Observation is something you should be doing all the time – you start with it to give yourself a baseline, or starting place. Taking photos can be helpful so you notice changes in coat pattern and even colour of coat. When observing becomes your habit it will follow you into the bodywork – helps you notice small changes and responses and of course into the Playground of Higher Learning and all of the leash and rope work.
“You have to meet them where they are to be able to get them to where you want them to go.” This is an important statement to keep in mind when working with any dog, and their handler. To be effective, we use observation and exploration as the first steps in working with an animal as a way to identify where they are starting. It is important to notice what is happening right now. If we do not know that, how can we recognize any changes that might occur? Focus on the general observation and evaluation of the whole animal, even if you are dealing with a single problem or are not dealing with any problem.
We don’t always know exactly what’s going on with an animal. We need to observe carefully and be detectives picking up clues. For instance, inappropriate use or functioning of a body part may indicate that the part is not integrated with the rest of the body. Such information gives us a entry point to work with in order to help produce a shift . It is important to observe carefully and not jump to conclusions. Have you ever seen a dog that appears to be calmly lying down, head on the floor? Sometimes these dogs are, in fact, calmly lying down. Sometimes they are stressed and pushing their jaw as hard as possible on to the floor. If you were to try to slip your hand under the jaw you would meet with a great deal of resistance.
Ideally we have a chance to see the animal moving freely before we even try to touch them. After that we approach the animal in an inviting way, so that they want to be with us. We want to see how they respond to being touched, rather than to see how they “makes friends” so we build trust by watching and responding to body language with calming signals, and changing what we are doing as the dog changes what they do. Dogs will give us lots of signals about how they feel as we mindfully touch them.