Walking the dog is good for our physical and mental wellbeing but is it really having the optimum beneficial effect when we’re glued to our mobiles?

Research by Devon-based Forthglade Natural Dog Food found that two thirds of dog owners use their smartphones whilst walking their dog. They’ve teamed up with certified animal behaviourist Caroline Wilkinson and clinical psychologist, Linda Blair to help dog walkers ‘switch-off’ for more mindful walking.

Caroline Wilkinson with Chester & Ezri
Caroline Wilkinson with Chester & Ezri

The study of 1,500 UK dog owners, commissioned by Forthglade found that 63% of owners regularly use their phone whilst out on dog walks to send texts (50%), chat to friends (48%), check work emails (27%), post on social media (26%), shop online (14%), and even to monitor for love interest with use online dating apps (7%).

The research also showed how beneficial a dog walk can be, with three quarters of Brits (73%) saying walking the dog makes them happy, and a further 57% saying it helps them feel positive and energised. It also revealed that walking the dog can be great for our social lives, with more than half (59%) saying dog walks help them to get out and meet people, and 45% having made new friends on walks. In fact, one in ten Brits (59%) actually met their partner whilst walking the dog.

Liz Maitland from Recovery Assistance Dogs, with her dog Milli, and Amber Lench – with Chocci – visit the site for the proposed canine agility course off Knighton Lane East
Liz Maitland from Recovery Assistance Dogs, with her dog Milli, and Amber Lench – with Chocci – visit the site for the proposed canine agility course off Knighton Lane East.

Linda Blair comments, “It’s concerning that so many of us are plugged into our phones whilst out walking our dogs. We think smartphones allow us to us ‘stay in touch’, when in truth they prevent us from making meaningful social connections. When we text or email we’re exchanging information but we’re not connecting emotionally. Try leaving your phone at home and look around as you walk. Be curious, appreciate your surroundings, and greet other dog walkers. You will quickly enjoy the increased wellbeing and a growing sense of calm and belonging.”

Our screen-addiction could not only be affecting us, but it could also be affecting our four-legged friends. With less than half (49%) of British dog owners saying they see dog walks as a way to bond and connect with their dog, we may be leading to a nation of anxious, misbehaving dogs, with behaviours such as pulling on the lead (69%), barking at other dogs (49%) and chasing wildlife (27%).

Mindful walking

Caroline Wilkinson adds, “Being more mindful of our dogs whilst on walks can have huge benefits.  How often have you charged through the on-lead part of your walk, desperate to get to the park to allow your dog off the lead? Try to change your approach; Use the on-lead section of your walk as an opportunity to engage with your dog. Try scattering treats in the grass to engage your dog’s nose, or calmly stroke them to release oxytocin and reduce tension. You and your dog will immediately feel calmer and more engaged.”

Gerard Lovell, Managing Director of Forthglade and owner of Labrador Bo, adds, “As a dog owner juggling work and family commitments, I know how difficult it can be to find the opportunity to really switch off. But by leaving your phone at home and being more ‘present’ whilst out on walks can make the world of difference to your own wellbeing, and to the relationship you have with your pet.”

Forthglade’s 5 tips to Mindful Dog Walks

By ‘Mindful Living and Our Dogs’ experts Caroline Wilkinson & Linda Blair

  1. Leave your phone at home – Many of us think smartphones allow us to ‘stay in touch’, when in truth they prevent us from making meaningful social connections. Why not use your dog walk to reach out meaningfully instead? Leave your phone at home and look around as you walk. Greet others warmly and enjoy a friendly chat. The reward? Increased wellbeing and a growing sense of belonging.
  2. Be curious – Challenge yourself to think in a new way on your dog walks. No zoning out. No criticising. No comparing. Instead, simply appreciate what’s happening all around you, right then and there. See if you can describe your surroundings to yourself in detail, but without comparing them to anything else. Just notice.
  3. Be calm – Considering our dogs don’t use language in the same way as us, they’re very adept at understanding the ‘meaning’ of the words we use. But we often assume that dogs understand us more than they do. When out on walks, try to use cues consistently and a calm, happy tone to your voice. Over-talking to our dogs can raise their level of arousal, plus it doesn’t allow them the important processing time they need to understand what we are asking of them.
  4. Ditch the ball and engage your dog’s nose – Did you know that the part of the dog’s brain responsible for processing scent is proportionally 40% larger than in us humans? In our dogs, the nose is king and sniffing actually has stress-reducing benefits. So it’s a much better activity for your dog on a walk than chasing a ball repetitively, which can cause physical pressure and large amounts of adrenaline. And while they may not be running – sniffing is tiring!
  5. Make the journey as interesting as the destination – How often have you charged through the on-lead part of your walk, desperate to get to the park to allow your dog off the lead? Try to change your approach; Use the on-lead section of your walk as an opportunity to engage with your dog. Try scattering treats in the grass to engage your dog’s nose, or calmly stroke them to release the love hormone oxytocin and reduce tension. You and your dog will immediately feel calmer and more engaged.

For Mindful Dog Walking advice and tips follow @Forthglade #MindfulWalkies #Pawsandswitchoff

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