The Yamas And Niyamas Of Puppy Training
I use the Yamas and Niyamas as a foundation for my life. I have been practicing yoga for many years and have a small teaching school in a Mexican beach town. So when Maggie, a 4-month-old beach puppy entered my life, I immediately went to what I know to train her. Now if you’re not familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas, I will enlighten you. The Yamas and Niyamas are the roots of the tree of yoga – a model for the yogic lifestyle and is credited to Sri Patanjali way back in 200 A.D.
Here is the root system, according to yoga:
- Ahimsa – non-harming
- Satya – truthfulness
- Asteya – non-stealing
- Brahmacharya – moderation
- Aparigraha – non-grasping, craving, non-attachment
- Saucha – purity, and positivity
- Santosha – contentment in the now
- Tapas – self-discipline, passion for practice
- Svadhyaya – self-study
Ishvara Pranidhana – giving it up to a higher power
A yoga practitioner seriously following the path of yoga is meant to be fully immersed in the Yamas and Niyamas before they move on to even one yoga posture. Well, we know that rarely happens these days, but it’s okay because times have changed too. The more one practices yoga (asana, breath, or meditation) the more one will want to learn about the foundation of a yogic lifestyle. And I digress. Let’s get back to what this means for puppy training.
So for Maggie and I, here is what we are working on in terms of the Yamas:
Ahimsa – non-harming
I have to remind myself that she has been on this earth for just a few months. She is trying her best. Do not lose patience.
Satya – truthfulness
If I say “No Maggie”, I need to stick to the command. I can’t get all wishy-washy or that won’t be truthful to her in the long run. Also, if I promise a treat for coming to me, I better have that treat ready!
Asteya – non-stealing
Often one takes from others because of a feeling of lack or low self-esteem. How can I boost Maggie’s self-esteem and take away any feeling of lack? Lots of love and puppy toys. She will not steal my vegan Birkenstock’s if she has toys of her own to chew. Boost her self-esteem by creating a grounding word for the puppy – I use “good” when she does something well, correct, or to the best of her ability. This keeps her self-esteem in check.
Brahmacharya – moderation
It is better to have 5 minutes of focus from the puppy than a whole hour of distracted training where we both become agitated. Try puppy training in moderation. Upon waking, after food and a good long walk or play, once she is relaxed, try 5 minutes of working on a command. There is no quick fix. Long and hard is not the path. This puppy training takes moderate training sessions. Keep expectations moderate too. Don’t expect too much from her too soon.
Aparigraha – non-attachment
There are two kinds of attachment that comes to mind in terms of puppy training:
The first is when the puppy keeps following you all around the house. What you can do is create a “bed” she can go to where she feels safe and happy; place toys, treats, and water nearby. Start to train her to go to her “bed” when she gets underfoot.
Attachment to treats every time she does something “good” can also occur. So, once she is getting a grasp on a command, say it a few times and just use the grounding word: “good” instead of giving her a treat. I may add a pat on the head or belly to reinforce the good behavior. This way the puppy won’t become attached to the treats.
In terms of the Niyamas:
Saucha – purity, and positivity
Reinforce the positive! As a puppy owner and a mother of teens, I believe in reinforcing positive behavior. When she acts out ( um, is being a puppy), A firm “No” will suffice. Then move on to something she does well, and use that grounding word “good”!
Santosha – contentment in the now
Every day is a gift with a puppy. It could be worse. This puppy could be living with somebody else. Celebrate this amazing being even when they tear up the paper towel roll!
The Yamas and Niyamas of puppy training
Tapas – Self-discipline
This is your job puppy owner. “Practice and all is coming,” to quote a famous yoga teacher, Sri Pattabhi Jois. You need to think of all the yamas and niyamas. Are you practicing them with consistency? I once heard that puppy training requires “CPR”: Consistency, Patience, and Repetition.
Svadhyaya – Self-study
There is something in this for both of you:
- Puppy owner – Are you doing your best? Are you expecting too much? Are you waiting for focused time with the puppy or are you trying to fit training into your schedule? Training takes time and patience, if you don’t have it, find a trainer to help you.
- Puppy – Give her some time for self-reflection. Downtime is needed to absorb the teachings, the environment, and to grow. The teachings will sink in as she rests and reflects.
Ishvara Pranidhana – Giving it up to a higher power
Here is Maggie giving it up. Where we live, it’s quite warm year around. We limit our outdoor exercise to very early in the morning (6 to 9 AM) or late evenings (after 7 PM), during the day, it is puppy rest time. We offer up the benefits of our practice and hope that something the she learned will stick.
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