Today, no different than other days, I take my dog, Ted, for a walk. A ‘slow’ walk. We leave the house with no fuss. Treats and poo bags in pockets. Go down the path to the gate. Ted puts his nose to the ground, and I follow. We live in a very suburban neighbourhood in Cornwall. Its only saving grace is kind neighbours and being next to the countryside. Otherwise, to humans, it may seem boring. I am not a big suburbia fan.
Sometimes we venture further than our post-war estate and walk the nearby footpaths. With views of Newlyn, Penzance and St Just in the distance, the Cornish countryside is lush. The edges of fallow farmer’s fields are a favourite ‘slow walk’ terrain. We do not have to go far to enhance our dogs’ lives because our pace is the key to what makes them healthy and happy.
Today, the sun is shining between the clouds. The wind is cool, but I am being daring and wearing a t-shirt. Ted has a new haircut, so he will be quite comfortable. I leave my mobile phone at home, thankful for no distractions. Ted is on a well fitted harness and a three metre leash. I follow his lead. He does not pull. We adopted him in late February this year. Ted is a two-year-old male Weechon (Westie and Bichon cross). He is most likely an ex-breeding dog with little experience of living in a house and wearing a leash.
Ted walks slow and sniffs everywhere. He learnt to walk slow from his housemate, Izzy. Izzy is a rescued JRT who came to us a few years ago as a manic ball and water chaser who was hyper aroused all the time. We took away the balls and water play and started slowing her running and trotting pace down to a walk.
We walk down two streets, then Ted takes a right. He leads me to Creeping Lane. His pace becomes even slower then. The air smells like honeysuckle at times. The wind is rustling the beautiful oaks that line this lane. The pavement is finally dry after days of mizzle and rain. Even though it is almost August, it does not feel like summer yet. But I will accept any sun warming my back. Now and then, Ted lifts his head up and sniffs the air or looks over his shoulder. He also stops and takes in his surroundings with all senses.
In Creeping Lane Ted stops outside a neighbour’s beautiful old gate and stone wall. It is part of the Laregan House and Mews Estate and shares views of the local school field. This area, including Laregan House, was once owned by Henry VIII. King Henry also owned Castle Horneck (now a YHA) which has foundations as old as St Michael’s Mount. St Michael’s Mount is the Cornish monistic counterpart of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. It dates from the 8th Century. We once saw a Dormouse climb into the dry-stone wall that encloses the gardens here.
Back to the walk. We stand for quite a while – at least five minutes. I do not tend to look at my watch. Instead, I am looking overhead at my neighbour’s homing pigeons as they circle his house. Ted seems to only notice their shadows as they soar behind us. Ted may be stopping to listen to Darren shaking the pigeon grain tin. Or his whistles calling his flock back. The birds continue to circle the houses around us.
As we stand, I notice an apple tree and Ted sniffs some dry leaves. I crouch down and stroke my dog and he rubs his side torso on my hand and leg with pleasure. I am close to him. This is how we walk. It is simple and rewarding for both of us. We walk in comfortable silence. Ted is going at his own sniffy pace and I am taken away from my laptop and mobile and domestic chores. We are in the land of noticing. The land of slow.
We head for home. I am relaxed. I make some tea and sit down to write. As I have my mobile now, I am including a photo of how this slow, twenty-minute walk affected Ted. Most people would think I have exercised him for at least an hour. In fact, that length of walk, at a quicker pace, may create a more aroused dog when we get home. It is because I have given Ted the choice to lead. He has walked at his own pace, choosing where to stop and sniff.
Sniffing relaxes Ted and works his brain. Even inhaling other dogs’ poop helps his stomach biome. Being okay with Ted picking up discarded dog hair in his mouth lets him explore his part of the world. A quiet walk allows us to hear what is in our environment. No commands gives us equal footing. Giving Ted the chance to be a dog is a simple thing. If humans did this, their lives would be easier, and their dogs would thank them.
Stay tuned to The Slow Dog Movement blog for more ideas. Join me in creating a sea change – an evolution revolution for dogs. Where ‘less is more’ and seeing things from a dog’s point of view makes life easier for you too!
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