Dog Training: The Power of Mind Space Connections in Dogs


Hi there!

Today, I want to share with you something that I call “mind space.” I coined the term after something that kept happening to me when I was walking one of my dogs–my dear dog Tamar, who has since passed away.

Over the years that I had Tamar, it became very apparent that she could sense when my mind was connected to her and when it was not.

This was a phenomenon that was particularly noticeable when we’d take walks together.

Before we go any further, I want you to take a minute and check out Tamar’s story in the video below so you have a good idea of what I’m talking about…

Mind Space – Does your dog know when you are thinking of them?

Fascinating, isn’t it?

After a six-month period of watching her behaviour, I was absolutely certain that she could tell when I was not connected anymore.

And if I wasn’t present and didn’t have the connection with Tamar, she’d go off and do her own thing.

For Tamar, it was all about mind space and connection. If I wanted to her to stay present with me, I had to be present.

If you haven’t noticed this mind space behaviour in your dog, it’s possible that you’ve seen it occur if you have children.

For me, I’ve found that my kids can be on their best behaviour…until the phone rings. As soon as my mind is distracted and not focused on them anymore, all hell breaks loose.

It’s the moments when I’m on the phone with a family member, friend, or client that my children end up making a mess or getting themselves into trouble.

I truly believe that at some level all dogs are able to sense if you’re connected to them and can tell if you’re watching them, thinking about them, thinking or telling them to “stay away” or “leave it.”

If you look at my recent post, A Dog’s Sixth Sense: The Unexplained Power of Dogs, you’ll see there that a lot of people have mentioned they’ve experienced the ability of their dogs to pick up an incredibly subtle change in how they’re thinking and feeling.

So, it wouldn’t surprise me if it all ties in with this ability that dogs have to know what we’re thinking and what we want them to do.

Another thing that I want to point out is that the amount of mind space that a task takes (like connecting with your dog so she doesn’t wander off when you’re on a walk) varies from person-to-person and dog-to-dog.

It’s also important to note that the success of your mind space connection is also impacted by how difficult it is for your dog to accomplish a task, such as not chasing a squirrel when he’s off leash on a walk.

That takes a lot of willpower!

Here’s a “human” example that might make this concept clearer.

When you first start a task, such as learning to drive a car, you need almost 100% of your mind space. You can’t have people in the back seat distracting you as you’re trying to remember road rules while driving on a busy street.

Later on, once you’ve been driving for a few years, you may only need 50% of your mind space to drive safely. And finally, when you’ve been driving for 20 years, you may only need 10% of your mind space to drive safely…it’s almost as if you’re on autopilot.

I’m not saying that’s great, but that is just how it is. Eventually, we are so comfortable with driving that we are able to multitask while turning the radio on, switching lanes and eating a snack.

The same thing happens when you’re training your dog (Check out how I've trained over 88,000 dogs here!).

At first, certain behaviours or tricks may seem incredibly difficult. But, once they get the hang of it, repeating a desired behaviour requires less mind space. It gets easier and easier as you go on.

To wrap it all up, here are the main ideas I want you to take away from this post…

  • If you require 80%-90% of your mind space to be on your game while trying to train your dog to walk nicely on a leash, come prepared for the walk with the mind space you need. Turn the telephone off. Stay focused on the job at hand. And don’t think that your dog is not aware of what’s going on.
  • If it becomes clear that what you’re trying to train your dog to do is too tricky or complicated for you both, simplify. Think logically and practically about what you can do to manage the situation to make it easier. Something as simple as training a dog to walk on a leash when there are less people walking down the street so your dog isn’t so barky is a great place to start.
  • Don’t forget how incredibly smart and sensitive our canine companions are. Be aware of what they are trying to tell you and work to continually build the connection between yourself and your dog.

I’m really interested if you’ve ever experienced a mind space connection with your dog. If you have, I’d love for you to share your story with me in the comments below.

Have a great day and, as always, thanks for listening. I can’t wait to read your stories!

In memory of my dearest Tamar…

“We’ll never forget you, my little one. We will always love you, forever!”

Moses and my children, Sage & Stan, sprinkling flowers on the spot in the garden where we buried Tamar.

Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan is the founder of The Online Dog Trainer, a wildly successful online training program for dog owners. His goal is to continue to share his unique approach to dog training with like-minded people who wish to make a difference in the world of dogs. His training methods focus on creating and building the connection between dogs and dog owners, and are shared and used around the world.

42 Responses

  1. We have a project going on i our garden and our dog, Tilla, is really letting us know if anyone og anything is passing on the road, and she will bark or growl. This often end up in timeout (after 2 times thank you) and our project is still not finished. If we on the other hand sit down with a cup of coffee or the newspaper, she still can bark or growl, but not as much. It is as if she do not have to inform us of the “danger” in the same extent.
    Thank you so much for so many good post, they really make us think and lead us in the right direction.

    1. Hi Hilde! Your presence in the garden will certainly be more reassuring for Tilla as she will know that she has the support of her family there when dangers are near. Sitting calmly with her will also show her that you aren’t at all worried about what’s going on around her and it may mean she is less likely to react. If she is finding it a challenge to be out their on her own then it may help to bring her indoors until your project is finished and things are back to normal. I’m glad you’re enjoying my Blogs.. Doggy Dan

  2. I have that mind space with my pup Beckett when we walk on leash. She will lose her attention to me if I lose my attention to her….get disteacted. We both take turns it seems in looking at each other to stay connected. The look or focus if you will, is just for a split second but it keeps us on task, the same mission. That is awesome, thank you Dan!!

    1. That’s great Bonnie, thanks for sharing your story with us! A good mind connection can make a big difference when walking our dogs and it seems that you and Beckett understand this all too well! All the best and keep up the great work…Doggy Dan

  3. The stay command is unnecessary if sit means sit until I give you further instructions. I realize its taught this way by many obedience instructors. However, as a working dog advances, you will find that it’s an unnecessary command. If I tell my field golden to sit. He knows I mean to sit. He will be there 5 minutes later without further commands. Far more efficient and teaches dogs that sit isn’t a short-term thing. It can be as short or long as your person chooses.
    There is an economy of commands and language with dogs. The fewer you use—-the more likely they are to listen.

    1. Hi Crys,
      Everyone uses commands in a different way and provided we are consistent, and not confusing our dogs, then it’s fine to use whatever commands are deemed useful. It’s absolutely fine for you to decide that ‘stay’ is an unnecessary, as they say ‘each to their own’! Best, Doggy Dan

  4. I came across this when I was looking for this very subject. My first dog was a German Shepherd I got myself when I was 11. Now we always had a special connection. My boy Tarz was very over protective and I was the person he listened too. My mom he listened too pretty well but not like me.

    One time it was my mom lil sis & I having dinner. I was like 15 or 16 and we had to run inside because a storm rolled in suddenly. We each had a steak on a plate we had put on the coffee table as we grabbed everything from the deck table. When we got in my Tarz was sitting next to my seat and had eaten their steaks not mine. He very rarely stole food but never ever did he take mine.

    The 2nd thing happened when I was 20 I wanted to scare my sister’s bf for sleeping over after he was told to go home b4 I went to bed. I told my Tarz to guard him. I never taught him that command but he began to circle the bf and growl and and wouldn’t let him move or leave. If I told him to attack he would have but Guard him is the command that I’ve only seen State police dogs do after extensive training. Again he didn’t bite him he did EXACTLY what I wanted with no training.

    1. Tarz sounds like a pretty special dog John, and it’s clear that you had a great bond with him! It’s no secret that dogs are pretty special but every now and then they remind us just how intelligent they really are. Thanks for sharing your story, best Doggy Dan

  5. Toto is now 2 years old. I edit a members’ magazine, and sometimes I just have to get on with it. This is the time when Toto will chose to be ‘naughty’. It usually takes the form of stealing our clothes and shoes, finding stones from the garden, careering front to back of the house and making a noise about nothing. The strange thing about the stealing is that he always comes to me with the stolen object in his mouth and sits right down in front of me until I see him and ask for it back. He ‘gives’ immediately, then sits until he gets his reward. Toto 1: Newsletter 0! He certainly gets my attention. I also notice that when I get into deep conversation on a forest walk with another walker, that is when Toto will go missing.

    1. Hi Helena,
      Dogs can be very clever about knowing times when your focus is elsewhere! If you can identify these times then you can plan ahead so that Toto is not able to distract you as much. If you know you need to make an important phone call or have a busy few hours getting work done, and don’t want to be interrupted, then think about closing Toto in the room with you and give him something to keep him occupied. Alternatively, if Toto is crate trained you can pop him in there for some chill-out time and you can finish what you need to do. Hope that helps, Doggy Dan

  6. I understand what you mean about mindspace, Dan. We had a much adored brindle, male staffie, Rufous – born to a family member’s two staffies so part of our family until he died at 14 years of age. He loved to keep watch over our small herb farm, bordered by forest. He also loved to run and chase and had plenty of opportunities with kookaburras and wallabies that seemed to play with him. He would sit on the hillside all day until the second my husband was distracted and then he was gone. Often, while walking with him I found we had a connection, a communication that, while not mind reading, was like instinct reading of each other. The night he died we sat with him to the end. He watched me from across the room, he held my attention with his mindspace and he shared a sense of peace with me that I still feel when I think of him . He died at 4am. Our grief was dreadful. Ten days later we found another dog – a rescue. We did not try to replace Rufous but the way she found us was almost as if he sent her to us. She was 18 months, white, with spots and patches, and a female Staffie. Totally different dog. Even her mindspace is different. She stays with us, she does not wander off or chase anything. She connects to our mind space, she holds us. When I say goodbye on the phone she rushes to me with joy that I am with her again. She senses when anyone is disturbed, angry or upset and she comforts. She hugs and kisses, she leaps onto your lap or she just gives little wet kisses on a leg or hand or presses against you. Her mind space is gentle and she uses it for good.

    1. Hi Janine,
      It’s never easy to lose a beloved family pet and in many cases they really are a big part of our lives. I also believe that in many cases dogs do ‘find’ their owners, as your new dog did with you. Although both dogs had a very different way of operating it sounds like they both had a great connection with you. Thanks for sharing your story…All the best, Doggy Dan

  7. Hello, Mr. Doggy Dan…. I have been worried lately of our 7 year old female dog. She is actually the mother/grandmother of our 6 other dogs. She was sick last May and up to now hasn’t fully recovered. Since she was sick we have kept her inside the house. She would stay at the living room . Then after a few weeks she would stay in the room of my husband’s great grand niece . Then after a few weeks she would stay at my husband’s home office where she peed on the sofa bed and the couch. Then after awhile, we saw her staying at the landing of our stairs. We just tolerated this since she was still recuperating and we wanted her to stay where she felt comfortable. Then a week ago, we were surprised to see her lying in front of our bedroom door at the second floor of our house. Wagging her tail while she was still lying on the floor. We had to let her go down the stairs since we were afraid she might pee on the floor. We now had to put a barrier in the staircase so she won’t climb the stairs. Grande, which is her name is still weak and breathes heavily. She does not eat much. But sort of comes alive when she hears the sound of a rat or a mouse. She is so focused with the task of killing the rats that for the past 2 months she killed around 6 rats despite her weak condition. That is the only thing she does aside from sleeping , eating and walking around the house.. She does not interact with her offsprings and her offsprings also do not interact with her either. She is just alone all the time .. Sometimes, the youngest dog accompanies her when she hunts for rats. Then lately, like the other day, we saw her lying down near her other offspring in the same room. All the dogs stay in our kitchen so Grande went to the kitchen and stayed there for a night together with the other 6 dogs. It quite baffled me why she would do that after all these years. Then this morning, she again lay on the kitchen floor along side all the other dogs. I don’t want to entertain the thought that maybe she wants to be with her offsprings because it is almost time for her to go. I don’t know why all of a sudden she is behaving that way . I am not ready or will never be ready to part with her. I apologize for leaving a very lengthy comment… hope its all right .. I am just so worried about Grande. Thank you!

    1. Hi Arleen,
      The changes in Grande’s behaviour are very interesting and it may be a sign something is going on either physically or perhaps for another reason. It can be very normal for dogs to change their behaviours for seemingly no reason at all, but if Grande has been unwell lately then it may be worth following up with your Veterinarian just to make sure she is ok. I always trust my gut with these things and this post stresses the importance of owners knowing what their dog’s ‘normal’ is. By this I mean what their normal demeanour, eating habits, toileting habits or physical movements are. A change in this ‘normal’ can indicate a potential health issue that certainly is worth following up on.
      I do hope everything is ok with Grande and that she has simply changed her routine for reasons only she knows. All the best….Doggy Dan

  8. Kia ora Dan,

    Yes I get exactly what you are talking about, at the end of our hikoi Rua is let off the leash at the top of our driveway and always slows he dawdles and see if you are concentrating, and if not he even hides behind tree/s – bushes to see if you will call him in the hope that you have forgotten and he sees an opportunity to escape … and go on his extended hikoi !! LOL

    1. Hi Nikki,
      I’m sure a similar scenario happens in many households when it’s time to go home from the park, beach or a hike. Whenever there is fun to be had dogs are always up for more! Thanks for posting…All the best, Doggy Dan

  9. My dog definitely knows when I am no longer present and aware of him, like if I get to talking with someone or get distracted with something. He will take the opportunity to leave and do his own thing. I always sense that this will happen too if I have to take my attention away. And sure enough, most of the time when my attention is back to him he is out of sight.

    1. Hi Anita,
      I’m pretty busy in my working life and I find it really hard not to have my mobile phone on me when I walk my dogs. Unfortunately this device is usually the thing that most commonly loses my mind connection with my dogs and so I have learnt to be vigilant….or just not take the call if I can avoid it. I sometimes just end up placing my dog/s on-leash until I have finished the call. Thanks for posting…All the best, Doggy Dan

  10. My very first dog was a Jack Russell terrier named Bongo. As a puppy he disliked going out to potty in the rain. He would always look to see if we were watching as he would quietly sneak up the steps to go inside. This dog always made me be in the moment. When the phone rang he rang the bell to go outside. This dog did an amazing job at training me. The thing I had going for me was that he always wanted to please me. I remember the first day in puppy Kindergarten when the trainer looked at my puppy and wrinkled her nose and said,” you are going to have your hands full with that one!” Well Bongo made it through with flying colors and changed the trainers veiw of JRT’S. This dog was always watching and thinking. He taught me to have a sense of humor, live life to the fullest and never take my eyes off him.

    1. Hi Ranelle,
      It’s no secret that I absolutely love dogs that are a bit of a challenge. You know, those personalities that are analysing things ALL the time and keeping their owners on their toes. We learn so much from these dogs and their personalities are usually pretty entertaining if you have the right boundaries in place. Thanks for sharing, Bongo sounded like a wonderful dog. All the best…Doggy Dan

  11. Margo the 9-month-old German shepherd always knows when I am not paying attention. If I am working on the computer, I eventually become aware of a booming sound. Margo is throwing my heavy rubber boot into the air, making it bounce in the hallway. Thank you for the reminder to pay attention.

    1. Hi Rowena,
      I did have a bit of a chuckle to myself when I read your post! It’s definitely a jolt back into the right mind space for you. Margo sounds like a real character! All the best….Doggy Dan

  12. My husky would wait until I was in the car and had started it before getting up and running down the driveway to escape. Knowing that only then was there no chance of me catching her. She was the same when people came to the gate. She knew when they were not aware of her and would slip out the gate, they wouldn’t even know she was gone!

  13. I thought it was some telepathy or something, but my girl Alfina, who passed away just this last February, had an uncanny way of knowing exactly what I was thinking all the time. This one time I was in the kitchen rolling meatballs. I was at the end of it and thought about leaving some in the bowl for Alfina. As I was thinking it, I heard her pitter patter of feet coming into the kitchen and she turns the corner and looks at me with a tilt of the head, as in saying…yeah…I’ll lick the bowl. She was my friend and soul mate and I miss her so. 🙂

    1. Hi Mimi,
      It’s funny that when it comes to food dogs do tend to have a very keen sense of timing! My condolences for Alfina’s passing, it’s such a big sense of loss but they are rarely forgotten in our lives. Thanks for sharing. All the best….Doggy Dan

  14. Our two dogs are usually vocal, but whenever we have young babies staying they are the quietest dogs, it is as if they know that they need to be quiet around young children.

  15. Not sure if this is mind connection but we live on an orchard and my dog Renesme goes to work with my son everyday. Yesterday when they came home for lunch, I said I would go into town to run some errands. She went back with Tom but just as I was starting to focus on making a move to get ready to go, Renesme appeared. She loves going for rides in any vehicle. And all the while I was getting ready, she was watching me and kept running to the door and waiting as if she knew I was going on the van.

    1. Hi Win,
      Dogs are really good at picking up on our routines and often this means they are one step ahead of us! Very intelligent indeed. Thanks for sharing…Best, Doggy Dan

  16. I have a 14 week puppy, when I’m on my phone for too long she gets mad and tries to take my phone from me. I guess she’s trying to get the mind connection back:)

    1. Haha, I can totally understand the concept that puppies (and children) are far happier being the centre of our attention! When I work on the computer I sometimes get a very subtle ‘reminder’ from my dogs that they are present. Thanks for posting…All the Best, Doggy Dan

  17. My shepherd mix is very connected to me. She knows when I am really sick & need rest as opposed to when I am just being lazy. If I’m being lazy she will demand attention but if I’m really sick she will quietly lay beside me. Now she’s very sick & i know she is comforted when I am near. I have a sense she is very weak & she doesn’t have much time left. Although the vet says she is doing well, my sense is that she is slipping away. Completely believe animals know & feel more than we think.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I’m really sorry to hear that your dog is not well, it’s never easy to see them struggle with their health. Sending lots of positive vibes your way in the hope she recovers fully in the near future. It’s a very reassuring thing that you are both so in-tune with each other that you can offer comfort when needed. Dogs, all animals really, are amazing creatures and I believe they are far more perceptive and attuned than we give them credit for. All the best….Doggy Dan

  18. My Shepherd Casey had an amazing mind connection with me. And she actually understood what I was saying most of the time. Miss her tremendously.

  19. I have a great fear of mice and our beautiful Border Collie, Shana, had been brought up on our chicken farm and had proved herself to be not only an excellent mouser but a fantastic ratter as well. Shana would always sleep in the same spot, by the fire. One day a mouse was discovered in our kitchen. The kitchen had no door and we slept on the ground floor. That night Shana chose to break the habit of a lifeltime and slept across the threshold of our bedroom door, ensuring no mouse could get passed her, and I slept peacefully.

    1. Hi Jacqueline,
      Shana sounds like a very handy dog to have around on the farm….and in the house! A lovely story, thanks for sharing. Best…Doggy Dan

  20. That is my dog, Chili. He will even look at you out of the corner of his eye as he’s taking off, just to make sure you’re still distracted.

    1. Haha Janet that is brilliant! This kind of behaviour is where you get to see a dog’s mind ticking over and you know exactly what they are thinking. Thanks for sharing…Best, Doggy Dan

  21. I feel as if this is the most relevant post that I have read to date, and as I’m struggling with training issues with my dog, it was something I really needed to hear and start thinking about today. Thank you!

    1. Hi Katherine,
      It is often a very timely reminder when I talk about ‘Mind Space’ for people working on their dog’s behavioural issues. Having the right connection and frame of mind is key and really can make all the difference! All the Best…..Doggy Dan

  22. I notice that my sister’s 2 1/2 year old Sharpei, Jakey ,has various methods to bring us into mind space…………… I right?? When I enter his house each morning to take him for a walk and I am preoccupied with the morning newspaper, putting groceries away, or other tasks, he runs to get something like his mom’s good shoe, or clean laundry, and runs by swinging it in the air. He knows he gets my full attention and it is faster getting me to attend to the walk. Dogs are very clever, indeed. Thanks for all your help. Sr. Jane

    1. Hi Sr. Jane,
      You are absolutely right in that dogs are very good at learning what behaviours gain our attention the best! This can also be a problem if the behaviour is one you want to get rid of because giving attention to that behaviour, even telling the dog off, reinforces with the dog that this behaviour works for them and so they continue to do it. Jakey sounds like a very intelligent dog….Best, Doggy Dan

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