The Puppiness Project – Be as Sensuous as Your Dog

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.

Because It Feels Good

Honey the Golden Retriever catching a scent

I thought I was just sniffing the compost. I had no idea I was such a sensualist.

In a chaotic world, here are three things I can count on:

  • if the sun comes out, I’ll find my neighbor’s cat, Arthur, sitting in the beam of light that hits my porch chair
  • Facebook will make me mad
  • Honey will roll in something stinky at least once a week

Two of these things describe sensuous pleasures. One does not.

Why, when I know how good a sun spot feels or the pleasures of an interesting smell, do I cut myself off things that engage my senses? Why do I bother with Facebook when both looking at a face or at a book is far more pleasurable?

The Simple Life

Honey doesn’t have the intellectual development of an adult human. She doesn’t read or write to expand her brain. But she keeps her senses in great shape by using them to their fullest.

And she’s even expanding their strength.

This morning, I hid Honey’s food, one piece at a time, and made her find it by scent. It’s amazing how good she’s gotten at this.

The first time we tried Nose Work, Honey couldn’t find anything more than an inch off the ground.

Now she lifts her head and tries to catch scents in the air and on the ground. She picks up the scent where it’s faint and circles in until it gets stronger. If she notices the scent fading, she whips her head around to get back on the right track.

I have no doubt that if I only fed Honey out of a bowl, she’d lose some of her sniffing skills. Just like I’ve lost many of mine.

What We’ve Lost

I used to run 3 miles a day. Every day. At least once a year, I’d over turn my ankle and suffer a bad sprain that left me limping for months.

I assumed I just had weak ankles. I practiced standing on one foot to strengthen them. And I’d curse the potholes in our city streets.

One day I read about the Tarahumara Indians who run barefoot, for miles at a time, through Mexico’s Copper Canyons. Christopher McDougall wrote in Born to Run about his own attempt to run without pain by learning from the Tarahumara. And in reading the book, I figured out why I kept spraining my ankles.

My heavily padded running shoes prevented me from feeling what was happening under my feet and allowing me to correct my footing.

I have run since then but never wearing running shoes. I have yet to sprain an ankle.

The Brain Is Not Smarter Than the Body

Humans are always using our brains to figure out how to get out of using our bodies.

And as we do so, we’re losing the connection with our senses.

Bath Time for Honey the Golden Retriever

Aww, do you know how many things I had to roll in to get just the right smell on my coat?

I enjoy the feeling of the keyboard under my fingers on my lap top. But it doesn’t feel better than a cool stream trickling over my hand or a breeze on my cheek.

I’m thankful for the fluorescent light that allows me to see on this grey day. But I don’t feel any heat coming from it. And it doesn’t make me sigh with contentment like a sunspot coming in the window.

Living indoors cuts me off from lots of scents. If I remember to pay attention, I catch a faint whiff of dog from the stuffed toy on the couch. But I can’t smell the woodsy scent of the crisp leaves on the front lawn.

I hear lots of different sounds—Christine Lavin playing on Pandora, Honey breathing in sleep, traffic going by outside. But I can’t hear the sound of the wind without going outside.

One of the reasons I first thought about moving onto a sailboat was to recover a connection to a world beyond the computer screen. It’s hard to ignore your senses when you need them to tell you where the wind is coming from and what you need to do to move through it.

But for now, I’ll have to rely on Honey for lessons on fully using my senses.

The Sensuous Walk

Honey has been waiting patiently for her walk.

It’s time to see if those predicted snow flurries are coming. We’ll take the path along the creek with all the shallow tree roots and stones we need to step carefully over. We’ll see if we can catch the scent of fish at the falls.

And, maybe, just maybe, if we feel mischievous, we’ll roll in something stinky and bring the scent with us indoors.

Monday Mischief

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  1. You are so right on. I love the sights sounds and smells of the outdoors. Yesterday I took the dogs to the park, and they ran and ran just because it felt good. And I enjoyed the sun on my face.

  2. My bipeds love being outdoors with me. They enjoy looking at nature and I enjoy sniffing it!

  3. I love taking the dogs on walks because it’s not only great exercise, but they love all the smells and change of scenery etc. You’re right, we should do the same thing when we’re out on walks– engage all our senses.

  4. That’s really interesting about the sprained ankles. I think the Barefoot shoes craze reflects that awareness. But it seems to me that the cushy running shoes protect my lower back–have you found the same thing?

    I love when I get tuned in enough to really pay attention to all my senses. Taking the time to sniff a plate of food before eating it is a great practice, as is biking slowly and with awareness of the 360 degrees of space all around me. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Woof! Woof! Beautiful. My mom says I am a Sensuous Golden Dog. Happy MM. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  6. Your journey sounds delightful. Running – barefoot or otherwise – does not. :) Although, my husband just made me a pair of moccasins. I might have to try running in them.

  7. As you know I had ankle problems of my own this last spring and it’s made me very cautious about my own running practice. I had assumed it was my poor quality shoes that were the problem but perhaps this was off. I don’t know that I want to start running barefoot on the rough gravel trails near my home, however. It seems like no matter what, running equals pain.

    I hope you enjoyed your walk!

  8. Honey, you keep up the good sniffing.

  9. My mom says she doesn’t walk as fast since she got me. Sometimes she seems kind of bugged about it. But I think it is good. There is a time for running around like a wild thing and there is a time for just taking a look at what is around.

  10. You hit on one of the main reasons I love hiking on the weekends. I like the disconnect from the digital world and the reconnect with the physical world. You said it a lot better than I could, though!

  11. So do you wear Five Fingers shoes to run barefoot or just minimalist shoes? I have horrible knee pain that I doubt even running barefoot would remedy. I do love to run though and miss being able to do it on a regular basis.

  12. And who is the higher life form? Humans have it all wrong! Looks like you’re becoming one of the enlightened ones.

  13. Great post Pamela. One of the things I love most about our walks is exactly what you describe, the sounds of the wind blowing through the trees, or the crunch of the leaves under my feet.

    The wind and sun on my face and the smell, of moss, dirt, leaves. I’ve buried my face in the dogs fur when they’ve come in from outside, because they still smell like the outdoors.

    Thanks for reminding me.

    And btw, I hope you left the rolling in the stinky stuff to Honey. 😉