I’ve written a couple of times about how we tend to lie on social media. I don’t mean outright lies, I mean the lies that occur because we prefer to show our best selves — the peaceful beach photos, the happy family, the beautiful meals — rather than the muck of life. Today I want to share a real story, not optimized for views, not carefully chosen because large numbers of people are seeking this information, but just because it’s true, useful, and I think lots of people can relate. It’s about walking dogs.
About a year and a half ago, my wife and I had to take in a family member’s elderly dog due to a change in their living situation. (Note: That was a social media half-lie used for simplicity’s sake. The truth is that it was my dog from a previous relationship that stayed with my ex and our kids. We share custody of the kids. Not the dog.) The dog is a sweetheart who gets along with everyone — people, dogs, cats…However, our current dog does not have such an easy-going attitude. Despite numerous attempts to get the two dogs together on neutral ground, she was having none of the new (elderly) dog. I believe it to be an issue of possessiveness over me. Both dogs think I am their person, and they are correct. It’s just that the younger dog does not want to share.
We could have tried harder. We could have gotten a professional trainer involved or maybe attended some training classes. The thing was, I didn’t want to put the elderly dog through the stress of that. We thought she had about 6 months left, maybe a year, tops. I wanted her time left to be reasonably stress-free.
This has meant I get to play the game of keeping the dogs separated at all times. We rotate between inside, outside in a kennel, and inside the garage. They eat separately, get love separately, and take walks separately. Had I known that all these months later, we’d still be living in this high-maintenance lifestyle, I would have worked harder to find a better solution.
The upside to all of this is that I have rediscovered the joys of taking a dog for a walk.
In my younger, apartment dwelling years, I used to have a Rottie I took for walks. We lived across from a park, and this worked perfectly. As I moved into houses with big yards and different dogs, daily walks became a thing of the past. Now, in an attempt to make sure both dogs get enough exercise and attention, I take them for regular walks throughout the day. As I took one of them through the woods behind our house after lunch today, I thought about what a peaceful, almost meditative experience walking a dog can be.
Suddenly my mind was listing all the ways walking a dog could be good for our physical and mental health. Ah-ha! This seemed like a good idea for an article. Would anyone want to read about it? I don’t know. Maybe some would, but the fact is, I think it’s interesting and true, so I decided to write it. Here’s my truth about dog walking:
- Walking your dog is good exercise.
I don’t expect much of an argument here. Most of us have fairly sedentary jobs these days, and even personal tasks often involve sitting at a computer. Anything that gets us off our butts, out of the house, and moving is good.
- Walking your dog gets you out in nature, which is both physically and emotionally beneficial.
Studies have shown spending time outside has numerous health benefits including lowering stress levels, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and helping fight anxiety and depression.
- Walking your dog can be a relaxing, even meditative experience.
I am fortunate to be able to walk our dogs through a quiet, wooded area. It is a place I can pretty much be on auto-pilot, let my dog lead the way, and simply focus on following her, or the sound of the birds, or even my own footsteps. I know not everyone has such an idyllic setting for walking their dog, but even in all but the most congested of cities, I believe that you and your dog can fall into a pattern where you both know what to expect and you can focus less on your inner troubles, and more on what is happening around you. It might be listening for other dogs, children, or traffic, but anything that puts you in the here and now is a good way to practice living in the moment. Next time you are walking your dog, try to let go of your normal worries. Instead, try spending time noticing your surroundings, or your breath, or the sound of your dog breathing.
- Walking your dog can help shift your mood.
Similar to what motivational speaker Tony Robbins says about changing your body to change your mind, walking has been shown to increase positive feelings such as interest, alertness and joy. Rather than just stewing in your own bad mood, or a lethargic state of mind, try taking your dog for a walk. It will likely put you in a better emotional state and will certainly improve your dog’s mood, too!
- Walking your dog will strengthen your bond.
There are a lot of reasons that people have dogs, but one of the tops is for companionship. I know that often when people have big yards they tend to forget that their dog still needs to go for walks for exercise and mental stimulation. They get bored with their environment and enjoy experiencing new sights and sounds. Going on regular excursions together, even just around the block, are opportunities to learn more about each other, anticipate each other’s responses, and just enjoy each other’s company. For especially effective bonding, try what some call “leadership walks” where you set the pace, decide where to go and be the leader while giving your dog lots of praise for focussing on you.
There’s my truth for today. It’s simple, heartfelt, and real. Walk with your dog. It’s good for both of you.