Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 2

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 here.

So, I’ve been discussing Alma’s on-leash reactivity when seeing other on-leash dogs.

In an effort to fully assess everything, I developed what I’m now calling Alma’s Reactivity Matrix (details in part 1).

Alma's Reactivity Matrix

The point of this is to help assess where we’re at, and where we need to go for all of those boxes to turn green. Or at least yellow – I’d be happy with yellow. And I think green is noble, but probably unrealistic for almost any dog, considering that top right box. But hey, if you’re truly there: kudos. I call Moses our ‘perfect’ dog, but if I did this for him, even his matrix wouldn’t be 100% green.

So, Alma’s reactive. What am I doing about it?

Well, where the situation falls in the matrix really determines my response.

Getting a ‘Hail Mary’ lunging reaction from her is never the goal. If she does that, it’s a clear sign that the situation is too much for her (not to mention it’s not fun to deal with and can often been stressful and embarrassing for me, too).

And the green boxes – while totally awesome – aren’t learning opportunities (for this issue, anyway).

So that leaves me in yellow and orange – preferably yellow, but depending on the environment, it can be a very fine line between the two.

Alma

Alma

Yellow is the perfect learning opportunity – she’s aware of the other dog, but hasn’t lost her mind. She’s still paying attention to me and what I’m doing. I can experiment with proximity and gauge her reaction. If she stays calm, I can reduce distance (which is really what she wants in these situations – she wants to get closer and greet the other dog) and reward calmness.

If she starts to get more excited, we can pause, distract, or create more distance – this both relieves any anxiety or stress she may have about the situation and communicates that her exuberance doesn’t get her what she wants (which is to greet).

And we’ve seen some success. When we first learned Alma was reactive after adopting her, our definitions of proximity were much different – ‘too close’ was way farther away. But, as with all training, over time and as you have success you need to constantly redefine your goals – or redesign your matrix, as it were.

So here are a few of the strategies I’ve employed with Alma.

Note: our standard walking position is always at heel with a loose leash – Alma always walks in stride beside me on a regular 2 metre/6 foot leash. None of this pulling/flexi-leash business. We’ve walked like this since we adopted her, and it’s routine now. She pulls when she’s attached to the cart – that’s it. So the underlying context of these strategies is that she’s close and always starting in a loose leash/heel position.

The Sit & Wait 

Only useful when we’re in the yellow and Alma’s “intensely focused”. Obviously asking her to sit if she’s bouncing or lunging and completely overwhelmed isn’t a good option. It just won’t work; she won’t even hear the word. But when she’s still in tune with me, asking her to sit can be a great distraction.

But this is only if the proximity will never get too close. But if the dog is across the street, we’re usually fine.

Often, if the dog is approaching, I’ll have her sit with her back towards the dog and facing me. Then I’m still able to keep an eye on the other dog and owner, and Alma has to strain a bit to watch them – it’s harder for her to really focus on them looking over her shoulder. Once they pass, we continue on our way.

Alma working on a sit-stay

Alma working on a sit-stay

Changing Pace

Also useful in the yellow sections. This mostly means speeding up to jog past the distracting dog. If we’re moving quickly, Alma has to pay attention to me and where I’m going. Sure, she gets a little excited with the faster movement, but it’s excitement about me and what I’m doing, it’s not reactivity based on the other dog’s presence.

Unfortunately, if Moses is there too this doesn’t work as well. It’s like jogging with a piano tied to your ass. He’s got one walk speed – lumbering – and he likes it that way.

Moses' take on exercise

Moses’ take on exercise

Hide-n-Seek

If we’ve gotten to the orange section – or I think we might get there – I’m not above waiting behind a parked car for the distraction to pass. I’ve also definitely used this to gain some reprieve after Alma goes for a ‘Hail Mary’ too. Sure, the other owner might think I’m nuts, but that’s their problem, not mine.

Changes of Direction

I’ll use this in both the yellow and orange boxes – if I notice Alma’s escalated to orange (bouncing), my first step is always to change direction, create distance and get some focus back on me.

Back and forth direction changes while another dog is gaining proximity is a great way, I’ve found, to keep Alma in the yellow while distance is closing in. She’ll still keep an eye on them, but we’re able to create a situation where she knows they’re there and getting closer, but is still paying attention to me and staying relatively calm.

Even a quick left or right is helpful to maintain focus and calm, while creating some distance between us and the other dog.

Dr. Sophia Yin has this really great resource on changing direction (and speed), which I would highly recommend checking out by visiting this link.

Caution: if you’re walking two dogs, pay attention to where your other dog – and their leash – is, before you just suddenly change direction and potentially walk into them. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything….

Moses

Moses

Get the Hell Outta There

In the orange – and definitely in the red – my strategy is simple: leave.

Alma weighs about 100lbs. If she’s lunging for another dog, my best option is just to head the other way and create as much distance between her and the dog as necessary to get her to let go of her focus on the dog and pay attention to me again.

Especially because, in my experience, the other dog’s owner isn’t going to be much help. Upon seeing Alma get excited and bounce (orange), people have stopped and watched, or decided it’s a good time to try to talk to us. To that I say: WTF! Keep it moving, nothing to see here.

Schmidt demonstrates this technique

Schmidt demonstrates this technique

Complete Avoidance

Say we’re in the green, or not even in a situation covered in the matrix. I see another dog way on the horizon way before Alma’s even aware of them, and instead of continuing on in that direction, I’ll just head the other way.

Do we learn anything here? Nope. Reactions are prevented, sure, but this does nothing to help Alma work through it.

But you know what? Sometimes that’s okay.

Sometimes. It’s not a beneficial tactic to take all the time – or often – because you won’t improve, but everyone has days where they’re just not up for it. You’re tired, or sick, or just not of the capacity to deal with a reactive dog. That’s fine.

It’s hard work! It can be stressful and frustrating and embarrassing, and I admit there are nights when I’m just not interested. Rather than put myself – and Alma – in a situation that might not go well if I’m not up for it, I just won’t.

We all have those days from time to time

We all have those days from time to time

Granted, it’s mostly unavoidable; we live in the ‘burbs and see other on-leash dogs on almost all of our walks, so it’s always better to be prepared and optimistic than resigned (a certain amount of dog training, like anything, is a self-fulfilling prophecy).

But it’s still okay to take the odd night off. (Not from walking! Just from reactivity.)

And that’s about it.

There are lots of ways to work with a reactive dog; these are the ones I’ve found to work for Alma.

But, like I said, this is Alma-specific. This could be the completely wrong or unhelpful approach for a different dog. All reactive dogs – their triggers, their reactions, their owners, and their environments – are different.

So this isn’t advice. Or data. It’s an anecdote. Take from it what you will.

In the meantime, Alma and I will continue working to change the colours of those red and orange boxes.

What about you? Are you dealing with a reactive dog? What strategies do you find helpful?

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

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Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 1

I’ve mentioned before that Alma has some on-leash reactivity when we see other on-leash dogs, but I haven’t gone into any great detail about it. Well, now is as good a time as any.

(Soggy) Alma

(Soggy) Alma

But first things first; if my philosophy degree taught me anything, it’s this: define your terms!

Reactivity as I use it here is an umbrella term for any behaviour that results from stimuli, whether the reaction is a result of anxiety, aggression, fear, exuberance, stress, excitement… you name it. If your dog’s behaviour routinely suddenly changes in a manner that you need to/should address, they’re reactive.

Important: reactivity ≠ aggressive! Reactivity is a popular dog training buzzword these days, thanks in part to our favourite TV dog trainers, lending itself to be misused and misunderstood. Aggression is just one form of reactivity.

Alma’s reactivity is more of the stressed/exuberant form. She sees another dog on-leash and she’s excited to go greet and frustrated that she can’t, with both dogs being confined to leashes. The lack of control of the situation and her inability to do what she wants generates a reaction.

She can get excited to see off-leash dogs, too, but if she’s off-leash, there’s no problem. If she’s on-leash and the other dog is off-leash, still less of a reaction. Leashes – a necessity and important safety tool, certainly, but also a complicating factor in dog behaviour.

Alma’s reactivity is limited to dogs. We’re lucky that way. Cars, bikes, skateboards, birds, squirrels, hares, people, she’s all cool with or ignores.

There are four stages (I’ve decided) in which Alma’s reactivity manifests:

1. Mild Notice: Alma sees the other dog and watches them; her ears will perk up (as much as they do) and she’ll close her mouth, but she’ll continue to check in with you, too. Her body language is still loose and relaxed.

2. Intense Focus: She’s no longer regularly checking in with you; she’s focused on the other dog intently and starts anticipating what might be next; her body language is stiff and she’s panting heavily; she might start creeping out of the standard heel position we walk in.

3. Bouncing: Alma can no longer contain her excitement/anxiety; she’s still panting heavily and starts bouncing up and down beside you, which, when walking a 100lb Newfoundland is both odd and ridiculous. Strangely, she usually still maintains a loose leash and heel position.

Alma, Stage 3

Alma, Stage 3

4. The Hail Mary: Alma decides enough is enough and she’s going to try to take the situation into her own hands; she lunges in the direction of the target dog. You’ve pushed your luck with boundaries and thresholds if you let it get this far.

In addition to Alma’s reaction scale is a proximity scale. The proximity of the other on-leash dog to Alma impacts the intensity of her reaction.

My assessment of proximity comes from experience and working on this with Alma – the scale is very specific to her and can shift depending on the environment. It’s also shifted as we’ve worked on reducing her reactivity. But this is where I’m at today on my walks with her.

Too Close: The same sidewalk, a single-lane hiking trail, or basically within 5 metres/16 feet of the other dog (the length of two standard 6 foot leashes and their dogs, basically; greeting territory). The point on working with Alma on her reactivity is to diminish what is ‘too close’ so that it’s barely negligible. We’ve shrunk it, for sure, but we’ve still got work to do.

Close: Directly across the street (streets are about 40 feet/12 metres wide on average) or an equivalent distance in a green space or park.

Not Close: The dog is visible, but still off in the distance a bit. I’d say about a block/50m/165 feet away. Anything further away than this really isn’t an issue at all.

My last scale is the level of the distraction. This is based on what the other dog is doing, because in conjunction with proximity, the intensity of Alma’s reactivity is also heavily dependent upon what the other dog is doing.

Low: If the other dog is relaxed and mostly ignoring Alma, her reaction is substantially diminished. This means the other dog has loose body language, a loose leash, and isn’t giving her a lot of eye contact. There aren’t many of these dogs in our neighbourhood. Dogs walking away from us also lowers their level of distraction.

Medium: The dog is staring at Alma/giving a lot of eye contact, has stiff/erect body posture, and is moving in her direction. Consistent eye contact/staring from another dog is a key factor in whether or not Alma will react. Basically, the other dog is giving Alma intense focus, as I’ve described on her scale above.

High: The other dog is reacting: barking, pulling at the end of the leash, for example. Another dog overreacting to stimuli definitely encourages a reciprocal response from Alma. Dogs headed straight for us in close proximity are definitely a high distraction level.

Now, working in the corporate world, I do like my charts and graphs. Because who doesn’t love a good matrix, amiright?

So I’ve decided to take all of the rankings I just did when thinking about Alma’s reactivity and put them into a visual.

Behold! Alma’s Reactivity Matrix:

Alma's Reactivity Matrix

There you have it. Pretty rad, right?

Sure, this isn’t useful to anyone but me (I think even the Husband’s Alma Matrix would look a bit different), but I actually found working through this very interesting when characterizing Alma’s reactivity, her triggers, and prompting objective consideration about the whole thing. It really puts on paper where we’re at and where we want to be, and forces some specific reflection.

If you’re an analytical thinker with a reactive dog, I recommend giving this exercise a try.

I was going to continue on to discuss my responses to Alma’s reactivity and what I do to mitigate situations, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for today.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

No, Our Dogs Can’t Meet

It was as if they were waiting for the press release.

The same evening the local news ran stories about urban coyotes actively denning in Calgary (and thus being a risk for dog owners) was the same evening an urban coyote in our own neighbourhood began following me, Moses, and Alma on our evening walk.

A long time reader may recall this has happened before to a much greater degree, and my chosen solution ever since has been to carry an air horn when walking the dogs in the dark. The air horn is a great deterrent and scares them off so you can leave and give them some space. I wouldn’t recommend it for those who walk fearful dogs, but neither Moses nor Alma fall into that category, making it a great solution for us.

Of course, just because I have an air horn doesn’t mean I’m going to walk through coyote territory every night. As long as they’re denning (and thus threatened by big dogs such as Moses and Alma – hence the interest in our presence), we’ll cut that area out of the itinerary for evening walks, for about the next month or two.

Given that my weeknight dog walks often end up being post-sunset (I’m busy, a procrastinator, or both), this means we are left sticking to the densely residential streets of our neighbourhood.

And if my suburb is anything like yours, you know that means it’s littered with barky little dogs on the end of flexi-leashes. And some barky medium-sized ones, too. Yes, even at 10:00pm.

Barky dogs on flexi-leashes - an accurate portrayal

Barky dogs on flexi-leashes – an accurate portrayal

Having walked the dogs regularly for so long, I’ve come to recognize most other neighbourhood dog walkers and from which general areas they will emerge. One condo complex in particular can produce a little barky dog on a flexi-leash in whatever colour you desire: white, grey, black, brown… there’s (at least) one of each.

Now, I do not permit on-leash greetings with my dogs very often, if ever. I always want Moses and Alma to have positive interactions with other dogs. If I can’t guarantee that, I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and not have any greeting. Especially when it comes to agitated dogs who seem put off by Moses’ and Alma’s sizes alone.

In the case of dogs on flexi-leashes, that often means remaining across the street. Even if Moses has no response to these dogs barking and straining on their retractable contraptions (aside from the odd glance over at the commotion, he just keeps on truckin’, not even an ear perk most times).

This strategy recently bewildered one neighbourhood small dog/flexi-leash owner in particular. She’s a regular – we usually see her and her barky little dog a few times a week.

Each time, Moses and I walk past, her dog barks and pulls. Each time, she pauses to watch us walk by. And, each time, she coos at her dog: “shhhh… it’s okay… be nice… you just want to be friends, don’t you? It’s okay….”

We just keep walking.

One night in particular, we reached a junction to find her and her flexi-leash loitering there. Depending on which direction she and her dog would choose to go next would determine what Moses and I would do to avoid them.

So, while her dog barked and pulled towards us, I just asked Moses to sit so we could wait and see what direction she was heading.

She must’ve thought I was nuts.

Her dog continued to bark and pull, and her typical high-pitched attempt to sooth her dog (“shhhh… quiet… it’s okay… he’s a friendly dog”), did exactly what it always does; i.e., nothing.

We continued to wait patiently.

Then she picked up her dog – who continued to bark – and started towards us.

“Can they say hi?” she hollered towards me.

“No, thank you,” I quickly replied. Then I crossed the street with Moses, leaving her behind us holding her still-barking dog.

All of that greeting she’d requested seemed like a bad idea. Barking dog. Being carried. Oblivious owner. Flexi-leash.

Nope, not going to happen.

If her dog freaked out even more, or something went sour, do you know whose fault it is? It’s the giant black dog’s fault. It’s always the big dog’s fault. Or, more accurately, it’s always the big dog’s owner’s fault. So, no, thanks.

I like to set up for success, not failure.

We saw her again a couple of nights after this happened.

We were across the street heading in opposite directions, and I stuck to our usual plan of keep walking/no greetings.

As usual, her dog barked at us.

And, as usual, she began talking to it.

“Shhh…. Be quiet…. It’s okay… that lady doesn’t WANT you to be friends with her big dog… yes… even though you’re really nice… it’s okay… she doesn’t like us.”

38270d72_TheOffice-Ummm

Now, I’m not one for confrontation, so I just passive-aggressively made eye contact with her instead of shouting “IF YOUR DOG WAS BETTER BEHAVED MAYBE THEY COULD BE FRIENDS” like I was tempted to.

But that’s okay.

We just kept walking and I started writing a post much like this one in my head.

She’d soon get some perspective, however.

Last week I was walking Moses and Alma and we passed this very same lady and her barky dog.

And you know when you’re just having one of those ‘off’ nights? You’re cranky or tired and walking the dogs mostly because it’s your responsibility and obligation even though you’re not really in the mood?

And then to top it off the dog is excited by EVERYTHING?

Yeah, we were having one of those nights. I don’t know if it was the wind or the recent snow melt, but Alma was jazzed by everything. OMG – a bunny! OMG – I must sniff this! OMG – we’re walking and it’s the best!

Alma

Alma

Her enthusiasm is adorable…  if you’re prepared for it.

You see, one of the things we continue to work on with Alma is her reaction when she’s on leash and sees other on-leash dogs. There have been marked improvements since we got her, and the overall trend is good, but we still have occasional off nights.

On those off nights, she gets incredibly excited. She pants heavily, she bolts towards the other dog, and she bounces up and down like she’s on a trampoline. She’s very exuberant and – I think – frustrated that there’s another dog just RIGHT THERE, but the stupid leash won’t let her do what she wants.

If you’re on your game, anticipate it, and handle it well, this reaction can be mitigated. If you’re, say, tired and cranky and not on the ball, the reaction can get the best of you.

The latter was the case this time.

Alma was excitable and I was slow to see the dog and do anything about it before she could. I could’ve stopped. I could’ve turned around. I could’ve asked the dogs to sit. But I didn’t do any of that and we walked right into it.

As soon as the dog saw us, it barked and pulled per the normal course. And as soon as Alma saw this, she went for it.

And I mean WENT for it.

She used all 100+ pounds of her to sprint towards the lady and her dog – Moses and I bewildered and in tow behind her.

By the time I recovered my balance, we were a few steps off the sidewalk and onto the road. The little barky dog still barked. The owner stared at this commotion in surprise. (Though, it’s not like my dog was exhibiting any worse behaviour than her dog, it’s just that my dog is bigger.)

I got my wits about me, got everyone back on the sidewalk, and ducked our little pack behind a parked car to take a moment. I heard the lady tell her dog “shhh… quiet… let’s keep going.”

Good call.

Now when we see her on our walks, she continues on her way. Her dog still barks at us, but she no longer pauses and talks to her dog about being nice or the potential to be friends.

Because maybe you don’t want to be friends with everyone.

And some times, people have a good reason for not being friends with you.

Barks&BytesThis post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

“My dog doesn’t like to go on walks.”

“My dog doesn’t like to go on walks.”

Ever have someone say that to you?

I have. And obviously recently, or I wouldn’t be spurned to write about it.

My response is usually one of two things:

1. Changing the subject. “Right… so I spent an inordinate amount of time last night trying to ace this quiz where you name all the countries in the world in 12 minutes. I swear it’s impossible.”

Sometimes, I just... can't.

Sometimes, I just… can’t.

2. Challenge it. If I’m feeling particularly spry or comfortable or bored, I’ll be up front: “You’re going to have a tough time convincing me that’s true.”

Because when someone says to me that his/her dog “doesn’t like” walks, my bullshit detector sounds pretty loudly.

will smith bs

Barring some sort of medical condition, or mental condition that should be addressed, I don’t think saying your dog “doesn’t like” walks is entirely truthful.

Instead, I think that statement can probably be replaced with one or more of the following more accurate statements.

  • I don’t like walking my dog. People project a lot of things on to their dogs, and I’d say it’s pretty likely that people who think their dogs don’t like walks are just making excuses because they don’t want to walk them. I mean, dogs spend most of their days confined to a house or yard – of course most of them like to get out and explore and spend time with their family! If you don’t like walking your dog, to that I say: TFB. Who obtains custody of a dog these days without realizing they need regular exercise? Exactly – no one who intelligently pondered the decision. Walk your dog!
  • I haven’t shown my dog that walks can be fun. If you don’t like spending time with your dog, they’ll pick up on it. It’s not necessarily the walks they dislike, it’s the owner begrudgingly doing it. Make it fun – for both of you! Go interesting places, play fun games, meet up with friends, enjoy your time outside. Make the best of it, because it’s your responsibility and a key part of their overall health.
  • Walking my dog is hard. Dog walks can be a real challenge if you’re working through some reactivity or anxiety issues with your dog. That is certainly no reason to make up excuses to avoid it, though. Avoiding walks just ignores and compounds the issues, meaning the fewer walks you go on, the tougher they will be. Seek a good trainer for help with this if you need to.
  • My dog doesn’t like walking in this weather. -25°C in the winter is not a condition all dogs like, or are built to tolerate, and that’s fair. But it’s not the walk they don’t like – it’s the wind or the ice. If this is the case, make sure you keep them active in the house until it warms up. Walk time shouldn’t be foregone, but it should be replaced with something else. However, if you’re trying to claim your dog dislikes the when it’s +5°C in February… well, most any dog acclimated to Alberta’s usually unusual weather should be able to handle that. Grab them a sweater and boots if you must. Or schedule walks appropriately – for example, in the summer when Moses and Alma can get uncomfortably hot, we’ll walk late at night when it’s cooler or ensure there are swimming opportunities on our routes. The benefits of regular dog walks outweigh any initial protests you may get. If they’re physically able to do it, you should teach them they can.
  • I don’t like walking in this weather. If your dog is on the same page as you, fine and see above. If you’re like me, and have dogs that thrive in winter, you’re going to need to suck it up and buy yourself some snow pants.
  • I usually take my dog for short walks and the one time I expected him to go on an usually long walk he got tired and sore. I bet he did! Let’s say I suddenly decided to forego the elevator and take the stairs up to my office on the 25th floor. This is not something I usually do and it would certainly leave me tired and sore. Does that mean I’m not physically built to do it? No. If I did it regularly, I’d have the stamina. The situation with the dog isn’t much different; if they’re not used to exercising, then the one time you ask a lot of them is going to be too much. They won’t be conditioned for it. But that is your fault, not theirs. All dogs were bred for active reasons, whether it be giant working breeds or small rat-hunting breeds. Your dog being out of shape is a sign to you that you should fix it – but don’t suddenly amp it up. You’re going to need to slowly increase their walk distances to something every healthy dog should be able to handle (say, an hour or 5km?).
  • I’ve taught my dog I will always carry them around when they ask. Is your dog begging for attention, whining, exhibiting a learned behaviour, or are you carrying them because you actually observe that they are tired and sore?
  • I interrupt my dog to go for walks. Wake them out of a dead sleep? Take away their toy or bone? Sure, in those cases they might not seem stoked to drop what they’re doing to leash up. Observe their behaviour when out on the walk to determine if they like it – are they engaged, relaxed, interacting, wagging their tails? They may not have wanted to go for a walk in that moment, but I’m sure they enjoy it once they’re out there.
  • I don’t know my dog that well. As I mentioned before, what’s not to love about a walk if you’re a dog? It’s a chance to socialize, check out the scenery, exercise, and spend quality time with their owners. It’s possible that any perception that the dog doesn’t like walking is a gross misinterpretation of something else.
  • I don’t know (or – worse – care) how important walks are to my dog’s mental health. Yes, your dog can suffer from what is essentially cabin fever. A lack of exercise and stimulation can result in all sorts of anxious, destructive, and hyperactive behaviours. They will be as bored and frustrated as any person locked in a confined space for days on end.
  • I don’t know how important walks are to my dog’s training and social skills. Does your dog bark a lot? Chew your shoes? Dig in the yard? Race around the house like a maniac? Lunge at other people or dogs on walks? Ignore you when you want them to do something? There’s a reason one of the first questions most trainers ask their clients is “how often do you walk your dog?” Walks won’t necessarily resolve these behaviours, but they sure do shave the rough edges off undesirable behaviours and make training easier. Spending regular time with your dog improves the relationship you have with them and increases how much they pay attention to you. And getting out and experiencing the world – people, dogs, cars, bikes, wildlife, etc. – is essential to a socially well-adjusted dog.
  • I don’t know (or – worse – care) how important walks are to my dog’s physical health. If not for regular walks, how else would the average pet dog get exercise? Exactly. Regular exercise – just like with people – is essential to their overall health. Obviously regular walks will help prevent or cure obesity, but a dog can be a perfectly appropriate weight and still be out of shape if they’re not regularly exercised. Regular walks help with muscle tone, joint issues, heart disease – the same sorts of things regular activity does for me and you. Every breed has conditions they are prone to, but ensuring dogs are generally healthy with a good diet and regular exercise is your best defence to them.
  • I’m lazy. Or neglectful. Or my dog isn’t a priority I want to make time for. Yeah, I said it. It’s very easy to explain away guilt if you put the onus on the dog – “they don’t like walks anyway, so I don’t have to worry about it.” Wrong! Everyone has busy lives, but if you choose to have a dog, you’ve also chosen the affiliated responsibilities. This should surprise no one. But there are lots of options out there to help if you need it: dog walkers, doggy day cares, several short walks per day, treadmills, or having the whole family pitch in with dog responsibilities.

With all of these potentially truthful explanations (did I miss any?), I find it pretty hard to believe someone’s dog “doesn’t like” going for walks.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

Moses and Alma definitely enjoy walks

Moses and Alma definitely enjoy walks

Monday Mischief 2: Three Dog Walk

This post is part of the Monday Mischief Blog Hop.

There was lots of mischief to be had this weekend as Moses’ First Wife, Juniper the Bernese Mountain Dog was over for a visit.

Moses and his Sister Wives*, Alma and Juniper

Having Juniper around is a lot like having a second Alma around and the three of them with – with the two cats – definitely makes a fur-filled full house.

Moses sits quietly and looks at the two of them getting a little over-excited and bouncy when I pull out the leashes and it’s time to go for a walk; I can only assume he’s thinking “bitches be crazy”.  At least that’s what I’m thinking.

And speaking of a walk, I’ve now set a personal record for most pounds of canine companions in one walk:  370!

The three of them are a treat to walk.  Though, it becomes a bit of a spectacle in the neighbourhood, and passers-by gawk or stop and want to meet the dogs, so it does make it a bit difficult to get anywhere quickly.

But I thought I would share the sight and set up a little video to share.

*Apologies to any Mormon readers who may take offence.  Unless you’re Mitt Romney; you know what you did.

Single (Dog) Parenting

Alma has been a part of our family for about two and a half weeks now.

Moses and Alma

And out of the last 18 days, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t walk the dogs.

I mean, I know there have been at least two instances, but I can’t really pin-point them or remember how I made use of that time otherwise.

You see, work has taken the Husband out of town Monday through Friday at increasing frequencies over the passing months.

In the normal course, the Husband and I have an alternating dog walking schedule.  Variances to that schedule are liberally made based on work schedules, social commitments, and general will, but, suffice it to say, the dog responsibilities are typically pretty evenly distributed.

And even before we adopted Alma and the Husband was taken out of town during the week, it wasn’t a big deal.  Moses is a breeze to take care of and had pretty minimal daily exercise requirements as he continues to recover from his surgery in July.

But now Alma is added to the equation.

Moses and Alma have different exercise, training, and attention requirements to meet.  While Moses is up to 40-45 minute daily walks now, Alma needs a solid hour, together with training exercises and skill practice, as we build up patience, focus, trust, and introduce verbal signals and their meanings.

And even though the time requirements can still be met by taking them out together, I do want to walk them separately occasionally, to give them one-on-one attention, mix up the routine, and attempt to prevent potential separation anxiety between the two.

This has added up to a lot of logged dog walking time for me lately, which, on the whole, I’m not complaining about.  I like walking the dogs and spending time focussed on them.  And even though the biting winter winds have arrived in Calgary and didn’t even have the courtesy to bring the snow with them, it’s still nice to have a reason to get outside for 60-90 minutes each day.

But it’s also hard.

It’s hard to muster up the energy after a long work day – every work day.

It’s hard to walk them separately as often as I’d like, because it takes so much longer.

And it’s harder to not get frustrated.  Because when the Husband is home, I can take the night off if my head’s just not in it.

Don’t get me wrong, for a dog with little to no leash experience, Alma’s walk is excellent.  But she’s still learning and figuring out the expectations.  And she’s still known to occasionally throw all 92 pounds of her enthusiasm behind greeting a passing dog or person, attempting to chase one of the neighbourhood rabbits that plague Calgary suburbs, or getting out of the way of a loud truck that has spooked her.   All of which is fine if I see it coming, too, and can appropriately and quickly respond, but those terrorists  bunnies can be sneaky little bastards.

The real ruler of the 'burbs.

Basically what I’m getting at is that I have a whole new appreciation for the single-dog-parents out there.  Whether you’re actually a single dog owner, or just the only one in the household who takes on the dog-related responsibilities, I have a whole new respect for your day-to-day commitments.

And I haven’t even been at it a full month! And I get weekend support!

So I must ask: what is your secret?  Dog walkers?  Caffeine?  Wine?

Thoughts From A Dog Walk

I’m sure every dog owner has a similar story or account.  Not with the same content, mind you, but I’m sure each of us experiences what may be called a boilerplate conversation when strangers come across us with our dogs.

That is certainly the case when walking Moses, anyway.

Out on a walk with Moses.

A typical dog walk conversation for us starts off with a variation of this:

“Woah [or occasional expletive], that’s a big dog!”  -OR-  “Is that a bear? – har har.”

Then my end of the conversation goes a little like this:

“He’s a Newfoundland.”  (Sometimes adding, “No, not a black St. Bernard – they don’t make those.  Yes, I’m sure.”)

“175 pounds.”

“3 years old.”

“5 lbs per day. We have him on a raw diet.”

“No, no need for a large house (or yard) – he’s a pretty low energy dog and goes for an hour walk every day.”

“The shedding isn’t too bad – it’s the drool you have to watch out for.”

“He’s the size of an adult person; how much do you think he poops?”

That last one is more common than you’d think.  Weird, I know.

And apparently I’m not the only Newfoundland owner with these template encounters.  I found this magnet for sale online here.

No saddle, but we do have a cart.

Then, earlier this month, we were dogsitting Juniper, a Bernese Mountain Dog, for friends, and I got a glimpse into the typical dog conversations they must have regularly, as well.  Most notably explaining that it’s not a “Burmese” Mountain Dog, or people mis-hear and seem you think you’re introducing “Bernice, the Mountain Dog”.

Juniper & Moses

So now I’m curious – how do your default dog walk conversations go?

The Canine Good Behaviour-Exercise Correlation

Brace yourself. I made you something, valued reader.

I think charts and graphs are a fun way to share information.  Perhaps I have too much time on my hands.  Perhaps I need a break from the xkcd.  Whatever the case, I made you one anyway.

The inspiration for the dazzling visualization below stems from a discussion in the comments of this post by fellow blogger, The Dog Park, of whom I am a fan.  Although, admittedly my glorious Paint creation comes nowhere near the beauty of some recent graphs and charts done by According to Gus.  But I’m okay with that.

The information is simple: based on personal experience and an abundance of anecdotal evidence from others, the graph illustrates how a properly exercised dog results in a well-behaved dog.  No exceptions.

A dog who is walked regularly is less likely to engage in destructive behaviours at home, and is more likely to pay attention to you while you work on training, whether it be obedience, agility or what have you. 

Though, do note the sharp drop-off at the end.  Yes, you can over-exercise your dog.  A dehydrated, exhausted dog is not going to be interesting in sitting or coming to you any more than a dog with a severe case of cabin fever.  After a long hike on a hot day, it’s not uncommon for Moses to lay down and do no more than raise a “make me” eyebrow to any requests made of him.

The moral of the story: Walk your dog.  It will be good for both of you.

You’re welcome.

Why, Jake Gyllenhaal, Why?

Men and women alike can agree that Jake Gyllenhaal is a steamy dreamboat, right?  I mean, look at this guy.  I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial here.


And (to add some substance) he’s a good actor who chooses interesting roles.  What’s not to like?

Well, how about this?

  
Beloved Mr. Gyllenhaal has fallen into the fallacy of one of my top pet peeves: people who carry their dogs around.  Seriously.  They have four legs; let them use them.  The point of walking the dogs is… well… to walk.

 When I first saw the photo, I thought perhaps the accompanying caption would read “Jake Gyllenhaal Rescues Injured Dog on Local Beach, Saves Life”.  But I re-examined the photo and the only one seemingly concerned about the dog’s welfare is the poor dog itself, dangling precariously three feet above the solid ground where it should be.

 And apparently this dog is some sort of canine royalty, because he gets carried around a lot.


Don’t drop him! 


And it just seems to be the puggle.  I wonder why.  Probably because the shepherd is too heavy.  Or less-loved.  (Or, as I would argue, more loved.)

Maybe it’s the newest Hollywood exercise fad: carry around a 35 pound dog while still getting some cardio.

If there is a legitimate health reason for the carrying, then I suppose I understand and I have to take it all back.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, because sometimes the dog is allowed to walk.


Might I suggest that is something the dog should be doing more often?

 
Set a good example for all those other dog owners out there. 


Like this.  Keep doing this.

Oh, except there’s that flexi-leash up there, isn’t it?  Seriously?!  Strike 2.

Okay, that’s better.

Actually… what if Jake Gyllenhaal is some sort of crazy canine fanatic?  Perhaps he can’t help himself?  See dog – must touch.

If that’s the case, public warning: should you be walking your dog and you happen see this guy headed in your direction – run!  He could be groping your dog before you know it!  He might even just carry him off!  Who’s to say that’s not how he got the puggle in the first place?

On second thought, scratch that.  Call me, Jake.  I’ll teach you how to walk your dog.

 

Husband:  don’t worry, you’re still #1.  Here, Jessica Alba needs your help: