photo credit: Eddie Cho

The Benefits of Walking Dogs

It happened last month. Laurie asked me, “Do you want to W-A-L-K the D-O-G-S?”

Instantly, three sets of ears perked up. A cacophony of barking began.

Our dogs had learned to spell!

As puppies they had quickly learned the word “walk.” As soon as anyone said “walk” bedlam happened. Dogs running and barking through the house, dogs barking and grabbing leashes, shoes, shirts. We’d often stood face against the walls waiting for a moment of calm.

We’d eventually corral the manically-crazed dogs by the backdoor. We’d struggle to get harnesses and leashes on and then, finally, get out the door. Usually, we were both panting by the time we were outside.

We thought we could avoid the craziness if we just spelled the word, but as of last month that no longer worked. Even if we look at a door, or put on sneakers, we are busted.

I would bet that we are not alone in this, that many a regular dog-walker gets the same treatment. Why? Because dogs love walks. Other than eating and sleeping it is their favorite activity.

But here is a shocker. In an article written by fellow Santa Fean Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times (Gretchen regularly writes about all things fitness including dog walking) she mentioned that over 40% of dog owners don’t walk their dogs.

I thought that instead of guilt tripping those folks, I would rather spend a few hundred words talking about the simply amazing benefits of walking with dogs (at least the benefits if you survive getting super-excited dogs out of the house . . .)

At some point I made the switch from “I have to walk the dogs” to “I want to walk the dogs” for a couple of reasons that have grown on me over the last few years.

In ascending order of importance here are my reasons.

First, it gets me outside and it is exercise for both the dogs and me. Sometimes, trying to hold back two 130lb. pound dogs from chasing a rabbit, it’s a lot of exercise. Sometimes wrestling a dead rabbit away from Tank is all the exercise I need in a day.

Next, it’s a chance to see the world the way the dogs see it. Mind you, it takes a shift in consciousness to begin realizing that everything they see and smell is so cool! For example, Maisie, our new rescue puppy, is excited by every blade of new grass. She watches and barks at the crows overhead. She has checked out the now eighteen stink beetles we’ve seen on the road this spring. When we can let go of our world-weary adult worries and see the world around us anew, it is astonishing. Those beetles have been around, for example, since the Cretaceous period, 250 million years ago. (Although I’m pretty sure that is not why Masie is fascinated by them.) Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish theologian, wrote that his one talent was the capacity to be tremendously surprised by life. Seeing the world through the eyes of a dog is like that. Even that simple walk around your neighborhood, if you look closely, is a surprising experience in the natural world.

It is a time to practice mindfulness. We are inundated more than I can ever remember with information from every direction. We are stressed out and worried about a thousand different things. A walk with dogs is a chance to unplug. It is a chance to focus only on the here and now. You and your dog(s); nothing else exists for those few minutes each day.

My favorite reason is that a walk is a time to bond. We meander along, taking it all in together. The dogs look back at me, making sure I’m noticing. They lean up against me. I talk to them about important stuff; the wind, the clouds, what’s for breakfast, and keeping an eye out for coyotes, and for beetle number nineteen.

In sum, walking our dogs has become something that I look forward to daily as much as they do, granted without the histrionics. What I have also learned from them is that it is simple things, a walk around the neighborhood and a good breakfast, that makes a life. So those are my arguments to get out with your dogs. Wind, rain and snow and sun: they want to go and so should we.

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Hersch Wilson

Hersch Wilson

Writer. Retired Firefighter. Dog Lover. Buddhist Beginner.