One of my dogs has sustained an injury to his paw. As a consequence, he was housebound for two weeks, and for the last six weeks he has been allowed to come on walks as long as he stays on the lead. As an owner I find this really difficult, as my dogs are used to running free when we go walks and it also means that we are unable to do our agility training and competing-and the agility season started at Easter.
A couple of my personal goals for this year, are to climb Mount Snowdon and to reach the source of the River Severn and so I have been cranking up the intensity of the speed and terrain of my usual dog walks-at least until the injury occurred in January that is! And so walking my dog on a lead is also interfering with my cardio workout, as I’m wanting to go up steep banks and at a fast pace, my dog prefers to amble and sniff is not allowed go up steep banks because of his paw. For the first couple of weeks I was really frustrated with the dog walking, and I’m sure the dog was frustrated with me too! As soon as we got a steady pace on, the dog would stop to sniff at some random (or so it seemed to me) bit of ground before moving on at his own pace. It was very tempting for me to pull on the lead while he was exploring and to express my frustration verbally. My dog never showed any sign of anger or frustration with me, although he steadfastly refused to move until he was ready to do so.
And then I realised. Sniffing is how dogs explore their world, and pulling him away from a sniff is the equivalent of someone removing the book I am reading. And so I allowed him to sniff without tugging at the lead, although the frustration was still building within me.
And then I realised. My growing frustration made no impact on my dog’s desire to move on, and this frustration within me was only affecting me and ruining my experience of a walk in beautiful countryside. I had to accept that when walking with a dog on a lead, I cannot also have a cardio workout. I also had to accept that when walking with the dog on a lead, pushing and cajoling does not speed the dog on and away from sniffs, he will move on only when he is good and ready.
Once I let go of my desire to turn the walk into a cardio workout and accepted that I would be going at the dog’s pace rather than mine, our walks have once again become a source of enjoyment.
When I reflect on this I am reminded of my early months and years of living with chronic non-specific lower back pain. I was very resistant to my back pain (understandably) and by that I mean that I was angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to do the things I wanted to do and in the way that I wanted to do them. Once I began to cultivate an acceptance towards my back, I learnt that there would be periods of activity followed by rest and that by doing this I would still be able to achieve the things I wanted to although perhaps not in the way that I once would have achieved them. And so the pulling on the lead is the resistance and the going at the dog’s pace is the acceptance. Just as treating my back with kindness and pacing activities is acceptance and pushing on through regardless of the pain would be a type of resistance. Life also is much more pleasurable when we are living with acceptance rather than resistance and blocking. Perhaps it’s time for you to think about the things in your experience which you can soften towards…