Most days, life with Jackson and Tinkerbell exceeds all of my dog owner dreams and every second of life with them is a complete and total joy. Maybe it’s because I’ve had Labradors my entire life and I live for their silly antics, their high energy playfulness and all of the life-enhancing and energetic qualities that they bring to our family. Or maybe it’s because I’ve lived through the puppy-to-senior lifecycle of several generations of Labradors, so I know that these years in which they are both still fresh out of puppyhood will be fleeting, and so I embrace every second of their young lives more than I have previous Labradors where time did not seem to go by so quickly.
Every now and then, though, there are days like yesterday. Specifically: yesterday’s walk.
I should have known better than to walk both of them at the same time immediately following a few hours of crate time while I ran errands. We refer to the crates as “Labrador Battery Chargers” because we put a tired dog into the crate and out comes a fully energized hyper one. Add in the fact that I had just completed a dog-sitting gig in which I had two other Labradors loving up on me and leaving their scent on my clothes and the traces of their puppy kisses on my face, and I had some crazy dogs on my hand.
In retrospect, I should have taken them outside and let them run off some energy before harnessing them up and taking them out into the world. Unfortunately I did not. Instead, I harnessed them up, grabbed my dog walking bag, and headed out into the world.
With Fall weather here I have been enjoying long walks with the dogs again. Fall is perfect Labrador weather; in the heat of summer they prefer to play inside and sleep on top of the central air vents while I float around in the pool with my latest chick-lit book. Come Fall, though, and they are ready to go.
The last few weeks I’ve taken them on a few walks together but have focused primarily on taking them on individual walks so that we could practice loose-leash walking and so that I could get double the exercise and feel the dog/human mind meld that I love so much. When they are on their own each dog has a very different walking style. Tinkerbell sniffs as she trots along making few actual stops, and I have yet to see her empty her bladder or bowels on a walk. Jackson gets into each scent, planting his large paws firmly in place and not budging until he has fully sniffed the scent before marking it as his own. In fact, Jackson “owns” every single tree and light post in our neighborhood and has what seems to be an endless supply of urine. I marvel at his ability to ration it for use along our entire walk.
Perhaps it was the strong wind that whipped through our area all day yesterday, stirring up all of the scents, or maybe it was the excitement of going out together, or their pent-up energy from being in their crates, or most likely a combination of all of those, but yesterday’s walk was a disaster. Sure, I came home with the same two dogs with whom I left the house and everyone was in one piece, but we were as far from loose-leash walking and a dog/human mind meld as we could get as they pulled and tugged and raced to each smell as if on a mission. If we had been a sled team we could have won the Iditarod if I had let them go the speed that they desired.
For 3.5 miles I worked on achieving loose-leash nirvana, stopping each and every time they pulled. This meant stopping every few feet and waiting until they backed up a few steps to create slack in their leashes. I put them into the heel position only for them to surge forward as if on a mission to rip my arms out of the sockets. We did this over, and over, and over again. I shortened their leashes only to continually trip over them since I have taught them both to walk on my left, the one lesson that they remembered during yesterday’s walk.
At one point I thought about calling a friend to come and get us since my husband was at work, but eventually, step by step, we found ourselves at home. As I put in the code for the garage door they stood next to me with their angelic faces looking up at me, tails wagging joyfully. My heart melted. “You guys…that was the worst dog walk I’ve ever had, but I love you too much to be annoyed at you for very long,” I told them. They stood with their doggie smiles, their tongues lolling out of the side of their mouths. We went inside and finished our post-walk activities, including our apple cider vinegar paw wash and fully body wipe down, which I do every time we walk to rinse off harmful substances from the road and grass. Once in our back yard they finished the post-walk experience with their usual game of zoomies.
Last night both dogs slept soundly, sprawled out on the floor and sofas and snoring adorably and I gradually let the stress of our bad walk go away. I would try again the next day and the day after that. I thought about how I had done this before when I inherited my Mom’s dog Dutch and had to acclimate him to walking on leash with my own Labrador Babe. Over the course of a few months we went from nightmare on a leash to double dog/human mind meld. I also remembered my first walk after Babe had passed away, when I came across someone else walking their black lab and cut my own walk short, going home in tears and crawling into bed because I missed her so much, missed our walks so much.
As soon as I finish this blog we are going to head out again. Dog training is all about repetition, so we will continue to work on loose leash walking as a threesome. Eventually we will get there. And in the meantime, a “bad” walk with two wonderful Labradors is always better than a walk without them.