Walking Your Dog: Strengthening the Human-Animal Bond
January is Walk Your Dog Month. First and foremost, I do not do well with exclusion so let’s add in there your feline companion (even if it’s not a true walk), your equine herd and your feathered, scaly or slithery family as well!
When I hear “walk your dog,” I think of health, getting out in nature, exercise, which leads into cell health, but more than anything I think “BE PRESENT” and “CONNECTION”!!! To me, exercising and spending time playing with your pet is one of the best ways, hands down, to strengthen the human-animal bond.
We ALL live in busy times. In fact, when we do not respond to the question “how are things?” with “great, but super busy” or “I’m exhausted because we are super busy,” or anything ending in “super busy,” we would be the rare exception. It’s kind of what we are supposed to be – BUSY.
Well, as a human and animal healthcare provider I am here to say this is NOT healthy. I am saying this from first-hand experience of seeing how distracted, consumed, and deep I have and can be with work and just getting the daily things in life done.
Owning and practising in my holistic vet hospital for more than 20 years I have witnessed a lifetime of lessons. Here are three of the thousands:
- People are always very busy
- People love their animals
- Most would do virtually anything for them
I also learned and witnessed first-hand what our animals do for us, what they are trying to teach us or show us and my recommendation to everyone is to take heed! They were here trying to teach us WAY, WAY before meditation apps (even though I must say my dogs and cats love to sit close by me when I meditate to them ). There is a ton we can, and should, learn from them.
And that brings me to lesson #1.
Building the Human-Animal Bond Lesson #1: Be Present
This finally leads me to “Walk Your Dog Month.” I’d much prefer it say connect with your animal or get out and play with your furry friend, but at least it’s putting the bug in your ear to remember to get outside even if that means for cats and rats and snakes or lizards. Get outside of your everyday routine of feeding and cleaning litter boxes, and get creative to connect with your buddies and build that human-animal bond. Roll around on the floor, play hide and seek treat games… or even with your horse, do something that has NOTHING to do with what you want but take his or her lead in what they might find fun. As a kid, I locked myself in the bathroom with towels rolled up under the door and let my rats loose to play with them. You can do the same with your rodents, snakes, and lizards. Leave your cell in the kitchen and get creative, be a kid, let loose and see how good it feels.
Really, it is less about routine with animals and more about what kind of energy you are bringing to the table. I think it is really important to include your pet – ask them about their day and they will feel the energy of your engagement. Put the energy out to discover what they think is interesting and what they like – it is incredible the connection this can bring.
Building the Human-Animal Bond Lesson #2: Live in the Moment
Even if you tend to follow a routine, we can still be in the moment, not in the future or the past. To live in the moment with your animal we need to learn from them. In my practice, I used to tell my clients, the next time you are on Facebook posting pictures or quotes of how much you love your dog, stop and take 15 minutes and actually LOVE YOUR DOG, get off your computer and roll around on the floor with her, be silly, be a dog, show your dog – not the world – how much you love your dog. These guys are teaching us to get off our computers and phones and teaching us to just BE. The gift you’ll get from just those 15 minutes could be life-changing for both you and your dog.
I want to emphasize how important it is to be in the moment when you’re walking your dog. I would have to say 90% of all the people I see walking their dogs are on their phones, and it breaks my heart to see because years ago I was one of them. That is, until I started my journey into “being here now.”
Whatever you do, don’t put your earbuds in or talk on the phone – look at the leaves blowing or whatever is interesting to your dog. Become more mesmerized by simple things and see the beauty in nature. Watch what your friend is watching, pay attention to the trees, find the awe in that leaf blowing… you know what I mean. Let your dog sniff and dig and be interested in what they are digging or sniffing. Believe me, they are not on their walks wondering if they are beautiful or if the new iPhone is out – they are happy to be alive and with their human soulmate, you. This time is the hour just for them, to dedicate and tell them, through your actions not just words, how much you love them, how important they are to your life. Not only will they feel like you are actually with them, but YOU will feel so different to have that break from a screen, from cell radiation, from being side-tracked by the busyness of life.
Don’t miss this one precious hour a day that you’ll wish you could get back when your friend is no longer here. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to get back that time with my dog that passed, but in my heart I know he was one of my biggest teachers and that was one of his huge gifts to me.
Exercise – Every Cell in the Body Benefits From This!
Below are just a few of the reasons it’s important for the health and longevity of the body’s cells (and I do not mean your cell phones!) to get out and exercise, but what is equally important is to get out in nature, disconnect from the internet and phone, from work or human family worries and JUST BE with your animal. Leave your phone at home or turn it off (I dare you!).
Deep breathing and exercise improve cell health. Seriously, every cell in the body benefits from exercise. Your animal’s lymphatic system is a vital system of the body and directly responds to exercise and breath.
The lymphatic system is interactive with and connected to every organ and is directly related to immune function and efficiency. It’s kind of like an internal housekeeper… vacuuming and sucking up garbage, toxins, and excess fluid from the extracellular fluid of every organ and the tissues. It then clears this waste through the proper drainage flow. When this flow or elimination becomes blocked due to congestion, severe degenerative disease can begin.
The most supportive and preventative measures you can do with your dog to keep this system healthy is an external massage and vigorous exercise.
In vet medicine they say, to keep your dog healthy, 2 hours a day of exercise is needed. Of course, this is dependant on breed and age, but even if it’s 30 minutes a day, this does not mean the rest of the 23 1/2 hrs they should be locked in an apartment or house with nothing to do.
Dogs are social pack animals that need to be engaged in your (their pack’s) full life, no matter what that means. There are loads of ways to do this: dog walkers, daycare, friends with benefits (meaning their dogs to come play).
Benefits of Walking Your Dog
Walking your dog is great for building a bond between you, but of course there are also physical benefits. In fact, there are more than three hundred types of cells and everyone will react positively to exercise.
Here are some examples:
- Muscles – voluntary, involuntary muscles and cardiac muscles cells
- Cells of the walls of the arteries – making them stronger and more elastic
- Skin cells – they react to various types of stimulation including exercise and breathing
- Bones – vigorous exercise causes the cells of the bones to request more bone material from the extracellular fluid and deposit it in the bone matrix, this strengthens and mineralizes the bones, keeping them healthy and strong
- Anti-gravity muscles (muscles for balanced posture) – these cells are activated with even with average steady body movement
- Vestibular system cells of the inner ear – adapt to physical motion
- Ligaments – although possibly slower and a tad different than muscles and bones, connective tissue research is showing that exercise will tighten and strengthen ligaments in the body
- Brain – your pet learns and gains knowledge by the brain being stimulated. The number of synapses or connections from one brain cell to another is increased by physical activity, especially agility or running through forests
- Vision – from the time your animal opens her eyes until the day she dies, she’s constantly exercising her eyes. We now know that vision is a talent and can be improved by exercise and proper stimulation
White blood cells of the immune system become more numerous and can move 15 times faster in the body with exercising. This increase of activity in the bloodstream can happen even with just 1 single minute of exercise. So run around the house and play as much as possible, even if it’s just in many short spurts.
Some human studies have even shown that regular exercise may reduce the risk of cancer by 40%! That’s a huge deal, but such a simple way to positively support your animal’s health.
So, to recap, this month, and every month, make time to just be with your furry friend. You can honestly improve your animal’s health and wellness just by playing and strengthening, and learning from, that human animal bond. Make time to be present in their world, doing things that make them happy, and in turn, you’ll be happier too. It really is a priceless gift.