This post is dedicated to you, the dog owner. Yes, this site is not just about dogs, it is also about dog owners’ well-being. Let’s talk about mindful dog walking.
Most of us lead very busy lives and after a stressful day at work we often feel exhausted and stressed out (I definitely do!). When you’re feeling like this, it’s a great idea to utilize your daily dog walk as a way to calm your mind.
Mindful dog walking is a great way to use your dog walk as a means to quiet your mind.
Basics of mindfulness
The basic idea of mindfulness is to focus your mind on the present moment. Often our minds are either in the past or in the future and thinking about either of those makes us usually feel more stressed.
If you can focus on the moment at hand, this will often calm your mind. When the mind is focused on the present moment there is no space to worry about the future or dwell on the past.
I think when you’re out and about with your dog, it is a perfect time to practice mindfulness as this is a time when you’re usually in nature or at least out of your home and work environment that normally remind you of worrisome things.
Below I’ll discuss some techniques you can use to practice mindful dog walking.
Share your dog’s curiosity of your surroundings
Dogs are naturally interested in their surroundings. Even if you walk the same route every day, your dog will keep finding new interesting smells and things to look at.
Share this curiosity with your dog. I don’t of course mean to sniff your surroundings, but pay attention to the different details in your environment, such as textures, colors and smells. For example, you could observe the texture of the footpath or how the rays of the sun hit the ground. You can try to observe how the trees smell and if it has rained maybe the air smells a little damp. If you’re in a snowy environment, you can pay attention to how the snow sounds and feels under your feet and if the texture of the snow is different from the day before.
There are so many things to see in our environment so paying attention to these small details will take your mind of other things. Be excited and curious about the subtle changes you can identify within your environment day to day.
Pay attention to your dog’s actions
If you really pay attention, you’ll notice your dog will do countless different little actions on your walk. We generally notice our dogs sniffing the ground, but pay attention to how your dog sometimes spots an interesting new smell and abruptly changes their direction. Sometimes your dog hears or sees something interesting and they will lift up their head and look around curiously. If your dog is trying to listen carefully, they will tilt their head to hear better.
Sometimes your dog might hear or smell something strange and unusual, which might make the hairs at the back of their neck stand up. My dogs did this once when I was young while walking in a quiet forest late in the evening and it was quite freaky as I couldn’t see or hear anything, but they clearly could!
All these small actions done by our dogs demonstrate that dogs are a lot more in touch with their environment than we are so there’s a lot to learn from them.
If you struggle to pay attention to your environment and find that this doesn’t stop your mind from wondering, you can try to quiet your mind by counting yours or your dog’s footsteps. It’s probably easier to focus on your own footsteps than your four-legged friend’s to begin with as paying attention to four quickly moving paws might get confusing.
What you can do is set yourself a goal, for example count 20 steps and when you reach this goal take a look around at your surroundings and take a deep breath in. Enjoy what you see and acknowledge you are present. You can then increase the step count to 40, 50 or even 100.
I find these kinds of focus games are very efficient in quieting the mind and are a good way to kick-start mindful walking if you haven’t done it before. You can count other things too, such as trees, birds or other people and dogs.
Listen to sounds in your environment
Our environment is filled with different sounds so pay attention to what you can hear around you. If you’re in nature, you will naturally hear birds and the wind blowing through the trees. If you’re in the city or in a suburban environment you will likely hear cars or people talking.
But pay attention if you can hear any less obvious sounds. For example, you could try to focus whether you can hear sounds of running water, such as a river. Or can you hear rattling in the bushes that may indicate lizards, rodents or other wildlife. There may also be dogs barking in the distance. By doing this exercise you’ll notice how full your environment is of different sounds.
Leave your smartphone at home
To really be able to be mindful of the present moment, it’s crucial to leave your smartphone at home. If you need to take your smartphone with you for safety reasons, switch it on silent and turn the vibration off. This will ensure you won’t get distracted by incoming messages or phone calls. There’ll be a time after your walk when you can attend to these.
Our smartphones are large contributors to our daily stress levels. I find staring at my phone especially in the evening makes me slightly anxious, thus this is a time when I try to reduce smartphone usage.
Our dogs are our precious companions so make the most of your time with your dog. Be in the moment.
To many happy barks and mindful dog walks,