focus on what you want out of your dog at a specific point in time. You will find soon that wanted behaviors will multiply and the unwanted behaviors will simply melt away.

To truly “accept” and “be” with your dog is the true essence of Zen Dog Training.


A few of my favorite dog things!

This post will be continually updated with additional products as well as reviews for all my favorite dog goodies.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying and testing a variety of dog training and management products in order to find the most humane, effective tools. While the most important and effective tool in training your dog and managing behavior is YOU, sometimes we need some help to control/contain our dogs while we are in the midst of teaching new behaviors. And of course, basic tools for safety and containment are always necessary no matter how well-behaved your dog might be.

There are soooo many tools on the market with new ones coming out all the time. Some have been around as staples for ages (like choke collars and prong collars – yuck and boo to both of these inhumane ‘tools’) and others are newer but quickly proving themselves to be fantastic help to dog trainers and caregivers (the front-connect harness, for instance).

In this blog I will only be talking about the tools I use and love and WHY. If you have a question about a tool listed here or one you don’t see listed, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

And now, here are a few of my favorite dog things!


*Martingale Collar – I use the Premier or the buckle martingale offered by SchaferKennel.com

*Front-connect Harness – there are several brands that now offer front-connect harnesses (the leash attaches to the breast strap, on the front of the dog, hence “front-connect”). The one I’ve found works best for me, my dogs, and my clients is the Sense-sation Harness, by SofTouchConcepts.com.


Recommendations with a caveat – always supervise your dog when he or she has a toy. Especially when trying a new toy for the first time.

*Kong – This is my number one go-to toy to keep dogs entertained and mentally stimulated. Kongs are conical rubber toys with a hollow center that allows for stuffing. What you can stuff a Kong with is as varied as what your imagination can come up with. Some suggestions are soft dog food, peanut butter, prepackaged Kong stuffing (although due to the ingredients, I avoid this sort of stuffing) and cooked veggies, kibble (softened in water and then stuffed in, or use dry), and on and on. Kongs come in a variety of sizes to suit your individual dog. The large black Kongs (black Kongs in general) are the toughest and ideal for bull breeds and bull breed mixes.

*Himalayan Dog Chews – These are a healthy treat that your dog will just love. I only discovered these fairly recently and I’ve yet to come across a dog that doesn’t get super into these tasty alternatives to other chews that may have lots of unnecessary/unhealthy ingredients.  Check’em out!  http://www.himalayandogchew.com/


*Head Collars/Halters – I don’t recommend these for the average dog with average behavioral issues.  Mostly I will use them on dogs that are strong, difficult to control and aggressive (i.e. there is a higher than typical risk of biting).  The brand of head collar I use is the Gentle Leader.   I’ve tried just about all the head collars out there, and still the Gentle Leader is my go-to.   Although head collars are often touted as a mircle training tool (and yes, for some dogs, they CAN seem to have a miraculous effect!), the are not something you just slap on your dog and go. Most dogs require some time to acclimate to head collars and proper use once your dog is acclimated is a MUST. I do not recommend using a head collar unless you are working with a behavior professional who can help show you proper usage.

Still, for those extra difficult dogs whose humans have a tough time getting control over during initial steps in a behavior modification program, they can be a humane life saver.

Training your dog and solving behavior issues!

If you’ve found your way to my website, chances are you’re here looking for information on training or solving behavior problems in your dog.  Well, I would love to be able to help you and your dog with whatever issues you are currently facing, as well as help you teach your dog manners, obedience behaviors, and how to be an all-around great companion!

In addition to training and behavior services, I also offer reiki, which is a holistic/alternative energy therapy that works as a great adjunct to day to day care and training. I can even teach YOU how to do reiki on your dog, your other animals, yourself, anyone!  For more information on reiki services, see the Reiki link on the above menu.

This site is currently being massively updated! I recently made a switch and I am in the process of updating and moving all my material.  Also, due to some recent, wonderful life changes (I got married and I’m expecting a baby in December) I’ve decided to hold off on taking new clients until mid-2014.  That doesn’t mean I can’t help you and your pup now, however – you’ll find lots of information coming soon to this site, and I should start offering distance reiki and behavior consults via phone/email starting early 2014.  So please stick with me as things grow and change for the better.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, anything at all – please feel free to contact me via my personal email at RealPitBull@gmail.com


Mary Alverson (formerly Harwelik)