Dog walking. It is a like a big pink elephant in the room of dog guardianship. Some of us adore it. Others of us….not so much. Back in the days of the wild wolves, dogs would have walked themselves, of course. Now, most modern canines only have one option when it comes to finding the perfect spot to do their business…..the leash, and us. How do you view walking your dog? Loathe it? Tolerate it? Love it? Somewhere in between? Animal communicator Shannon Cutts delves into dog walking from both the walker’s and the dog’s point of view.
A quick poll to start. Do you enjoy walking your dog? Yes? No? Heck no? Sometimes? All the time? No one is watching (or listening) to you right now. So you can answer honestly.
What about your dog? Well, your dog already knows how you really feel. (I’m an animal communicator – you can trust me on this.)
But do you? Are you struggling to hear, acknowledge, admit your own truth?
I have to be honest. Our standard wire-haired dachshund, Flash Gordon, can make walk time challenging (yup that’s him ==>).
Allow me to give you some context. Flash eats at 5pm sharp every single day. And at 5:04, give or take about 3 and a half minutes, he is ready for his evening walk. If no leash is forthcoming by approximately 5:05, he starts barking loudly. Because he has to poop. And because he’s all revved up from his all-time favorite activity, EATING. And because he is a dachshund and dachshunds are stubb….I mean, persistent.
Sure, he could head out his dog door and do his bathrooming in the private and roomy grassy toilet in our back yard. But walk time is more than just toilet time to Flash. It is sniff time. It is meet and greet time. It is his show – a time when the tables are somewhat reversed and he gets to call the shots. In short, it is fun!
When Mom walks Flash, all of these things happen. Flash is her dog and she normally handles the morning walk. But Mom is nearly 80 and recovering from major leg surgery. When I moved in to help out after Dad passed, I knew my responsibilities would include not just my three animals but Flash as well. And often this means I am in charge of evening walkies.
It has been humbling, I will admit. Yes, I love animals. Yes, I love Flash. And yes, I love to walk. But do I love to walk at 5:05pm right in the middle of my workday, my parrot’s dinner time, my dinner time, etc, etc?
Heck no. In that spirit, I thought I’d share four tips that work really well to help me enjoy walk times more than I would otherwise.
1. Be honest (say what you gotta say).
Earlier I mentioned that your dog already knows how you feel about walking him or her. This is true even if you do not know how you feel about walks, or if your feeling about walking your dog changes from one walk to the next.
Happy to be out on a walk with your precious pup? Your dog knows. Frustrated because you were totally focused on something and your dog wouldn’t stop barking to go on a walk? Your dog knows. Feeling crappy and wishing you could curl up on the couch instead of going on a rainy dog walk? Your dog knows.
But what your dog may not be as clear about is why you are feeling happy or grumpy or queasy or whatever you are feeling.
So own up to it. Tell your dog. Or rather, show your dog. Non-human animals communicate mainly in emotions and images. Human animals communicate mainly in words. To make sure your dog clearly understands, say the honest thing you feel. “I don’t feel well right now so I don’t want to walk.” “I am very worried about an email my boss just sent me so I don’t want to walk.” “It is such pretty weather outside and I love that we are walking in it together.”
Your action of thinking honestly about how you feel and connecting it to the action of walking will automatically prompt a corresponding emotion and mental picture and your dog will “read” that to put two and two together and understand your sentiment with clarity.
(Need more help refining your interspecies communication abilities? I can teach you.)
2. Mindful dog walks (or giving yourself the right to choose).
One of my colleagues talks a lot about mindful dog walks. I love this idea. But I have discovered it will never be more than just a good idea unless I also give myself full permission to feel what is actually going on inside me while I’m attempting to be mindful.
Mindfulness implies present-mindedness. What this would look like is that you drag your mind away from whatever it was chewing on just prior to the start of your dog walk and insist it now focus fully on walking your dog instead.
Not surprisingly, minds tend to balk at this point. Or my mind does, anyway. So instead of insisting on being perfectly mindful, allow yourself to notice what comes up instead. Accept that. Ask yourself if that sensation – impatience, frustration, worry, irritation, whatever it is – is something you want to hold onto. If not, give yourself permission to allow it to pass.
As one of my mentors used to say to me, “You chose to play this game. So either play it or get out and go find another game.” I see dog walking the same way. Some part of me is choosing to drop whatever I was just doing, pick up the leash and the poop bags and head out the door. I always have a choice. So now I can choose to enjoy this little break outdoors or choose to feel irritated the whole time.
3. Sniff walks for two (or notice what delights you).
Flash likes to sniff butts. And pee. And trash bags. And lamp posts. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t enjoy sniffing any of these items.
But I do enjoy smelling flowers, and fresh air, and rain, and sunshine (yes, sunshine has a scent – have you noticed?). And since I use my eyes more than Flash does to experience the world, I also enjoy looking at things rather than just sniffing them. I like looking at trees and birds and flowers and houses.
So we take turns. Flash gets to sniff something and I get to sniff (or otherwise investigate) something.
This helps me remain mindful. And makes it more fun. And at least dampens my irritation if I was really immersed in a project just before walk time arrived.
4. Minimize the ick factor (or do what you gotta do).
It just so happens I am a classic example of a HSP, or highly sensitive person. (Check out Dr. Elaine Aronson’s work on HSPs if you are not familiar.)
As an animal communicator, this is why I tend to attract HSP humans and their HSP pets.
As a pet guardian, I believe this is why what I am calling the “ick factor” of walk time – picking up poop – feels particularly off-putting and unwelcome.
One tiny waft of poop smell can lodge itself in my nostrils for a surprisingly long period of time!
So I have had to work with myself to prevent that from happening. To manage the visceral reaction to the feel of still-warm poop separated from my bare fingers only by a thin layer of poop bag material. To deal with having to carry that bag o’ poop until I’m back home and can drop it in the round rile.
Double bagging, strategic bag knotting, holding my breath, thinking of something else while I’m actually picking it up off the ground – these are all strategies that have helped me manage my sensory overload on dog walks.
If you have more ideas for how to transform those moments of resistance or frustration into dog walking bliss (or at least patience) I’d love to hear them!
Want to find out what your dog wants and needs from you to make walk time more fun for you both? I can help.