During October, we hosted our 2nd annual “Walking into Winter” series over in our free Facebook Group. It’s a week-long series of conversations with the aim of helping our members have the happiest and healthiest winter.
Group (and Barket Club) member, Susi, gives us a recap of the event, as well as sharing her biggest takeaways.
This year has seen some major changes to our lives, but there is one constant we can rely on: “Walking Into Winter” returned!
We were treated to a wonderful week of talks with experts in different fields on a wide range of topics. For our dogs, there were talks about grooming, winter wellness, and joint health, amongst others. The human half of the lead wasn’t left out either! Some helpful tips were shared on meditation, stress – and how it affects sleep, nutrition, plus everything in between. No matter which talk you watch – although I recommend all of them – you will come away full of knowledge and advice for the future.
At this time in history, don’t we all want some help to feel less stress and worry?
The Human End of the Lead
The week started with Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, talking about the power of breath. Even though breathing is something you don’t need to think about, Linda explained how taking deep calming breaths can help lessen signs of worry. The method she recommends is taking a deep breath in through the nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for 7, and exhaling through the mouth over a count of 8. 10 – 20 of these deep, thoughtful breaths helps to regulate oxygen levels and causes the nervous system to slow down. She also noted that it is beneficial to make a list of places you feel calmer around your home and local area – so that you can choose a calming walk whenever you need it. Writing them down takes away an element of stress so you can take yourself away when you need to.
Victoria Seed, an X-hail meditation practitioner, touched on the topic of breath as well. With mindfulness, the focus is on breathing and the sensations felt. For meditation, as Victoria explained, the focus is on nothing. She recommends taking 5 – 15 minutes out of your day to practice, letting worries and intrusive thoughts drift away. It’s not about ignoring the thoughts, it’s about acknowledging and letting them go.
In line with mindfulness and meditation, Lisa Shannon, Rapid Transformation Therapist, gave a fabulous talk on true self-care. Self-care isn’t just for Sundays! She recommends taking a little time out of each day to take care of your body and its needs. The world is a stressful place, so try deleting an app on your phone that drains your energy or affects your mental health. Some excellent tips from Lisa are to: assess your to-do list for priorities – not procrastination activities, try to limit your exposure to the news – just watch one broadcast a day, recognise hearsay and let it go, and acknowledge when you need a break.
Another Lisa, Hannaby this time, spoke about the need for warming and healing foods at this time of year. In line with Traditional Chinese Medicine, these foods are generally in season during Autumn and Winter. Foods such as butternut squash, pumpkin, pears, and beetroot have nutritional benefits beyond simple fuel. They give the body good fiber – important all year round, but especially now to produce short term fatty acids. Making soups and stews out of these seasonal ingredients also allows you some time to focus on taking care of yourself. Plus, as long as the ingredients are dog friendly (no onions, leeks, etc), you can share the joy with your fluffy housemate.
Linda Blair returned towards the end of the week to discuss stress and sleep. One very shocking piece of information is that due to the stresses of the pandemic, we are losing around an hour to ninety minutes of sleep every night. Our bodies have been under stress from unpredictability, worrying about friends and family, as well as concerns over employment. We need some help bringing our cortisol (stress) levels down. Linda recommends aiming to rest for an extra hour if you can, but you don’t have to make it about sleeping. Let’s be honest, thoughts like “why aren’t I asleep? I need to sleep” don’t generally help get us to sleep! Tying into her first talk, using the inhale 4, hold 7, exhale 8 breathing technique will help you drift off more naturally.
For the last of the human focussed talks, Barket Place founder and Certified Animal Behaviourist Caroline Wilkinson spoke about taking an Awe Walk. This encompasses a lot of the advice from earlier talks. Going for a walk, taking in natural lights, breathing in a deep and controlled way, being mindful of sensations, and being present in the wonder of the world around. There are a multitude of benefits of feeling a sensation of awe – feeling less impatient and more generous, for example. Another great benefit is taking some extra time to be with your dog which is helpful when so many of us are feeling overwhelmed.
The Canine End of the Lead
During winter, our dogs’ environment changes. The roads are gritted, woods and fields are muddier, and often the central heating goes on. All of these changes can affect our dog’s skin, coat, and paws. Stephanie Zikman, a holistic groomer, spoke about grooming in the winter months. Due to the often inclement weather, dogs are being bathed more often. This isn’t generally the best thing for them. Stephanie’s top tips included taking a little time every day to look after your dog’s coat, nails, and pads. Even short coated breeds need maintenance! Working through the coat ensures the dog is free from mats, seed heads, mud, and any accumulated plant matter. The coat doesn’t insulate well if it’s matted, so take care and approach grooming mindfully. Washing paws in warm water when returning from a walk removes salt and any other nasties that may be lurking.
For extra luxury, pop on a paw balm to moisturise and heal, like the Calm Nourishing Balm from Dermadog. Elly Thompson of Dermadog also recommends using the balm as a form of protection for paw pads. Both Stephanie and Elly spoke about keeping the coat hydrated to combat the drying issue of central heating. The Dermadog products are formulated with essential oils blends to help with calm behaviours, itchy skin, or just to promote a glossy coat. Another important point raised by both, was the necessity to keep skin folds on brachycephalic dogs clean and dry. On top of every other worry at the moment, your dog having a yeast infection isn’t a stress you need.
During the colder months, dogs may experience issues with joints and movement. Tony Nevin, Osteopath to all creatures great and small, has noticed a trend in more joint problems as the weather turns. The ground dogs walk on at this time of year is colder than in spring or summer and more likely to be slippery. I’m sure I’m not the only one dealing with lots of muddy paw prints on the floor! Just a few small changes can greatly impact the stress felt by joints, which can go hand in hand with behaviour problems. Tony recommends giving your dog time to warm up and cool down on a walk, instead of launching straight into high energy activities. You may also need to make some adjustments at home to make sure your pooch is feeling their best.
Thinking about their nutrition is also a major point in health and wellness. Alison Daniels, Canine and Feline Nutritionist, talked about the impact of inflammation at this time of year, and how feeding dogs differently can lessen the inflammatory response. For concerns about joint health, there are supplements that can help. Alison recommends green-lipped mussels, curcumin, ginger, and hydrolyzed collagen, to aid healing and reduce inflammation.
We were treated to an evening of talks specifically around Bonfire Night and noise phobias. Toni Shelbourne, animal behaviourist and TTouch practitioner, offered wonderful advice on how to prepare for fireworks. Preparation is key! While there are many different ways to support dogs through fireworks, most of these should be done in advance. Knowing your dog’s individual response to noise is important. Do they like to hide? Maybe bark and chase the noise? The advice changes depending on how the dog expresses their emotions. Ignoring the dog isn’t going to make this problem go away, so you can reassure them in a calm way. Some things that can be beneficial in general is to deaden the sound from outside, using white noise in the home, or using aromatherapy to introduce a different, calming scent.
Caroline Ingraham, an expert in animal self-medication (applied Zoopharmacognosy), advises working with the body to calm the mind. By allowing our dogs choice in selecting their own plant medicines, they can provide us with valuable information as to where there may be an issue – the gut, mind, or elsewhere. In some cases, once the dog was stronger physically (following their self-selection session), their noise phobia was drastically reduced.
The last of our guest speakers was dog trainer Matt Donovan, who gave a great talk on ACE Free Work. This is an exercise developed by Sarah Fisher to ground dogs and give them choice in their environment. By using different textures of surfaces and treats, the dog can choose what to interact with. This choice gives them confidence and allows us to observe them without being involved. As Matt said, “Free Work has no attachment to outcome”. The dog is allowed to work independently, taking the treats they want or even leaving the area if that’s what they choose. For the dog guardian, you can step back and really watch. See which treats the dog chooses – are they hard and crunchy or soft and easily swallowed. Or perhaps they prefer something they can spend time licking? What surfaces do they favour or avoid? Free work isn’t a diagnostic tool, but can indicate where the dog may have pain or limited movement.
Barket Place’s “Walking Into Winter” has provided an amazing opportunity to listen to passionate people talk about what they love. There have been different methods, ideas, and advice over the week – but there were some common themes. For guardians: schedule time to look after yourself, remember to breathe deeply, and take breaks when you need to. For our beloved dogs: support them with nutrition and appropriate exercise, prepare in advance for bonfire night, and give them a little more pampering (but less baths).
My biggest take away from this week is to be more dog. To live in the moment and take in the wonder of the world. See you again next year!