There are so many great things to say about walking with your dog. But today I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is that as dog walkers we have instant membership to an elitist club of egalitarian members.
It’s a bona fide, gigantic, secret subculture that genuinely crosses all borders and cultures. What I mean is there is a unique camaderie; a sense of natural connectedness among dog walkers that without any effort on our part is just magically there.
Why is that? Is it the dogs who make that happen? Sure, two dogs can meet and become instant best buddies, which is always fun for their people. And I think I get as much pleasure as my dog Bubba when a strange dog smiles and play bows at him. I love that!
[Why don’t people have a similar signal?! —-→ “Hey I just saw you from back there, I like your tail set and lope, yup, I like you, don’t know exactly why, but I do, do you like me? Let’s play, see what happens, you know – get to know each other better with a bit of a frolic about. Maybe this is a momentary thing, might not ever see each other again, who knows, who cares, let’s just be in this happy moment right now!”]
Wouldn’t that be so awesome?
But it does actually sort of happen when dog walkers meet, at various levels of friendliness. You know how it is – you see someone coming towards you with their dog – instantly they are your kin and of your tribe. Just like any other kind of tribe members, maybe you don’t like one another or each other’s dog or maybe one of you is in a hurry.
But one of the superb and for many people, completely unexpected, joys of having a dog is meeting other dog people on walks.
We are a fantastic breed! We are extremely open and tolerant – it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, where you live, what car you might drive or what gadgets you own. Hey, you’re walking your dog, or even your friend’s dog, so we’re members of the same tribe.
When you stop to think about it, this is truly an amazing thing. Imagine if all members of the United Nations had a dog and took their dog along to meetings or better still all took off for a walk together? Instant connectedness, a sense of kinship and, yes, OK, probably far too much discussion about the dogs and laughing about their antics with each other.
But look, where does this sense of dog people community come from? Why do people who would normally never start a conversation with each other suddenly find themselves enjoying a good old chat in the street, in the park, anywhere?
Who knows. It’s just there. I’m walking my dog down the street and I wave and smile at the stranger walking their dog down the other side. They wave and smile back. Dog people almost always acknowledge one another and isn’t that a beautiful thing? I don’t recall ever seeing dog-less strangers wave and smile at each other – well, that would be just weird wouldn’t it?
But it’s not weird with dog people. And on the other paw, it’s not weird to ignore each other either. No offence is taken. You can even do this with dog walkers you see every day and that’s OK. We’ll have more time to chat tomorrow or some other time. Or not.
I’m remembering when Bubba was a puppy he would get so frustrated with me stopping and talking to people that he would jump up, grab my scarf end and yank on it. [Hello? Is that Dog Behaviour Inc? Great. Listen. My dog jumps up all frustrated and tries to strangle me with my scarf when I spend more than 5 minutes talking to people on walks… Uh-huh, uh-huh… What do you mean stop talking for so long until he’s older? Oh, em OK then…]
I heard the lovely Julian Clary on the radio the other day talking about walking his dog at some park in London and I thought, yeah, see, he may be a celebrity and all but I bet he spends ages talking to other dog walkers. It’s like dog walkers have a flat hierarchy. Forget all those male/female/celebrity/rich/poor/young/old ‘gaps’ as extraordinary Artist and Computer Scientist Jonathan Harris calls these dividers of society.
[Just as an aside, check out Jonathan Harris’ mind-bending talk about the emotional world of the web. He talks about how people are similar but we have trouble seeing that sometimes. He says as he looks around the world he sees a lot of gaps and that we sometimes tend to define ourselves by our gaps: gender, sexuality, wealth, education gaps, religious gaps and so on (which is not a bad thing). At the same time we have a lot in common including a need to express ourselves.]
I bet Jonathan Harris has a dog! You meet really interesting people walking your dog. We’ve gone from busloads of Asian tourists rushing over to take Bubba’s photo – there are photo albums all over China, Japan and Korea in which he is featured – through to people of every other ethnicity, vocation and personality.
I’ve had remarkably intense one-off meetings with people where they share something traumatic that’s going on in their lives that day. I’ve had regular every day play date walks for years on end that are light and fun. I’ve made wonderful friends in other dog walkers.
My life has been enriched by talking to all kinds of people while walking my dog and I cannot think of any other avenue that allows the intimacy and friendliness across all cultures and peoples that going out with your dog (or your friend’s dog!) does. I mean really, there is nothing. Is there?
Cat people are bonded in the same way, we can talk cats all day long but unless people are out with their cat, at the vet or somewhere, you don’t know until you’ve already gotten to know them the usual way.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I get people without dogs coming up to us a lot. These are the people who are needing a dog-fix. It’s like we are providing a community service. I love that and so does Bubba. He especially likes men needing a dog-fix ‘cos he gets huge man-bear-hugs and solid pat-action.
And then there are the real characters. Yesterday we met a totally amazing guy; all tattooed and smoking a cigarette, roughly-lined face, tough-looking – maybe he had been a boxer? about 65 or so walking his -– 5 month old Lhasa Apso! A darling wee furpuff he’d named after a, em, soccer star.
There’s also a lovely thing that happens when you live somewhere for any amount of time. You get to know other dog walkers really well. And I do mean really, strangely, well. I have an elderly lady in my street who walks her Boxer and if we meet her without her dog she makes a right old fuss of Bubba who adores her. She is lovely and like a ray of sunshine. But I haven’t seen her for a week now so that I am thinking of going to her house to make sure she’s OK.
And isn’t that a nice by-product of being a dog walker? That other dog walkers might notice you’re not around and care to wonder why? Who knew you were getting instant membership to a caring club when you got that puppy/rescue dog?
As I said at the top, there is a lot to say about dog walking but apart from the obvious joys of simply being in the fresh air with your canine buddy and everything that goes with that there is this overlooked, I guess maybe even secret, aspect of this beautiful kinship with strangers.
Can I just say in closing that I am talking specifically dog walking here – definitely not dog showing! LOL If you take your dog to a Dog Show you can expect dog people to behave in the exact opposite way! No, really I am joking. I shouldn’t say that. More about the completely separate subculture of dog showing, or at least my experience of it, another time!