My Dog – the personal trainer

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Quick summary – If you attempt to change your thinking around activities with your dog from the thought of “I have to walk my dog” to “I get to walk my dog” or perhaps to the exaggeratedly positive thought of “I get to take my dog on an adventure which makes me happy and fit” this will have a positive affect on both your emotional state surrounding the activity and it should have a positive impact on the likelihood that you will engage in the activity.

Often times we can get caught up in a routine and look at daily tasks as somewhat of a burden as opposed to looking at the same instance in a different light. Many of us in the USA have dogs… that we ‘have’ to walk. If you try just the little mind trick of telling yourself that you ‘get’ to take the dog for a walk… the experience changes to something more positive and over time you will find that your attitude might change a bit (this is kind of the basis for that “cognitive therapy” that you might have heard about – by changing a thinking pattern you can change your behaviors and emotions.)

Now I am not telling everyone to go buy a dog that does not have the time for one (or doesn’t live in a place where an active dog would be a good idea). But if you have a dog perhaps listening to your dog would be an excellent way of reaching some of those exercise goals that you set for yourself.

I have an English springer spaniel – this is the wrong dog if you are not a very high-energy person (I was told that they were initially bred in England to be able to keep up with horses on hunting trips). This is an awesome dog if you want a friend that will always encourage you to get active and will reward you during the activity with an immense positivity that is almost tangible.

One problem that seems to get in the way of workout goals is guilt – and this to can be the unfortunate result if you have a dog which is telling you “we should go outside and get active” while your mind is telling you “I have to do something with the dog but I don’t want to.” Guilt generally doesn’t help as it carries with it anxiety and hopelessness.

Guilt essentially pairs a negative emotion with a potentially positive activity – If this pattern happens too often you can condition yourself to feel anxious when the subject of exercise is brought up – this makes exercise less likely to happen – which then makes you more guilty and so on and so on.

So how do we fix this? – try telling yourself the positive aspects about the activity instead of focusing on the negative (this is different than lying to yourself – both the positives and the negative are likely ‘true’ so to speak, and your emotional disposition will be affected by which story line you choose to focus on.)

Example of positive: “If I take my dog up to the mountains she will get to go off leash which will make her so happy… I get happy seeing how happy that silly dog is. The best part about it is that I will be out in nature, where I love to be, while also staying in shape – which affects my mental health and increases my likelihood of making healthy choices… my dog is essentially a free personal trainer for my mind and body.”

example of negative: “My dog needs so much exercise it can be really annoying… if I take her somewhere that she needs a leash she probably won’t really get enough exercise anyway… beside I really don’t feel like getting in my car. I get sick of picking up her crap all the time.”

Both thinking patterns were true… consider this “you live in the stories that you tell yourself”. One simple way of helping your emotional state, while getting out of your own way, is to start telling yourself different stories.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.


9 thoughts on “My Dog – the personal trainer

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