If you have a dog, you basically have a mindfulness teacher by your side—or feet—every minute of the day. Whatever unresolved issues your pup may have, it’s definitely always in the Here and Now—and being with your dog can help you become more present too. 

I have a general rule that dog walking time is me-time for at least two out of three walks. That means, first of all, no headphones—no calls, no podcasts, no music. It’s just me and my thoughts and plenty of time—and a dog that very clearly seems to have her own agenda.

Besides eliminating audio-distraction, here are three a little more ‘out-there’ ideas on how to practice mindfulness while walking the pup:

Be a tree-toucher.

No worries, there’s no need to hug trees (though nothing wrong with that either if you feel like it!). I’m talking about a light touch and a quick check-in: When your dog stops to sniff or pee, put your hand on the trunk or a branch and focus on the sensation of the bark under your skin. Is it hard or soft, dry or wet? Can you see any squirrels, ants, bugs in or around the tree? Do you hear birdsong? And how does the air smell? Repeat a few times as you go.

Say ‘thank you’ ten times.

For different things, naturally! I suggest you focus on what you encounter on your walk, but whatever comes to mind is fine: a beautiful cloud formation in the sky, the fact that your fur-baby did its business immediately, the delicious tea in your mug, the healthy legs you’re walking on, new rain boots, anything. If you’re comfortable with this, step it up to twenty times! It may take some creativity, but don’t feel silly. There’s never anything wrong with expressing gratitude. 

Let your dog take the lead.

If you are a creature of habit (I am for sure!), chances are many of your walks are only variations of the same route. That can get a bit boring, so why not let your dog lead the way sometimes? There are always new things to discover, no matter how long you’ve lived in a place. We live by a park, and a few weeks ago my dog Lili dragged me down a path I had never taken before, and there were the most beautiful little flowers, in full bloom despite the time of the year. What an unexpected treat on a gray winter morning!

If you are afraid people may think of you as the crazy dog person on the block, don’t worry too much: I do all these things frequently, and my neighbors do not look away or change to the other side of the street when they see Lili and me coming—even though I often say my thank-you’s out loud. Plus, what other people think of us is none of our business, right?