Taking your dog out for a potty break may not initially sound like an Outing, but bear with me for a minute here. I would like to suggest that you could enhance your quality of life in ways you might not have imagined by doing just that! It starts with acquiring a dog, and it helps if you live in a house without a fenced-in yard, thus making it necessary for you to take the dog out multiple times each day. While it would be wonderful to live in a historic neighborhood with plentiful sidewalks, that is not even necessary – I live in a 1970s-era suburban neighborhood, with the only sidewalks on the border streets of University Drive and Martin Luther King Parkway.
There are obvious benefits to multiple daily walks around your neighborhood, like exercise for you, exercise for the dog, fresh air, vitamin D and sunlight to stave off your Seasonal Affective Disorder. But I have also found benefits beyond the obvious. Here are a few:
Relationships. When you walk the neighborhood daily, you keep running into people. Some, like the woman who walks through my neighborhood to and from the bus stop every morning and night, are people who I just have a warm-smile-and-nod relationship with. Some are dog-friends: people whose names I learned once and promptly forgot, but whose dogs are buddies who must be greeted on every encounter. Some started out as nodding acquaintances or dog-friends, but evolved in full-fledged friendships, with dinners at each other’s houses and becoming part of each other’s lives.
Connection with nature. As someone who grew up in a city, I marvel at the nature surrounding me in my neighborhood. On my dog walks I have seen snakes, foxes, owls, and countless deer. There is also something amazing about being up close and personal to my surroundings in times of dramatic weather. Two years ago a tornado came through my neighborhood. To walk the streets and look at the line of trees chopped in half with surgical precision, and the house that had a tree thrown through its front wall was an experience that was incredibly powerful and quite different from viewing it out of a car window.
Connection with community. When you walk through the neighborhood daily, you notice little things. Like the neighbors who are buffing up their landscaping and painting their front door – not surprising when the “For Sale” sign goes up at that house. Like the neighbor whose breezeway and front porch was overflowing with furniture, until it wasn’t – he moved it all to a storefront on University where he is now running a thrift shop! And like the neighbors whom I never see out and about, but I knew that they were having a baby because of the UPS deliveries of car seat and stroller.
Urban foraging. This time of year, there are wild blackberries growing along many roads, on city or county property. They are small and have a lot of seeds but are delicious in pancakes! I consider it a type of foraging, also, when I find coins on the ground, or am the first one on the scene to scoop up a useful household item that a neighbor has put out on the curb on garbage night.
Training and socialization for your dog. Your relationship with your dog and your dog’s behavior will both benefit from these walks. Opportunities to reinforce training abound (although you might think they are less than successful, since my ten-year-old dog still tries to eat trash on the roadside), and your dog will also have many chances to get friendly with the neighborhood pets. My dog has even struck up a friendship with a bold and sassy neighborhood cat, called “Mean Kitty” because she hisses at people but loves my dog.
You could walk your neighborhood and appreciate all of these benefits even if you don’t have a dog – and I urge you to do so! But having a dog not only creates the incentive (or need) to walk, but is also the icebreaker that starts conversations with the people who might just be your future friends.