I'm often embarrassed and frustrated that I cannot do the same things the other students do. Even downward dog- that classic inverted V shaped pose- is too difficult for me. I have to do it with my hands on the wall instead of the floor. Despite the fact that no one else cares how I'm doing it, I have pushed myself beyond my physical limits because of imaginary peer pressure. Unfortunately, the last time I ignored what my body was telling me, I ended up in tears in the middle of class due to the pain.
Maisy does a great downward dog pose.
If you have a reactive dog, I'm sure you can relate to this feeling. It is embarrassing and frustrating to be in a class where you cannot do the same things as your classmates because your dog requires adaptations in order to be successful. It is easy to want to push our dogs just a little bit further. Sometimes they're doing so well we think, “just one more time.” Sometimes we see other dogs doing something and think, “that looks so fun.” Sometimes the instructor calls on us to take our turn and despite our better judgment we think, “I'm sure my dog will be fine.”
And yet it is vital that we listen to our dogs. Just as in yoga, failing to recognize and respect our dogs' limits is likely to end in pain and tears. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “I need to adapt this training exercise so my dog can be successful.” In fact, that is why you are paying to take a class, isn't it? To have a professional guide you through the often-difficult process of adjusting criteria? Any good trainer should be not only happy to hear you say this, but also be able to give you some suggestions on how to set your dog up for success.
Likewise, you have every right to say, “This exercise is too hard for my dog. We're going to sit this one out.” When I have reached my limits in yoga, I take a child's pose, which is a simple resting pose. When our dogs have reached their limits, we can choose to have them relax on their mat, play Look at That, or even take a crate break. Like my yoga teacher, your instructor should respect this decision.
Of course, none of us sets out to push our dogs too hard. When I started doing yoga, I did not realize how extensive my injuries were, nor did I understand the impact my particular body structure would have on my yoga practice. It has been a difficult process, but over time, I have learned to listen to my body, to recognize its limits, and to respond to those needs. It has been just as hard for me to learn how to listen to my dog, to accept her limits, and to respond appropriately to her needs. Still, in both dog training and in yoga, learning to do so has been essential to my success.
After all, it's not about doing things right, it's about doing the right thing for your dog.