I am the proud owner of an adorable English Shepherd I named Cordelia (she goes by Cordy, mostly). A lucky unique trait of my little pooch is that she’s not very hyper as most shepherds are. She’s beyond mellow and easygoing, she can be downright lazy sometimes. At least a couple times a week, despite my clear intentions to take her for longer walks, Cordy will insist on turning us around and yanking me back home, cutting the walk short.
I’m sure most fellow dog owners have their routines down pat. They have their dog walking routes, and they have the schedule fixed. You won’t have to dig deep for the metaphor here: but it’s easy in getting that routine down, and doing it day after day to follow the set route with your fuzzy companion fixedly and determinedly. I am starting here at point A, let us proceed to point B, then back around the the finish, allowing that (at some point along the way) there will be occasional stops for sniffs, pees and poops.
One night I realized though: yes Cordy sees a routine in knowing this walk is taking place, but she doesn’t see it in the Points A, B and C formula I do above. It’s a moment to moment excursion for her. Sure, there’s a route she knows, but she doesn’t see it as something we’re moving past, it’s something we exist along.
This is something dog trainers will caution against, but given how patient and calm my dog has proven to be, I decided to start giving it a try: Every third night I try now to let Cordy take me on a walk. I follow her, let her pick the direction, let her stop as long as she wants to for whatever sniffs, and follow after her while we stroll so she can dictate the route. This tends to go one of two ways.
Sometimes, she behaves the way I think I expected her to: she took me down our usual route, and turned us back after a short time. Then there are the other nights and those are the walks I found an unexpected peace in: the nights where she takes me up and down streets and cul de sacs we normally pass by, where she zig zags up and around and back into the same dead end strip over and over. The nights where she leads us across a street we don’t normally cross, and then wanders us around and among back streets I’d never walked her down before.
It’s slow walking her this way. There’s a lot of five steps forward, three steps back as she circles and inspects stretches of grass thoroughly. There’s a lot of unpredictability: plenty of times I’ve been ready for long walks only to end up back home within fifteen minutes, and the opposite (one such walk took two hours).
All the time, I quiet the inevitable voice in my head asking when she’s going to get us where we’re going whenever she stops, or repeats a block. We are where we’re going. Every single moment. The Point C isn’t our front door, the Point C is that very moment, that interesting bush or whatever is across the road she’s leading us to next.
I’ve had Cordy for 6 years now. I’ve always felt lucky to have her. At least every couple of days I tell her “you don’t need to know how to stay. You don’t need to know how to shake. You don’t even need to know how to sit. The only thing you need to know is that I, love, you.”
However, this is one lesson that renews that sense of blessing and how glad I am for all the things this little dog has shared with me and taught me. Point C isn’t somewhere you’re going. Thinking about experiences and time spent with people and things you love isn’t about going with them to some destination or finish line, it’s about being with them. When it comes to those things we love, the destination is wherever you are in that moment. Among a lot of things I’m grateful to this dog for, thank you for teaching me to enjoy that moment.
Took me a couple years, but now I understand why you were so blase about the Grand Canyon trip we took: