Your dog as your guide

Over the last few months I have been going very much with the flow, as far as the dogs are concerned, but also with life.  I want to start a new business around people and their dogs, using the concept of your dog as  your guide, starting with my learning's as the material.  There is a term for this approach in the grown-up world - Action Research.    In summary this involves interacting with my dogs, being self-aware and observing how my feelings are affecting their behaviour, and using the results to further develop my ideas for sharing.

I have started to adopt the practice of meditating before walking the dogs, to get me in a calmer state and to see what impact this has on behaviour.  I have already  noticed a positive change. The dogs don't tear about quite so madly when we start off on our walks.  If I can be mindful as I walk, I find the dogs respond in a calmer manner.  Just following this practice, I have become aware  of the stress and anxiety that I am holding on a daily, minute-to-minute basis, a huge personal development result for me, in itself. 

I had decided to take Logan and Archie a walk.   On this occasion I had followed a short guided meditation prior to going out.  My third dog, Jack, was  getting a good walk by someone  else.  I find that if I'm leaving one of them at home I hold on to a feeling of guilt that we are not all out together.  As I am trying to be aware of my feelings when I interact with the dogs, having a feeling of guilt would have an impact - so I was pleased not to have that one to worry about on this occasion.

It was a lovely cold, but sunny, winter's day.  I had been sticking to the same walk for a while, where meeting others and road-walking was kept to a minimum.   On this occasion I decided to stretch my comfort zone and take them a walk up the opposite side of the glen,  involving lead walking for a short distance - something that I had not been doing for quite a while

We navigated  a short stretch of road on lead.  Logan is very subservient on the lead, staying close behind me.  I see that as a sign of his 'repressed' nature.  Archie is more exuberant (I notice, and try to silence, the negative thoughts in my head - 'you should have taught him to heel by now')

Released from his lead in the field Logan goes off like a rocket - this is his usual behaviour - exacerbated I believe by the stress of walking on the lead - his nose is down, madly sniffing, tail waving, picking up scents, soaring over fences (eek the same barbed wire fence that he has come a cropper on before).  So it doesn't take long before the calm demeanour I am trying to maintain has fallen to pieces.  I am panicking, wanting to continue with the off-lead walk I had planned but not sure I'm going to be able to communicate with Logan at all. 

Now I know why I have a retriever!Archie, the labrador, is a valuable ally  when walking Logan.  He takes it on himself to keep Logan in the here-and-now - bumping him shoulder-to-shoulder when Logan gets that 'ungrounded feel' about him. 

However, on this occasion Archie was not up for jumping the fence (thank goodness ) and so was struggling to connect with Logan.  So we had started off on the wrong foot but, in the spirit of action research (and the fact that I wanted to go a walk) we continued with the planned itinary.  Within 15 minutes of being in the forest Logan had gone out of sight. Archie made a few forays in an attempt to find him but came back to me admitting defeat.  Its quite common for Logan to do this for a few minutes and then appear.  Its also not unknown for him to return some hours later at the house.  I decided to go with the flow and not let myself get upset about it, continuing with my 'mindful' practice. 

We got to a stage in the walk where we could start on the downward path back home, having had no further sign of Logan, and I wondered what I should do.  I decided to muscle-test to link into my higher self for guidance.  Should I go up the hill, to the left, or down?  I got a definite 'No' to the down, and no response to the other two and then a message, a thought, in my head 'go to the mast'.  This was the highest point of the walk, another hour away and if I went that way, it would not be possible for me to return before dark. But I wanted to trust my intuition and so I started to head a long the path upwards towards the mast.  After a few 100 yards, Logan appeared from the right.  Brilliant, this was the point of the message - by going towards the mast I had found Logan!   I squatted down and called him to me.  He looked at me, gave me a wide berth as he crossed the track, as if to say, in a panicky sort of way - 'no not yet, I've still got stuff to do' and disappeared into the forest.   Damn.  Archie disappeared into the trees after him, in his usual 'hound retrieving' fashion.  A few minutes later Archie  was back by my side, but no Logan. 

 Again I wondered what to do.  'Go to the mast' came into my head again.  Still?  There really is no time to get back before dark.  However, it was a clear message and I decided to follow it.  Archie and I proceeded to walk along the forest road up to the radio mast at the top of the glen.  It was a lovely walk and I was conscious that part of the benefit to me was to give myself time in nature, to get physical exercise and fresh air to breathe, to calm down from the anxious state I had got myself in early on in the walk.    With Archie there is no anxiety.  Although I haven't got a 100% recall (my judgement of myself again!), he will always  be with me. 

 We had a great walk to the mast and even though the light was starting to go I managed to capture a great view up the glen with my camera, before we turned round to retrace our steps as we went home.

I started to wonder where Logan was and tried to connect in with his feelings.  I didn’t get a sense of panic or fear and wondered if he had already arrived home.  The light was dimming and our pace got slower as I tried to avoid patches of ice on the forest track.  Archie stayed in closer as I started to get nervous of losing him as well.  We were getting closer to the village and the light had completely gone. The last bit of the route was on an uneven, icy, steep, narrow path, lined with trees.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.  I slowed right down.  How was I going to avoid tripping over or head-butting a tree?  This was proving to be a bit hazardous. I could hear Archie close by but couldn’t see him in the dark.  Then I was aware of a dog at my right side - I looked down expecting to see Archie coming in closer but recognised Logan's patches of white beside me.  Logan had re-joined us at the end of our walk, 2 hours later!  I was so pleased to see him. As he jumped up at me, his usual greeting I noted my feeling of gratitude, from the heart.  Thank you universe!  A huge sigh of relief came over me - also showing me that I wasn't quite as calm as I had been pretending to be.

But I still had the last bit of the forest to navigate and as the dogs forged ahead I found myself having to stop and wonder how I was going to finish the walk.  'But I can't see' I called out to the dogs as they continued on.  Logan immediately appeared back at my side, as if to guide me along the next bit of the walk.  This got into a pattern.  I would stop, he would return to my side, guiding me to the the next part.  He repeated this until I could make my way on my own.  And so we got home safely.  And I didn’t even have to let on that it had been anything other than a long walk when I got home!

 There were lots of things for me in this experience.  Being much more aware of my anxiety and how quickly it can escalate, being aware of Logan's need to be away from us (which I can relate to in my own behaviour at times), Archie's need to keep us all together (is that a reflection of another of my needs?), and the importance of listening to that 'inner guidance' when faced with decisions.  The huge joy of seeing Logan there by my side, when I least expected  it, and feeling his support for me when I most needed it, in addition to the unfaltering support of Archie throughout the journey, really opened me up a to dimension in my relationship with my dogs.  A great example of your dog as your guide!  The whole experience was of great value on learning how to go with the flow.  May there be many more!

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