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Things You Might Have Missed

Psssst. Come here. I want to tell you something. Just between you and me:

You’re missing out.

 

I know because I see you while I’m out walking dogs every day. You’re walking your dog too, but you’re not really there.

Your dog knows it. I see them looking at me and I smile at them, hoping you’ll notice me noticing them and then realize that at the end of your arm is a leash attached to everything you’re busy chasing somewhere else. You really matter to your dog, you know. If you pay attention, you might feel how important and appreciated you are. It feels real good.

I see you with your head down, eyes fixed on your phone’s screen, one arm fully extended behind you. You’re not aware that you’re dragging your dog along who is trying to sniff something very important. When you get home, maybe you realize that you forgot to pay attention to your dog the whole time you were out. It’s almost as if that walk never happened.

How did I get here? 

You’re missing out. I know because I used to miss out too. I was so caught up in my thoughts or in a phone conversation that I ended every walk feeling uneasy. Unsatisfied. Disconnected. Like I hadn’t been there at all. I wasn’t. I was everywhere but where I was: walking the dog outside.

Over more than a decade of walking dogs every day, I’ve learned how good it feels to be totally present, as best I can, during my walks. I’m happier, less stressed, and not to toot myown horn but: TOOT! The dogs think I’m the best when I’m paying attention.

No matter how crummy stuff might be in other areas of my life, when I’m fully in the moment I notice amazing things about the world around me, the people in it, and the dogs next to me. I wind up feeling grateful for all these nuggets of greatness sprinkled around me. Plus, I know that no matter what happens on the walk, I was totally there for my dogs.

I don’t want to get all yoga pants on you, but what I’m talking about is mindfulness. It’s not always easy to pay attention on purpose, but it feels hella good when you drop into it. Not sure how? Your dogs are great mindfulness teachers.

As Eckhart Tolle says, in one of my favorite books Guardians of Being, illustrated by Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell, “Millions of people who otherwise would be completely lost in their minds and in endless past and future concerns are taken back by their dog or cat into the present moment, again and again, and reminded of the joy of Being.”

I want you to try it. Put down the phone. Stop having an imaginary argument with the clerk at the DMV in your head. Tune in to what’s happening right now. Stop trying to distract yourself or multitask. Pay attention. Be fully present to yourself, your dog, and the world around you.

You’re missing all kinds of beautiful, important, stinky, funny stuff that will leave you feeling mighty fine.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s what you’re missing:

1. Your dog walking at your side, looking up at you with joy, hoping you’ll look down at them.

2. The feeling of the year’s first warm breeze across your skin.

3. This little bird at the bottom of a fence post:

bird

Spotted in Portland, Maine

 

4. The sound of bumblebees buzzing in the flowers.

5. That your dog just pooped in someone’s beautiful flower bed and you didn’t clean up.

6. The patients in the hospital building who are looking out of their fourth story windows at you.

7. The blossoms on the trees above you: 

blossoms

Spotted in Portland, Maine

 

8. The mailman who just smiled at you.

9. The smell of freshly baked cookies and crusty bread floating down the block from the bakery on the corner.

10. The “lost cat” fliers that someone posted in the hopes that strangers like you would keep an eye out.

11. The art. The art. The art. All of it:

philly murals

Spotted in Philadelphia, PA

 

12.The birds singing back and forth to each other.

13. The sweet old ladies sitting in lawn chairs quietly saying to each other that your dog is beautiful.

14. Your dog’s wagging tail because she heard her fan club’s compliments.

15. The weight of the snow on the branches:

Snow on trees

Spotted in Maine

 

 

16. The butterflies circling in and out of the bushes.

17. Me. Look up. You almost walked right into me dude.

18. Your dog’s nose twitching in the wind, eyes half-closed, as he decodes a smell that has washed over him.

19. The feel of moss on a city wall. Touch it:

moss

Spotted in Philadelphia, PA

 

 

20. The car you stepped out in front of that almost clipped you.

21. The elaborate changing holiday displays in row-home picture windows.

22. The squirrel your dog just spotted and is going to launch itself at in a second.

23. The chance to say “Yes! Good boy!” when he decided to ignore the squirrel, like you taught him.

24. The flowers, the grass, the whole shebang:

birdie sniffs

Spotted in Maine

 

 

This is just some of it. There’s so much more, but you gotta put down the phone, let go of the endless conversations you’re having in your head, and pay attention to everything around you. It’s worth it. Promise.

Life is one dog walk at a time. Don’t miss it.

 

 

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52 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mary Rabbe #

    Please remove my name.

    May 14, 2014
    • Hi Mary, What would you like me to remove your name from? If you subscribe to my blog and no longer want to receive my posts via email, you’ll need to hit unsubscribe in those emails. I can’t do it for you – sorry! – Jessica

      May 14, 2014
  2. Beautiful post! One of the best gifts of having a reactive dog has been that I absolutely *have* to pay attention, and I’ve gotten into the habit of leaving the phone at home for most walks, or ignoring it when I need to have it with me. I was one of those people compulsively attached to the tiny screen, and letting it go has freed me in so many ways. Thanks!

    May 14, 2014
    • Thank you! And yes, reactive dogs were the first ones to teach me the gift of staying present. No more phone for me! What took a little longer to learn was how to be actively AND calmly aware, so that I could attend to their needs and triggers but also enjoy the world around me. Glad you’re able to do that too!

      May 14, 2014
    • Holly #

      I like that you refer to the “gifts of having a reactive dog.” It’s true, I’ve learned so much since Chico came into our lives three years ago, and even though it’s a big challenge, I love him like crazy and am grateful for how he’s made me grow and change and find ways to help him relax. And to help ME relax, since that’s a big part of working with a reactive dog!

      May 14, 2014
      • Marjie Douty #

        yes, oh, yes!

        May 16, 2014
  3. Holly #

    Oh, this is my dream. I am excessively “mindful” (or hypervigilant, like my dog) on our walks because he is horribly reactive to other dogs and young children–so I am on high alert to potential triggers so we can beat a fast retreat! You people who have calm, non-reactive dogs are SO LUCKY! I love this post because someday I hope to be able to spend just as much time touching moss, listening to bees, and taking in smiles and compliments as I do scanning the environment for dangers. (But I DID enjoy this past winter and had a few perfect, truly mindful walks with Chico because the snow and cold kept so many other dogs home!)

    May 14, 2014
    • Hi Holly, I feel your pain! Almost all of the dogs I walk are reactive. In fact, much of what I noticed and photographed here I found while out walking reactive dogs. So I promise that it is possible to be able to take in some of this while walking a dog that has behavioral challenges. With some practice, you’ll be able to scan the environment for possible triggers/dangers AND notice the good stuff too!

      It may not be realistic to do this all the time, but even my most challenging dog walks allow me to tune in for a moment or two to notice something good. Aiming for just a few seconds of calm awareness is a good start!

      Wishing you safe walks – Jessica

      May 14, 2014
      • Holly #

        Thanks so much, Jessica. This blog helps a ton. Just realizing other people have the same problem was a huge relief–it sometimes seems like the world is just full of happy-go-lucky dogs who all love to hang out together in peace and harmony, never lunging or barking or growling…. But Chico and I are rising to the challenge every day, with the help of people like you and our veterinary behaviorist!

        May 14, 2014
        • That’s awesome – Chico is super lucky to have you on his side! I was thinking about you as I did a few dog walks this afternoon. It really can be hard to relax enough to notice the good stuff on our walks with reactive dogs.

          One thing to try, that I find really helpful, is deep breathing. Rather than putting your attention on the flowers or whatever, try to take a few deep breaths as you walk. Maybe when Chico stops to pee or sniff something, you can stop with him and breathe deeply from your belly. Look over your shoulder first, to make sure no one is creeping up on you, then take a big inhale/exhale! That’s mindfulness too and it’s just as rewarding/feels as good as noticing the moss ; )

          Anyway, if you start with your breath, you might find that as time goes on, you can steal a few more seconds here and there of relaxation. Hope that helps a bit!

          May 14, 2014
  4. Val #

    I love this! It makes me sad when I see a person walking their dog and they are looking at their phones. They miss every cue from the dog. I love to look down and see my girl(my non DINOS) looking up and smiling at me. We have the best conversations on our walks!
    She is the keeper of my secrets.
    #18 is by far my favorite!

    May 14, 2014
    • “Keep of my secrets” – AMEN!
      And #18 is one of my favorite things to watch. I’m glad you feel that way too Val : )

      May 14, 2014
  5. Aside from the mini panic attack I had at #16 (butterflies terrify me – they flutter into personal space and I had one explode on me once and well it’s all very dark but anywho…), yes! I bring my phone on the walk because the one time I don’t I’ll have to call 911 and won’t have it but it’s always tucked away. Walking the dogs is one of the best bonding moments we have, I put it up with snuggling in terms of impact. They get to be dogs and I get to learn from them, to linger when something smells good, to leave your ‘mark’ on the world, to look around and see things. I assure you, we would not run into you (not on mistake, maybe on purpose tho!)!

    May 14, 2014
    • You were bombed by an imploding butterfly? Fair enough that #16 is not for you!!

      I bring my phone on walks for emergencies, but it’s tucked away too, so good point! And excellent comparison to snuggling – that’s another time when giving your full attention feels really, really good for you and your dogs.

      Special note to all you DINOS families: if you have a reactive dog, snuggling at home or being in your yard together is a really good place to start tuning into together!

      May 14, 2014
  6. I love this! I stopped listening to music while I walk my dogs many years ago after a stray dog attacked and I needed to be more alert but have come to treasure the morning and evening walks as a sacred time with my dogs. Great article

    May 14, 2014
    • Aw, I’m sorry that happened to you guys, but I’m with you on no-music. Listening as I walk keeps us safe (from dogs and cars!) and allows me to tune in to all kinds of good stuff. Enjoy your walk this evening!

      May 14, 2014
  7. What a wonderful post! It’s so true and so sad, but we’ve all done it. I suppose in a way, having reactive dogs is a blessing because you HAVE to pay attention, I’ve never looked at it that way before. :-)

    Thanks for the reminder to be always present and for the new perspective.

    May 14, 2014
  8. Karen DeBraal #

    Excellent post. My dog walks are my favorite time of day for walking meditation. Someone once asked me if I listen to books or music — never, I said. It is my time to be as fully aware as possible. The good thing — it spills into everything and my life has become a meditation and a prayer.

    May 14, 2014
    • “A meditation and a prayer” – I love that Karen. Thanks for sharing.

      May 14, 2014
      • Karen DeBraal #

        You are so welcome. Dog and God — lots of connection there on some level!

        May 14, 2014
  9. Love this :) Thanks for putting into words what so many of us also see and feel! Only problem is, the people who probably should be reading this, also probably will not!

    May 14, 2014
    • Thanks! And I used to think that too, but I get secret emails from converts every now and again that keep me believing that people who are ready for the info are reading (some of the time, at least)!

      May 14, 2014
  10. Teddy's Mom #

    love this!

    May 14, 2014
  11. Anu #

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!

    With my previous dog my daily walks were easy. She was friendly, calm, and a joy to have out every day. Walking with her was my meditation in motion and I’d bliss out for all the reasons you listed above and more.

    Now I have a new companion, Remy, my fearful small dog who is terrified of strangers, people he doesn’t know well, and new situations.

    Thanks to many kind-hearted neighbors who patiently followed my instruction not to initiate interaction with Remy, to let my dog choose to visit with them (or not), Remy’s friendly and calm when he sees them.

    Almost three years in, walks with Remy have started to reveal their own special joys. Every time Remy wags at a friend or neighbor he was previously afraid of, I feel joy.

    Every time I can get his attention away from something making him nervous to focus on me, I feel joy.

    Every time my Remy screws up his courage to walk out into the big, scary world outside our home I feel joy.

    Thank you for this lovely post celebrating the joys of fearful and reactive dogs.

    May 14, 2014
    • Our dogs are such great teachers. I love that you’ve found ways to celebrate small (and big) moments with Remy. What a lucky little guy to have you on the other end of his leash!

      May 14, 2014
  12. Amen, Jessica. Lovely post!

    May 14, 2014
  13. Can’t begin to tell you how much I LOVED this post! Just tweeted it and shared on Dakota’s facebook fan page.

    May 14, 2014
  14. Great post! I decided to leave my phone home during our walks a year ago, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. My dogs and I get so much more out of the walk.

    May 14, 2014
  15. Awesome post! I try to stay in the moment, but sometimes I fail miserably. Thank you for the reminder, and I dig all that stuff too! I walk my dog past a women’s prison, so I can add “inmates waving at us from the yard” to the list of things not to be missed :-)

    May 14, 2014
    • Uh, that’s awesome. You realize you and Murphy are probably the highlight of their day right?

      And I fail at this plenty too. Like yesterday, when I had to yell at a guy who was letting his loose dog chase me and my dogs. I was arguing with him – in my head – for blocks. I’m learning to catch myself doing that quicker, so I can let go of it sooner. It’s annoying dragging all these people around with me in my thoughts!

      May 14, 2014
      • Yeah, I argue with those people in my head too. It’s hard not to. But I always smile and wave back at the inmates! :-)

        May 14, 2014
  16. Sue/Elliot #

    I NEVER use my phone, or listen to music when walking Elliot. I consider him dog “reflective”, in that he reacts to/reflects whatever energy an approaching dog has. We sadly have many people in our neighborhood who either let their dogs loose in their own yards, or walk them at the distant end of a retractable leash, and I do not want to be distracted by anything while walking him. He is a 100 lb Rottie boy, and I am very aware of the bias and fear people have toward the breed. Because of it, am hypervigilant about his behavior. There is one woman who walks her Malinois daily, at the end of said Flexi, dressed in workout wear, talking away on her phone, completely unaware of her dog. I find it very sad. My phone is in my pocket, for emergency use, only.

    May 14, 2014
  17. Rosemary, Ilka, & Leo #

    I have a reactive dog, plus we walk in area where there are lots of loose dogs (despite the city’s leash law), so I’m always paying attention to what’s going on around us. However, we’ve had people darn near walk into us (or run us down with their car), because they were so busy looking at their phones that they couldn’t be bothered to watch where they were going.

    May 14, 2014
  18. Wayne #

    Great post! One of my favorite things is walking a dog. I love been one on one with a dog. I always reminded myself, who’s walk is it! I always think of one of my favorite sayings. Not sure where I got it, but it goes like this. “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” I lost both of my dogs to old age in the span of 3 months. I like to think I was worthy of there devotion.

    May 14, 2014
    • So sorry for your losses Wayne. That is a great quote and I have no doubt that if you lived that sentiment – even just some of the time – that you were more than worthy.

      May 15, 2014
  19. melissa #

    Loved this post! Such a lovely message and a great reminder!

    May 14, 2014
  20. Karen Zorn #

    Yes this is all so true, as you quoted from Eckhart Tolle, “Live in the moment” I totally agree with you, as a dog walker.  Especially right now while the weather is really  nice and not toooo hot!!!  Thanks for the article.

    Karen Zorn PetPals Pet Sitting

    ________________________________

    May 14, 2014
  21. Great article, if you don’t mind I would like to re-blog it to remind our own dog walks what they might be missing out on!

    May 14, 2014
  22. Reblogged this on Lonely Pets Club and commented:
    Something for all of us to keep in mind when out with our four legged friends. , whether we’re professional dog walkers, or just dog lovers.

    May 14, 2014
  23. Great post! I love walking with my dog and I feel sorry for the people and the dogs who do not walk together.

    May 14, 2014
  24. barksNpurrs #

    Having reactive dogs, to me, is a lifeline to full awareness….a precious gift !
    Love this article….so true…

    May 14, 2014
  25. YOU ARE A ROCK STAR!!
    I so look forward to reading your posts. I settle into my desk chair as if reading a novel in front of a warm fireplace. With my dogs at my feet, of course!
    As a CPDT with my own dog training business, I reference your blog and DINOS and the whole shebang, as you would say (!) in my Let’s Go! Leash Walking classes. My students always find useful information, techniques and references in your posts for when they are out-and-about with their own dogs. Sometimes it’s helpful to “hear” the information from someone in addition to the instructor.
    I am grateful for your wit, wisdom and humor and for all that you do for our four-legged faithful friends.
    Signed, the President of Your Fan Club

    May 15, 2014
    • Oh, wow – thanks Debra. This was such a nice thing to read first thing in the morning. I’m so glad that I can be of help to your students – it means the world to me to know this little blog can be of service in that way. Thank you for reading, for sharing, and for your super kind words. They are appreciated more than you know! – Jessica

      May 15, 2014
  26. Jan #

    I absolutely love and identify with this post. I, too, carry a phone with me for emergencies and to take photos of my dog or the wondrous things around me. We can never experience the world through the eyes, ears and nose of our dogs but we can revel in the way they sniff at things, jump at things, chase leaves swirling in the wind and watch how they are interested in absolutely everything. I learn a lot from and enjoy my walks with Loki immensely.

    May 15, 2014
  27. yes. just yes!

    May 15, 2014
  28. Debbie Mitsakos #

    Yes, yes, yes.

    May 17, 2014
  29. I LOVE this. Some of our walks, like the first in the morning, is usually long and THEIRS. They get to smell and explore to their hearts content (almost). Other times, it’s rush out and back in because mommie has a client or errands to run. We all enjoy our long morning excursions, even if they are only on our apartment grounds. They get to meet and be petted and cooed at by neighbors out walking. They get to sniff and play with new and now familiar four legged friends. they get time off leash in the huge grassy corner with old tall oak trees while many others we see are run out to the potty spot and back in just as quickly. We relish playing catch me, rolling in the grass, getting tummy rubs in the shade, and lying proud and head up and erect soaking up the sun in our faces with closed eyes. ahhhhh

    June 5, 2014
  30. Laura #

    This is beautiful =) Thanks for the awesome reminder.

    July 8, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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