From the day I got my first dog, in 1989, I’ve been walking dogs. Every day. Several times a day. This wasn’t a big lifestyle adjustment for me: I was raised in a walking household. We didn’t have pets, but we also lived in Chicago without a car, so we walked. Sometimes we walked to bus stops or train stations; and when I was about seven and got my older sister’s hand-me-down bicycle, I was elated, because I could take big stacks of books to and from the library with greater ease. But mostly we walked: to school, to the local grocery, to the dry-cleaner, over to ‘the Avenue’ to cruise the big department store in Roseland and drink cokes at the lunch counter at Kresge’s. Add in a leash and a dog, and it’s same old, same old!
One of the first dog trainers I paid attention to, when I got my first dogs, was Barbara Woodhouse. Remember her? “Walkies!” she would trill, and it was said that dogs all over Britain would lift their ears and often themselves when they heard that over the radio airwaves. Ever met a dog who doesn’t like to go for a walk? They’re rare. That said, I have two elderly rescue dogs that I do not walk, for a number of reasons. But the Busy Boyz and Dee and I, we walk.
I read somewhere, years ago, that every dog should leave its property once a day, and that has always seemed very sound advice to me. The most logical way to get a dog to leave its property is to put a leash on it and walk! No, car rides aren’t the same, either for the owner or the dog. Car rides are okay when it’s pouring rain and you can’t walk, so you go to Starbucks for a pup cup, but car rides don’t burn any calories at either end of the leash and don’t really let you or the dog see your surroundings. Local walks are a wonderful way to socialize a dog, too. I wince when I read about people taking young puppies to places like big-box stores – even if they do allow dogs, how is that an interesting or comfortable environment for a puppy? Walk the dog around the block, I say! It will be less overwhelming and the dog will learn that his world is more than the car and the yard and some odd places that are big and noisy and filled with strangers.
You need to become a part of your neighborhood, and dog walks are a great way to do that. Recently, one of the mayoral candidates in Chicago mentioned dogs in the context of safe neighborhoods: he said that having a dog and walking the dog is a way of strengthening the community and making it inhospitable to bad elements. He didn’t mean getting a big mean dog and chaining it outside, he meant living with dogs in a household and community setting. And he’s not wrong. When you walk your dogs, you meet your neighbors. When you walk your dogs, you note things that happened in your neighborhood. When you walk your dogs, people see you and they see your dogs and they know a couple of things immediately: you’re a person who is responsible for your animals, and you’re a person who goes out into the community and doesn’t sit inside staring at a screen while life happens. (They should also know that you’re a person who has baggies stuffed in your pockets and who never leaves a dog’s deposit on a lawn, but that should go without saying!)
Friends of mine who live in a suburban subdivision had a neighbor, for a while, who kept a young Husky on a tie-out in the unfenced yard (the homeowner’s association didn’t allow fences, FFS) and the owners were in the house all the time, in the TV room, while the dog howled and became more neurotic by the day. Can you even picture a more bleak scenario, outside of a Russian novel?! I ask you!
When I started working at the CME in 1995, one of my co-workers said, on meeting me, ‘Oh, you’re the lady with the dogs!’ He lives near a park that my dogs and I have frequented for years. He already knew me. And I’ve never found that kind of recognition to be anything but positive.
Things are often idyllic in retrospect, and I look back on the time when I had four or five Shelties at the end of the leashes and I think ‘ah, they were such good walkers …’ They probably weren’t, but I loved them and so my memories are tinged with that glow of missing them. The current crew don’t fit into that idyllic meme.
Rowley: MUST GET SERUM TO NOME, ALASKA NOW! COME ALONG! NOW!
Alex: Must pee on this! Must pee on that! Must pee on everything!
Dee: What’s that, can I eat it? What’s that, can I eat it? What’s that, can I eat it?
Beau: La la la la, going for a walk, such a nice day, la la la la …
Rowley’s a puller. He’s a confirmed, bred in the bone puller. Oh, he CAN walk on a slack leash, and if put on command, he will, but his default is to forge ahead. When I first got him, I put a pinch collar on him to curb the forging, and he forged right into the pinch collar, so I discarded that option. I tried a front-hook harness; he forged down the street bent into the shape of a pretzel. I have a Weiss Walkie, which loops the line around the ribcage and up to the collar; it is better than anything else, but I wouldn’t say it stops his pulling. Rowley’s pulling is going to stop when he stops, and I hope that’s not for many years. It’s who he is. When I stop to talk to neighbors, Rowley is at the end of a taut leash, gazing away from us, tail tucked in ‘work’ position, waiting to GET THE SERUM TO NOME, ALASKA NOW! Walks are a mission for him. Relaxation comes later. Border Collies are whack jobs.
Alex is a marker. He’s a sniffer, and a fabulous nosework dog, but on walks the sniffing is a prelude to marking. ‘Ah, in 2016 a small poodle mix was here, well, THAT’S FOR YOU, BUDDY!’ and he marks some apparently inoffensive shrub or grass. Dogs, I have learned, are markers or not, and they generally don’t change in that regard. Alex marks. It’s a mode of communication for him. Having forbidden it in the house, I can’t bring myself to stop it on our walks, so we lurch along from one social media spot to the next. Sometimes I tell him ‘Alex, if you don’t pace yourself, you’ll dehydrate, mark my words!’ He doesn’t think puns are funny.
Dee is a scavenger. Every time I read something about how you should let your dog to take time to sniff, on walks, I picture following that routine for Dee, and I wonder how much I would have to shell out at the emergency vet every week when she followed up her sniffing with ingesting whatever it was. Yeah, no thanks. When Dee stops to investigate something on the ground with great focus and attention, I do *not* stop. I realized early on how it was going to be, so Dee wears a harness rather than a collar, because to say that she doesn’t always want to be separated from her find is putting it politely. However, she hasn’t been on Metronidazole for months now, so my way is better than hers.
Beau is a Sheltie. Darling Beau, he trots along on walks, keeping about half a step behind my right heel, and he only stops when he has to answer a call of nature. Never pulls on the leash, never shocks my arthritic hands with sudden stops or lunges, he’s a dream of a walking dog. He’s a Sheltie! I hope Beau is walking with me for many more years.
Every day, rain or shine, the crew gets leashed up and we go for a walk, or walks. Even if we’ve had an off-leash expedition, a leash walk is in order at some point in the day. Sometimes we drive to an interesting location and do a leash walk there: the lakefront trails in the Hyde Park neighborhood are great for that. Oddly, I do not find the paved walking trails in the local forest preserves interesting at all; they’re like walking in a parking lot with trees around it. But the lakefront, that’s worth the trip. Otherwise we’ll walk along Longwood Drive and I’ll look at the big houses on the hill and reflect on how lovely they are and how much I wouldn’t like to have to maintain one of those …
Dog-walkers are like sharks: we just have to keep moving, it’s how we breathe.