Relearn to play from your dog

Some of you may wonder how is it posibble to get regular and sustained movement.  The answer is play!

But who’s your coach gonna be?  The answer is your dog!

Dogs understand that play is fun. They also understand that real play begins in the body and involves movement.

play with your dog

We will never get to a healthy weight without understanding that, in many important ways, humans are animals. Our minds might enjoy “playing” computer games. But millions of years of human evolution have created a body that loves to express itself through exuberant movement. Kids know this. Many adults forget.

Some adults make the mistake of trying to over-organize play. That’s why fitness programs become dull, repetitive, over-measured, soulless, or bound up by teams and rules. Your dog isn’t buying it.

If it’s fun, you’ll do it more. Walking with your dog is fun for both of you, especially if you mix it up and respond to your dog’s naturally playful spirit.

The play master: Frank Forencich’s dog Mojo

One of Weight Waggers’ favorite writers is Frank Forencich. He has a degree in human biology from Stanford and has taught martial arts and functional movement for 25 years.

But he’s not too proud to learn from his dog.

Here are a few excerpts from his fascinating and original book Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play and Joyful Movement. Weight Waggers recommends the entire book.

Play includes varied movement

Forencich urges people to avoid the overly determined approach:

 “My dog’s name is Mojo…. His fitness program is truly amateurish…. He violates all the rules. When he exercises, he doesn’t warm up or cool down. He doesn’t check his heart rate and he  never measures his body fat percentage….. He doesn’t keep a spreadsheet and he never bothers   to log his progress. He has no performance objectives….

There’s no sense of discipline to his method. When he goes out on the trail, he sets whatever  pace he wants…. On some days he walks, some days he does wind sprints, some days he goes swimming….

Not only that, Mojo is completely apathetic about competition…. If he gets tired, he rests. If he gets hot, he seeks out shade. If his paw hurts, he slows down.

According to everything I read in the fitness and sports medicine press, Mojo out to get in terrrible condition…. But no, it’s not like that at all…. He’s got great muscle tone and a slender waist.

He does adhere to one basic rule. That is, he tries to get moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week. That’s it. Aside from his obvious preoccupation with play and pleasure, this is his only rule for fitness. “(p. 232-233)


Real play begins in the body and involves movement

In 2004, Forencich interviewed his dog, Mojo, one of the “preeminent voices in the field of play philosophy” who has won “numerous awards for his work in the field of cross-species play.”

 Forencich: So what about humans then? Do they play too?

Mojo: Well I assume they do, but it’s really hard to tell sometimes. They aren’t like other animals, that’s for certain. Sometimes aney run and jump like normal critters, but a lot of them just sit there, for hours on end, hardly doing anything at all. I worry about them….

You humans are so dense sometimes. The point is that play begins in the body and that it involves movement…. All other forms come from that. You might say that you’re playing in some other way, but if you’re not moving your body, you’re missing out. You might be playing with all of your objects and tools and and sounds that you make, but if you don’t actually move, you’re missing the best part. (p. 209-212)

Learn more about Forencich and his books.

What can be learned from the Winter Warlock

Winter WarlockOne of my most cherished childhood memories was the annual airing of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This lively retelling of the history of Santa included a message that has stayed with me all my life. When the young Kris Kringle transforms the Winter Warlock into a thoughtful wizard with a gift of kindness, Winter expresses a desire to change his behavior permanently, but, like many of us, he fears this is too difficult.

Until very recently, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain was fixed and unchangeable. But today’s scientific buzzword is neuroplasticity. ‘Neuro’ means brain, and ‘plastic’ means changeable—neuroplasticity is just a fancy word for brainchanging. Neuroscientists might have thought Brain-Changing was difficult or impossible, but many ordinary people disagreed; they were just waiting for the science to catch up.

Kris Kringle’s advice to the winter warlock about the possibility and path of behavior change has stuck with me all of my life: big changes start with little changes. I could write a lot about the process of habit change, but I doubt I would do a better job than the song I remember so well…

Winter Warlock_Poem_Weight Waggers

Changing habits is more than changing your mind. The brain and nervous system is similar to a network of electrical circuits and cables. Neuroplasticity, or Brain=Changing literally “rewires” your brain. When we start a new behavior, the wire is thin and patchy. The connection is as slow as an old AOL dial up. But the more we practice a certain behavior the stronger and faster the connection becomes.

When we are born, the brain is a bit like a new computer. The hard drive is almost empty, except for a few essential software programs. After a while, the hard drive gets full and cluttered. In order to “enter new data,” something has to go. The adult brain is similar—new behaviors only get incorporated if they are important enough to earn some valuable brain real estate.

The Brain-Changing Formula of mindfulness, movement and mood are what alert your brain to the desirability of the new behavior. When we are mindful and pay attention, so does our brain. A treadmill is not mindful.

The brain values movement more than anything. It isn’t enough to think about something, or gather information from Google. We have to actually, physically move our body… even if it is something as simple as writing, or talking, or walking.

Finally, mood is crucial. Our brain puts priority on extremes. We learn much more effectively and efficiently when we are happy and calm. The brain interprets our constant mental state of stress and scrambling as a bar to new learning; it needs to take care of immediate and potentially threatening problems before devoting the valuable resources of building blocks and fuel towards learning something new or developing a new habit.

Healthy habits don’t happen overnight. But you can do a lot to facilitate the process. Start by STARTING.

Mark Twain once said “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

What better way to lighten the mood than to walk with your dog? You will BOTH benefit. And remember the song: “Just put one foot in front of the other…”  It’s a step in the right

It doesn’t take magic to train your dog

train your dogSeveral years ago, on a very cold winter night in Chicago, as I was driving down the alley behind my house, a little dog limped out in front of my car and stared at me as if to say “please stop, I need some help”. I did. I got out of my car and as soon as I called him, he came limping into my arms.

He had no tags, his paws were red and raw and his hair was matted. He clearly had been outside in the freezing weather for a long time. I brought him inside our lobby to warm up and called my partner to come downstairs.

My partner (NOT a dog person at the time) came downstairs. He was in the middle of making dinner and was clearly irritated that I brought in a stray off the street. He didn’t want me to bring the dog upstairs since he had just cleaned the house, and said he would come down instead. As soon as he came off the elevator and they made eye contact, everything changed. It was literally love at first sight.

We called the police to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. The dispatcher said that they would send Animal Control to come and pick him up. In the ten minutes it took for Animal Control to arrive, we both bonded with this little guy. When the officer arrived, he explained that he would have to take the dog to the local shelter where they would keep him in a crate for up to a week, and if no one claimed him, he would most likely be euthanized.

After all he’d been through, we couldn’t let this little guy go to a shelter, so we asked the officer if we could take him in until they or we found his owner. He seemed very relieved that we offered and said “yes.”

The next day, we put up notices and contacted the surrounding Animal Hospitals, etc. Well, to make a long story short, no one ever claimed him and so we decided to adopt him. We named him Harvey, after the street that I found him on.

Okay, so now we had this dog. He was a really sweet guy but a bit of a mess. Once we got all of his mats out (a feat that took several weeks,) cleared up his frost bite and ear infection, we could see what he really looked like. We determined (with the help of our vet) that he was some kind of a terrier/poodle mix. Also, now that he was feeling better, we found that he was completely untrained and on the wild side with no social skills what-so-ever!

Our next goal was to train him, or at the very least, teach him how to walk on a leash without pulling us every which way and chasing and barking at every dog, cat, squirrel or bunny that neared our path. The Catch-22 was that the only thing we knew to do to burn off his endless energy was to walk him for hours at a time. It became frustrating and exhausting.

We sought out professional advice and joined a volunteer group that donated their time training shelter dogs so that they could be adopted easier. Even some of the volunteers would roll their eyes when we brought Harvey to class, as he had a very short attention span and seemed much more interested in sniffing and playing with the other dogs than in training.

After a lot of hard work, patience, and of course, positive reinforcement, Harvey has become a wonderful addition to the family. Everyone says how “lucky” we are to have such a well trained and well mannered dog. While I feel incredibly “lucky” to have found Harvey that cold winter night, “luck” had very little to do with him being so well behaved. It took a lot of time, work and patience to make him the dog that he is today. But as we all know, anything worthwhile takes time.

We are “lucky” in the sense that life has become more fulfilling. Priorities have shifted. We spend more time outside and with each other. My partner has become more patient and tolerant toward me, Harvey and himself have let go of a futile need for “perfection.” We have a four-legged common bond that has filled our lives with joy, and a deeper sense of what’s important in life.

Harvey has also opened us up to friendships with other dog lovers and people like you who we otherwise would have never met. In a way, he’s socialized us!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Written by Michael Ehlers[/author_info] [/author]