Too Busy to Walk? Bella Busts Your Excuses.

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In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of walking with your dog. Today, I thought I’d counter some of the most common human excuses.

“I don’t have a dog.”

Volunteer to exercise a neighbor’s pet or to walk dogs at the local animal shelter. Most shelters desperately need people who can give dogs the physical activity they need to say healthy, happy and adoptable. (Our local Oregon Humane Society even has a “Running With Dogs” program for humans and dogs with energy to spare.)

“I’m too busy.”

Pick a time of the day and mark it on your daily calendar. It takes 21 days to form a habit, and walking is a good one to have.

“These stretchy pants make me look fat.”

You can’t find a more supportive, nonjudgmental and dependable walking partner than a dog. We don’t care where you are going, what you are wearing or what shape you are in—we’re just happy to tag along and keep you company.

“I don’t feel like it.”

Here’s the deal: Your dog doesn’t feel like dressing up for Halloween but he does it because he loves you and it makes you and all your YouTube friends crack up. Now lace up your sneakers and take your best friend outside.

Dogs are tangible, butt-wiggling reminders that regular physical activity is a basic and instinctual need. With enough exercise, we are happy, relaxed and confident. Without it, we’re anxious, stressed and bored. Humans are no different. So the next time you need to blow off some steam, lace up, leash up and go for a walk.

Wanna come walk with me?

By Bella the Boxer, adapted from her book Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. Visit www.BellaTheBoxer.com

Stick Your Head Out the Window: Seize the Moment

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Too many humans spend their lives rehashing the past or fretting about the future. Is this you?

Sure, the world is jam-packed with obligations and distractions. On a typical workday, my two-legged dad shifts between sending e-mails, making phone calls and running to appointments.

My mom jumps from one activity to another and races from thought to thought until it’s hard to tell where one stops and the other begins.

Looking forward is excellent, until you become so obsessed with the future that you miss what’s right under your nose.

Take it from me, people: To live mindfully and in the moment, you need to let go and loosen up. Stop being a slave to your schedule. Turn down the volume on the chatter in your head—you know, all the “could’ves,” “should’ves” and “would’ves” that cause so much anxiety and guilt.

Easier said than done, right? Well, yes and no. Stop overthinking things. Be aware of your thoughts, but don’t get lost in them. If it’s a bright and sunny summer day and you feel like sticking your head out the car window, then stick your head out the window (as long as it’s safe, of course). Don’t stop to think about all the reasons you shouldn’t. In the time it takes to imagine what other people will think or worry about messing up your hair, the chance will be gone.

Instead, do it because it’s fun. Do it because you can. Do it because your dog wouldn’t give it a second thought.

By Bella the Boxer, adapted from her book Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. Visit www.BellaTheBoxer.com

Grab a Leash, Walk Your Dog . . .and Exercise Your Hippocampus

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I love going on long walks with my humans. With the weather getting better, they’ve been taking me on afternoon strolls around the neighborhood (usually to the local coffee shop so that Mom can fuel her caffeine habit). Other times they load me up into the Subaru and we drive to nearby Mt. Hood or the Oregon Coast for a day of outdoor adventure.

Let’s face it: Since dogs and humans started hanging out together more than 12,000 years ago, we’ve both become more sedentary. Unfortunately, dogs weren’t bred to spend 18 hours a day napping, and humans weren’t designed to sit on their bums for hours at a time.

According to Dr. James Levin of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, today’s humans suffer from “sitting disease” and burn anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 fewer calories per day than they did just 30 years ago. Well, guess what? If you are sitting, then your pets are probably sitting, too. No wonder 44% of dogs in the U.S. are either overweight or obese!

Okay, okay. I’ll admit there are some days when all I want to do is indulge my inner canine couch potato (even though, technically, I’m not allowed on the couch. Notice the word “technically.”) Still, nothing rouses me from a deep slumber like someone dangling a leash in front of my nose and saying, “Let’s go for a walk.” Suddenly, it’s off to the races.

Luckily, walking is one of the easiest ways for dogs and humans to get into shape. According to a new study, it might improve memory, too. That’s because regular walking can expand your hippocampus. Your hippo what?! Your hippocampus…the part of the brain that forms memories and helps you remember where you hung up the dog leash and stashed the poop bags.

So why aren’t you outside walking?

By Bella the Boxer, adapted from her book Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. Visit www.BellaTheBoxer.com

Chickens With Attitude, or How to Challenge Assumptions

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If you haven’t heard, urban chicken farming is hot—especially here in Portland. In my neighborhood alone, there are nearly half a dozen coops that my mom has to avoid when she takes me on my daily walk. No matter how hard I try, I can’t control the urge to go on a chicken chase…

That’s why I thought it was funny when a friend told me about a series of chicken workshops where workshop participants use reward-based clicker training to shape the behavior of chickens.

Why chickens? Supposedly, they are faster than the average dog which helps the trainer improve his or her timing and coordination skills. They'll also balk if they don't like the way that they are being treated. More important, since most dog owners or dog trainers don’t have any experience working with chickens, they don’t bring the same emotional baggage to a training session as they do with their pets.

To me, the underlying message is this: Stay curious and playful. Open your eyes and find new ways to look at old problems. Set aside your old assumptions. Approach each relationship with a clean slate.

This doesn’t mean you have to start breeding city chickens in your backyard (please, no more cocky chickens who taunt me from across the sidewalk). Look to your loyal, four-legged friends instead. A dog can walk the same route a hundred times and we’ll still stop to sniff whatever catches our fancy. It’s like we’ve never been there before.

There is a saying, “In the beginner’s eye there are many possibilities, in the expert’s eyes there are few.” Fortunately, we dogs see ourselves as perpetual beginners. We see everything as new, so everything has possibilities—even if it involves chasing chickens down the street.

Have animals helped change your assumptions or the way you look at the world? Please share!

By Bella the Boxer, adapted from her book Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. Visit www.BellaTheBoxer.com

Breathe Like a Dog

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Are you breathing right now? Silly question, right? Wrong!

Dogs are always breathing just the way they need to be, taking full, deep and energizing breaths. Humans, on the other hand, take short and shallow chest breaths. This is natural in times of great anxiety or immediate danger, like when your boss is yelling at you or a gang of angry Chihuahuas is chasing you down a dark alley. But on an ongoing basis, shallow and rapid breathing can contribute to chronic stress and fatigue. It can leave you feeling tense and grumpy, which is no fun for anyone (especially your four-legged friends).

A relaxed dog, on the other hand, takes long, deep breaths. Unlike humans, we dogs aren't worried about sucking in our stomachs, either. When you breathe from your diaphragm like you are supposed to, your stomach naturally inflates and deflates…which is another reason to ditch the super-tight skinny jeans. (Besides, how are you going to take your dog on a nice long walk if you don’t have any feeling in your legs? And while I’m on my canine soapbox, stop hunching over your laptops and stop slumping on sofa watching drivel like Real Housewives of New Jersey. Take us out to play instead!).

Okay, okay, I get it. Life is stressful and we need distractions. Yet thanks to modern lifestyles, most humans have forgotten how to breathe properly. Fortunately, ‘breathing like a dog’ is relatively easy to do with a little practice. Here’s an exercise to get started:

  • Close your eyes
  • Inhale from your belly for three seconds and pause briefly
  • Exhale from your belly for three seconds and pause briefly
  • Repeat as necessary

Want to make it a habit? Take a cue from your four-legged friend: Every time he or she lets out a satisfied sigh, straighten your posture and focus on your breathing. Soon it will be a natural part of your daily routine.

So, are you breathing?

By Bella the Boxer, adapted from her book Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. Visit www.BellaTheBoxer.com

Never, Ever Let Go of the Rope

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Grit. Pluck. Tenacity. Persistence. Resilience. Whatever you want to call it, we dogs have it.

Fortunately for humans we are more than happy to teach you how to stay on track and not let the bumps in the road discourage you. For example, one of my all-time favorite activities is tug-of-war, and my favorite sparring partner is my two-legged dad. However, I usually have to bait him into playing with me. My strategy is to sneak under his desk and wait until he's fully absorbed in his work, or on the phone with an important client (they're all important, he says, and he's right), and then start jamming his leg with a rope toy.

His response is predictable. First, he'll say, "I'm busy right now," and then, "Go bug somebody else." But I know that he has to hang up the phone sometime and if I continue to jam the rope into his leg, he'll eventually give in. Once the game starts, I don't let go for anyone or anything--not even when Dad gives the "drop it" command in his most authoritative voice. (Of course, I realize this admission opens me up to analysis and criticism by dog trainers everywhere, including my own, to which I say, "All's fair in love and tug-of-war." Besides, I'll totally drop the rope toy for Mom. I know who's really in charge.)

The lesson: Embrace the word "no." It's just one step on the path to success. If you give up too soon, you won't succeed--and you'll miss out on a very good game of tug-of-war!

What do your pets teach you about shaking off setbacks and pursuing your goals?

By Bella the Boxer, adapted from her book Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. Visit www.BellaTheBoxer.com

Think Outside the (Cat) Box

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Admittedly, I have some deep-rooted issues with cats. It started when a cranky kitty slapped me across the face when I was a puppy. And then, several months ago, this feline showed up on our front porch and decided to stay (we think she was left behind when a neighbor moved to a nursing home)

Sure, she was cute enough...but I had to put my paws down when my Mom started getting crazy ideas about bringing her into the house. (She found a cozy home next door instead; now she taunts me from across the way.)

Putting my personal feelings aside, I do admire the tenacity and cleverness of cats. Indeed, the key to success is to learn from everyone you meet. You don't have to be their best friend, but there's no reason not to admire their talents and try to emulate them. Take Maru, for example, a YouTube sensation with a healthy sense of curiosity and the determination to squeeze herself into the smallest of boxes. I love the fact that she doesn't give up! Go, Maru!

What are some ways that your pets help you think outside the box?

Dogs in the Workplace: A Win-Win Woof For Everyone!

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Here's a fun fact: Many Americans believe that having a pet in the workplace increases creativity, reduces stress, decreases absenteeism and helps maintain better relationships with colleagues. Well, guess what? They're right! So, what’s a little carpet cleaning amongst friends?

Dogs, especially, have a lot to teach humans about work and life. I know, because I’m the director of goodwill (D.O.G.) at the marketing agency that my humans run in Portland, Oregon, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job at making sure that the office is always full of energy and enthusiasm (and squeaky toys). Still, despite the fancy title, I'm not afraid to pitch in where I’m needed. After all, I'm a pack, er, team player.

Exhibit 1: Sadly, my humans don't have their own IT department. Here I am troubleshooting the whatchamacallit, which connects to the doodad, which connects us all to the black hole that is known as "the Internet."

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Exhibit 2: One of my favorite tasks is organizing and alphabetizing the office bookshelf. I just love that new book smell! (I swear that I don't know what happened to the books on obedience training, however).

Above all, I make sure that my two-legged co-workers get out into the world instead of spending all day hiding behind their computer screens. But that's enough about me.

What about you? What are your four-legged friends teaching you about working smarter and being happier?