Over a Beer: What We Can Learn About Getting Outdoors from Our Dogs

The excitement that our dogs have for going outside every single day can teach us a valuable lesson about what's worthwhile in our life on this planet.

Photo: Bob Ward

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. Any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

My dog Smiley is arguably the most laid-back mutt in existence. At 7 years old she’s undoubtedly mellowed with age, and while we didn’t know her until we adopted her at the age of 5, she’s still ridiculously chill. She barks, on average, once every 2-3 months. More akin to a cat than a dog, she’s totally content to sleep on the couch all day, with the occasional move to the floor when she gets hot, or into the sun when she’s a touch chilly. Putting food in her bowl might spark some excitement, but most of the time she’ll just sniff at the food to confirm it’s there for later, then go back to her favorite snooze spot.

But when it’s time to go outside, everything changes in an instant.

Really, she’s too smart for her own good. She picks up on the subtlest of cues that we’re going for a walk. Somehow, pulling on my coat to head to town for a pint sends a different signal than lacing up my shoes for a walk.

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One dead giveaway is grabbing the leash. Even though she rarely goes on the leash, I always bring it along just in case, and simply looping the leash over my shoulder is an obvious signal that we’re heading out for at least a mini adventure.

Gone are the snores from the couch, head propped on a pillow in a way-too-human likeness. The apathy is replaced with ecstatic excitement, sprinting around the house, and loud yawns of anticipation. (See what I mean? She is so lazy that yawning loudly is a sign of excitement for her.)

Gettin’ after it on some fresh singletrack in BV!

A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on

As we head out the door, Smiley zooms around the yard, sprinting back and forth in the driveway as I slowly–compared to her speed–make my way off of our property.

On our walk, she sprints from one interesting smell to another. Having satisfied her curiosity, she sprints on to catch up or pass me to find the next interesting scent. Suddenly, she’ll jolt to a stop, screeching to a halt from a dead sprint as if she’s hit an invisible wall. Actually, it’s more like an interesting smell threw a lasso and caught Smiley around the nose, as she trots into the ditch to investigate the unexpected odor.

All of this sprinting and investigating is tough work, so if there’s any way to cool down along our route, she scouts it out with her trained senses. Although she was born and raised in Georgia, snow is her most favorite thing. If there is even one patch of snow along our route, Smiley will find it and lie down. Somehow–I’m still not sure how she figured this out–she’s realized that if she’s thirsty, she can scoop up a big mouthful of snow and chomp on it until it melts for a quick drink. It’s not uncommon to round a corner and find her lying down with her head buried in a snowbank, taking in big mouthfuls of refreshment.

What can we learn from dogs?

Photo: Greg Heil

As I’ve observed my mutt’s excitement every time we go outside, I’ve wondered to myself, “why don’t we humans get this excited when we go outside?” We really should. Getting to leave the world of the sofa and shutting off the screens, we can at our own whim head out into the great, wide, natural world with all of the excitement and adventure that it has in store. The best part is that we don’t have to wait for our owner to decide that it’s time for a walk. We can–whenever we choose–leave the confines of civilization and adventure out into the great unknown.

But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a person as excited to go outside as my dog.

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In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever been as excited about anything as my dog is to go on her daily walk. Why is that? Are we so desensitized to the beauty surrounding us that we can no longer muster a little enthusiasm–which we must have once experienced–when it comes time to do something exciting?

I’m not one to pass judgment. On the scale of excitability, I don’t rank all that highly. But sometimes, I have to wonder about my level of enthusiasm for life, for adventure.

If there’s one thing I can learn from my dog, it’s that going outside and living a real life in the real world is intrinsically valuable, and is worth getting excited about. As I’ve let that sink in and marinate, it’s begun to change the way I view my life, and the choices I make on a daily basis.

And I’d like to think I’m getting just a little bit more excitable.

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