The Dog-Zen Doctrine

Recently we decided to go camping one weekend and our neighbour kindly agreed to feed her and check that the water in the bucket remained full. I have to say that the dog was constantly at the back of my mind during our trip, especially as we had no mobile coverage so I couldn’t phone our neighbour to check on the dog. My thoughts were on how she had been given up twice in the past and what anguish she may be feeling not having us there, and how she was going to cope for the remaining days.

You may be wondering what this new doctrine of Dog-Zen is all about. Well, quite simply it’s what I’ve learned about mindfulness practice from my own dog. She was abandoned at goodness knows where and a kind stranger picked up this little puppy and took her to the RSPCA. Then at eight weeks my brother went to adopt her assuming that she would remain her small puppy size, but of course she grew bigger and bigger and eventually he faced the dilemma of returning her once more to the RSPCA – when I stepped in and adopted  her and have now had her for two years. But technically, she’s been unwanted twice.

So when we returned I was anxious to find out how the dog had coped with our absence. And what happened? Well, she didn’t miss us at all… She didn’t bark, she didn’t whine. She spent her days sunbaking as usual and snoozing in her kennel when the weather got wet. What a relief!

Now don’t get me wrong; dog’s can also get psychological issues such as phobias and fearful behaviour due to past trauma, but I was interested in how our dog remained blissfully unconcerned about our absence. From her behaviour I could safely assume that she wasn’t doing doggy thinking such as, ‘Have I been abandoned again?’ ‘Why me?’ ‘Why is this happening again?’ ‘What’s going to happen from now on???’

Instead, her dog brain allowed her only to focus on the present moment and deal with the situation as required: sunbake when she got cool, lie in the shade when she got warm, go into her kennel if wet or windy weather and come out for food when called. Her rocky past did not affect her; the future did not concern her. She was confident that her needs would be met.

Of course, dogs’ ability to completely focus on the moment is an extreme example as they lack the important ability to plan for the future, but we can learn so much from this long-lost skill of just immersing oneself in each moment, taking things as they come and adapting appropriately to any changes that may affect us. This is what I learned from my own Dog-Zen master.