The Zen of Dog Walking

My dog Avalanche wakes me up bright and early each morning even on the darkest days.  He looks at me with expectant eyes. And every morning, I sigh. 

“Okay,” I say. “I’m coming.”

We have a routine.

We go for a walk.

If he thinks it’s anywhere remotely close to dawn, Avy will remind me that we have places to go and smells to smell. If I am lucky, he’ll wait until I have made it through my first cup of coffee, but oftentimes not.

In the summer we walk predawn. We are in the high desert of Nevada, so our temperatures are extreme. Summers are hot and by 9:30 or 10 am any hope of doing outside tasks withers in the sun. It’s not unusual to see me out at 5am watering, raking paths, and refilling water buckets and birdbaths. My neighbor is out too, working on another project with his friend, or feeding the feral cat colony nearby.

Winter is a little different. The house is cold and I need my coffee to take the chill off my brain before I can function. I’m reluctant to even get dressed, as it means exposing bare skin to chilly air. But, I can only stall for so long.  I must get moving and start the day. There are animals to feed, chores to do and breakfast to be made.

Avy stares at me

“Hurry up! Hurry up!” His eyes bore into my soul and he lets out a whine.

He’s anxious to start his day, too.

Avy is half Siberian Husky and half Akita. Like all my past huskies, he loves to run, hike and go for walks. He loves his cats, loves to chase rabbits, bury his snacks in the yard, and say “hi” to the occasional other dog.  What he doesn’t do, is play ball or fetch. He’s 10 now, so he is no longer that interested in toys, either.

Walking is his main interest. That includes walking as many times a day as we will take him.  He can be dog-tired and sound asleep, but if he thinks we are going out somewhere, he’s right there. It doesn’t seem to matter that we have a very large yard with birds, rabbits, and squirrels. He is a little bit interested in the wild horse bands that meander down our street. He will also steal the winter suet out of the bird feeder, but the rest of the activities are just not that interesting to him.

He is passionate about his walks.

So, we walk.

Avy savors his excursions.  He takes his time, inhaling the scents, exploring holes.  He tracks the various footprints to see what has changed since the last time we walked this way. Most of the time, he doesn’t rush.  He can sniff for what seems like an eternity, just enjoying the experience. Every walk is renewed and fresh and he never seems to be disappointed in the adventure. 

I used to use my walking time with him to sort out problems, plan my day, or just think. I’d enjoy the walk, but I didn’t like all of the stops. I’d get frustrated because I felt like I was behind in my day when our walk dragged on. Walking began to be more of a dread than a pleasure.

I had things to do, too.

But I was missing the point.

Dogs spend most of their time being in the moment. When they play, they give their all; when they eat, they usually eat with gusto.  When Avy goes for a walk, he’s focused on the experience.

I was focused on what’s ahead, what’s next on my never ending “to do’s.” No wonder the walks left me angry, tired, and frustrated.

It took awhile before I realized this.  I was in the middle of my “life reset” at the time. In my Cancer Thrivorship class, we start with a few minutes of meditation before we share our concerns.  It helps us to let go of our day and draw us into the things we really want to talk about. I decided that I needed to look for other ways I could add meditation or mindfulness to my day, perhaps in an area where I wasn’t getting the kind of joy I wanted.

The task of walking Avy shone out there like a bright red beacon in my mind. I love my dog and it really bothered me that I wasn’t enjoying my time with him.

The next day, as we walked, I watched Avy. And I was a bit jealous of how much fun he really had. Every corner was new. Every smell was new. Even yesterday’s smell was new, because he was smelling it today!  Dogs in their yard would bark at him.  Sometimes he acknowledged them, sometimes he didn’t. It just depended on what he was involved with at the time.

After a while, I realized that I was looking around me more, too. What was new? I noticed how fresh the air smelled from the rain. I noticed the rabbits in the sagebrush and the chickens pecking for bugs in the horse corral. I noticed my neighbor had painted his fence recently, and that the feral cats had new burrows in the bushes. I looked at the horse trails and saw new smaller hoof prints.  Some mare had a baby! When, I wondered?

How long had those things been there? I really didn’t know.  It had been ages since I had really looked at the neighborhood. But I bet Avalanche knew.

That walk was enlightening. It also passed way more quickly than I wanted. 

How did that happen?

Over the past few weeks, our walks have gotten longer. Instead of me hurrying to take a shorter route home, Avy and I linger. We take a different route each day and stretch out our walks.  I spend more time outside, in general; exploring the yard, seeing what’s new, and what is the same. It doesn’t matter.  I’m just enjoying.

I didn’t really do anything earth shattering, but it made an amazing difference in my day, and Avy’s.

I just decided to pay attention.

‘Till next time,

Bev

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