When my husband and I adopted our first dog, I had all these wonderful ideas about how great it was going to be. We were going to take him hiking and camping. We were going to stroll along city streets, go to the dog park, and attend festivals with him. But mostly what I looked forward to were long, leisurely walks around our neighborhood. In my mind’s eye, we stopped to talk to our neighbors who complimented us on our well-behaved pooch while their kids petted and kissed him. That’s before I knew about certain training and behavior issues, and different dogs’ walking styles.
The vision I describe above is pretty much what happened. Our dog Ranger — our eldest, our firstborn — was as perfect a canine companion we could have wished for. While he has never been crazy about the throngs of people he seems to attract to his adorable self, he fit nicely into my little “stroll through the neighborhood” scenario.
Then we adopted Mayzie. Mayzie, who had never walked on a leash. Mayzie, who was under-socialized and had no idea how to deal with an approaching dog. Mayzie, who loved people a little too much and would jump up for attention. Mayzie, who had about a gazillion times more energy to burn off than Ranger.
With Mayzie, all our leisurely walking days came to an abrupt end.
Over the past four years or so, Mayzie has come a long way in the walking department. With lots of patience and oodles of positive reinforcement training, she is hardly the wild thang she was when she first came to live with us. And most of the time our walks are enjoyable enough. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I simply don’t find it as enjoyable walking two dogs as I did when I was just walking one. In fact, there are days when I sort of hate it.
First, Ranger and Mayzie have distinctively different walking styles. Mayzie is an “always looking ahead” kind of gal. She trots along at a fast clip and can’t wait to see what exciting adventures might lie around the next corner. Ranger is a senior and his attitude is “take time to stop and smell (and pee on) the roses.” Rarely does he get into a hurry. I constantly have to put on the brakes so Ranger can inhale the delicious Bouquet de Urine of the last dog who left his mark. At the same time, Mayzie is stretching out her neck in the other direction to sniff the neighbor’s trash can. Caught between them, I have a glimpse of what it must’ve been like to be drawn and quartered in the Middle Ages.
And then there are the leashes. Recently, I wrote about why I don’t like to use a retractable leash. While I feel my points were valid, I know some of it can be attributed to user error. I honestly have a hard enough time handling two dogs on traditional nylon leashes. The dogs are usually pretty good about walking on either side of me, which is easier for me to handle. But I constantly find myself changing hands when they decide to change sides because, you know, the side of the street they’re not on is always the best side. Occasionally they somehow even manage to hogtie me while I’m picking up poop.
Oh, yeah, the poop bags! It’s so much fun juggling those poop bags, and a treat bag, and occasionally my keys if I’ve recklessly left the house in a pocketless ensemble. There are days I feel like a circus performer, and not a very good one at that. Cirque du Soleil is definitely not going to be ringing me up any time soon.
But the worst part — the part I hate the most — is other dogs. As I mentioned above, Mayzie’s lack of early socialization means that she’s reactive when other dogs approach us. Or follow us. Or bark at us from behind a fence. Until about a year ago, whenever she’d see or hear another dog, she’d lunge to the end of her leash and do this “bounce, bounce, bounce, bark, bark, bark” thing. Even though I knew why she was doing it, it was embarrassing and made me feel like a terrible dog mom.
After a lot of hard work and patience and treats, she’s finally able to (sort of) calmly pass another dog (on the other side of the street) but I can see in her eyes how hard it is for her. And it’s difficult for me, too. I’m constantly on the lookout for other dogs. I’d rather avoid them altogether if possible, which means sometimes drastically altering our route. If I can’t avoid them, I have to quickly pull out the treats and start shoveling them her direction. Ranger, of course, doesn’t want to be left out so he usually manages to get under my feet in an effort to make sure he gets some treats, too. I’m sure it’s quite a spectacle and not fun for me at all.
Now this doesn’t happen every time. We have many, many walks that are perfectly pleasant. And I get that none of the frustrations I experience are my dogs’ fault. It all comes down to my own personal failings as a trainer and handler. I know that with more effort on my part, I could probably have them heeling beautifully at my side, only sniffing when and where I want them to. I could teach them to walk only on a certain side of the street or I could take each of the dogs separately so they could go at their own pace.
But the thing is, Ranger loses his mind if Mayzie and I leave the house without him. And Mayzie, our formerly fearful dog, feels more confident and happy when Ranger’s along. Plus, well, the way I see it…the walk is theirs. It’s usually the one time of day they really get to get out of the house, explore the neighborhood, get caught up on pee-mail. When it’s time to get leashed up, the joy on their faces is absolute and when we return home, they are content, tired and happy. So no matter how frustrated I may have been along the way, seeing them so happy makes me happy.
Well, at least until it’s time for another walk.
Your turn: Do you enjoy walking your dogs? Tell us why or why not in the comments.
About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She and her husband (the crazy pet man) live in colorful Colorado where they enjoy hiking, biking and camping. Amber owns Comma Hound Copywriting and also acts as typist and assistant for Mayzie’s Dog Blog. She encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.