Mindfulness for Dogs?

A government-funded study of mindfulness in dogs offers promising preliminary findings, as April Primmero reports.

Test Subject: "Buddy"

At the Center for Mindfulness’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Norwood, Massachusetts, which started on Wednesday and continues through Sunday, researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin presented promising preliminary findings from a pioneering government-funded study of mindfulness in dogs.

The study used stop-action photography of eye blinks and electrodes attached to the ears of the canines to measure reactivity to stimuli. Prior to being exposed to chew toys, treats, and bowls of kibble, the study subjects “had a mini-retreat in ‘The Canine Meditation Hall,’”—an isolation room furnished with specially crafted, dog-friendly zabutons, or meditation mats—and were shown videos of other dogs (mostly owned and trained by American meditation teachers) sitting erect and peacefully.

Over half the dogs studied, after four 30-minute sessions, emulated this behavior for most of the session. Then, when exposed to the stimuli, these dogs reacted less impulsively, while others lunged at the items, pushed the food bowls across the floor, bumped into each other, and barked and growled excessively.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, Herbert Chien, Rhonda Perro, and Oscar Hound, “If it can be shown that dogs can cultivate mindfulness, we may be able to train them better. What’s more, we might even be able to prove that there actually may be something to this idea that it’s possible to cultivate mindfulness in human beings.”