You can see it in that brisk flopping of the ears, the tail wag and head held high despite the collar. It’s dog walking time and for the dog-no matter what size, breed or constitution-it’s a time for joy. We humans, conditioned as we are to live in our heads, receive vicarious pleasure from this experience, which starts out with the first well-behaved step from home or vigorous pull on the lead on this daily canine journey. The walk is a vital ritual which keeps the dog healthy and strengthens the bond between human and animal.It’s also an opportunity to learn about and appreciate, the dog’s capacity for being fully alive and joyful in the moment.
Whether the established walk is in the country, along the beach, around the city streets or suburban parks, the preparation starts in the same way. The dog will, while seeming to be an innocent creature less intelligent than those of our species, interpret every physical and non-verbal gesture on your part, accurately anticipating your first move into the ritual.
“Look into my eyes…” My dogs, Roxy and Aggie, not only observed and interpreted my most subtle non verbal movements on waking, but would actually plant suggestions in my mind so that I would heed their call to go “Walkies”. With Pup and Buddy , two dogs which I cared for who tried the same mind method, I was able to negotiate,telling them a first cup of tea was essential to restore my energies after sleep.
Mind you, I have met some dogs reluctant to get out of bed for the first morning walk. Most have been older dogs living in colder climes. One or two, just like some of us, loved to loll about first thing, knowing that there was all the time in the world to get out and join the fray.
Once on the go, all dogs derive pleasure from the daily jaunt. The subtle interpretation of dog urine or faeces, is a skill and practice worthy of a forensic scientist.The type and size of the owner, their age, state of health and mind, can all be deduced with accuracy and informs the smeller of their walking community.
Being visual creatures, we are less affected by the universe of smells about us and thus miss out on a more visceral understanding of each other. Lies become easier. Many years ago, in another life and time when I was studying team dynamics, I learnt about the stage of team formation in which members developed behaviours called “ritual sniffing”. That’s right, in our own unique human way, we “sniff out” the strangers who will become our fellow team members, making our initial assessment about them. We’re surely not as accurate as dogs though.
The dog’s olfactory sense is gaining more and more notoriety as behaviourists and other scientists are learning about this powerful capacity. You would have heard about the dog who kept sniffing his owner’s leg just where it was later discovered that a tumour was developing, and of course we humans have put dog sniffing capacity to use in various occupations.
My favourite walk is along the dog beach, an area dedicated to canine play. Here all types of dogs and owners congregate for fun. Like us, some dogs want to socialise with friends old and new, while others become obsessed with getting that ball, no matter how far their owner has thrown it into the sea. There is something about the beach culture that exposes you to judgement.and here its not the slenderness of your body and type of swimmers you wear, but the breed and size of your dog. Yes, status anxiety does operate in the dog owner’s world. One of the blessings of my life as a house sitter, is having the opportunity to get to know and bond with dogs of all kinds. People often ask me what my favourite breed is but for me its the individual personality of the dogs that important, and I’ve met so many great dogs, large and small, I am spoiled for choice.
The dog walk is something I look forward to as each new dog joyfully leads me into new territory.
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