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  • Writer's pictureJeanne Christie

Take a Forest Walk with Your Dog

What’s the point of going on a Forest Therapy Guided Walk with your dog? I wondered the same thing when I learned that a fellow guide, Nadine Mazzola was leading forest therapy guided walks with dogs in Massachusetts. My dog Navia and I go for a run on nearby trails nearly every day. What would be different?

But I was intrigued by the idea. As I observed Navia on our runs I began noticing how one ear would twitch at the sound of my voice. Her head half-turned toward me whenever I spoke her name. I learned she was not only aware of everything happening around her, she was totally tuned in to me on our walks and runs. At home I began noticing how often she watched me, the almost imperceptible nudges with her nose she gave me when I walked by. I realized there were many acts of affection she bestowed on me every day that I never noticed. I felt sad because I love her dearly and I was ignoring much of the affection she showed me. Could I change? Could I become as aware of her as she was of me?

I also noticed that for her our walks and runs meant constantly being on the move. If I stopped to talk to a neighbor, she became anxious. Even pausing to observe a river or watch the wind in the trees had her bouncing impatiently.

I was reminded of an earlier experience with a horse named Ballistic. Years ago, I competed in a ‘Ride and Tie’ a long-distance race where two riders trade off running and riding one horse. The way it works is a horse with a rider starts off and down the trail the rider gets off the horse, ties it to a tree and runs ahead. The other runner/rider finds the horse along the trail, mounts up and rides catching up to the runner. They trade off throughout the race.

Ballistic’s owner didn’t have time to train the horse on long, slow rides so he would take him out and ride

him hard for shorter distances. Ballistic only knew to go fast and, even though he was in good physical shape, he was consistently disqualified because he failed the vet checks at the aid stations. He was too wound up. He didn’t calm down to eat and drink. His heart rate didn’t slow sufficiently at the rest stops. His stomach didn’t gurgle.

Was I doing something similar with Navia? Could we I learn to be more aware of her? Could we both learn to linger and enjoy the day?

I began finding ways to let Navia know I was noticing her. During our walks II stopped more often, sometimes for her and sometimes for me. Some runs became walks. Other days we plunged off the trail to climb to the nearby ridge or wander on the water’s edge. At home I spent more time petting her slowly running my hands over her and feeling the softness of her fur. Gradually, she became calmer.

One day this fall I stopped to sit on a rock along the river. Navia came alongside up and lay down on the rock leaning heavily against me.

We were succeeding!

I hope you will join Navia and I on a forest therapy guided walk for people and their canine companions. We will explore new ways to be together and enjoy the special companionship that exists moving through the woods.

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