Our dogs look to us for so much guidance and reassurance. When we get over-excited, so do our dogs. When we become fearful, our dogs can pick up on that too.
So, what can we do to keep our dogs calm in stressful situations? It all starts with you and how you react to stimuli around you.
To calm ourselves and our dogs down, we can use something I call the “Back to Grazing Protocol.” This is a simple system with six steps you can take to rebalance yourself and put your dog at ease. Keep reading to hear my six steps for success.
The secret to mastering the Grazing Protocol concept is becoming mindful and practicing gratitude.
How gratitude is key to calming our looping thoughts
When our dogs pick up on our stresses and frustrations, it’s because we’re stuck in a mind loop. It doesn’t matter who gets stressed or over-aroused first – either you or your dog – because you end up in the same place.
When our dogs are in a state of over-arousal or reactivity, our mind tends to loop. You could be looping through all kinds of thoughts about failures or shortcomings, telling yourself, “I should have done X instead.” You might be frustrated with your dog and think, “I thought we’d moved past this.”
You start looping, feeling frustrated, or even angry about the situation because it feels beyond your control. Whether we’re frustrated with ourselves, our dog, or someone else, the end result is the same. We’re continuing the drama. We can end up falling down a rabbit hole of drama and frustration because humans have a tendency to over-dramatize things.
All of this doesn’t change the situation or make it better. The real crux of the matter is that our dogs pick up on all that drama, and we don’t want to do that.
Let’s take a look at one of the most important elements of the Back to Grazing Protocol first. It’s a gratitude reset, which is all about bringing gratitude into our awareness and tapping into its power.
A gratitude reset can really help us break through the pattern of thought looping. All it means is that we find a way to occupy our minds and bring us back to the present. It’s a great exercise to remind us of the wonderful, beautiful parts of our life, at that very moment when we feel frustrated.
To do it, you just need to breathe deeply into that discomfort and think to yourself, “I am choosing a gratitude reset because I do not want to stay in the drama.” When you do this, think of three things you are grateful for at that moment.
What does “back to grazing” mean?
The back to grazing concept is based on the idea of social animals, like wolves, elephants, or antelopes, who live in a group. If something alarms the sentinel, say a lion approaches, the whole group becomes alert. It’s a way social animals keep themselves safe. They look to the leader, the one they trust to keep them safe, and if the leader is alert, so are the rest of the animals.
If the leader deems it safe, it calms the group down and shows that there’s nothing to worry about. When they go back to grazing, so does the rest of the group. This keeps the group safe and intact, so no one’s running around full of adrenaline and cortisol all the time.
It’s the same concept in a human and dog relationship. Dogs and humans are social creatures, and your dog is so attuned to you and your emotions. They know how you feel, and so the key to keeping everyone calm is to rebalance and re-center ourselves.
When our dogs get spooked by a car backfiring or another dog approaches, this knocks us off balance too. If we see something stressful, our dogs get knocked off balance too. It’s an endless circle. If we can rebalance ourselves and signal that there’s no danger to our dogs, we can encourage this “back to grazing” behavior.
That’s what we practice at the Brilliant Partners Academy, how to live this brilliant, calming, partnership lifestyle.
“Our dogs are depending on us to be safe, calm, and happy, and to be the guide. If we are upset and stay in that place of emotional upheaval, that’s what our dogs are getting from us.”
Steps you can take to diffuse the situation
When we want to be a good role model, it’s all about defusing the situation when your dog is upset, or you’re upset. Here are six steps to help you do that.
Step 1: Remember you’re all learning
The first thing we can do is remember that we’re all just learning how to navigate life together. Whenever things get stressful, try to remind yourself that this is a work in progress.
Step 2: Be mindful of looping thoughts
The next step is to be mindful of your thoughts, to calm down those looping, second-guessing thoughts. Remember to stay in a solution-focused and listening mindset. That’s your role as the trustworthy guide for your dog.
Step 3: Move around
One thing you can try is simply moving around. This can help to diffuse a situation when your dog has an adrenaline surge. So, try to keep walking about or jogging and get those endorphins going to offset the cortisol dump.
Step 4: Use a calm, loving touch
If you feel it’s an appropriate time, you could try touching your dog to calm them down. You might not want to do this straight away if they’re upset. But that calm, loving touch and connection can help you and your dog release some oxytocin.
Step 5: The gratitude reset
I mentioned this earlier, but step five in the Back to Grazing Protocol is to do a gratitude reset. Find things to be grateful for. Remember the connection you feel with your dog and how grateful you are for them. Even when you’re frustrated, I recommend picking something simple like “I’m grateful for the sunshine” or “I’m grateful for the fresh air.”
It doesn’t matter what it is. It just matters that your mind is occupied with something that inspires contentment and love. Your dog will pick that up from you.
“There are no failures. There are only opportunities to learn.”
Step 6: Smile
The last piece of the Back to Grazing Protocol is to just smile and let nature do its magic. This, plus physical movement, a loving touch, and practicing gratitude, will help you to diffuse the situation for both you and your dog.
Just try to remember that there are no failures, only opportunities to learn. That’s what I teach in the Brilliant Partners Academy, so for those of you who are already BPA members, this is a reminder for you that I hope helps you to become even better partners with your dogs.
If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrollment!
You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 161, which you can listen to here.