Real Life Confession #81: Some dogs make me sad

I used to work in animal welfare. I know that a large number of dogs have it much, much worse than the ones I am about to describe. To be more accurate, the above title should read some people make me sad, as it is the humans for which I feel the most sorry.

But first things first. The confession I feel I should make today is this:

I let Shiva tug on the leash.

Yep. It’s bad. For someone who has walked the amazing number of hours I have walked with my dog, you’d think I’d have the walk-nicely-by-my-side thing down. What kind of trainer do I profess myself to be? Can’t even get my dog to stop from sniffing in the bushes. Sheesh.

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This is what I imagine people are saying, anyway, when they see us stop for the 57th time while Shiva stretches to read the scent on the side of a tree. And man, is she a slow reader. Sometimes I urge her to speed it up, especially when it is freezing. Other times, she is adamant and plants her feet. She is not moving until she has investigated every last punctuation mark. I am not about to argue.

Is this bad training? According to some people, hideously so. We do have some rules while on a walk. I won’t tolerate long-term pulling, for instance. If the leash gets so taught I am almost yanked off my feet, for instance, or if she is sniffing along and then swings back around to scarf rubbish, dislocating my shoulder. These things are out of bounds. But if she is walking with a loose-ish leash five feet ahead or to the side? If she indicates with a look that she would like to check something out on the other side of the path? If she stops to breathe in the scent of a post? Well, that’s being a dog and I am on board. We are out there for her benefit. If Shiva wants to spend her time inhaling a fire hydrant, that’s a choice she can make.

And this is why I feel sad for some dogs. Dogs who are dragged away from the temptations of scent. Dogs who are told to walk on the inside of the path or the part of the sidewalk away from the delicious, earthy grass. Dogs who have learned to only walk beside their people, at the same speed of their people. Dogs for whom the daily routine is more of an obligation, or a march, than it is a time of exploration and discovery.

It makes me sad to witness this. Not just for the sake of the yearning dogs, as I say, but for the people who are missing out on a richer experience.

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The dog walk, for me, is a time of relaxation. A time when I can let go of everything and embrace the moment. I don’t always achieve this but I always feel better afterward. On our twice-daily adventures, Shiva pushes me outside myself and shows me all the little things that are far more important than work deadlines or personal slights. On a walk with my dog, I can take my time, linger over flowers, gasp at sunrises, spot constellations. While she is taking in the scent of a log, I am gazing at the simple beauty of fluttering leaves.

People who walk in straight lines with their dogs don’t appear to any of this. To them, the dog walk is a duty or a ritual, another thing on their lists they have to get done. It isn’t a source of joy. It is one more chore. Their minds are anywhere but in the moment.

This makes me sad.

So I may be a lazy handler when walking with Shiva. We would probably fail any basic obedience test. I am okay with this. Shiva gets me outside my head. It is a daily gift. We are out there for her, but I am the biggest recipient.

5 thoughts on “Real Life Confession #81: Some dogs make me sad

  1. This is the way I see it: unless I tell Silas otherwise, he’s free to just be a dog. That includes “reading the paper” on his walks, although I draw the line at being drug around. I have a cue I can use to get him to move along, and I have a cue I can use to get him to walk next to me (in some environments. There are times that he just can’t, and that’s ok.) If he’s free to be a dog, and he’s being a dog? YAY. He’s behaving exactly like he should, which is the definition of good behavior.

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  2. I agree with you totally!
    Mity stops and sniffs everything 99.9% of the time and I always let him. It may mean he has a shorter walk (distance wise) but it’s his walk anyway! However BD always power walks through it he is on a mission and we have to get there. One of the things I love about my two boys getting to know each other is that Mity now on occasions will walk to get where he wants to go whereas BD has gotten over his apparent fear to stop and sniff and he is finding time to stop and smell the flowers (well blades of grass and lamp posts if I’m honest!)

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  3. Yes!!! Walking a dog is a fascinating chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes (or nose). Any people who view it as a forced march are missing out on so much.

    I often let Honey pick our route. Since we do most of our walking in town, we’re faced with decisions at the end of each block as to where to go next.

    Honey has very firm ideas about which way she wants to go. I can only think she smells something and I’m sorry to be missing out.

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  4. I feel sad for those dogs whose humans speak into the phone while walking with their dogs :/ I don’t really know why but I think it’s rude. It’s like asking to go for a walk with your friend but never talk to him/her but just talk to someone else. I would love to leave my cellphone at home, or at least put on silent while leaving my house with my dog 🙂 It’s our time then.

    -Lilli-

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  5. Hey, I’m with you all the way!! Of course, with Callie & Shadow, I have to tell them a “thousand” times “let’s go” just to get out of the parking lot when we go to the park! All those new scents can be overwhelming to a pair of dogs whose own walks are usually on the treadmill because the road in front of their home might as well be an interstate with all the traffic. (Thankfully the backyard is spacious enough for good chase games with the local squirrels, fetch aka keep away games with Mom, and just lounging in the sun.)

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