Dog Lessons: The Walk

Although I’m no expert, dogs have been some of my best teachers for years.

My first lesson took place at age five while ringing the doorbell of a friend’s house where I had been invited to play.

My friend opened the screen door to let me in me and out leapt their energetic Shepherd mix who greeted me with an oversized bite at the waist.

What was the lesson learned?

With dogs, always expect the unexpected.

I’ve made that my overarching mantra with my own canine crew especially when they’re around other dogs on walks.

And my current pack and I have picked up a few more tips along the way that we’d like to share:

1) DE-ENERGIZE THE ENVIRONMENT. A Lab neighbor named Junior, whose’s now a graying senior, will charge up to my crew when he sees them walk by. My tightly wound Yorkie will often tense up and go on the defensive out of fear.

Currently we’re walking on the other side of the street to turn down the heat. My pack and I are still fairly new on the block. As my dogs and Junior get more face to face time, with a fence between them as peacemaker, I expect they’ll eventually become friends.

2) GOOD LEASHES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS. I’ve encountered plenty of well intentioned dog owners on walks who think they can quickly catch their dog’s attention and attach a leash when they see another animal. But often these pups have been quicker than their owners.

Besides potentially putting other dogs at risk, if your own dog is unleashed and in a high traffic area he may be at risk as well. I know that my canine crew will spy any squirrels scurrying up oak trees long before noticing speeding sports cars barreling down our block.

3) HARNESS THAT ENERGY. Consider the use of a properly applied harness when you’re walking your dog, particularly if their energy level is high. When I’ve fostered dogs, I’ve seen some with incredible skill at sliding out of collars and pulling so hard on leashes that they’re almost choking.

4) DRESS FOR SUCCESS. Cute checkered chihuahua coats and bright bandanas for the beagles are great, but first on a dog’s list before leaving for a walk are tags with your current address, phone numbers, and other required info for your area.

5) CURRENT ON VACCINATIONS. Do yourself and all dogs a favor. Make sure you’re not exposing your dogs to others without the basic vaccinations required or recommended by your vet for your region.

My first pup as a child was exposed to another dog with distemper. Both animals died which was devastating to both young families.

Also remember the other dogs your pup might be meeting on walks, in dogs parks, or just running loose may not have been vaccinated, putting yours at even greater risk.

6) GO WITH YOUR GUT. Always keep close eyes on your dogs, especially when you’re in public. And consider going with your gut if the behavior seems off the mark.

I watch for eye contact and indications of an elevated prey drive between dogs before there’s an escalation. If I see or even sense it, I remove my dogs from the situation.

And I admit I err on the side of assuming the worst. Many dogs are rescues with backgrounds lacking detail so we can never be sure of how they might react with others. Yet even dogs coming from reputable breeders are first and foremost animals after all.

Something can always set them off.

7) EXERCISE IS KEY. We know how crucial exercise is to good health for our canines and ourselves, so those walks are so important.

Just remember to take necessary precautions and always expect the unexpected. Also pack those favorite treats, some water, and dog waste removal bags so they’re handy.

And if you’re currently lacking time or ability to get your dogs out there exercising, dog walking services are available to assist you like Rover and others.

A healthy dog will more likely be a happy dog.

And a happy dog makes even a happier dog owner!

Letting the light in

I often find myself in a fog when I try something new.

Take last week, for example.

I was very excited about attending my first session of a nature sketchbook drawing series.

After a few minutes of introductions and instruction, I found myself on a bench by a weedy marsh and started drawing.

But just two hours later I was blindsided when I saw the incredible talent of my co-students as they placed their notebooks on the picnic table to share at the end of class.

Embarrassed by my own manic scribbling, I kept mine hidden away in a old backpack.

Talking to the teacher yesterday before the start of the second session, I realized the majority of students had taken classes from the instructor before.

My fog suddenly lifted.

And I saw the light.

I no longer felt ignorant asking her basic questions like “do I need to add water to a water color pencil” or “just how do you sharpen it?”

And then I relaxed, which is the instructor’s main goal for the nature series.

I soon found I was enjoying myself as I mixed colors and tried new techniques.

Sure, I have a long way to go to fine tune my skills, but isn’t that the point of instruction and practice anyway?

Writer Natalie Goldberg, who is also a teacher and artist, has written a new book called “The Great Spring: Writing, Zen and This Zigzag Life.”

In it she writes: “There is no cure for human life, except to live it, being willing to rip off blinders as we go and let the light in.”

She also refers to writing as “a training in waking up.”

I’m thinking the same can definitely be said of drawing.

It turns out I may just need a second sketchbook.

Oh, and a pair of sunglasses for sure.

Dancing Queen

She may be lame, she may be old,
but my girl’s got her groove.

Once Friday night just rolls on in,
she shows off every move.

The backyard is her dance floor,
as she twists from side to side.

Some pups are green with envy,
still she shares those smiles so wide.

Her friends and I have learned so much,
from this very sweet little one.

So what if we’re old, each day is a gift,
and of course just how to have fun.

Working dog

I could tell my chi Rex was excited for his job interview yesterday in spite of his refusal to wear his new plaid bow tie.

My boy’s going to be a working dog, volunteering for pet visits at two local care facilities.

I was feeling nervous for Rex when I felt a big burst of adrenaline race through his tiny 7 lb body as I carried him into the busy reception area for our appointment.

Yet he listened carefully to the roles and responsibilities of the job as they were described to us.

After our interview, Rex was anxious to show off his talents with puppy kisses and lap sitting as he met a few of the dog loving residents.

His performance was admirable.

With a high population of dog lovers at the facility, it sounds like Rex is going to be one busy boy.

Once home, I shared a news story with Rex regarding the the importance of animals to our aging population.

And particularly those afflicted with dementia.

“Hey Rex, just think how important your work and contributions will be here, and you’re the real deal!” I told him as I shared a bite of fruit pastry as a reward.

Licking raspberry jam off my fingers, Rex looked up at me and I’m sure I saw a smile on his face.

I believe my boy understands so much more than I’ll ever know.