Walking my dog has made me a better software developer

4 min readPublished April 22, 2018Updated November 03, 2019

Anyone with a dog knows, you can’t skip their exercise. Somehow I have a knack for adopting dogs that eat my house if they don’t get enough walks. George preferred rugs, and now Pru likes my door frames. Since having my own dogs, my morning routine has changed from sleeping in and perusing social media to getting up by 6:00am, getting the harness on, and walking out the door before my bed calls me back. I’m officially a morning person and its changed so much more than just what time I set my alarm for. I’m a better software developer, and generally a better person, because of my dogs.

Prudence on a walk Prudence on a walk

A good mood goes a long way

We’ve all heard the research pointing out the benefits to starting your day with exercise and all the research about the oxytocin and endorphins released by spending time with dogs. Put those two together, and you have a powerful recipe for starting your day on the right foot. My morning walks with Pru are definitely not strenuous exercise by any means (I kind of hate exercise to be perfectly honest), but they give me a valuable 30 minutes in my morning for my brain to wake up. Instead of spending my morning in a hazy stupor before the caffeine kicks in, I arrive at work ready dive in.

Because I’m wide awake by the time we finish our walk, I actually end up getting to work almost half an hour early most days. Before my morning walks were part of my routine, I would get to work barely on time, struggle for the first half hour to think even think about work, and have little to show for that time in the office. Now, I use this extra time in my day to catch up on blog posts, play with a personal project, or cross items off my to-do list that would normally fester until the end of the week (replying to emails, filling out coworker reviews, or testing items in IE before delivering to the client 😬).

Morning Epiphanies

Everyone has shower epiphanies. That moment where your brain is on autopilot and wandering aimlessly, then suddenly “Ah ha! That’s why that bug keeps happening!” Often, commutes and exercise provide a similar environment to the shower for these lightning bulb moments. Taking Pru for her morning walk gives me even more time in my day for these moments.

With my mind sufficiently relaxed (and sleepy), its free to rest on the current bug that’s been stumping me. There is no urgency to find a solution and I find that my brain is significantly more creative and up to the task of approaching problems from different angles when it isn’t tired after a long day of meetings and pairing. Even if I don’t come up with the solution while on the walk, I’m able to come up with 3 new things to try when looking for the edge case that’s causing the bug. I never realized that my brain works better at 6:00am than it does at 6:00pm.

Reflection

I often use the time in the morning to reflect on the day before. How could I have made that meeting more productive? How do I feel about the feedback given in retro? What is the right mentorship I need to provide to my mentee?

In software development, there is so much priority given to side projects, blog posts, conference talks, and all of the other tasks outside the working day that its really hard to find down-time for self-reflection. You need to make time for self-reflection, and I know first-hand how hard it is to prioritize that. Walking my dog is the perfect opportunity. I can’t bring a computer; I can’t be on my phone; it’s pretty hard to multitask. I have to be present and mindful with just Pru and my thoughts to keep me company.

I’ve found that morning reflection works best for me because I need a little distance from the previous day in order to be productive and not stew. This time to pause and consider the multiple possibilities and learning from any situation has given me more perspective in my problem solving and communication. I’m very grateful to have this time to reflect as a regular part of my every day.

Compassion

Pru was rescued as a stray and very clearly had puppies not long before she was picked up. I’ll never know her whole back story. Our walks together are a daily exercise in patience and redirection, and she has taught me so much about the art of compassion.

Pru has some common rescue dog issues that we’re always working on. Rather than being angry because she is anxious and communicating her anxiety in a “bad way,” I’m learning to understand that’s the only way she knows how to communicate it and that its my responsibility to teach her how I want her to communicate. I’m trying to bring what I’m learning from Pru into my professional life. I want to be the kind of leader that takes a human-centered approach, connecting with people in the way they find most effective. I view the daily reframing I have to do with Pru as practice for meeting people where they are.

I can’t say I was expecting my morning walks with my dog to lead to so much professional development, but I like to think she shares responsibility for that. If nothing else, she shares responsibility for this blog post which I sketched out during one of those walks.

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