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.

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.