The Purpose of a Walk

For a long time I have been preoccupied by the concept of human and animal perception. It is fascinating in all its forms: both the simple – how others see the colour blue – and the random – what my dog thinks I am doing with my hair dryer every morning.

Who cares about that noisemaker? I'd rather understand why you keep pointing that blinky thing at me.

Who cares about that noisemaker? I’d rather understand why you keep pointing that blinky thing at me.

No doubt I spend more time than is mentally healthy thinking about the inner workings of my dog’s brain. I never said I was sane. Being a bit overly prone to abstract thinking and excessively fond of thought experiments in general, I can’t help but wonder what Shiva’s opinions are of our daily activities. Does she wonder why I spend so much time with a plastic black box on my lap instead of playing with her? What does she think of the clothing we’re always wearing? Does she ever question where we go every day when we leave her alone?  If Shiva ponders any of these things, she doesn’t share with me. Given how much time I spend with her and how much time I spend in my head, it is impossible not to let my thoughts drift to the cranial wranglings of the Sheevs.

What are the limits of a dog’s imagination?

None of these questions have accessible answers. Until dogs learn to talk I don’t know if we’ll ever know what goes through their adorable brains. I know they are smarter than I understand and assume their minds work in ways we probably wouldn’t be able to comprehend even if we had all the information.

Regardless, one of my favourite things to think about is how Shiva perceives our walks. I know she knows we embark on a ramble outside once in the morning and once in the evening. After four years it’s just fact for her. She shows me this each morning by following me around the house and nudging me toward the door. In the evenings she will lay on the floor directly in front of me and stare until I give in and grab the leash. She can’t relax until this step in her routine is complete.

But does Shiva ever wonder why we walk?

Does she know the walk is essentially for the sake of giving her exercise and calming her down? Does she think there is a higher purpose? I sometimes imagine she envisions us patrolling the area, making sure everything is safe and in order. Perhaps she sees it as some sort of scavenging practice – hence why she gobbles up every bit of garbage or haphazard edible she finds on the sidewalk. Dogs have been accustomed to travelling on foot with their humans since the beginning of domestication. Hunting and gathering were a large a part of these journeys and it is something dogs would do on their own without us. As Shiva is almost always given her breakfast and dinner once we arrive back home, it is possible she might think we are out for the purpose of food.

Or maybe she thinks we walk to communicate with other people and dogs, to sniff and mark, and secure our territory. She certainly does a lot of that as well. Walking for her could be similar to me checking my phone for messages.

It’s something I think about a lot as we meander down the trails of the river valley before the sun rises. Most likely Shiva just enjoys the experience and doesn’t bother with the reasons behind it. Dogs are good at being grateful for what they have in the moment. They don’t need to worry about silly things like overarching motivations. I am sure Shiva primarily accepts our walks as something we do and nothing more. Sure, she takes advantage of the time outdoors to sniff, and scarf, and stretch her legs, but she probably doesn’t need a reason for it all. She just enjoys the positive of what she has, when she has it.

If this is the truth, I am jealous. Like so many other things about my dog, I hope if spend enough time with her, one day this attitude will rub off on me. It’s worth a shot, right?

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26 Comments on The Purpose of a Walk

  1. MelF
    August 19, 2013 at 9:24 pm (8 months ago)

    I don’t think you are alone in pondering what they think, if the dream, if they wonder. I wonder too.
    I do not know what Shiva thinks the walks are for, but I suspect for her it’s an adventure that adds excitement to her day. It also means she can be with you.
    If I could have my dogs’ mindset without having to rely on humans who might harm me I might like that too.
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  2. Leslie
    August 19, 2013 at 9:41 pm (8 months ago)

    I spend entirely too much time trying to figure out what Bella is thinking. I used to know without question or pause what Beau was thinking. I wonder if it she really is smarter than I am because I can’t quite figure Bella out? ;)
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  3. Jodi
    August 19, 2013 at 9:44 pm (8 months ago)

    I wonder too.

    Not so much if they’re wondering why I wear what I wear, but I wonder sometimes if they understand the depth of my emotion for them. I wonder when I go away on a trip if they think I am abandoning them, if they’re afraid that I won’t come back.

    I read today that there is a woman who thinks we will be able to communicate with our dogs and know what they are thinking in five years or so. I actually think I like wondering better then I’d like knowing. I mean, imagine if I found out they didn’t really like me?
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  4. Pamela | Something Wagging This Way Comes
    August 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm (8 months ago)

    I don’t think Honey cares much about my wearing clothes or drying my hair. But walking is a sacred event for her. She’s totally into the moment.

    I think the only humans who come close to how dogs experience a walk are the Australian aboriginals on a walkabout.

    Of course maybe Shiva spends all of *her* time wondering why you’re always wondering what she’s thinking. :)

    Welcome back! I’ve missed you and Shiva.
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  5. houndstooth
    August 19, 2013 at 10:20 pm (8 months ago)

    If I think about all of this too hard, aren’t I having the counter effect of what I’m trying to achieve? :P With four dogs here, I tend to think that each of our dogs views our walks somewhat differently. Bunny views it as an extension of her social butterfly status, checking and leaving pee-mail, sniffing and greeting other dogs and humans and generally enjoying being in the spotlight. Morgan views it as a chance to be sure that all is right in the world and those that she loves most are safe while we’re out of the house. Kuster views it as a chance to catalog everything with his nose. Flattery is still seeing everything in the world as new and she’s just taking it all in and exploring it all.
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  6. Amy@GoPetFriendly
    August 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm (8 months ago)

    I’m pretty sure Ty sees our walks as a punishment … an twice daily event that drags him away from the comforts of his bed. Buster, on the other hand, is more like Shiva – it’s an opportunity to meet and greet new people, check to be sure all’s well, and get a little exercise in the process.

    I especially wonder what the dogs think about our living arrangements. Do they even remember when we stayed in one place? Do they love that there’s always something new outside when we open the door? I’d love to be able to read their minds.

    So good to read you – the blogosphere has been missing you and Shiva.
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  7. Scruffy Nellie
    August 19, 2013 at 10:51 pm (8 months ago)

    Thank you for a well written and thought provoking post.
    You have hit the nail on the head: us dogs certainly do ‘live in the moment’.
    I set a good example for my owner in this respect and she is learning a lot from me.
    Scruffy Nellie recently posted..Nose LickyMy Profile

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  8. Jen K
    August 19, 2013 at 11:51 pm (8 months ago)

    Happy to see you back!

    I’m convinced Alma thinks walking is for the purpose of food, since most evenings they get fed after the walk. Moses probably thinks they’re so he can go out an mark his territory.

    But really, those are my best guesses and anthropomorphizing. Really, I agree with you; I don’t think they look for reasons why about most things, but just take things as they come and make the best of every opportunity. I must say, I’m a little jealous.
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  9. Julie
    August 20, 2013 at 1:17 am (8 months ago)

    Hmmm. Cali was like Shiva. Always waiting for the next opportunity to get out and explore. She made sure we knew that she wanted to get out. I think it’s all about routine for them. They like knowing what is coming next and they are always ready to go :)

    So nice to see you and Shiva back! We have missed you!!
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  10. Crystal
    August 20, 2013 at 4:37 am (8 months ago)

    You’re back!

    I honestly wonder sometimes about what my dogs think about living in the house, if it bugs them that I am messy, what my cat thinks about all these animals we have collected since I first brought her home, etc. I don’t think any of them wonder about it though.
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  11. Sue
    August 20, 2013 at 4:44 am (8 months ago)

    So glad to see you blogging. I have been wondering how you were.

    Sometimes I think, or am I kidding myself, that I know what Polly is thinking. When we are out walking and we see a cat, I immediately say ‘no’. She looks at me as if to say, ‘What, you are joking right? Surely you know I only want to chase it?’

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  12. Taryn
    August 20, 2013 at 8:46 am (8 months ago)

    Welcome back!

    Well, I’m not sure what my guys think the purpose of the walk is, but I do know they have a very strong opinion on whether or not they want to go. As far as they are concerned, exploring isn’t enough fun to go out on a hot, humid day. If it’s hot and I say “time for a walk”, Wilson heads away from the door to signal his disapproval. Jimmy’s willing to give it a try, but will attempt to control where the walk goes, so he can get back quickly. Also, if it’s late and they are sleepy, neither one is willing to go for a bedtime walk, hot weather or not. The boys being so opinionated leads me to believe they can think about it and rationalize why they do or do not want to go out.
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  13. Roxy the traveling dog
    August 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm (8 months ago)

    I have often heard that dogs have no sense of time. But I know for sure they have a sense of routine. We have to so the same things, at the same times everyday. I swear Torrey wears a watch. Roxy not so much. But it does make me wonder what is going on in that furry head.
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  14. GizmoGeodog
    August 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm (8 months ago)

    Great to hear from you Kristine…This week Gizmo is watching me get ready for our trip to Atlanta and I can see he’s questioning some of the preparations as I pack & load certain things in the car…But I know that while he’s not sure what’s happening he is ready for whatever it may be…In his mind as long as we go together everything is OK
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  15. Sarah
    August 20, 2013 at 1:51 pm (8 months ago)

    Nice to have you back! I’ll have to work that wonderful “cranial wranglings” phrase into my lexicon. :)

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  16. Corbin
    August 20, 2013 at 2:39 pm (8 months ago)

    The momma is always thinking about what goes on in my big ole head!
    -Corbin

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  17. Marie
    August 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm (8 months ago)

    Thanks for the thought provoking and entertaining post. Not only do I also wonder what my dogs are thinking, I ask them, frequently. I don’t think I will be surprised when one day, one of them tells me.
    Marie

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  18. Donna
    August 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm (8 months ago)

    I always wonder about these sorts of things. One thing that always crops up in my mind is what are they thinking when we come home from shopping at the pet store, arms loaded with food and treats. Do they think, “Wow! My humans are such good hunters!” ?

    They must wonder where all the food comes from, no? Hmmm….now you have me thinking about that too. :-)

    P.S. Glad to see you back again!
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  19. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom
    August 21, 2013 at 10:57 am (8 months ago)

    So glad to see you back! We’ve all missed you!

    I wonder, too, sometimes what my girls think/wonder about. But I know they pretty much live in the moment, like you said. Without a safe place to walk — other than our own back yard — the pups have pretty much gotten used to the idea that going to the park 20 minutes away is a treat. With all the rain we’ve had this summer — and the blasted bugs — the park is a very rare treat. And with my *sweet* skin, the bugs can’t get enough of me. :-( Grrrrrr. I try to “live in the moment” like my girls, but I don’t always succeed. I just tell myself “things could always be a lot worse so be grateful for what you have”.

    Again, great to see you back in Blogville!

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  20. Peggy
    August 21, 2013 at 11:05 am (8 months ago)

    I wish we knew!!
    I think Shiva wants to go on a walk because it’s enjoyable. She likes the smells, and it stimulates her brain. My dogs get so happy when they’re out on a walk. I imagine inside the house, with only me to look at most of the day, gets pretty boring!
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  21. Emily @ Adventures of a Dog Mom
    August 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm (8 months ago)

    On a regular basis you can hear me asking my hubby what he thinks the dogs are thinking because you know I’ve wondered the same thing… especially yesterday when we were having a new roof put on… did they just think it was a lot of thunder and maybe hail or did they know what was going on? It’s a shame we can’t ask!
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  22. jan
    August 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm (8 months ago)

    I think all of my dogs have a totally different way of thinking. The Poodles think that most of what humans do is humorous and not really necessary (hair dryers, shoes, clothes, computers, books) and the dogs seem to just be puzzled by the complexities of human life.
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  23. Maggie
    August 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm (8 months ago)

    Oh, the time I spend thinking about what my dogs are thinking… Truly, I tell John often that I just want to crack open Lucas’ brain and walk around in there for a while. Maybe then I’d understand him. (I mean, in a totally non-creepy, non-brain-surgery sort of way.) I wonder whether or not they wonder why I sit in this one chair and clack away all day long. I wonder if they wonder about our previous homes or if they think of friends and dogs they don’t see often. I wonder how they perceive the world when we’re driving around in the car – they’re looking out the window, but do they “get” what they’re seeing or just how big the world is? I could go on, but I guess my bottom line is… yep, I think all this, too!
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  24. Human Rescues Dog
    August 25, 2013 at 6:12 am (8 months ago)

    Great post – I often wonder about these things too. For example, when dinner is put in the dog bowl every day, do they think we went out and hunted for their food? If so, they would think we are amazing!
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  25. Sammy Sam
    September 5, 2013 at 11:09 pm (8 months ago)

    Hi, it’s been awhile – like a whole summer and a bit. It’s nice to “hear” from you again and to read the prevailing sanity from the other side of the country. All of us think in the moment. We enjoy each moment. Some moments are more fun than others or more rewarding (treats or a belly rub) than others but we all have really good moments. We haven’t forgotten, we’ll have a drink with you whenever you get out this way. Bye for now Kristine
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