Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do Dogs Really Live In the Moment?

Interesting discussion I had with a client this morning which made me consider that maybe dogs really do not live in the present as much as we've been told.

To live in the present, to me, means that you are concentrating at least 90% on the environment that you are in, that all thoughts are focused on what you are doing, what the environment is offering and what is going on around you, right now. The other 10% would be in comparing the current situation with similar situations in the past to decide the best moves for survival or enhancement. The negative events in similar situations should only be viewed for information, not as a prediction. That is what living in the moment, in present time, means to me. That definition is what I believe those who espose this concept mean.

Living in the moment would seem to be being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, and your using your skills to the utmost. Focus and concentration are the foundation of being in the moment. When we’re engaged in an activity, we engage all of our physical and emotional resources to act and learn. Living in the moment isn’t just a way to maximize our potential, it is also very a strong intrinsically rewarding state of mind.

Imagine climbing up a cliff face. Your thoughts and actions are completely in response to where you are and what needs to be done each moment as you experience it. You are (hopefully) not thinking about whether or not you left the lights on at home or if the pants you're wearing would make Stacy and Clinton proud. You are required to act in a way which is as responsive to the situation as you can manage with no extraneous thoughts getting in the way of making decisions appropriate to the moment. The same kind of responsiveness is required when driving through LA freeways, zipping down a steep hill on a bicycle, or diving in shark infested waters off La Paz.

That's the ideal scene of living in the moment. Not many of us can actually do that and I don't think our dogs do either.

Dogs do remember the past or they wouldn't become fearful. Whether it's muscle or cell memory, pictures, smells, tastes and all the kinesthetic remembrances of each event in their lives affect what they do in the hear and now. Sometimes it only takes one trauma, on bite from another dog, on whack with a baseball bat, to completely change a dog's view of his world. But remember they do, as do we - maybe not all of it in the consciuous part of the mind, but it's all recorded somewhere. Those memories affect our present and our predictions of the future.

A reactive dog, whether it is reacting with flight or fight, is not analysing the present. The dog coming around the corner is NOT the dog that attacked three years ago. The person getting up out of the chair is not the same man who swung the baseball bat. The analysis of present circumstances is not there, only the reaction - the prediction of the future and the avoidance of the past. After awhile, any part of the past trauma can trigger a reaction - a smell, a site, a movement, a color can presige a bite. All this must be guarded against because pain means death is imminent. A dog in this state is NOT living in the moment at all. This dog is predicting the future based on the past, worried that something is going to happen. The reactions from a dog who is far gone down this road can seem to come totally out of nowhere. The dog has learned to treat everything as a threat.

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