Zen and the Art of Mindful Dog Walking

By Linda Fredericks

My understanding of Zen Philosophy is limited, however, it seems to me that ‘mindfulness’ especially can be applied to our relationships with other people as well as to our pets, particularly our dogs!

Significant current research regarding canine intelligence indicates for example that dogs learn language in much the same way as humans and can correctly respond to 3 and 4-step commands quite easily. We also know they dream in much the same way we do and are very effective non-verbal communicators. My dog Princess will stand by her empty water bowl and look up at me, look down at her bowl and then look back at me until I finally snap to what she is trying to tell me. “Hello, I need water.”

A major tenant of Zen Philosophy is an underlying belief that all sentient beings have the same essential nature and, therefore, have the same basic needs and desires. If anyone told me four months ago that I would liken walking my dogs to Zen meditation I would have said, “You’re crazy!” Because ‘crazy’ was what walking my dogs used to be. If I so much as uttered the word, ‘walk.’ Or picked up a dog leash they would literally go bonkers, jumping up on me, doing the happy dance which made it next to impossible to attach the leashes to their collars.

I retired in July and now have the luxury as well as the privilege of walking with Princess and Niki everyday. The consistency of our walking routine has changed how my dogs respond to me because of how I initiate and guide the experience. I don’t say the word ‘walk’ anymore. My dogs simply respond to my non-verbal cues. I put on my walking shoes and get the keys to the pick-up. No more leashing up at the house, instead we walk calmly out to the truck. I open the door they jump up inside where I now keep their leashes. With one easy click they are ready for our walk.

Now I allow my dogs to take the lead. I follow along and go where they go. I observe their interests. I am fully present in the moment with them. They love to look for and flush out the small desert lizards and jack rabbits we encounter along the way. At a crossroads of the many dirt roads that crisscross the area where we walk I wait to see which way they want to go. This same strategy can be used if walking in a neighborhood too. At the corner just wait to see where your dog wants to go.

Another important aspect of Zen Philosophy involves conduct. Keeping our dogs and others safe by obeying leash laws is an important aspect of mindful walking. We can’t predict what people or dogs will do in dangerous or unfamiliar circumstances. It is better to be safe than sorry.

In the past I was often in a hurry and walking my dogs was just another task to check off on my “to do list”. I often checked and answered emails on my phone while walking them. I no longer do that so that I can devote mindful attention to my dogs. One appropriate use of my phone on my walks is to use an app to count the miles I am walking to earn donations for my favorite animal shelters.

The physical benefits of walking our dogs daily are well known for people and dogs. Now I realize my daily walks with my dogs are also good for my mental health as well. Our walks have become special contemplative times where I experience greater understanding for my dogs and for myself. Our walks allow me to relax and focus on my intentions with purpose. I find that this type of daily meditation helps me to be more productive for the day and more in tune with my dogs. The time I spend with them has helped me to recognize how much my dogs need this time to follow the scents they are sensitive to, create their own games, and to pursue their own interests.

Our mindful walks are creating a direct opening for intuitive meditation for me and are having a calming affect on my dogs.