‘Unschooling’ for dogs and their humans

I have been thinking about how similar caring for a dog is to how we brought up our son, Henry.


There was a book on our shelves called the ‘The 7 o’clock bedtime’ when Henry was little. It was always our benchmark. We knew that if Henry went to bed at 7pm, we would get an evening for ourselves, he would get enough sleep (we all would!) and the next day would get on the right footing.


In this respect, dogs are remarkably similar. Dogs and children need their basic needs met – enough sleep, quality food, water, the freedom to toilet and social contact. We even had to protect our son’s ‘freedom to toilet’ during Secondary School in the U.K. This had been limited during class time and caused much stress amongst young women with their periods and boys and girls who couldn’t wait. This is how many dogs feel every day as they wait for us to brush our teeth, check our phone, and take that last sip of coffee.


I have to say that Henry never had a ‘temper tantrum.’ His basic needs, and more, were almost always met. I nursed him until he was over three (only at night at the end) and he had plenty of hugs and physical touch from my husband and I. Henry recently told me that ‘humans need 12 hugs a day’(1) and promptly asked for one. Dogs don’t need or like hugs, but research has shown that they do prosper being near us and from human touch. (2)


Recently, my colleague, Pennie Clayton, posted an article on Facebook about children and parenting that discussed children ‘seeking to connect instead of seeking attention.’ I don’t have the original article to refer to but found plenty online that talks about how ‘Planned ignoring can make an emotionally unmet child even more desperate.’(3) The article goes on to suggest that parents purposefully plan time to spend time with their children, focus their attention on other positive behaviour, be ‘spontaneously’ attentive to [your] child and to not ignore your child as has been the trend in the past. You could replace ‘child’ with ‘dog’ in every sentence above. In fact, the remedy for dogs is the mission statement of the Slow Dog Movement.


We are not perfect parents by any means. But we are honest with Henry, listen to and respond to his needs, and show him that we are ‘striving’ to be the best we can be. Now that he is almost eighteen, we don’t have to worry too much about many basic needs but sleep and eating right and drinking enough water – hey, wait a minute, yes, we still watch over many of his basic needs, just less intently.


When caring for a dog, there is plenty of opportunity to understand our dogs as individuals and care for them in a similar way to our children. The exception being, once they are past puppyhood, they must be considered as wise sentient beings with their own knowledge about the world. A world that we may never enter because of our species differences. Anne Lill Kvam recently gave a talk on ‘Mental Activities for Dogs’ for the Nordic Dog Trainers, and she reported that dogs have ‘150 square cm of membrane in their nose’ versus ‘2-3 square cm for humans.’ That is just our olfactory differences. Our senses differ in many ways, but we also share a lot of physiology with dogs – we both get emotional over specific scents and sounds, according to Anne Lill.


Respect is needed when caring for both children and dogs but there is one thing that we will not be able to match as Anne Lill says ‘Dogs live in another universe really…They are able to see, hear, smell, feel, things beyond the reach of our senses.’(4) People know this deep inside but they are often out of touch with how ignoring a dog’s sensory world impacts their day to day life. Instead of welcoming a dog into your life and being excited about how they will make your life richer, try turning it around!


Many others have written about this before me so I will keep this part short. A dog is wanted. Breeds and/or shelters are researched. Or both. Dog beds, toys, classes are sought out. Mainstream books are bought and read, or the internet is scoured for every activity and bit of training advice that can be consumed. This happens with expecting human parents as well! All of this happens without many prospective dog parents knowing very much about dog physiology or dog basic needs, never mind correct equipment or appropriate exercise. And this new dog is an individual! This dog is unique. He or she is his or her own ‘person,’ so to speak. With his or her own life experiences, likes and dislikes and health profile. Even a puppy will have history, whether positive or negative.


So, think of this unique dog or puppy, entering a human’s life and what the average human brings to this new relationship and then add society’s expectations and norms around how dogs and humans should interact and how we should train dogs, exercise dogs and so on. The same goes for human children. They are born and ‘bang’ the template for child rearing is fitted.


With our son Henry, we resisted much of what society said we should do. Henry was outside for most of his early life. We had no TV and still don’t! We avoided mainstream medicine (allopathic) for his ailments, preferring homeopathy for tooth ache and fevers. Henry didn’t go to a regular school until he was 7. Before that, we fostered Henry’s love of learning at home. He taught himself to read when he was four. All his learning arose spontaneously around his interests and from his individuality.

As with human carers, with most dog parents, the urge to start training starts very early. Caregivers believe that early training for their puppy or rescue dog is the responsible thing to do. Society and fervent dog trainers online encourage this belief. Puppies and rescue dogs are brought to dog training classes and/or 1:1 lessons are arranged.


When we adopted our six-month-old Westie, Bonnie, from my Mum, I too felt it was the right thing to do and promptly enrolled in an obedience group class with her. I last about ½ hour before I walked from that boring, slippery floored school gym into the brilliant sunshine of that Saturday. That was 1996. I have never been back to a classic dog training class. With the exception of a couple of dominance classes disguised as scent tracking, Bonnie and I didn’t have to ‘unschool’ or ‘deschool’(5) very much at all.


After these early days, when I followed my gut and left the obedience and dominance dog lessons, Bonnie was free to be a dog. I have spoken of her before in this blog, but for those of you who don’t know her name, she lived to be almost 17 years old and died in London in 2013. Bonnie lived a natural and happy dog life. She came to work with us, had choices of where to walk and what to eat or chew and slept wherever she wanted. She was never asked to sit again. She did like waiting at the side of a busy road until I said the release word and this was her choice!


It was the same with Henry. He did not experience formal education until he was seven years old. He was always an independent learner and challenged all information he was given. This is not an easy path! After leaving Secondary school in the UK he choose to take Boat Building at college instead of a pure academic route. If he was controlled by his parents or hadn’t learned who he was, early on, he may have felt the pressure to conform and go to university. There is nothing wrong with university! It’s just not for everyone. By allowing him to be himself and explore his world on his own terms, Henry followed the ‘red thread’ in his life. His love of boats.


I think that we are quite lucky, in this sense. Both Bonnie and Henry grew up naturally, were observed by us, their caregivers. We responded to their individual (dog and human) personalities. We didn’t conform to society’s mainstream rules for dog guardians or human parents. Henry didn’t always like mainstream school, and he did have some years, after the age of seven, where he didn’t attend school. I would like to say he was ‘homeschooled’ but this implies having lesson plans and sitting down with Henry and asking him to learn something. We did none of that. No curriculum at all. Henry’s classroom was the world, at his pace and focused on his interests. No assignments, no tests. Henry and us as his parents, had nothing to ‘unlearn.’ We didn’t feel confined within some belief system that regulated Henry’s subjects, pace of learning or style of pedagogy.


With many dog parents, the opposite is true. Once they embark on the dog training path, it becomes integrated into everyday life and in effect, a habit. Their dogs must sit for a treat or to cross the road or to even have attention. In some cases, people are scheduling hours every week dedicated to obedience, agility, flyball or a myriad of other dog training sessions and activities. They may not know that there is a completely other way to be with their dog and still have a good bond and happy and healthy animal in their care.
This is where the term ‘unschooling’ comes in:

‘Unschooling is an informal learning that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Often considered a lesson- and curriculum-free implementation of homeschooling, unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.’(6)

The American author and educator, John Holt, who wrote ‘How Children Learn’ as far back as 1967, was often referred to as the ‘father of unschooling.’(7) My favourite book of his is ‘Learning All The Time’ and he died just before he finished writing it. It was published in 1990 and his book is still radical today. Even though teachers and dog trainers alike may have their hearts in the right place, much of what we deem important to teach either our children or our dogs, is, in my opinion, unnecessary. John Holt says that we need to provide a trusting relationship, in some cases closeness, for children to feel safe enough to learn and the same is true for our dogs. Beyond that, it is our responsibility to make the world accessible to our human children, and I would argue, our dogs. He is a promoter or children finding out what they like and figuring out how to do things on their own accord, not being provided an adult curated version of the world as he remarks ‘…any teaching that the learner has not asked for is likely to impede and prevent his or her learning.’(8)


One of the teachers interviewed in John’s book, Rasmus Hansen of the New Little School in Copenhagen, said that ‘…it had taken him many years to stop doing – one at a time all the many things he had been trained to do, and finally to learn that this tiny amount of moral support [just sitting with children who are reading] and help was all that children needed of him, and that anything more was of no help at all.’(9)

I can relate to this with my own child, Henry. If I tried even just a little bit, to play teacher, Henry would completely close off. He needed to be the one discovering what was interesting to him, end of story. I bit of an ego deflater for a Mum who is excited about the learning materials and curriculum she just bought but at least I listened early. And of course I have never attempted to teach my dogs to read but be honest, there are a myriad of trainings people plan for their unsuspecting dogs.


If we approach dogs in the same way as children, in a holistic and respectful way, we need to observe them. What makes your dog curious, excited and fearful? How does your dog learn? From watching you? From watching his house mates or other dogs? In which context will your dog definitely not learn? What is essential for your dog to know to live a safe and happy life with you?


If you keep your dog on a leash around cars, then you may not feel the need to teach road safety. I felt this necessary for our son and found that he, because of his dyspraxia, was slow to learn about the spatial awareness that comes with cars. My dog Ted, grew up as some sort of breeding dog in training for a puppy mill. He has absolutely no thinking or cognitive ability when it comes to cars. Maybe one day but for now, he remains on leash.


For my family of dogs, there is nothing I feel I need to teach them. I don’t feel the need to teach my husband or son anything either! I would like to do scent tracking and man trailing with them one day but that day hasn’t come yet. I prefer to simply ‘be’ with my dogs and watch how they navigate new places, watch them sniff when on a walk, watch them choose their walking direction, see their personalities blossom in different situations. I feel it is my responsibility to offer new experiences for my dogs to explore – not new places every week but to provide variety in walks, sniffing places, natural parkour areas in parks and in meeting new people. Dogs like to walk in their neighbourhood and don’t need new places to be every week but sometimes, just like us, they enjoy seeing and experiencing a new place. Or revisiting a car park when it’s quiet and has been full of people that day – oh the scents!


In terms of ‘unschooling’ with your dog, especially if you have done a lot of obedience training already with commands or find yourself constantly wanting to ‘shape’ your dog’s behaviour or comment on it with a ‘good boy’ then I challenge you to pull back from this completely. Less is more! It will be a huge relief for you and your dog to not do this anymore. You can observe your dog in a non invasive way. Learn about dog body language and be humble! Don’t sit there and say you know everything there is to know about your dog or dogs in general! Give yourself time and be patient with yourself. This type of obedience or command habit in life is difficult to break. It’s like going from being a ‘helicopter parent’ to a chilled out dog parent – cold turkey!


For some extra guidance on this process and how to ‘let go’ of your inner helicopter, see my colleague, Jonas Thulin’s video on ‘The Circle of Trust’ on the Slow Dog Movement’s Facebook group.


Giving up your habits and perhaps even values around teaching dogs things may not be easy for everyone. I am suggesting that people stop training altogether and embark on observation and relationship building with their dogs instead. It’s not as sexy or catchy nor as widely known. It makes jobs for classic ‘dog trainers’ virtually obsolete. It also makes schools for classic ‘dog trainers’ obsolete. I consider myself a ‘lifelong learner’ when it comes to learning about dogs and dog behaviour and am able to find courses and mentors to teach me what I want to learn next. I personally don’t see the need for schools to teach humans how to command and control their dogs. No dog asked for this. And the way to help dogs with issues is not to teach them something new. The dog guardian may need to employ a skilled and carefully observing dog consultant or coach who can help the human look at stress and other elements in the dog’s life.


Learning to just ‘be’ with your dog takes practice. It may not be easy for you at first. Your dog has no problem because they will follow your cue. So first you have to learn to slow down. Then your dog can relax and slow down too. For humans, I highly recommend Carl Honoré’s book ‘In Praise of Slow’ published in 2005 by Orion. Carl has great ideas for taking breaks from your gadgets, checking to see how fast you are going at any given time and tips on how to actually do things at the correct pace. Humans weren’t always this busy you know!

I will leave you with a dog focused question that asks ‘Instead of asking what your dog can do for you, turn it around and ask ‘what can I do for my dog?’ In the context of ‘unschooling,’ the answer to the this question may surprise you.

1 https://www.healthline.com/health/hugging-benefits#7.-Hugs-help-you-communicate-with-others
2https://thebark.com/content/oxytocin-chemistry-between-people-and-dogs-real
3 https://www.parent.com/blogs/conversations/attention-seeking-connection-seeking
4 Anne Lill Kvam, ‘Mental Activities for Dogs’ 27th May 2021, Nordic Education Centre for Dog Trainers https://www.facebook.com/trollhundeskole/
5 http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/deschooling.htm
6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling
7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling
8 John Holt, Learning All The Time, Taylor & Francis Inc., 1990
9John Holt, Learning All The Time, Taylor & Francis Inc., 1990

The Nash Chronicles

How keeping a diary will help you slow down and learn about your dog

We adopted our ex-breeding dog, Ted, in late February. I guess he’s an official ‘lock down adoptee.’ The adoption was a quick one. One of my clients knew I was looking for a male terrier, and she sent me a photo of Ted. Ted arrived from the North to a Somerset Rescue Centre called Paws4Thought. Well, we all know how powerful photos are! ‘Showing the right thing’ in photos and videos is what the Slow Dog Movement relies upon to share its message. One look at Ted and I was in love.

My husband and I were on our way up to Durham on the Friday before Dr Amber Batson’s Canine Aggression course. We received a photo of Ted en route. I took Amber’s fabulous course and then we picked up Ted in Somerset on the way back down to Cornwall. The rescue centre wanted a quick turnaround, so we made it happen.

Ted is a two-year-old, neutered, Weechon (Westie x Bichon) male. He had his surgery a couple of weeks before we picked him up. I wouldn’t have neutered him but sometimes these things are out of our hands. Especially with rescue centres in the UK. Because Ted was neutered while in a very fearful state, Ted has retained this nervousness for now. His anxiety also stems from him most likely living in a barn or outbuilding before he came to us. He was likely a puppy farm stud in training. He is afraid of the sound of wind, anything blowing in the wind, men, anything above his head, like clothing or laundry and many other things. If we could move around the house horizontally, he would be much happier.

It’s been over a year since Ted came into our lives. I started a dog enrichment business before lockdown, so I didn’t think to keep a diary to help observe his progress. He has gained confidence and has learned a lot from his house sister dog, Izzy, but now I don’t remember all the details. Keeping a diary, over time, is an excellent way to slow down, observe your dog and create a valuable resource.

We adopted Nash on the 9th November 2013, an ex-breeding dog, from Many Tears Animal Rescue (MTAR) in Wales. I did keep a diary for him. Nash was a seven-year-old neutered Cairn Terrier with a brindle coat. Emily Blackwell, the head of Animal Behaviour at the University of Bristol, used my diary when she helped us with Nash. She said it was ‘incredibily useful!’ We had applied to go on Dogs Their Secret Lives, the TV show in the UK, with Mark Evans. The payment for agreeing to appear on the show was help from Dr Blackwell. This was before I took my International Dog Training Education (IDTE) with Turid Rugaas.

I would never choose to go on TV now, after what I have learned from Turid about dogs and stress. Dr Blackwell’s advice was to cushion our house from noise. We put a tablecloth on our dining table and more rugs on the floors. This helped Nash to relax. Turid’s advice to use the hand signal with Nash proved invaluable. He was resource guarding and biting my husband and sometimes my son. Nash also had separation anxiety. He would try to pull our trouser legs with his teeth when we tried to leave our narrowboat.

We moved from Bristol to a 35 ft narrowboat in Bath in 2014. If you’ve ever had experience with an ex-breeding dog from a puppy farm, you may know already that they are often super sensitive to noise. Nash had spent his seven years before we adopted him, in a pen, probably in a barn. He had never lived in a house or been on a leash besides the slip lead in the shelter. When we went to pick him up at MTAR, they said we could take him for a walk. My husband and I looked at each other and knew that we couldn’t. Nash was so fearful that he was flat on the ground. I couldn’t pull a dog along and wouldn’t. We picked him up and took him ‘for a walk’ away from the reception area. He didn’t pee until we got him home to Bristol. Almost a two-hour drive away!

Looking back over the diary now, I see many details of his behaviour I noted from the moment we met him:

‘On Saturday afternoon, when we brought him home, we tried to make it as calm as possible for him…we had no radio on…for a ten year old boy who was excited about having a new dog, [our son] Henry did very well.

‘I sat beside Nash on his new bed, on the floor of the dining room. I sat there, with my hand beside his torso, all night. He would hear a noise (a pot lid clanging for example), his hear would prick up and he’d lift his head and then he would just lie back down again. By Sunday he rarely lifted his head. He has a sweet habit, if stroked, and while getting himself more comfortable, of groaning in pleasure.’

There are notes about what MTAR fed Nash:

‘they fed him only once, at 07:30 am’ [and what we decided to do]: ‘But we’ve decided to feed him three smaller meals instead.’

Nash had an upset stomach at first, but we switched his food over time. from the high carb kibble to cooked chicken and yam at the beginning. He did very well on this protein high, three meal feeding. It helped him to feel secure and kept his blood sugar on an even keel.’

It is painful to read how shut down Nash was at the beginning. He didn’t know his name. Wouldn’t come to his food bowl. Nash was very worried about going through ‘thresholds’ – like through the doors in our house. We were lucky enough to rent a house with a back garden adjoining the house with a sunroom and French doors. Even though it was November when we adopted our little Cairn, we kept the French doors open for him all the time.

Puppy-mill, breeding dogs stay in one place all their lives. It’s not surprising that they would be afraid of going through doorways. At MTAR, with so many dogs to care for, they corral the dogs out of their pens and into a toileting area a couple times per day. For an already nervous dog, this would only heighten their stress levels. Sometimes, he didn’t want to come back indoors and would make a hole in the soil in the bushes and just sleep there. My husband would sleep on the downstairs settee in that case, so that someone was always there for Nash.

A diary entry a few days after Nash came home (all comments in brackets are from original diary entries):

‘Nash was much better today in the garden because (I think this is why?!) I opened the kitchen door and the French doors to the outside and then I just stood and then crouched in the garden. Not moving unless to pick up poop and not speaking. Nash stopped his incessant running or fast paced walking from one end of our 40ft garden up to the door, walking inside sunroom and into kitchen – back and forth – he ended up slowing down. Stopping! Sniffing and then, at the end, as I crouched near the deck, he would walk away and then come up to me, nudge me, let me pat him, over and over. It was a relief.’

Nash got better in some ways – getting used to sounds, going through doors and walking on a leash. But he became more afraid of my husband because of a pairing of events when we first adopted him. Brett had tried to pick up Nash, like he used to pick up our Westie, Bonnie. He tried to do this a few times, out of habit, forgetting that Nash was different to Bonnie.

Brett and I were having an almost silent conflict at the time. Already wary of Brett, Nash picked up on the tension, and started resource guarding me. He had hyper attached to me in the car journey to Bristol and he now would not let Brett near me. Out of desperation, we contacted Dogs Our Secret Lives, the TV Show. We had heard about a chance to be on their show and get free behaviour advice. I have backtracked a bit because I have already said that the hand signal saved us in this situation.

Re-reading the diary has made me realise how much adopted dogs, with limited experience of the world, must cope with. Nash had no depth perception experience. He fell down steps and didn’t know how to climb up or down our terraced house steps at first. Everything was new to him. It’s like being ‘born again’ into a brand-new reality. He had to learn how to jump up and down from the bed and sofa. When Brett or other men were standing or walking, they were scary to Nash, even before the pairing of events. One diary entry, six days after we adopted Nash, on the 15th November entailed a lot of progress for our little Cairn:

‘Nash took some chopped fishy treats from us today. Not from our hands but if I put the in front of him. He is relaxing because he wouldn’t do this before. Slept at the end of our bed last night. Feeling more secure and even will rest beside Brett’s leg or arm.’

On the 18th November, Nash experienced Zoopharmacognosy. He was polite and subdued during the one and half hour session. He preferred the barley greens and spirulina and the olive and rice bran oils. He also chose calendula and green powders. After an hour and a half, he slept. Nash had dental surgery in August 2014. He had eleven extractions and twenty-four stitches:

‘His breath is beautiful, and he no longer pants all the time. We have also started giving Nash anti-anxiety drops (Bach’s Flowers) 3 x day and he is responding very well to these. He even lies down more and rests a lot more during the day…’

 We were grateful for Dr Martin Brice’s (Emerson’s Green Vet Surgery in Bristol) help with Nash’s teeth.  He told us that small terriers like Nash, and puppy-farm dogs, often inherit congenital issues. When it is their teeth, this can likely mean they also have heart issues as well. It was so obvious to us after the dental surgery, that Nash had been suffering with dental pain for much of his life. This contributed to his behaviour. It makes sense if you think how you feel when you’re in pain! So, after Nash’s dental work, he was much calmer and able to learn things like walking on a loose leash and recall. Before his surgery, this was not possible.

I kept up with Nash’s diary for almost one year, my last entry was the 4th September, 2014. I love about re-reading these early days with Nash. Over the four years we shared our lives with him, he evolved so much. He was a very fearful dog without experience of living with humans or walking on a leash or the world. In the end he was the most amazing communicator with other dogs. He was curious, calm, and loved people and other dogs. He had no separation anxiety because we had used the hand signal. The hand signal had also helped him when he was nervous of men, including the men in my family.

Nash died of congenital congestive heart disease on Easter Monday, 2018. Even though his time with us was short, his life was much improved. He touched our lives in a very deep way.

Last night, I listened to Dr Amber Batson speak about the ‘Importance of Sleep’ with Hannah Capon of Canine Arthritis Management (CAM).[i] Amber suggested the use of a diary as a valuable tool for health concerns. We forget things. It is difficult to catch slower changes if we don’t write them down or keep track in some way. Using our mobile phone camera to shoot mini videos of our dog is also a good way to capture the changes with our dogs. Using both written diary and video would be an ideal combination.

There are a few special dog diaries on the market. You don’t need to spend more than a couple pounds for a cheap blank diary at an office supplies store. I have even used a blank notebook and written the date when I observed my dog. The point is to write often and with loving observation.

Much of us have endured quieter times during the last year, but it doesn’t mean that we are not making ourselves busy. People find it difficult to slow down and create new habits that ease this. The Slow Dog Movement’s mission is to help dog guardians slow down. Carl Honoré’s ‘In Praise of Slow’ book (and his 30 Day’s to Slow Workbook) are excellent resources for humans to start slowing down.[ii] It will help our dogs if we can: stop multi-tasking, take regular ‘nothing’ breaks and leave our gadgets at home more often. Another helpful habit is to learn to move calmly around the house instead of at a frantic pace. Perhaps, grab a hot drink and sit and write some diary entries!

I hope that you enjoy the value of a dog diary and welcome your stories and feedback about this post.

The Nash Chronicles Postscript

While writing this blog post, I found something I had written in 2016, about ‘slowing down’ with Nash. Because I have been so busy with building the Slow Dog Movement, my blog posts have been infrequent. I am endeavoring to change this! In a way, it is good this one took so long though as I found this extra bit of writing about Nash:

9 October 2016

‘This week I discovered that I need to do REALLY slow things with Nash …I do take Nash on different walks every week and I try and take him somewhere completely new like a new friend’s house or a shop but this week I did two things differently…and I realized that I need to be very still with Nash more often. I was on the sofa lying down, and I picked up Nash and placed him on my stomach. It took him a little while to settle but then he fell into a deep sleep and started dreaming and twitching. It was so relaxing. I wasn’t asleep but in a very calm state. I know that it was good for both of us. By routinely hanging out with Nash in this prone position, doing nothing, we can truly connect and relax together.

The second thing I did differently and need to do more is, I took Nash into town with me to run an errand. I hadn’t done this very often when we lived in Bath because it was too long of a walk into town. I sometimes took him on the bus, but not often enough. I want to start ‘inoculating’ (This is what Turid Rugaas calls exposing your dog to new and different things, very slowly and regularly so that they get used to life…good for new puppy owners, with the emphasis on S L O W L Y!) Nash with experiences like being in a town, amongst more people and travelling on public transport. He is a rescue ex-breeding Cairn from a puppy farm, so he tends to get very wired if there’s a lot going on around him. He is intensely curious and likes people so his energy spirals quickly when in a town or city!

This week, when we were walking in Penzance town, I realized that Nash had had enough of town life when we walked past a gentleman who was sitting below where we were walking, we were on the raised walkway, on the upper part of the high street and the man’s head was just visible from where he was sitting on a bench, below where we were walking. All Nash could see was a bald head, talking on a phone. Nash tried to bark and jump on the man’s head. Of course, I curved away with Nash, but it showed me that, given time, even bald heads suspended in air may not phase Nash if he sees enough of them. When we adopted Nash, the sound of a teaspoon touching the table would send him into the other room and by the time we lived in Bath, just over a year later, he was used to walking on a bridge with an ambulance blaring beside us. Not pleasant but possible. A little bit at a time, that’s how we do it. 

Nash likes being brushed but does not like being groomed with scissors or anything that makes a metallic noise. I have had success grooming him when we lived on a narrowboat because I could stand in the boat and groom him when he was on the stern deck – with an incentive of treats, of course. As we don’t live on a boat anymore, I have encountered difficulty again…even by doing a small bit at a time…he just would not stay and relax. Until we went camping at the end of July.

As we left the campsite, and the rain poured down, I sat with Nash in the back seat of the car. It’s like one big cozy sofa and he feels safe in this place. I hid treats in his car blanket and slowly started to groom him. He did not flinch like he does in the house. He was calm and relaxed, and I was able to groom him. Our car is not one that gets detailed or that we’re very precious about so a hoover job after a grooming was well worth it.’

Nash knows he looks beautiful and is happier. So am I. Now I need to replicate a quiet and cozy place to groom him in the house. It’s all about paying attention to what works.’

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!


[i] https://fb.watch/52vMJZAd1s/

[ii] Honoré, Carl. In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed. Orion Books, London, 2005.

Slow Grief

I haven’t lost a dog since Easter Monday 2018. Before that, it was February 2013. Both were Scottish terriers – one a Cairn and one a Westie. They both died in my arms of all system failure. They passed in the wee hours with no medical intervention. Nash, our Cairn, was on heart medication. They didn’t want to rush to the vet in the middle of the night – they went fast. Bonnie had been our dog from a pup and had lived in three countries with us. She left us at almost 17 years of age. She was healthy her entire life and died of natural causes. Nothing is good about it. Death is part of life.

I recently posted an old photo of our dog, Nash (the Cairn) on Facebook. He was an ex-breeding dog from a puppy farm. We adopted him when he was seven years old from Many Tears Animals Rescue in Wales. When we learnt about Nash’s bad teeth, when we adopted him, we didn’t know until later that this meant his heart was bad. Born with congenital heart weakness, he died of congestive heart failure. Like my Father did in 2015. When you adopt a dog with health issues, you try to make their life beautiful and healthy. You don’t dwell on the issue. At least we didn’t. It does not make it any easier when they leave you.

When I posted that photo of Nash on a UK Cairn Terrier group, the response was immense! I know none of the people in this group but felt like sharing a photo of my boy, Nash, RIP. Four hundred and thirty-seven people interacted with the post and seventy-nine wrote personal messages to me! Many left sayings, poems and spoke of their own lost Cairn. When my Mother passed away last year, only sixty-four people engaged. Forty-six people left comments – and these are my Facebook friends! My Mum was a lovely person, that’s not it. It’s the fact that people grieve deeply over dogs.

 In this blog, I will talk about all the elements of grief (we feel) over a beloved dog. And about Slow Grief – the grief that takes time to process, and sometimes, never leaves us at all.

Right now, I am grieving the loss of my Mum, over one year ago. It is still painful, fresh, and debilitating. On the anniversary of her death, in September 2020, I couldn’t walk. I was exhausted. Sad doesn’t even come close. I have been making notes on this blog for months now. I wrote another blog post altogether because this one wasn’t complete. This blog has also been published in the Pet Dog Trainers of Europe January 2021 Newsletter. Because of grief, for my Mum, I wasn’t ready to give this subject the attention it deserves. Ironic but true.

Grieving for my Mum, brings back all the grief I have had in the past for the dogs who have left my life. I grieved for my first dog, Muffin, when I left Canada for the UK in 1984. I missed him more than my Mum at the time. I cried into my pillow for many nights in my new ‘digs’. I was working in a Cotswold village B&B. When my Mum told me he had passed away, I blamed her. When I had seen photos of Muffin, he had gained a lot of weight for a Chihuahua cross JRT. My Mum had tried to convince me to give him away to an old lady in West Vancouver because Mum was moving to South Africa. I refused and said I would come home to look after my dog. It was then that he died. I felt so much regret and guilt. I was young, and at nineteen, should have been exploring the world. But my heart was with my dog. I was too late. I lost him. I still remember everything about him. The way his hair felt when I stroked him, his bright eyes and his little foot pads. He left me thirty-five years ago.

I don’t think about him every day anymore. But when I do, there is love. When we allow our hearts to feel the grief – to ‘wallow’, it is healthy. It’s like a peat fire or a bit of hardwood in the wood burner of the heart. We experience emotion and process it in the time that feels right for us. Slow Grief is to allow the time for all the feelings losing a dog (or human) can bring. If you have a friend who has lost a dog, ‘Do NOT impose a timeline for feeling better – there is no timeline for grief.’[i]

When we lost Bonnie, our Westie, I cried on and off for three months. I definitely ‘wallowed’ in grief. I felt as if I had frozen my diaphragm because I cried so much. My son is seventeen now – it’s a long time to be close to a sentient being, human or dog. I slept on Bonnie’s bed, I lit candles every night, I wrote poetry and held a wake after a couple of weeks. It was early March in London and it was cold! About fifteen people came and shared single malt whiskey, tea and shortbread with us for about three hours. I displayed photos of Bonnie, heather plants and candles to honour her. I even shared my soppy poems. It felt good to do this and cathartic. It says alot about people relating to the death of a dog, that fifteen folks would show up in a London Rec on a cold March day.

Reflecting over your life with your lost dog is a natural and positive thing to do. Pour over photos, sit with loved ones and remember your dog. Or sit alone and write down beautiful memories of your best friend. When you do this, you are healing your loss. You can do these positive things alongside feeling the pain of grief. But with the pain, let it run loose – don’t try to shape it.[ii] Mourning need not be a creative exercise. It doesn’t need to be a ‘scrapbook’ experience. My ruminating over Bonnie gave me a certain ‘freedom’ in the end. I miss her to this day, but I am not in pain anymore.

Moments before Bonnie died in my arms, in a panic, we felt it necessary to find an emergency vet. She was almost gone so it was futile. My brain didn’t work, nor my fingers when I tried to use my laptop to find where we could go at three in the morning. Immediately after, I was holding my Bonnie and she was gone. I sat in the car and we went to the emergency vet anyways.

We sped towards Richmond (we lived in Chiswick), along Thames Road. We were all wailing in grief. I said to my husband, ‘Just drive into the Thames’ and my son yelled from the back ‘No Mum, I don’t want to die!’ He was ten years old. Poor guy. That is very macabre and actually quite funny to me now. But we go crazy when we lose our loved ones.

We had handed Bonnie’s body to the lovely Scottish veterinarian and went home to share ½ a bottle of Whiskey. We cried until we fell asleep. It was not a pleasant sleep as we missed Bonnie’s warmth between us. Our hearts broke that night.

Bonnie was our ‘first born’ we joked. My husband worked at night so that he could be at home with her during the day when I was at my office job. As time went on, we took her to each of our jobs. One beautiful summer’s evening with Bonnie, I was sitting in a local park. An older man came over and told me I should have a real baby. Bonnie was being a dog, beside me. He was wrong. My bond with my dog was so deep and real. I did have a human child seven years later. Henry was my second ‘child’!


It’s been seven years since Bonnie left us and I still haven’t given away or gotten rid of her leash, coat or blanket. It smells like ‘old dog’ and any feng shui person would tell me to throw them away. When she was younger, we used to say that her feet smelt like ‘soda crackers’ and her head like watermelon. I have a silver heart shaped ‘dog tag’ pendant that I wear. It says ‘cracker feet’ and ‘Bonnie’ on one side and ‘Maist Michty’ on the other side. ‘Maist Michty’ is the Scottish dialect from Greyfriar’s Bobby meaning ‘Most extraordinary’. We become very intimate with our dogs. We spend as much time with them as we do our partners. Or more? Is it any wonder that we grieve for so long? Try and read Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson’s, ‘Greyfriar’s Bobby’. Or watch the film, the older version.

I would like to share with you, some of the raw emotions I experienced when Bonnie died. I haven’t read these pages torn from my 2013 diary for some time and they still give me a lump in my throat. I am a paper ‘pack rat’ for good reason. This makes me realise that even though I miss my Mum, I haven’t written a word in my diary, nevermind poetry.

Written in my diary, the day Bonnie died 27th February 2013:

Our beloved Bonnie died near midnight of this day – may she chase rabbits and squirrels in the fields of heaven until we can do our special family whistle and welcome her in our arms once again.

The day after Bonnie died, 28th February 2013, I wrote:

Warmer day – damn Spring – why didn’t it come earlier for Bon. Crying all day, my skin feels on fire. I am hollow, everything is flat, my heart feels broken – literally, a pain in my chest. I can barely lift my limbs. I can’t smell because I have cried too much. My impulse is to write, emails, FB and phone my Mom – to let out feelings, share the pain and to reach out to family and friends – but I can only talk to my Mom. At 02:37 I get up and drink water, write and call Allison [sister in California]. Hot milk and back to bed at 04:20 am. I am mad at the birds for not singing when Bonnie was still here. I don’t sleep very well.

There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. It’s not helpful to bottle it up because then, it may make you ill in some way – there needs to be some sort of release. Grief is personal. Grief is subjective. Grief is universal. You can bury grief. Often, your grief is often uncomfortable to others. Other people can even hijack your grief. If this happens, you may feel like keeping it closer to you again – returning to the private experience of your loss.

Diary entry, 1st March 2013:

I go to Spitalfields but can barely walk and I cry when alone. I can talk to others but feel brittle and am exhausted when I come home. My body still feels empty/gutted. I care not for the world, without Bonnie. Brett and I talk about our guilt over not being Bonnie’s advocate with the vet in her last days. I go to bed very sad but sleep okay.

It feels like Bonnie’s spirit has left our house a bit. I reach out to find her and I can’t and this is distressing to me.

The day that Bonnie had died, she had had trouble breathing that morning. We had taken her to the vet, and he had prescribed some allopathic medicine that may help her. I asked him what the side effects were, and he said anxiety and a worsening of the situation. In retrospect, I wish we had never given her that medicine. She rarely had pharmaceuticals. She suffered from the side effects on her last day on the planet. She died from natural causes, but with added anxiety from those pills. Poor girl. Still, there is no point in going over the guilt. What we can do is learn from these doubts and be more of an advocate for our next dog.

Diary entry, 3rd March 2013:

Too much room on the bottom shelf of the fridge where your meat used to be. I save the last mouthful of oatmeal [porridge] and remember you’re not here to eat it. Empty bed, empty bowl. Empty passenger seat . Leash with no pull. No begging at mealtimes. No sound of your nails on the floor. I can wear black now, no white hairs – oh for your mark on me! What do I do on Monday when Brett goes to work? Walk, all I can do. I can’t be here. Every song on the radio reminds me of you, my girl.

When we drop food accidentally on the floor at mealtimes, no rush not to pick it up. My midnight yogurt [snack] buddy is gone. You’re the reason that Brett could join the Chris Evans breakfast club [on Radio 2] And besides all these trivial things, our reason to be… you shaped our lives, the rhythm of our days, with the clink of your food bowl, the tinkling of your leash and tags being the hands [of a clock] ticking.

I conclude my own Westie grief with this poem. I wrote it and posted it on the local Rec fence to announce Bonnie’s wake in London. The corniness of it makes me wince a bit now but I was completely devastated:

After Bonnie died that February 2013, my son and I went to Canada in June. Brett followed us and we spread her ashes in her favourite West Vancouver stream. I had planned to scatter rose petals along with the ash in this little river. Like the macabre scene of us driving along the Thames, the scattering of ashes did not go as planned either. If you know anything about mammal ashes, well, they are heavy! I had not experienced this lesson in physics before. The roses went sailing down the river and the ash soon sunk to the bottom. Another tragi-comedy. And that wasn’t the only crazy thing that happened around Bonnie’s passing.

The author Emile Zola said:
‘Can’t you see, an animal’s death
is something very special. But,
obviously it cannot touch or affect anyone else other than the
one who loved it.’

We went to view Bonnie’s body at the crematorium. This was more for Brett than myself, as he had not come to terms that she was actually gone. It was a very impersonal and odd time. I did not enjoy seeing the giant smoke stack as we approached the building. The ‘Pet Remembrance Garden’ outside was sad and tasteless. As we entered the building on the outskirts of London, there was no one but a recorded voice to greet us. It told us to have a seat. No one else was in the waiting room. We sat and looked at their book of pet remembrance. As we sat in this room, we could see Bonnie’s name (spelled wrong) on a TV, above the door. The time came for us to enter the viewing room and I followed Brett into a dark room with a table inside. A woman who worked for the crematorium stood by Bonnie’s body. Our beloved dog smelled like disinfectant.

When I touched her, there was no lifeforce – she felt like a carpet. Brett started crying. I asked the woman if Bonnie had rigor mortis and she said that that stage had already passed. Now, she said, Bonnie’s limbs were quite bendable – and she started to bend them back and forth! Oh my God, I was completely shocked. At the same time, the craziness of the situation made Brett and I laugh afterwards. Death, as in life, is never simple. We gave Bonnie a beautiful wake and scattered her ashes.

We still have Nash’s ashes. We had no wake for him. It is strange, but we don’t know as many dog friends here in Cornwall, after five years, as we did in London after one year. I once saw a woman hold a public wake in our local park in East Vancouver. She had made a sort of ‘grotto’ with sheets hanging from trees, to make a kind of tent. She had candles burning, photos of her dog on the ‘walls’ of the grotto and a pile of toys to give away to dog friends. She was talking to all the people and dogs who came into her mourning tent cave, her altar to her dead dog. It was very touching.

The point is to do what is right for you, in your own time. You will know what feels appropriate. In ‘How to Make an Old Dog Happy’ by Olivier Lagalisse, it says that some people still have their dogs taxidermied. I remember seeing this a few times when I was growing up, in Canada. But Canadians, hunters, seemed to do this a lot back then. It is not to my taste, but who is to judge? I wish that we could have buried Bonnie on our land in Canada or spread her ashes there. Being in a city, without land, people may have to be more creative than Brett and I at the crematorium.

On the Isles of Scilly, there is an unofficial animal cemetery on the edge of a stunning beach. Tall dune grass surrounds the little graves. Families have made driftwood headstones with jars of flowers as decoration. In the end the details about burial and ashes are important. But they are not the most lasting and poignant feelings that remain. They are a marker of a life you wish to remember. They can offer a place to return to pay your respects.

It is an understatement to say that last year (and into this one) has been difficult for many of us. A global crisis affecting us all. Some of our PDTE colleagues have lost their dogs. As I knew I was writing this article/blog on Slow Grief, I paid extra attention to their posts. I felt for their losses.

There are many articles online, guides to coping with the loss of a dog and they can be helpful. This article is to speak of the beauty of allowing grief to be public and ‘out there’ and to let this be any length of song. This is an example of such public sorrow. A cathartic ode.

Federica Iacozzilli gave me permission to share her writings about her dog Mr. Nano, whom she lost in June 2020:

photo credit Federica Iacozzilli

Vivere senza di te non sarà facile.
Mein Engel, mein Ich, mein Alles.
Torna presto.


Living without you won’t be easy.
My angel my me my everything
Come back soon.


Being close to someone silently
with constancy and delicacy, there is enormous dignity.
My heart, my heart.

Today marks a week you’ve been gone,
MrN…


You left everyone in the void, we’re all disconnected and disconnected, untied where
before there was unity and cohesion.
Franco is very angry you know…
I think I underestimated how close you
really were.


He’s in the shoes of the man of the house,
not that I put them on him, and I think
this role really scares him. You were there,
before, to adjust everything… even with
your presence. Sometimes he just changes
his expression and leaves to be alone. I try
to lift it up a bit, but I’m not too capable of
it. You knew how to do it right, you

Lilli looks pulled, tired… sometimes she looks at me with those
dark, liquid eyes, who almost seems to want to ask me why all this
happened. You know that she’s not one to open yet, since you’re
not there, I can see it in her face.


I know it’s going to take time, but for now it all sucks.
I miss you so much, Mr. Nano, I miss you so much…
This morning I found all the mole [more] of how much I miss you.
We think it’s better, because we get used to the deafening and brutal absence, because we get into a new routine, made of new things
and new spaces. But nothing is enough.


A walk with one of the others is enough, through the dark streets at
dawn in the morning, because the absence fills up like a boulder.
Remembering how much you liked to go out on the street when no
one was there yet, how much you liked to play on your deafness
(selective, very selective) to have the excuse to look at me and leave
on your own business.


I don’t think you’ll ever get used to the terrible devouring black hole
that leaves such a great absence. Never. Never. Anyway, Mr. Nano,
you always accompany me one way or another. #MrN

Thank you, Federica for sharing your heartfelt, beautiful, and even joyful words about Mr Nano.

Whether we lose rescue dogs or dogs we have known from a pup, they weave themselves into our very being. With their pure essence. Their generosity of spirit. Their trust or even their initial distrust. They often teach us how to be better guardians, and better people. So much unspoken time with dogs, by our side, gets under our skin. When they are gone, we see them – phantom sightings. We mark time by the day, week, month, year – the ebb and flow of grief throughout the first year. In the first year and beyond, we may be touched by something unexpected, into a sudden feeling of the loss anew. A burst of tears or anger may arise.

The idea of Slow Grief is to allow yourself time and space to feel everything. To wallow in the grief. Name it with words. At the same time, celebrate your lost friend by remembering all the stories. Look at photos, create art, poems, and honour the way they filled your life with purpose beyond the daily walk. When we slow down and go into the emotions around death, instead of tidying it away, we will suffer less in the end. Our pain will transform, over time, into a melancholy or longing. Not that having no sadness is the goal. In years to come, we may see a photo and be able to smile without looking to the floor first.

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!

Bibliography
Harding, D.E. The Little Book of Life and Death. London, Arkana, 1988
Lagalisse, Olivier. J’aide mon chien à bien vieillir. How to Make an Old Dog Happy. Translated by Elfreda Powell. London, Souvenir Press, 2005
Porter, Max. Grief is the Thing With Feathers. London, Faber and Faber, 2015
https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/pet-loss-hotline/support-for-bereaved/dos-and-don’ts
https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/animal-attachment/201702/7-self-care-essentials-while-grieving-the-death-pet

[i] https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/pet-losshotline/support-for-bereaved/dos-and-don’ts

[ii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/ animal-attachment/201702/7-self-care-essentialswhile-grieving-the-death-pet

A Slow Walk With Ted

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[1] (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!

#slowdogmovement #smilingleash #dogfieldstudy #turidsway #pdte #turidrugaas #looseleashwalking #slow

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Horneck

Forest Bathing with Your Dog

The Slow Dog Movement has existed as an activity for millennia. Walking at a slower pace and spending relaxed time with our dog companions is not new. Like other ‘slow’ movements, it is individuals who notice that we need a change in focus as a culture. The Slow Dog Movement’s purpose is to shine a light on what is better for dogs and closer to the dog ethogram. We focus on positive images, videos and stories of dogs. These images often show humans enjoying a loose leash walk where the dog is free to sniff at leisure. We can create change in a culture of speed and structure.

Forest Bathing with dogs is like the Slow Dog Movement but with a shift down one or even two gears. The Japanese practice of Forest Bathing means to explore nature through our senses. Doing this with our dogs, includes our well-being into the equation of a traditional dog walk. The Slow Dog Movement for some, may already involve an element of Forest Bathing. Others may have had this practice for years. The idea of Forest Bathing is very profound and yet simple. Its importance may get overlooked while we do a myriad of other activities instead.

I had the idea to do Forest Bathing with dogs two years ago. I bought Dr Qing Li’s book Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing in 2018. At the time, I even told Turid Rugaas, my teacher about this concept. I had come back from one month in British Columbia, Canada. That summer of 2018, I lay on the ground under the Cedars and Douglas Fir on our Canadian property. The wind was very gentle and the sun made the air sweet with tree scent. I thought this would be good for humans and their dogs. Forest Bathing is much like the Slow Dog Movement.  American author Nadine Mazzola published Forest Bathing with your Dog in 2019! I now know that if you have an idea, tell no one and seize the moment!

Mazzola writes:

Imagine for a moment you are a dog slowly strolling down a woodland trail. You have four bare paws on the ground and your nose, a few inches above the forest floor, is filled with the soft woodland scents that are much more alive lower to the ground. Your ears are relaxed but constantly adjusting as they tune in to the rhythms and story of the sounds around you. Your body is filled with the sensations and a knowing that only your senses can bring you. You are bathing in the atmosphere of the forest: alive, curious, noticing, resting, perhaps playing. You become part of the forest.[1]

It is common for people to think that the ‘dog walk’ is only for the dog’s benefit. A bit of a chore at times for some. Many insist on the two walk per day life for their dog. The dog eliminates, exercises and socializes. At times, when dogs are getting along with their environment, things are blissful. Other times are stressful and full of negotiation between human and dog. Thomas Fletcher and Louise Platt wrote a research paper ‘(Just) a walk with the dog? Animal geographies and negotiating walking spaces’.[2] Their paper found that people feel responsibility for their dogs to experience being a ‘real dog’. They call it ‘doggyness’– sniffing, digging, running and chasing animals.

There is nothing wrong with this traditional view of dog walking. But it is often a voyeuristic experience. Humans watch dogs run, chase and cavort. And they often plan where the dog will walk based on what they think the dog likes. Forest Bathing with your dog is an intentional shared experience of nature. Instead of a one-sided, purposeful activity, it is relaxing and symbiotic. At its best, Forest Bathing with your dog can be a healthful and enriching experience.

Japanese culture and nature are inseparable. It seems a paradox in this technological society. The roots of Buddhism and the Shinto religion have kept the value of forests and nature intact. The Science of Forest Bathing (or Shinrin-Yoku) began in the Akasawa Forest in Japan in 1982. Thomohide Akiyama, a Japanese forestry official ‘…stated that the people of Japan were in need of healing through nature’. This ‘…idea was also part of a campaign to protect the forests.’[3] In 2004 scientists started making the link between human health and forests. There are now sixty-two certified forest therapy bases in Japan. We love our dogs and strive to look after them. It is similar to nature and trees healing and looking after us. We must protect our green spaces. Symbiosis in action. Dr Li summarizes the Japanese philosophy on the nature and human life connection:

Shizen – which translates as ‘nature’, or ‘naturalness’ [in Japanese] – is one of the seven principles of Zen aesthetics. The idea behind shizen is that we are all connected to nature, emotionally, spiritually and physically; and that the more closely something relates to nature, the more pleasing it is… Nature is not separate from Mankind in Japanese culture. It is part of us.[4]

There is an avalanche of books and studies about human health and the nature connection. ‘Biophilia is ‘the concept that humans have a biological need to connect with nature.’[5] People and dogs spend way too much time indoors, up to 90% – in houses and cars.[6] People (and dogs) need to immerse themselves in woodlands, forests and the countryside. For health’s sake.

There are twenty-nine Forest Bathing Guides in England, Scotland and Wales. There are eleven in Ireland and two in Northern Ireland. The Institute of Forest Therapy has three institutes representing England, Scotland and Ireland.[7] A certified Forest Therapy Guide helps the participant to become present in the environment by offering ‘invitations’ to experience the woodland or forest in their own unique way. There is no label such as mindfulness or meditation within the practice. A further explanation can be found on the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy website:

Forest therapy walks are not hikes in the traditional sense. An entire walk is typically 2 to 4 hours in duration and often covers no more than a quarter mile distance. In that short distance most people experience contact with nature in a much deeper way than they ever have prior to the walk. On Forest Therapy walks, people have a wide range of experiences, some of which they feel are significant, even profound. Guides are trained in the skills and perspectives needed to be supportive witnesses of these experiences.[8]

While Forest Bathing, the ‘bather’ can find his or her own ‘sit spot’. A place where one can sit and feel calm and in tune with the natural environment around them. This is something I can relate to within my nearby Bluebell Wood in Cornwall. My dog Ted and I have found the perfect rocky outcrop on which to stop and sit. From high up on the hill we can see, hear, smell and sense the woodland. The canopy above us is full of tree branch patterns called fractals. These patterns are ‘…scientifically proven to relax us, no matter how complicated the pattern may become.’[9] Fractals are everywhere in nature. They are the planet’s sacred geometry. Snowflakes, spirals of a shell, flower petals, ocean waves, tree branches and more.

Forest Bathing with your dog is more than a slow walk. It is a meandering, or ‘sauntering’.[10] This is a term that was used by the American Essayist, Henry David Thoreau. A woodland journey where you leave your worries and dog commands behind. Use your five senses with your nose, mouth, eyes, ears, hands and feet as Dr Li would say. Go barefoot when you can. When your dog ‘invites’ you to wade in the stream, consider and, if possible, accept. When you stop and touch a mossy stump, let your dog use her foot pads or nose to sense that velvety texture too. Listen to the wind, bird song and nearby stream. Dogs may eat fresh spring grass and you may want to eat pine tips[11]and ground elder.

In Japan, many Forest Bathers eat ‘forest food’ at Forest Therapy Centre cafes. Forest Bathing Guides perform a tea ceremony at the end of their guided walk for humans. They gather plants from the natural environment to make the tea. Do research beforehand if you are foraging for woodland or forest food. Carry a copy of the Collins Gem: Food for Free.[12] Rhododendron, Foxglove, Dog’s Mercury and Yew Tree are all poisonous to dogs. There are more plants to be wary of but many to enjoy.

There are many things you can do that benefit you and your dog. Inhale the soil microbes (Mycobacterium Vaccae) when walking or sitting.[13] In the Autumn enjoy the scent of dry fallen leaves as you and your dog crunch them underfoot. Expand your lungs to breathe in fresh air containing negative ions. Inhale the volatile organic compounds of green foliage and flowers. In an evergreen forest, enjoy the health benefits of aromatherapy phytoncides. In warmer weather, take off your shoes. The earth has a natural low impulse of electromagnetic energy. These are all enlivening and grounding activities for you and your dog to share.

If you do an extended walk (2 nights, 3 days) in a woodland/forest area the health benefits of are lasting. In one study, the effects lasted up to thirty days. Scientists in Japan found that Forest Bathing increases immunity. NK (Natural Killer) cell activity went up over 50% after a 3 day, 2 night stay in the forest. Dr Li states that

Natural Killer cells are a type of white blood cell and are so called because they can attack and kill unwanted cells, for example, those infected with a virus, or tumour cells.[14]

Humans and dogs share the biological need for time in nature. We can witness how our dog’s senses awaken when out of doors. If in doubt, take note of your dog’s well-being before and after a slow walk. Walk your dog with a harness and loose leash at a sauntering pace. Allow them to sniff at their own speed. A French study has proven that dogs’ heart rates go down when we do this.[15] A study on the American Emerald ash borer disease proved that when trees die, people die. Dr Li explains that ‘…in the places where the trees had been affected by the disease, mortality rates were higher – specifically, the rates of death from cardiovascular and respiratory tract disease…’ [16] And the opposite is true as well. A study at The University of Exeter found that ‘…people who live where there are trees and green spaces are less anxious and depressed…’[17]

And there are even more direct health benefits of Forest Bathing:

  • It boosts the immune system – with an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells[18]
  • Increases energy
  • Decreases anxiety, depression and anger
  • Reduces stress and brings about a state of relaxation
  • Lowers stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
  • Suppresses the sympathetic or ‘flight or fight’ system
  • Enhances the parasympathetic or ‘rest and recover’ system
  • Improve cardiovascular and metabolic health
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Improved concentration and memory
  • Improve pain thresholds
  • Increase anti-cancer protein production
  • Help you lose weight
  • Can help you sleep better
  • Lowers blood pressure and increases heart rate variability[19]

Dogs mirror our emotional state. They absorb stress from cortisol levels in our hair. It makes sense that when our health and mood state rises, so too is that of our dog.[20] Think about taking elements of Forest Bathing and including them in your ‘slow’ walks. Then do a longer ‘bathe’ once per week or month. The ideal length of time for humans is 2 hours per day of Forest Bathing. Within that time frame, the person would have only walked 2.5km. This may be too long for some dogs. If your dog stops, do the same. Give them an appropriate chew. Try to ask your dog to stop with you when you find your favourite ‘sit spot’ and reward with a chew.

Forest Bathing has many health and well being benefits for your dog as well:[21]

  • The Woodland/Forest floor is low impact – good for older dogs and dogs with limited mobility
  • The silence (I suggest also being silent with your dog as much as possible) of the woodland/forest is calming for you dog
  • Reduces fear in some dogs (rescue dogs) who are nervous around people – gives them ‘time out’ from ‘social fear’[22]
  • Is a bonding experience for human and dog
  • Positive ions from inhaling fresh air – an escape from our often polluted indoor air quality
  • ‘Grounding’ by feeling low electromagnetic impulse from earth/soil
  • Soil microbes for dog health – let them dig a hole, if it is not too destructive
  • Stress relief and relaxation from deep sniffing
  • Low impact parkour from climbing onto fallen logs, rocks and stumps, and walking over fallen sticks and crevasses
  • Sunlight provides Vitamin D
  • Confidence building from discovering new ways to navigate the natural environment
  • All the above positive benefits for humans!

According to Dr Li, the ‘ideal’ Forest Bathing environment should have some of these criteria (or all, if you are lucky):[23]

  • Gentle slopes
  • Wide paths
  • Well-maintained, well-marked trails
  • Free from pollutants
  • Far from the noise of traffic
  • A stream or waterfall, pond or lake
  • Wide variety of plants
  • Good luminescence, not too dark
  • At least 5km in length
  • Plenty of trees, especially evergreens
  • Guides or therapists, or forest managers
  • Toilet facilities

This is a wish list extraordinaire! Many people live in the city and must rely on parks during the week. Others may nature bathe near the sea. The best experience is to be in a woodland or forest and to have enough space to take your time. I would have to piece together two to three woodlands to make a good Forest Bathing experience in my area. It is important to embody the spirit of Forest Bathing rather than being dogmatic about it. No pun intended!

Try to tick as many of the ‘wish list’ elements as you can. The point is to slow down. Use your senses. Notice the natural world around you. Follow your intuition and body. Take cues from your dog and share a rest spot with your canine companion when possible. When your dog pauses or stops, so should you. Walk without an agenda or plan. Let the natural world envelope you both.

Cedar and fir trees

Watch over dog, child and Mum

While maple leaves fall

Getting ready for a Forest Bathing experience is much like a ‘slow’ walk. I recommend a harness and long, loose leash, at least 5 metres long. In Nadine Mazzola’s Forest Bathing with your Dog book, she uses a 20 foot nylon training lead. Use correct body language when wanting your dog to follow your course or pace. Face the direction you want to walk with confident posture. You may want to stop to take in some rays of sunlight through the trees or sit down. Mazzola says, ‘Let them [dogs] sense where you are putting your attention’. Dogs watch our every move and are more in tune with our facial expressions than you may think.[24]

Try to relax and use few commands. Turid Rugaas explains leash work in more detail in her book ‘My Dog Pulls, What do I do?’ [25] If you wish to have your dog off leash, for all or some of the walk, make sure that your dog has excellent recall. If you feel stress over how your dog will react towards other people, dogs or wild or farm animals nearby, use a leash. Try to let your dog choose what direction he or she would like to meander in when possible. This is a cooperative and beneficial experience for you both. And very bonding for humans and dogs.

Wear layers for warmth and if it is hot, bring a hat. Always bring water for yourself and your dog. Take along a snack for yourself, and an appropriate chew for your dog.[26] If the ground is damp, bring something to sit on for you and a mat or blanket for your dog to lie down on. Leave your phone at home if possible. Or bring your charged phone for an emergency but turn it off.

Check in with your dog. As this may be a new way of being together, your dog may wonder what is going on. Use the ‘hand signal’: ‘…(a relaxed palm facing the dog low down – not a ‘stop’ or ‘sit’ signal). This tells the dog that there is nothing to worry about so he does not need to move.’[27] If your dog is exhibiting stress over an unfamiliar object or sound. If you feel like you need to resume your regular pace and habit of walking with your dog, do so. Try to introduce this new way of being together next time.

When my son, Henry, was small, I would take him and our Westie, Bonnie, to the forest close to our house in Canada. We would saunter. We found what Mazzola calls ‘forest rooms’. Meandering through the standing giants of trees made us intimate with the forest. My son and dog would recognize their favourite places and sit or play. The forest was an extension of our own home. My Mum passed away last September. When we were on Gabriola Island last year for her wake, we went into our woods. Henry (aged 16) found the ‘gnome house’ we built in a mound of earth. The gnome house is still standing after eleven years but Bonnie is long gone now. Those forest bathing moments are still fresh in our family consciousness. Precious.

Growing up this way, has made Henry into a young person who cares about the natural environment. He wants to buy a woodland. I do too! If you care about somewhere, you can be a steward of your local woodland or forest. You can pick up rubbish from the beach or watch the health of trees you know. We must do this with our dogs too. In fact, Turid Rugaas called it the ‘M.O.T.’ Once a day, check your dog all over. Look at his/her feet, eyes, teeth, ears etc. It is a cliché, but true: ‘Health is Wealth’!

I invite you to find a wooded area near you home today. If you live in a city, choose a wooded park. No trees near you? Find a peaceful, nature filled environment if you can. Fill your rucksack with all you need and embark on a Forest Bathing journey with your dog. Build on your experience each time you venture out.

If you want to learn more about Forest Bathing and find a guide or centre near you, I have listed some resources at the end of this blog.

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!

#slowdogmovement #fortheloveofdogs #forestbathingwithyourdog #forestbathing #biophilia #biophiliac #trees #fortheloveoftrees #woodland #forest #savetheplanet #savetrees #slowmovement #shizen #shinrinyoku


RESOURCES:

https://foresttherapyinstitute.com/

https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/

https://www.forestholidays.co.uk/activities/forest-bathing/benefits/ (dog friendly)

[1] Nadine Mazzola, Forest Bathing with your Dog (Blue Cloud Books:2019)19-20

[2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14649365.2016.1274047

[3] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing (Penguin Random House UK:2018)

[4] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 23

[5] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 14

[6] https://www.opinium.co.uk/brits-spend-time-indoors/

[7] https://foresttherapyinstitute.com/find-a-guide/ and https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/membership/guide-directory#!directory/map

[8] https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/guide-training/training

[9] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku 175-178

[10] Nadine Mazzola, Forest Bathing with your Dog, 54

[11] https://honest-food.net/edible-pine-tree-nuts-pollen-tips/?fbclid=IwAR01EbpIB1GwJCNRKJSJ8GOG0OwWP2Sn6PeMd-PkYLti02QhCt-Io7dDJfs

[12] Collins Gem: Food for Free, (Harper Collins Books:2003)

[13] https://qz.com/993258/dirt-has-a-microbiome-and-it-may-double-as-an-antidepressant/

[14] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 83

[15] http://www.dogfieldstudy.com/en/pulse-study/at-the-heart-of-the-walk

[16] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 113-116

[17] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 113-116

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/

[19] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 38, 62-67, 82-83

[20] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-43851-x and https://phys.org/news/2019-06-dogs-mirror-owner-stress.html

[21] https://animalwellnessmagazine.com/5-reasons-to-get-outdoors/

[22] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/canine-corner/202004/are-city-dogs-more-anxious-country-dogs

[23] Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku, 137

[24] https://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/research-news/all-english-research-news/dogs-understand-what-s-written-all-over-your-face/15835462

[25] https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Dog-Pulls-What-Do/dp/1929242239

[26] JR Pet Products, Wales: https://www.jrpetproducts.com/?v=79cba1185463

[27] https://www.pdte.eu/post/2015/05/11/stress-series-what-can-we-do-about-stress-part-3-of-3

Watch my ‘Forest Bathing with Your Dog’ interview with Pennie Clayton.

A Room With a View – Making time for deep observation of our dogs

I am a bit late in writing this blog post. I wrote my last post in the time before ‘lockdown,’ when we could walk and wander with our dog(s). We could take a rucksack, with treats inside, without having to stay close to home. Some of us may still be able do this now, depending on what our neighbourhood looks like. In my area, the local playing field and trails are busy with locals and their dogs. Single track paths are not ideal for maintaining a two metre distance! I have become more inventive with my time with my dogs during the past couple of weeks.

My pre-Easter dog enrichment workshop, planned in a nearby village got cancelled. So I created a free eBook covering my course material. I have been busy writing and creating YouTube videos. My dogs acted as the treat puzzle stars they always dreamed they would be. Ted and Izzy, my dogs, love it when I sit down and write or read.

Recently, on a break from writing, I read an article called ‘Green Prozac’ in the Guardian. ((Barkham, Patrick, ‘Green Prozac’. The Guardian, 14th March, 2020, Review)). It was a review of all the books on the market about nature as a panacea for our well being. I am very interested in this topic, so I got a cup of tea and Ted and Izzy cosied up with me on the sofa. 

The author, Patrick Barkham, explored cold-water swimming to forest bathing by book title. ‘Taking to the waters’ was a middle class activity in the 19th century. Birdwatching and most countryside pursuits would have been as well. What farmer or factory worker would have had the time or energy to jump into the sea after their long days’ work? Or stroll along country paths like Wordsworth did? But this is not going to be a blog post about the class system and how it affects the #slowdogmovement. Next month! Joke! ????

Barkham discusses the observations of Florence Nightingale and other researchers. They noticed that hospital patients had a speedier recovery when they had a window with a view to trees. I realised that my dogs were missing a long distance view to the garden in our sitting room. So, fuelled with a bit of cabin fever, I rearranged the entire sitting room so that they could see outside better. This realisation made me think deeper – about the observation of dogs and how to cultivate this skill. This is an activity that takes patience, skill, practice, dogs (and more). Because of this, it qualifies as a #slowdogmovement topic!

Ted sleeping after enjoying his new ‘room with a view’

Turid Rugaas taught my International Dog Training Education (IDTE) diploma course in Germany. We learnt how to observe the dogs of clients and we spent hours doing this. This sounds simple, but it is like using a muscle that needs work everyday! It involves watching everything about the dog. Watching the way they move. How curious they are.  How they interact with their human. How much they pee, drink water and how they interact with the enriched environment (no treats). Turid asked us to practice watching the dog and to not ask questions of the client right away. Observe first and then ask questions to fill in missing information. And, not to make assumptions.

Dog observation IDTE, Bad Wimpfen 2014/15

Being able to observe a dog is a useful skill for a dog trainer or behaviourist. Using Turid’s methods, the trainer should have little prior knowledge of the dog. There should be no story in their mind before the observation. Unless the dog is reactive or aggressive towards people, then the trainer must have a plan. In this way, it’s easier to remain clear and let the dog tell us what is going on.

The average pet dog owner most likely observes their dog for their own enjoyment. Sometimes for health or behavioural issues. Most humans are busy with work, home life, family, their partners and hobbies. They involve their dog in as many everyday activities as they can. Yet, for some people, it may be difficult to observe their dog or for any length of time at all. Few pet dog owners may think about ‘observing’ their dog on an ongoing basis. Birdwatching, ‘yes’ but dogwatching, ‘not likely!’

The American author, John Steinbeck, wrote a short story called ‘Junius Maltby’. Junius was a well educated and free spirited man, who lived outside of the bounds of society. He lived with his third son, Robbie. 

When his wife and two young sons died due to influenza, he reflected; 

‘I didn’t know my wife nor the children very well, I guess. Perhaps they were too near to me. It’s a strange thing, this knowing. It is nothing but an awareness of details. There are long visioned minds and short visioned. I’ve never been able to see things that are close to me. For instance, I am much more aware of the Parthenon than of my own house over there.’ ((Steinbeck , John. ‘Junius Maltby.’ The Red Pony. The Viking Press, 1978.))

While this may seem extreme, we have all met or known of people who are like Junius. ‘It is nothing but an awareness of details.’ he says. Indeed. With only one outdoor excursion per day with my dogs, I notice every detail my senses can take in at once. I saw it in my dog, Ted, this evening as well. Ted was in the playing field above our home and stopped and looked around. It was like he was born into the world at that moment! We had replaced three walks over the past couple of days with garden time for various reasons. None of us had gone for a walk outside our home for one and a half days.  I felt the same as Ted when we went out. My senses were alive with the smells, sounds and sights of Spring.

Ted and Izzy having a Spring time sniff

Imagine if we could take that intense ‘seeing’ of nature and apply it to everyday, with our dogs. I studied Rudolf Steiner during an early years teacher training in Waldorf Education. I was aware of Steiner’s methods of observation and how Goethe had inspired them. Steiner used ‘Goethean Science’. Goethe described it as ‘Delicate Empiricism’. If there are any biologists reading this, the term is, phenomenology of nature. For dog lovers, I will explain how Goethe’s method takes ‘noticing all of the details’ and goes a few steps further. In both holistic and practical ways.

Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view. ((https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/))

For Goethe, his form of observation was a two-way experience – ‘mutual interaction’. A conversation. We are part of the relationship with our dogs, for instance. Observing them is better if we pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings.  He stressed the importance of embarking upon observation without preconceived conceptions. This is very much like the advice of Turid. During Goethe’s time, science was reductive. Where singular traits became dissected from the whole organism. He felt that most humans, when studying nature, would first want to control it in some way. He urged his audience to use all their senses. To immerse themselves in their subject. To ‘become utterly identical with it’. He asked ‘How can I make myself into a better, more transparent instrument of knowing?’

Rudolf Steiner reinforces the idea of remaining open:

‘Where we feel that we understand a thing, we try to form a picture of what, in our opinion, will take place. If it does take place as we expected, our thinking was correct: that is good. If what happens is different from what we expected, then we try to think where we made the mistake. 

Thus we try to correct our wrong thoughts by quiet observation, by examining where the mistake lay, and why it was that it happened as it did. If, however, we were right, then we must be careful to avoid the danger of mere self-congratulation and boasting of our prophecy: ‘Oh yes, I knew that was going to happen, yesterday.’ ((Rudolf Steiner, ‘Practical Training in Thought’, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London, 1928, From a lecture given at Carlsruhe, 18th January, 1909, translated by George Kaufmann))

Steiner is asking us to not become lazy in our thinking. To form opinions about situations, or in this case, our own dogs, and become habitual in this way of thinking. 

I have a concrete example of what Steiner calls ‘wrong thinking’ with my own two dogs. Izzy, our Jack Russell Terrier, is eight years old and we adopted her over three years ago. We adopted Ted, our male, 2 year old Weechon, two months ago. Ted is afraid of our very tall, sixteen year old son, Henry. Ted barks at Henry when he comes downstairs or enters a room. Without going into too much detail, Izzy also barks. Sometimes she starts the barking, other times not. We thought she was happy to bark along with Ted all the time, because often she does. But, we were wrong. Sometimes Izzy barks at Ted. She stands between Henry and Ted and barks at Ted. This is ‘splitting up.’ She is asking Ted to stop barking at Henry.

Here are some practical steps to utilise when you are observing your dog in this new (old) way:

  1. Be curious and come to the observation with something on your mind. Have questions or ‘ponderings’ but no answers. Come to the exercise without a theory to prove.
  2. Let the study continue to be open-ended (no distinct or specific purpose – no agenda).
  3. Be present and open when you are with your dog.
  4. Recognise your dog as a being in his/her own right and regard them with respect.
  5. Be aware and listen and watch with ‘fresh ears and eyes’ – like I described after 2 days of self-isolation! You may see new patterns and habits. Physical movement, behaviour, personality traits, beauty, intelligence, spirit and health related physiology.
  6. Be natural and relaxed – engage but don’t control the situation while observing.
  7. Be open to noticing changes in yourself, evolving, as you continue your observations.
  8. Engage in ‘actively remembering’ what you saw after you have been observing your dog. Sit and recall, from the last thing you saw to the first, what you can remember about your dog. This is as important as actually observing your dog! It helps us to remember a successive amount of images and information in the future.  If you can’t do the recall right after watching your dog, do it before you go to sleep at night, when you’re lying in bed. 

Try to remember every detail from your time with your dog. What was the weather like? Who was in the environment (at home or in the garden for example)? What was the energy level of your dog? Did you notice if the whites of their eyes were white or pink? What did they do? How did they move? As Steiner said ‘…good memory is the child of faithful observation.’

It’s okay to write notes or draw pictures of your dog, but do it as a separate activity to observation. Do it outside of the focused activity of seeing your dog. If you’re like me, you may end up with many drawings of sleeping dogs – they are the easiest to capture!

A drawing of my dog ‘Muffin’ 1982

In a holistic or spiritual sense, Goethe delved even further. Author Jeff Carreira explains in his article ‘Goethe’s Method of Doing Science’: 

‘Goethe believed that the outer physical world and the inner world of our senses were mirror images of each other, the inside view and the outside view of the same reality. Therefore, paying attention to the outer world leads to necessary inner responses in us that tell us directly about qualities of what we are observing.’ ((https://jeffcarreira.com/goethes-method-of-doing-science/))

This is the deeper message. It is a message of deep relationship, slow observation, slow thinking. And high regard for our canine companions. To consider our dogs as partners in a lifelong relationship with us. At this moment in the world, we may have more time to reflect and observe  – depending on our life’s circumstance. We have a perfect opportunity to try this way of observing and learning about our dogs. For fun, for practical purposes or for self evolution – the choice is yours!

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!

#slowdogmovement

Bibliography

  1. Barkham, Patrick, ‘Green Prozac’. The Guardian, 14th March, 2020, Review
  2. https://jeffcarreira.com/goethes-method-of-doing-science/
  3. Holdrege, Craig. ‘Learning to see Life: Developing the Goethean Approach to Science.’ Kosmos: Journal for global transformation. Spring/Summer 2013
  4. Holdrege, Craig. ‘Doing Goethean Science.’ Janus Head (8) 1, 27-52, (2005)
  5. Rugaas, Turid et al, Lecture materials from International Dog Training Education, Bad Wimpfen, Germany. 2014-2015
  6. Steinbeck , John. ‘Junius Maltby.’ The Red Pony. The Viking Press, 1978.
  7. Rudolf Steiner, ‘Practical Training in Thought’, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London, 1928, From a lecture given at Carlsruhe, 18th January, 1909, translated by George Kaufmann

What’s in your dog’s picnic basket?

In my last blog post, I introduced the #slowdogmovement. I explained that, like the other ‘slow’ movements, the focus is on ‘less is more’ in life. Take the time to give your dog a chance to sniff on their walk. Even if it’s for a shorter time. Then go on a bicycle ride by yourself, instead of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ by taking your dog along. It’s about knowing what’s right for your dog. We can also refer to what’s called the dog ‘ethogram.’ This is a scientific term for studying the most common canine behaviours.

Free ranging dogs are dogs that choose to live close to humans in an urban environment but who are not pet dogs. Scientists study free ranging dogs to take stock of these natural canine behaviours. It may be shocking to many people, that given the chance, these dogs prefer to be inactive for more than half of the day. They also scavenge, walk around, play, clean themselves and interact with humans. They rarely hunt! Dogs are social animals. Our own pet dogs prefer to be with us as much as possible while they sleep, rest, walk, scavenge and eat.

Most pet dogs like it when we sit down with them when they’re eating. It helps them to feel protected and safe. This can be especially helpful for dogs with separation anxiety. When you feed your dog at home, feed them first. Try and sit down when they’re eating or have your meal and feed them at the same time. Would you consider moving their eating area within sight of yours?

In my last post I suggested trying out slow walks with a harness and a long, loose leash with your dog. Allowing your dog to stop and sniff at every opportunity. This may not be the kind of walk you’re used to. Try and get your dog to walk instead of trot. Allow yourself to tune into the bird song around you, notice new Spring buds and anything else (your dog?) that can keep you in the present.

I recently learned about a creative way to combine enrichment for dogs with dog walking. It’s called the ‘Rucksack Walk’ and it was created by Steve Mann. You can try this very simplified version of the Rucksack Walk or you can follow Steve’s instructions to the letter! It’s up to you. Try this on whatever length of walk you choose. Just find a rucksack and place several objects in it that your dog hasn’t seen or sniffed before.

Look for objects in the back of your closet or garage. Have a rustle in a ‘free’ pile next to the bins or choose object found in nature or a charity shop. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money collecting items. Once you get the hang of it, you will find them everywhere! An old shoe, a feather, animal hair or wool (put in a mesh bag), a used book, a glove, an old hairbrush, a dog toy or a baby toy. You are only limited by your imagination!

Make sure that the items are safe and #slowdogmovement enough – no balls, sticks or frisbees. It’s best if they are not cleaned and still full of exciting human and animal smells. Also put an appropriate chew in the bag – like some dried tendon or organ meat. Place it in a plastic container so your dog won’t smell it easily. Make sure your dog isn’t hungry before you leave. Feed her/him before you leave or at least a couple of hours before your walk.

Stop during your walk, in a quiet spot, and sit down with your dog. Give your dog all the items in the bag, minus the chew, or save some items for another point in the walk or another walk time. If you’re into meditation or Mindfulness, savour the moment. If not, try and be silent and notice your breath, relax and enjoy bonding with your dog. Save the chew for a sitting down time at the very end of your walk or let it be the last item you give your dog from the rucksack. Bring a snack for yourself.

This simplified version of the Rucksack Walk is one way you can enrich your dog’s walk and your own experience. Make it interesting and social. You could even turn it into a picnic for you and your dog and bring along a full meal for both of you, and/or your family.

Treat searches are a simple way to add interest to a walk or to the day in general. Do them in your own garden halfway through the day or at any time. Start indoors. Get your dog’s attention by making a clicking or smacking sound with your mouth. Hold a few treats 5-10 in your hand – hold your hand up, about chest height. Make sure your dog is watching. Drop the treats in front of him from lower down (so they don’t scatter onto him or far away). Do this so he/she can see them drop on the ground. Let your dog eat the treats!

Try it again the next day by getting your dog’s attention. Scatter over a wider area. Keep doing this each day until your dog gets the idea. It won’t take long! Start doing the searches outside – in your garden or a quiet place in the park. Increase the difficulty of the searching terrain. Try using fallen leaves, taller grass or over a log and other branches in the park or woodland.

Some people call treat searches, ‘Scatter Feeding’ but they are both the equivalent of providing small amounts of food for your dog to search for or ‘scavenge’. You can place the treats in a snuffle mat, in a baby pool full of balls, on some grass, on a hay bale, rolled up in a towel or dog paté smeared on a tree trunk – the only thing that limits you, is your imagination!

A caveat about adding treat searches and scatter feeding to your dog’s life. Make sure your dog is not hungry when you do this. It is frustrating for a hungry dog to search for his dinner. Or, to ask your dog to prise his/her main meal out of a food puzzle. Also, it’s normal for dogs to eat their main meal and snacks at a fast pace, without savouring each bite. Providing scavenging is not an effort to slow their eating down. If your dog has any issues with aggression and food, please seek the advice of a PDTE dog trainer before trying these ideas outside of your home.

Allowing your dog to scavenge is to respect the dog’s natural ethogram. It has many mental and health benefits. It can stimulate your dog’s brain and lower their heart rate. Searching for food can also give them confidence and boost their problem-solving skills. Sniffing and searching out a treat to chew produces Dopamine and provides low impact exercise. It’s also fun! Being present while they scavenge, strengthens your relationship with your dog.

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!

#slowdogmovement #canineenrichment #snufflemats #treatsearchesfordogs #slowfoodmovementfordogs #scatterfeedingfordogs #therucksackwalk #picnicfordogs #dogethogram #pdte #turidsway #turidrugaas #streeties

Bibliography

  1. Batson, Dr Amber, Canine Aggression Course, Durham 25-26 January 2020
  2. Batson, Dr Amber, Reactive Dogs Course, Surrey, 9th April 2017.   
  3. Budzinsk, Cristina and Aurélien,  At the Heart of the Walk (2019)
  4. Grant, Kirsty, The Dog Nose7 Days of Enrichment (Online Course offered by All Dogs Are Good) January 2020
  5. Grant, Kirsty, Canine Enrichment Course for Professionals, The Dog Nose, Swindon, 8 & 9th February 2020
  6. Kelly, Shay, Scatter Feeding: Are you Killing Your Dog?, Blog post (2019)
  7. Pangal, Sindhoor. A study on the activity budget of free ranging dogs. Blog
  8. post (2019)
  9. Rugaas, Turid et al, Lecture materials from International Dog Training Education, Bad Wimpfen, Germany. 2014-2015
  10. Stewart, Theo ‘The Rucksack Walk’ (Steve Mann) https://dogidogblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/the-rucksack-walk/?fbclid=IwAR33qjSVbZIy_DgytY7RAkEAAdEUw8myWpz-iBFWmRSjaUjk-MpYR4MwT7g Blog Post, ‘Paws for Thought’ (June 2016)
  11. Majumder, Sreejani & Chatterjee, Ankita & Bhadra, Anindita. (2014). A dog’s day with humans – time activity budget of free-ranging dogs in India. Current science. 106. 874-878.

What is ‘The Slow Dog Movement?’

No doubt that you’ve heard of the ‘slow food movement’ for people who want to enjoy local food in a slow paced way. There is also a ‘slow travel movement.’ People stop and appreciate each moment of their journey. Both ideas are metaphors for life. They are examples of how people are beginning to live for quality and not quantity. Slowing down in everything they do from eating, to travelling to caring for their dogs….excuse me?

I am inviting you to join me in The Slow Dog Movement. A community of like-minded people who strive for a healthier lifestyle for their dogs. Explore relaxation, brainwork, slow walks and enrichment for dogs and more. This blog is about applying the human idea of a slower and more gratifying life, to the lives of our dogs. #slowdogmovement.

‘But my dog is already slow!’ ‘I can’t even get him to walk around the neighbourhood without sniffing every damn leaf and rock!’ That’s fabulous! You’re already ahead in the ‘slow’ game.

If you watch dog owners manoeuvre their dogs to co-exist in a human world, it’s often quite fast paced. Neither the dogs or their owners are enjoying the daily drag down the street during the human’s lunch break.

Dogs use all their senses and are most driven, no surprise, by their sense of smell. They also use their tongue (licking dog urine off of a pavement) to amplify smell. Humans can see nothing of interest on a lamp post. But to a dog, that metallic surface holds infinite layers of scent history.

Walking at a slow pace, a dog’s pace, (you may have to teach your dog to walk slower – it’s possible, I did it with a Jack Russell!) for 400 metres is way more beneficial than steaming along for 1 mile with only occasional sniffs. Dogs should mostly walk, not trot.

Dogs become both relaxed and stimulated when they sniff. They use their brain and their body.

I would suggest using a well fitted harness with your dog and at least a 3-5 metre leash. Make the leash ‘smile’ when you walk your dog – make sure it stays loose rather than taut.

Choose interesting places to walk with your dog, not only around the neighbourhood. If you don’t have time to go somewhere else, challenge yourself to go as slow as possible! Try new places! Industrial estates, bicycle and hardware shops, are very interesting to your canine friend. Try one new place a week. Try to focus on your dog and his or her pace, not on the end result of getting the walk completed.

Cristina and Aurélien Budzinski, recently published a study of dog heart rates. At the Heart of the Walk, found that walking on a long, loose leash or no leash lowers dog’s pulse. Over time, this lowers your dog’s stress levels. Although it may not feel like you are doing a ‘classic’ dog activity, like throwing a ball, it is much better for your dog.

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!

#slowdogmovement #pdte #turidrugaas #turidsway

Bibliography:

  1. Bekoff, M. & Pierce, J., Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion The Best Life Possible, New World Library, 2019, Print.
  2. Clayton, Pennie, ‘The Science of Enrichment,’Dog Edition, June 2019, 20-24, Print.
  3. Kvam, Anne Lill, The Canine Kingdom of Scent: Fun Activities Using Your Dog’s Natural Instincts, Dogwise Publishing, Washington USA, 2012, Print
  4. Lecture materials from International Dog Training Education, Turid Rugaas et al, Bad Wimpfen, Germany 2014-2015
  5. Kirsty Grant, The Dog Nose, interviews, 30/01/2019 & 17/05/2019