Have you ever noticed how people walk their dogs?
If you observe carefully, you would notice that there are many different types of dog walkers and styles of walking. There is the dog walker with the goal of finishing the walk, even before the walk begins. Those individuals tend to walk at a fast pace, prompting the dog forward with a pull of the leash to complete the walk quickly and reach that final destination of home. Then, there is dog walker with the well trained dog at his/her side during the entire walk. That dog always maintains a sharp focus on the trail ahead and obediently sits when its master stops. Finally, there is the virtual dog walker who is constantly distracted by cell phone conversations or glancing at emails along the walk, rarely even noticing the dog or the surroundings.
Initially, I walked my dog, Rudy, at a fast pace for the exercise in order to receive health benefits. The research data also recommends that healthy dogs need daily exercise. This type of walking was not very satisfying however. Arriving at a new plan, I began listening to podcasts that were intellectually interesting as I walked the dog. Noticing that I was no longer appreciating the walk itself, the podcast lectures were replaced with listening to music. As I listened to the music, thoughts began to surface of problems that needed to be solved in my life… rather than simply enjoying the walk. Rudy and the surroundings soon became somewhat invisible and I slowly became aware of the fact that the walk had become a meaningless activity with many distractions. That’s when I decided to engage in mindful dog walking.
My meditation training had taught me that while washing the dishes, I needed to focus on the task of just washing those dishes. So while walking the dog, my new focus was to be on just walking Rudy mindfully. No phone, no music, no podcasts, no set pace… just creating a bond with my dog during the walk and noticing the rich surroundings that I never was aware of before. Mindful dog walking enabled me to develop a special bond with my dog and I began to understand his emotional needs.
Let me explain the simple routine that I developed. Mindful dog walking began with the intention of just walking Rudy. Selecting a time, so that I would not be rushed was the first step in the process. Getting out an nonrestrictive harness and gently stating, “Let’s go for a walk Rudy” was always greeted with excitement and a bonding moment.
Now as the walks begin, I ignore any goal driven feelings or thoughts about the walk’s end. When I sense that Rudy has been hit with a rush of smells, I wait patiently as he sniffs. I remind myself of this wonderful opportunity to engage in the present moment and look at my surroundings. If Rudy takes an exceptionally long time to move, I gently walk toward him and stroke his back to remind him of my presence. He senses it is time to move on and we go on our way. There are so many things on these walks that I have never noticed before.
During our journey, Rudy shows excitement as we walk by the houses of other dogs he is familiar with. If his dog friend is outside, we take the time to greet them. Quite often, Rudy will hear the sound of the postal truck and realize that our friendly postal worker, Pam is near with a treat and a loving greeting. Watching my dog’s happiness as he engages in these simple experiences brings me joy.
After thirty minutes or so, Rudy and I finally arrive home. The leash is put away and Rudy picks a soft spot on the rug and falls into a deep sleep. The mindful walk was satisfying for both of us.