Dog Walking Meditation (written 2004)
I spend hours every day walking dogs. Sometimes I'm distracted and lost in thought. But when I like it best, when I love my job, is when I'm there with each dog. Every walk then is different even though the woodsy loop we walk is the same. And each canine companion is my teacher. Here are a few lessons from today:
Tuff is my energy buddy. When I open to his world view everything is interesting and exciting. Tuff is a big black Lab who likes to jump up and give hugs. He's so eager when we come out the gate I have to talk to him first and get his attention. He's big enough to pull me off my feet if he just took off when I wasn't ready. We chat awhile first. He still lurches out the gate but if I keep talking he checks himself and waits while I close it. It's icy on the first little hill that starts our loop and I talk to Tuff and make sure he pays attention. This slows him down so I can get my feet into the slushy snow at the edge of the path and don't slide down the hill. He's doesn't slow on the little wooden bridge, but once we're past that, he circles off into the deep snow when he has to do his business and rolls his eyes at me as if to say “Don't look now. This is private.” When squirrels cross our path, Tuff has trouble remembering there's a human at the end of his leash. He lunges and jumps at the trees, just playing really. He knows the squirrel is out of reach and when it goes too high, he just moves on. He knows which shelf his treats are on and points his nose that way when we get back to the kennel as if the box were another squirrel up a tree.
Timber is Tuff's partner but they're too big and excitable for me to walk them together. Timber is a Rottweiler. He's as tall as Tuff but broader. He likes to wrestle Tuff in the outside run, wrapping his big paws around Tuff's neck. But he doesn't bark. When it's Timber's turn to walk he dances on his front legs and stares through the gate, waiting. He wants to listen about staying while I close the gate but he's all aquiver and sometimes he forgets. I can't keep Timber's attention going down the slippery little hill, so I jog to cross to the snow quickly and keep jogging till we get to the bridge. He usually slows down there to watch his footing on the boards. When Timber needs to go he squats suddenly wherever he is on the path and gets it done with in a hurry. He doesn't pay much attention to the trees but keeps his nose down sniffing and he's quick to roll in “stinky” stuff if I don't give him a tug and a scolding to keep him moving. He wants his treat too when we get back but he puts it down at his feet and waits till the pats and leave-taking love-talk is done. Then he picks it up and goes back to his blanket to lie down. Timber knows about contentment with each moment his day brings.
I think Smitty should be a circus dog. He can jump straight up almost my height. He's an American Eskimo Dog whose black eyes are always sparkling in his white face.. When Smitty knows walks are on the agenda he begins bouncing at the gate of his kennel like a jack-in-the-box, barking madly the whole time. He keeps this up until I'm inside then sits and quivers, barking like crazy while I drop his little chain collar over his head. That is like hitting a switch. He stops so abruptly in mid-bark, he makes a sort of “bmf!” sound that always makes me laugh. Then he points his nose where the gate will open. Smitty has a long retractable leash and he likes to explore, keeping it full out most of the time though he's pretty smart about the trees. I stop when he runs off the path into the bush and when he's had a look he comes back to me the same way and doesn't get wound up. There's a big tin on the table when we come into the kennel and Smitty knows he gets a dog cookie from that when we get back. He isn't barking now, just watching for me to get one, then he dashes to his kennel. He knows the routine and doesn't want more than his share.
Cuddles is the baby in his family. His kennel is as crowded as a nursery with his bed and little Winnie-the-Pooh chair, blankets and toys. His dish has his name on it. He's a Cocker Spaniel Bichon cross and our smallest border right now. He likes to lay spreadeagled so he looks like a frog and despite all the furniture and blankets, he usually sprawls on the cement floor at the front of his pen, with his nose through the chain-link waiting for his walk turn. He is the picture of patience. He has lots of energy though and trots fast on his walk, sniffing here and there, wandering into deep snow and rolling in it sometimes. His family brings homemade peanut butter doggy treats in the shapes of cats and bones and he loves 'em. Spoiling hasn't spoiled him.
Ali and Ana are huge, fierce-looking Rotties. They're lambs really and when I go in to them they lean hard on me and compete for hugs. Ana raises her paws and tries to hold my arm but she's in such ecstasy at the rubbing that she loses her balance and topples over. Ali's chest is so wide I couldn't get an arm around him all the way. His head is as big as a beach ball. They have soft black eyes and when they're lonely, sometimes they howl but never bark. They have fierce sounding play growls when they wrestle each other, but their stubbed tails wag when they sniff the little dogs through the fences and they're quiet then. This morning our goofy cat rubbed back and forth on Ali's head when he met us on the trail and Ali just sniffed him with lazy interest. Ali walks just ahead most of the time but never pulls and checks for me sometimes. He'll circle back and roll his head into me for pats and love talk from time to time. Ana barely leaves my side. She presses in so close it's kind of a stumble walk a lot of the time because she's so big and heavy. She looks up a lot instead of at the world around, just begging for a word and a pat or scratch. The language their family uses with them is German and though I know only a few commands taught to me when I first met them, they listen with great respect and immediate response. I like to save their walk for last because they are so loving and easy. Like big bears with hearts so huge they gather me in. With Ali and Ana I am just with Ali and Ana. We breathe together and different languages, different species don't matter.