Meditation is a practice of awareness in the present moment. Its use in medicine has increased in recent decades due to building evidence of its health benefits and better understanding of its overall purpose. The best part? You can include your dog in your meditation and share its countless benefits with them!
What Is Meditation?
Is meditation for dogs more than just being calm with your dog? Perhaps!
Meditation is the self-regulation of attention and awareness with the goal of reaching a state of “non-doing.”1 It typically involves components of visualization, breath, sound, or movement to alter energy pathways in the body.3
Eastern spiritual philosophies have used meditation for millennia, and most Western cultures still associate the practice with religions such as Buddhism.1
Meditation Is Not a Religious Practice
There are a lot of misconceptions about meditation. Despite its heavy ties to particular religions, you don’t need to be religious to practice it.1
Meditation also isn’t bound by any concrete rules.1 It can take on many shapes and forms, all of which can result in a psycho-physiological change that calms the mind and body.1,3
You can shape your meditative practice to serve you and the ones you love, including your dog.
Meditation for Dogs? Yes, It’s a Thing.
Pet meditation is the practice of meditating with your dog next to you or close by.4 This so called “Petitation”5 helps to connect you and your dog by actively focusing on their presence and energy. Together, this helps you achieve a state of calm, assurance, and love.4
Can dogs actually meditate? There’s no clear answer to this. One could argue that dogs are natural meditators because they already live moment to moment. Scientifically, we also know that dogs can sense changes in vibration and energy, which further suggests that they can be active participants in meditation practices with humans.4
Benefits of Meditation for Dogs
The use of meditation in clinical settings didn’t start until the 1980s when Kabat-Zinn developed a mindfulness program for patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.1,6
Mindfulness meditation is an awareness of sensations arising in the current moment.7 From one moment to the next, the goal for patients is to accept these sensations without placing any judgement upon them.7
The success of the program has since prompted the world of integrative medicine to regularly prescribe meditation.3 Such mind-body treatments serve as a type of behavioral intervention that can help alleviate the symptoms associated with a myriad of diseases, including cancer.3,8,9
Cancer and Meditation in Humans
Meditation has been shown to be helpful during cancer treatments, so let’s look at this more closely.
Cancer and the treatments commonly prescribed to fight it are associated with various physical and psychological effects. Patients may experience:8
- Immune dysfunction
- Sleep disturbance
- Cognitive impairment
Unfortunately, most medications and practices that work to help relieve these side effects are symptom-specific, meaning they only target one issue.
Meditation, on the other hand, is non-selective and can alleviate a wide range of conditions and side effects caused by cancer.8
This means that meditating with your dog can greatly boost your dog’s quality of life when they are fighting cancer.10
This phenomenon has even been demonstrated with humans. 102 breast cancer patients were randomly assigned into two groups.9 One group was prescribed 12 meditation therapy sessions over six weeks of radiation while the other served as a control group that didn’t partake in any meditation.
Remarkably, patients who meditated saw significant improvement in symptoms associated with anxiety and fatigue, and reported an overall higher quality of life score than their counterparts in the control group.9
Meditation Helps with Caregiver Stress
Even though your dog is the one with cancer, you are their caregiver. You are also experiencing the mental and physical manifestations of stress.
Thankfully, meditation can help both of you. One study involving 76 human cancer patients and 66 caregivers found that meditation classes significantly reduced overall levels of distress for both groups.3 Individual improvements in well-being as well as decreased levels of fatigue and shortness of breath were also reported.3
Meditation can help us as humans become more objective and compassionate, which leads to greater acceptance of the cards we’ve been dealt.2 It can also improve our cognition by increasing attentiveness and cognitive flexibility and control. Researchers have shown that areas of the brain responsible for these functions physically change for the better with meditation.11
Ultimately this helps you help your dog. Hearing that your dog has cancer can incite panic. Of the many uncertainties surrounding what will or will not help your dog’s cancer, panic definitely won’t.2 Meditation helps build resistance to this panic by re-training your brain, leading to a sense of contentment in stressful life-altering situations and an improved ability to make decisions.2
This is imperative to minimize your dog’s stress. If you’re on edge, so is your dog.2 Reflect for a moment – when you’re excited, or talk in an excited voice, does your dog’s energy also perk up? When you’re calm and sitting still, do you find that they often strategically position themselves by your side to make physical contact and feel your warmth? You’re probably answering yes to these questions.
Your dog is a mirror of you, and your calmness and relaxed state can help them attain a calm and relaxed state.10
General Benefits of Meditating with Dogs
Meditating with your dog doesn’t have to be restricted to their time with cancer. You can continue this practice even after your dog’s cancer treatment has ended, or start while your dog is healthy.
A study that randomly assigned 20 breast cancer survivors to a 12-week meditation program found that they reported less fatigue and a greater quality of life when compared to survivors who did not meditate.14
While meditation can certainly help with easing the specific symptoms related to cancer, it has numerous other core benefits:
- Meditation fosters safety and trust.13 This is particularly helpful for rescued dogs who may be insecure and fearful based on their past experiences.13
- Meditation reduces stress via a calming effect.13,4 Lowering stress means the body can focus on other things. This is especially important for older dogs or dogs experiencing illness or injury.13 Stress in general is highly linked to cancer development and progression, so meditation can be considered a great tool for cancer prevention as well.1
- Meditation harmonizes and attunes energy.13 Purposeful attention to the present moment allows the body’s energetic center to open, reset, and realign.13 Energy is not limited to the physical body, so you and your dog can merge energies together at a powerful yet subtle level while meditating together.13
- Meditation builds a bridge of communication between you and your dog because it contains a component of intention that expresses itself at a vibrational level.13 This is especially the case when you synchronize your breathing with your dog’s breathing.13
- Meditation can help create a daily routine.13 Animals attune themselves to a daily rhythm, so establishing a schedule can help them stay more balanced overall.13 It can also help improve their behavior.4
When to Not Use Meditation for Dogs
There is no downside to meditation, and we can’t think of a time when it wouldn’t be supportive.2
Meditation does not replace other cancer therapies, but it has no side effects and can absolutely provide benefit for your dog’s quality of life (and yours).
One study found that 90% of healthcare providers said that they would recommend meditation to their patients in the future simply after watching a short 5-minute presentation on its benefits.15
Types of Meditation You Can Do With Your Dog
Meditation doesn’t have to take long. You and your dog can reap its benefits by practicing only a few minutes a day.10
Remember that meditation can be highly individualized and has few, if any, rules.2 You can choose where you practice, how long you practice, and what strategy you choose to use.1,16
There are countless ways to meditate and include your dog. Below are just a few examples:
Visualization is the development of a mental picture in your head. It can be a “mental rehearsal” of an outcome you want to be realized in real life, or it can simply be something that feels good to you or your dog.10
For example, you may visualize your dog pain free and running around at their favorite park. You can add sounds and scents to help make your visualization exercise really come to life.10
If you’re struggling to get going, start with smaller more attainable visualization.10 For example, maybe it’s really difficult to picture your dog, tail wagging, running at full speed chasing after their favorite ball when they are experiencing the deep depths of cancer. That’s okay. You can instead picture them lying down outside in the grass, maybe with their favorite ball nearby, soaking up the sun.
Intercessory prayer does not require you to be religious.10 It’s simply a request for a higher power to intervene in a particular situation and help deliver a favorable outcome.10
This could be the god you religiously affiliate with, the universe, or some other source of power that resonates with you.
Breath alignment involves focusing on your breath and the sensations it creates through your body. This is a tool that can help bring you to the present moment and focus on the now. You can count seconds to help time your inhale, holds, and exhales.
Different timings can alter your physiological state and relax the body. Connecting the rhythm of your breath to the breath of your dog can be a great way to synchronize your energies.2 You can even gently place your hand on your dog to feel the rise and fall of their chest to foster a physical connection.2
Meditative walks are a great way to incorporate movement into your meditation practice.4 There’s no need for you or your dog to stay still.
For example, you can practice mindfulness while on a walk with your dog.16 Mindfulness is simply the moment-to-moment recognition of what is occurring around you while not passing judgement on it.7
Pick a sense to focus on for a few minutes at a time. For example, walk for five minutes paying attention to what you smell, and then for the next five minutes, to what you hear. Paying attention to a sense you do not use as often may help you to focus.
You can practice it on a lunch walk in a bustling city just as much as you can on a quiet hike in the woods.
A pet scan is similar to the practice of scanning your own body. A body scan involves attentive focus on parts of the body one by one.
For example, focusing on the right foot, the right lower leg, the right knee, and so on. Instead of doing this scan on yourself, you can imagine doing it on your dog.16
How to Meditate with Your Dog
No matter what strategy you choose, thoughts are inevitable. Meditation is called a “practice” for a reason. Staying centered and focused can be difficult.
Be compassionate with yourself when a thought arrives. Gently and neutrally acknowledge it, let it go, and refocus.2 You may have to do this over and over and over again, and that’s okay. Visualizing the thought as a log in a river floating down the stream and out of sight or as a cloud moving across the sky and out of view may be helpful.
Most of us consider being in the presence of our dogs meditation in and of itself, and meditating with your dog can add an element of fun.4 Don’t shy away from this. It may help break up some of the monotony and repetitiveness that’s commonly associated with meditation because it gives a purpose for meditating outside of one’s self.4
If you need help finding a place to start, try the example below.
- Start by finding a quiet space and sit in a comfortable position. You can even put cushions, rugs, or some of your pet’s favorite things in the corner of a room.4 If you think it may be helpful, put on some relaxing instrumental music or nature sounds and introduce an aroma.4
- It can be helpful to use the same scent on a consistent basis so that your dog starts to associate it with the practice of meditation. Oil diffusers are popular for this purpose, but choose your oil carefully as some essential oils can be dangerous to dogs.17,18
- Once you’re settled, briefly set an intention for your practice.4 This could be practicing gratitude or self-compassion, or even processing grief. You can also make it a point to simply stay present in the moment with mindfulness or focus on a singular point, such as your dog’s breath, the hum of your refrigerator, or the feeling of coolness on your skin.
- If you feel safe to do so, you can close your eyes. If not, simply soften your gaze downward. Begin to focus on your breath. It may help to say a mantra out loud, such as “The bond between myself and my dog is unique and loving.”
- What your dog does during this time is up to them. They may sit next to you, crawl into your lap, settle down nearby, or wander off. Try not to get distracted by what your dog is doing.4 If they aren’t involved to begin with, it’s likely that they’ll come around as they sense your calming energy and intention to connect with them.
- If your dog is nearby, you can work towards integrating your energies by matching the rise and fall of your breath with theirs. You can have physical contact with your dog but this is not absolutely necessary.4
- Continue your meditation practice for the length of time you feel is best.
It’s important to not make your dog something they’re not. Some dogs are naturally calm, less active, and may be more likely to participate in “traditional” meditative practices where they calmly sit in your lap or rest beside you.
Just because your dog doesn’t do this doesn’t mean you can’t meditate with them. You can try different options, like practicing mindfulness on a walk with your dog or visualizing your dog while they’re in another room.16
Meditation is a highly personal and flexible practice so take account of both of your needs and respond accordingly.
- Tacón AM. Meditation as a complementary therapy in cancer. Fam Community Health 2003;26(1):64-73.
- Jacobson J, Madera KC. How to Meditate with Your Dog – An Introduction to Meditation for Dog Lovers. Maui Media; 2005.
- Lopez G, Chaoul A, Powers-James C, Spelman A, Wei A, Engle R, Hashmi Y, Bruera E. A pragmatic evaluation of symptom distress after group meditation for cancer patients and caregivers: A preliminary report. J Pain and Symptom Manage 2018;55(5):1321-1326.e1.m
- Uniyal P. What is pet meditation; know its benefits and step-by-step technique from expert. Hindustan Times. May 19, 2022. https://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/health/what-is-pet-meditation-know-its-benefits-and-step-by-step-technique-from-expert-101652946791735.html. Accessed on January 14, 2023.
- Paige E, Leslie J. The Petitation Companion: Meditation…Easy & Fun with Your Pet. Elisabeth Paige; 2018.
- Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind To Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Dell Publishing; 1990.
- Matchim Y, Armer JM. Measuring the psychological impact of mindfulness meditation on health among patients with cancer: a literature review. Oncol Nurs Forum 2007;34(5):1059-1066.
- Biegler KA, Chaoul MA, Cohen L. Cancer, cognitive impairment, and meditation. Acta Oncologica 2009;48:18-26.
- Kim YH, Kim HJ, Ahn SD, Seo YJ, Kim SH. Effects of meditation on anxiety, depression, fatigue, and quality of life of women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. Comp Ther Med 2013:21(4):379-387.
- Dressler D, Ettinger S. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Maui Media; 2011.
- Brefczynski-Lewis J, Lutz A, Schaefer H, Levinson D, Davidson R. Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2007;104:114838.
- Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, Gray JR, Greve DN, Treadway MT, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport 2005;16: 18937.
- Ree A. 5 Reasons You Should Meditate With Your Pet. Chopra. April 4, 2017. https://chopra.com/articles/5-reasons-you-should-meditate-with-your-pet. Accessed on January 14, 2023.
- Cramer H, Rabsilber S, Lauche R, Kümer S, Dobos G. Yoga and mediation for menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors – a randomized controlled trail. Cancer 2015;121:2175-2184.
- Koula MJ, Knight JM. Increasing provider awareness of and recommendation for yoga and meditation classes for cancer patients. Supportive Care in Cancer 2018;26:3635-3640.
- Bhullar T. Mindful Mondays: Meditation with your pets. Timeqube. May 25, 2020. https://timeqube.com/blog/meditation-with-pets/. January 14, 2023.
- Marshall J. Essential oils and dogs. Pet Poison Helpline. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/pet-safety-tips/essential-oils-dogs/. Published March 6, 2020. Accessed April 21, 2023.
- Puotinen CJ. Top 20 essential oils for dogs. Whole Dog Journal. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/care/top-20-essential-oils-for-dogs/. Published August 21, 2020. Accessed April 21, 2023.
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