How mindful dog walking can benefit you and your dog in just 5 days

Try these five steps to creating a calmer, more mindful, walk for you and your dog

by Psychologies

Research shows that almost two thirds of dog owners (63%) are unable to switch off from screen time whilst on the daily dog walk, and with many experiencing stressful behaviours such as dogs pulling on the lead (68%) and barking at other dogs (49%).

Certified Dog Behaviourst Caroline Wilkinson and Clinical Psychologist Linda Blair, reveal how you and your four-legged friend can reap the benefits of more mindful dog walks in just five days.

Day 1: Ditch the ball and engage your dog's nose

Caroline Wilkinson, Certified Animal Behaviourist

Did you know that the part of the dog’s brain responsible for processing scent is approximately 40% larger than in us humans? Plus, they have up to 300 million scent receptors inside their nose, compared to only 6 million for us. For our dogs, the nose is king!

Sniffing actually has stress-reducing benefits, so it’s a much better activity for your dog to do on a walk than chasing a ball repetitively, which can cause physical pressure and large amounts of adrenaline. And while they may not be running - sniffing is tiring!

So, ditch the ball and enjoy some calm breathing while your dog gets its sniffing workout.

Day 2: Be calm and create real connections

Caroline Wilkinson, Certified Animal Behaviourist

Considering our dogs don’t use language in the same way as us, they’re very adept at understanding the ‘meaning’ of many individual words we use. But we often assume that dogs understand our language more than they do. ‘Sit’, ‘sit down’, ‘will you just sit’ might all mean the same thing to us but can be confusing for our dogs to understand.

MRI studies have shown that tone is also important for dogs, with higher pitches – or dog-directed speech (baby talk) – being the most engaging.

Over-talking to our dogs can raise their level of arousal, plus it doesn’t allow them the important processing time they need to understand what we’re asking.

When walking your dog, try to use cues consistently and keep a calm, happy, tone of voice.

Day 3: Make the journey as interesting as the destination

Caroline Wilkinson, Certified Animal Behaviourist

How often have you charged along on the on-lead part of your walk, desperate to get to the park to allow your dog off the lead?

Try to change your approach – using the on-lead section of your walk as an opportunity to engage with your dog.

Use little pieces of food scattered in the grass to engage their nose. Try calm strokes up and down a small section of the lead to remove tension and give yourself an improved sense of calm. Take some deep breaths.

Stop every few minutes and ask your dog to do their favourite trick – engaging the task side of their brain, dampening the emotional side. Or try some calm strokes to give you both a boost of oxytocin, the bonding ‘love hormone.’

Day 4: Leave your phone at home

Linda Blair, Clinical Psychologist

Did you know 70% of us never leave home without our phone? We believe smartphones allow us to us stay in touch, when in truth they often prevent us from making meaningful social connections.

When we text or email, we exchange information, but we don’t connect emotionally. If that’s the only way you reach out, you’ll end up feeling increasingly lonely.

Why not use your dog walk to reach out meaningfully instead? Leave your phone at home and look around as you walk. Greet others warmly, and when it seems appropriate, enjoy a friendly chat.

The reward? Increased wellbeing and a growing sense of belonging.

Day 5: Be curious

Linda Blair, Clinical Psychologist

Challenge yourself to think in a new way on your dog walks. No zoning out. No criticising. No comparing.

Instead, simply engage your five sense to appreciate what’s happening all around you, right then and right there. See if you can describe your surroundings to yourself in detail, but without comparing them to anything else. Just notice. Mindfulness experts refer to this as ‘gentle curiosity’.

Practise this outlook, and not only will you enjoy your surroundings in fresh new ways, you’ll also become more accepting of yourself and more gracious to others. 

The mindful dog walking experts:

We’ve teamed up with Certified Dog Behaviourst Caroline Wilkinson and Clinical Psychologist Linda Blair, co-founders of ‘Mindful Living & Our Dogs’ to discover the benefits of walking more mindfully with our four-legged friends.

Caroline Wilkinson

Caroline Wilkinson is a Certified Animal Behaviourist. As the Founder of the online learning space Barket Place, Caroline has a passion for improving connections between human and hound, with a focus on relationships and reduction of stress for canines living in a human world.

Caroline is committed to using only the most positive, kind, fair and effective training methods. She is part of the writing team at Edition Dog Magazine and has been approved full membership of INTO! Dogs and The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). She is part of the International School of Canine Psychology and Behaviour Affiliation Programme, increasing cooperation and collaboration between students and teachers within all areas of canine study, for the benefit of all.

Linda Blair

Linda Blair studied psychology at Wellesley College and Harvard University in America, then trained as a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital (University of London). She’s worked in the NHS, for the Medical Research Council and at the Universities of Cambridge and Bath, and she’s had a private clinical psychology practice for 35 years.

She now writes a weekly column, ‘Mind Healing’, for The Daily Telegraph. She’s written five self-help books, and has been a regular columnist for the Guardian, The Times, the Daily Mail, and Psychologies magazine. Linda also broadcasts frequently on radio stations include BBC World Service, Radio 4, Radio 5, and she’s often seen on TV (Sky News, ITV, BBC) as an expert on matters psychological. She’s a Patron for Ways With Words Literature Festivals, and is also in demand as a speaker for businesses, schools, and other organisations.

Find out more about the experts and being mindful with your dog, here.

Forthglade make 100% natural wet and dry grain free dog food from Forthglade In Devon. Find out more, here.

Watch Suzy Walker, editor of Psychologies magazine, follow Forthglade's tips on how to walk your dog mindfully with her pooch Oscar...

How to walk your dog mindfully

Photo: Getty Images