There have been a few posts around the pet blogosphere lately about just enjoying a walk with your dog. Every time I read posts like that I think about how I can’t just enjoy a walk with Pearl. She pulls, she lunges at squirrels and rabbits, she barks her head off at other dogs. I have to be in training mode the whole time we are walking, clicker and treats in hand, reversing direction every time she pulls, constantly vigilant for distractions and triggers so that I can try to manage the situation. I am really excited about the progress Pearl has been making, but we never really “just” go for a walk, where we let my feet and her nose take us wherever. Lately I do not look forward to our walks because I feel like I don’t have the energy. I come home from walks frustrated and tired. I feel like I have to consciously choose the routes where we are least likely to encounter other dogs. We have to prepare ahead of time with handfuls of treats that I store in my always attractive home depot canvas apron (I must look like a loon to everyone I pass with my apron around my waist, and juggling a tube of peanut butter, a clicker, a bag of poop, and a lunging, panting dog in my two hands.)
Well, yesterday I decided Pearl and I were going to relax and enjoy a walk, darn it. I filled my apron overflowing with treats so that they would last us and we started out. I took new turns, not really worrying about where we were going. I let Pearl sniff for as long as she wanted at each tree and telephone pole. I still turned around when she pulled and clicked when she was by my side looking up at me, but we walked slowly, we wandered, we explored. Changing direction at pulling was less frustrating because we weren’t trying to reach a destination or get through our walking route. When Pearl caught sight of an unfamiliar dog and started her barking and lunging routine, I redirected her with treats, she responded, and we moved on. I stayed relaxed and did not let myself get frustrated. And she did well. Not only were her reactions to other dogs not as extreme but she was able to return to a calm, happy state much faster afterwards when normally once she has seen a dog and freaked out the whole rest of the walk is shot because she becomes so jumpy and keyed up that she can no longer focus or relax.
We walked for over an hour and the time flew by. We explored new pockets of our neighborhood and walked down streets we had never been down before. We (or at least I) soaked in the beautiful weather, crunched through fallen leaves, felt the breeze in our hair and the sunlight on our faces. It was one of the best walks I have ever been on with Pearl. I want to hold onto that calm, zen feeling and make an effort to make more of our walks like this. I want walks to be about Pearl getting to enjoy herself, about being outdoors, about unwinding together, and about me taking time out of my day to enjoy my dog and let her be a dog.
I am going to try to remember that walks are for Pearl and I should not be thinking about getting it over with or wishing I were taking a nap instead or spending the whole walk on alert waiting for misbehavior. I may never be able to snap a leash on my dog and take her for a walk in the park without thinking about how many other dogs we will encounter or remembering to stuff my pockets full of liver and cheese. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a nice leisurely walk together. When Pearl sees me take her leash off the hook she gets so excited she can barely hold still while I clip the leash to her collar. I want to catch some of that excitement and be able to look forward to our walks from now on. I may have to work at it, but I am grateful for the recent blog posts that have prompted me to give myself an attitude adjustment, let my frustration and grumpiness go, and just be with my dog.