Q: Why do you teach a breathing exercise as a part of your dog training method?

A: Did you know you can improve your relationship with your dog by changing your breathing patterns? Breathing is the last thing most people think about when they train their dog. Yet it’s the single most important tool in developing and maintaining focus and control. Whenever we start a nonviolent dog training class, the first thing we say is, “You can’t expect your dog to listen to you if you are unfocused and out-of-control.”

How you feel affects your breath. Fortunately, the reverse is also true: your breath affects how you feel and your ability to perform. Changing your breathing patterns not only relaxes you but can also tremendously affect your dog.

To do the “easy breath,” the breath must be relaxed and not strained. Inhalation must equal exhalation (e.g. three seconds in, three seconds out). There should also be no “holds” at the top or bottom of the breath; instead, make the transitions gentle and continuous. Try to breathe through the nose with the mouth closed.

Do three or four “easy breaths” whenever you remember: while driving, watching TV, when you wake up and before you go to bed. The more you practice, the better the results. Easy breathing oxygenates your blood and energizes every cell in your body.

As you continue to practice, you’ll be able to extend your inhalation and exhalation. This will happen automatically and naturally. Within a few days or weeks, you’ll be able to comfortably breathe in and out for ten to twenty seconds or more. However, the length of the breath is not of primary importance – increasing your concentration and relaxation is.

The key to deeper relaxation and control is to listen to yourself breathe. As an experiment, close your ears and familiarize yourself with the sound of your breathing. Consciously relax your breath more and more. With practice, you’ll get better and better until you’ll eventually be able to relax at will. Both you and your dog will benefit.