Successful steps for mindful dog walking
During lockdown we saw a huge rise in the amount of people in the UK buying pets and getting out in nature, as many of us found time to step out and appreciate the simple things in life whilst being grateful for our daily exercise. We’ve all had to adapt to new experiences over the past year and some people found it difficult to slow down and get out of their own heads and into their lives.
Unlike us, dogs live very much in the present moment. They don’t really stress about the past or worry about the future. They primarily think about the here and now. By walking mindfully with your dog it is possible to lead from their example and reduce your own stress levels, caused by pondering ‘what if’ or replaying negative experiences in your mind.
The key thing to remember is that there is no use worrying about things that you can’t control. Fretting about them won’t change the outcome. Holding onto anxiety and feeling constantly stressed about something that may not happen can make you both physically and mentally ill. Mindfulness it one way to prevent this kind of negative spiral of thinking.
By becoming mindful of your emotions, feelings, sensations and thoughts in the present moment you stop reliving the past or worrying about what might happen in the future. You are focused on the present moment and this can help to reduce the negative emotional and physical impact of stress and anxiety.
But how you can you practice mindfulness with your dog? Here are some tips to help you get started.
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Wake up and smell the flowers
Dogs tend to be hyper aware of everything around them. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the feel of the earth - or pavement - beneath their paws. Start off walking with your dog beside you and watch how they engage their senses. Then begin to do the same.
In order to tune in completely we recommend leaving your phone at home or at least put it on airplane mode, so that you can focus completely on what you are doing without being interrupted. Be calm and curious.
Studies have shown that as dogs sniff the area around them, it reduces any stress they are feeling so why not leave the ball at home if you’re having a mindful walk and allow your dog to have a good sniff – and have a good sniff yourself!
When a dog finds something interesting to smell on their walk they investigate it with all of their attention. We’re not suggesting you crouch down and start sniffing the ground, but as you’re walking along, breathe in and notice what you can smell. Spring flowers, tarmac, perhaps someone's tea cooking in a house that you walk past? What can your dog smell? Are they following a scent or sniffing the air? Is their nose moving and responding as they walk?
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Take time to really look at everything
Next, have a look and see what you can see. Like, really look. Often your dog will spot something in the distance or scurrying in the bushes way before you do. Focus on what you can see, not what you’re thinking about. What colour is it, what shape is it? Which flowers are coming into bloom? There may be things on your usual walk that you simply haven’t noticed before because you haven’t taken the time to really stop and stare. Are you appreciating the local architecture? Or the signs of nature? What kinds of things is your dog looking at?
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Tune in to the sounds around you
Are your dog’s ears rising and falling and rotating at the different sounds around them? What can you hear? Tune in to the sounds around you. Can you hear birds singing? Traffic in the distance? Is your dog panting or sniffing? Their collar or lead jingling? Can you hear you own breathing or your footsteps on the path?
Touch and taste
What can you you feel? Reach out and touch the leaves on the tress or run your hand along a smooth brick wall. Explore the different textures and think about them. What can you taste? if you’re walking at the beach it could be the salty air or maybe you’ve brought a packet of sweets along for your journey.
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By taking turns to think carefully and deliberately about all of these sensations you should feel revitalised and less focused on anything that has been stressing you. It is like taking a little step outside of everything that is making life difficult. It gets you out of your head and into the moment and taking in everything around you. The best way you prepare for the unknown is to take time for yourself and practice some self-care. This can help you to become more mindful and centred, along with some cuddles and unconditional love from your furry companion. A mindful, sensory walk is something that you can control and the benefits of taking some time in nature with your pet to practice mindful dog walking are pretty clear.
Have you tried mindful dog walking? Let us know how you got on in the comments section below.
Main Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash