Sunday, December 1, 2013

Stretching Life

Have you ever watched a dog stretch? Have you ever had a dog who watches you stretch?

For many years I have pursued a personal exercise program that begins with long walks or hikes before breakfast, accompanied by whatever dogs we have at the time. Gradually, as I have changed, so has my program. A few years ago I added stretching and toning exercises to improve my flexibility and strength. I even became somewhat obsessive about it, feeling guilty when I didn’t follow the program. The walking was supplemented by a treadmill when the weather prevented my actually being outside, but the rest of the program I carried out faithfully, nearly every day. Eventually time and age and a kind of fatigue began to make it less compulsive, but still part of the day, unless I could find a good excuse to not do it.

The walking part has been curtailed for about a year. Some mornings I can push past the inevitable, sometimes painful transition from horizontal to vertical, from standing to walking, from going from level ground to rising or falling terrain. And the dogs have changed, too.

For years there were three, then two, then one, and that one was growing older. We added Louie, a younger companion, but one too small to tackle long excursions in the woods or fields. Now we again have three, the newest member of the pack being Buddy, a brownish sort of guy with a German Shepard’s face on a medium sized body. Teddy is the “big dog” here in every way: long-haired, the head of a St. Bernard, the body of a tank and until recently, the energy of the old boy he is. Somewhat reduced now from his fighting weight of about 98 pounds, he has gotten slimmer, tougher, more wide awake. That should be a lesson to me, I’m sure. And while he and Buddy are eager every morning to burst forth and challenge each other, they love as much as I to head out to the fields in the valley below the house, or up the ridge behind it. Now Buddy has added a new dimension to the program.

My routine has been to walk, then come home and have the first meal of the day, while the dogs do likewise. The rest of the program follows the breakfast hour. From the beginning of my interest in fitness, the stretching/strengthening program has been a solo effort. Dogs, for the most part, don’t participate in repetitive calisthenics. Most dogs. Not Buddy.

From almost his first days with us, Buddy has bonded with me totally. Where I am, he has to be. As he learned my routine, he began to follow me into the room where I workout, or outside if the weather permits. Usually he comes in and lies close to me, especially if I am doing exercises that require my being flat on my back. And he will lick my face. Or lie close beside me. Or stand over me. Even lie between my legs. He loves to watch the patterns of shadows. When I get up from the table he goes straight to the room where I workout, and lies there looking at me. He stares at me. He makes me feel guilty if I don’t follow him in and begin the first set of exercises. If I don’t go near where he is, he will come and find me. It’s okay, he seems to say, if you want to skip today, but I don’t think you should. And of course, he’s right. So off we go, to lie on the floor or stand outside in the sun, and exercise. For me it probably means more years of doing what I do, so that I may continue doing what I like. For him that means chasing the changing patterns of light as I lift or stretch or bend.

We added Buddy to the pack to be a watchdog. He certainly is good at what he does.

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