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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Usui Method of Dog Training

By Beth Lowell

There’s no place quite like the woods for quiet reflection. I’ve been spending several hours a day there over the past couple of weeks, walking for miles along the deserted trails with my dogs. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things since Nicole the dog trainer came to see us (see Beth's October 3 article, Walking Meditation).

The fact that her advice boiled down to little more than following the precepts was an eye opener. I started to discover more and more ways in which her dog training methods dovetailed with the practice of Reiki. For one, not concentrating so much on outcomes helped me to enjoy being in the moment with my dogs, whether we were making progress or not, which in turn, helped them start to blossom.

But one of the things Nicole told me to do challenged some of my deepest convictions about dog training. Getting my dogs to walk with me when they refused called for a bit of tough love, which came in the form of coercion. My dogs were not going to get over their fear if they didn’t face whatever it was that was scaring them. If they were unwilling to venture past their comfort zone on their own, I had to make them do it. The theory was that in the process, they would learn that there was really nothing to fear at all.

This conflicted directly with the school of thought I followed that says the best and most humane way to teach dogs and other animals is using positive reinforcement to help them make decisions on their own. Although this method had obviously not been 100% effective for me, I still clung to the belief that there simply was no other option.

I’ve been practicing Reiki for a while, and over time I’ve come to see how certain things have changed through a process so gradual that it has been practically imperceptible, until the day arrives when I notice that things are different than they used to be. Despite my resolve in sticking to my method of training, I had prepared myself to keep an open mind when I met Nicole. After all, I didn’t have to do anything she said if I didn’t agree with it.

The level of coercion involved turned out to be far less traumatic than I’d come to expect based on past experiences with trainers who used punishment to train dogs. It required about the same amount of pressure that a parent might use in insisting that their shy child board the bus alone on that first scary day of school. And like the children who soon adapt to getting on the bus and learn that it can actually be fun, my dogs started to learn that they, too, would survive and could actually enjoy themselves. I could see their hesitation lessen and their willingness to strike out on their own in new directions increase. This result turned any notion about what I thought was right and wrong in dog training on its ear.

It was both a humbling and a frightening experience that created an immediate shift within me as opposed to the more gentle ones that had taken place quietly over time. It wasn’t pleasant to learn how closed minded I’d become despite my best intentions. By thinking that there could be only one way of training, the one that I knew, I had unwittingly eliminated the possibility for something else to exist that might be just as useful, or more so.

I also recognized that despite practicing the precepts (or attempting to) that it’s possible to have an Achilles heel, or two. Life can’t really be separated into different compartments where different rules apply. I think sometimes it’s easy to do this without realizing it. The precepts are useful in every aspect of life, just as I learned, from of all people, a dog trainer.

Since then, I’ve given myself a good dose of compassion and decided to move ahead rather than continuing to blame myself for not seeing so clearly what now seems like little more than common sense. Despite the painful lesson, I’m celebrating how something as unlikely as dog training could come together so perfectly with Reiki to give me exactly what I needed (and much more than I expected) at just the right moment.

New Jersey-based Reiki Master Teacher Beth Lowell works with animals and Reiki, and is a frequent contributor to The Reiki Digest.

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