How to Walk

Posted on May 15, 2015

In February it snowed and snowed and snowed, and I, alone in the house with two eager but most unhelpful dogs, dug out after each storm. Temperatures dropped in March and the snow stuck around for a while, mountains of it, but dogs need to go out, so out we three went on our daily lonely slog. Some days we saw no one else. Other days, a few grumpy shovelers or the plow drivers.

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As the thaw came, people ventured outside, released all at once it seemed. Life poured out of front doors, neighbors we hadn’t seen all winter: walkers, cyclists, runners, children, other dog owners. Other dogs. My old dog, closing in on thirteen, could not have cared less. Part scent hound, all she craved were the smells of the rotten things, leaves and dead animals, that began to be revealed as the snow receded. People walked or cycled by her, passed us on the sidewalk, and she kept her nose to the ground, unfazed. If anyone approached her, happy to see her familiar face after the long hibernation, that was okay with her too. She especially welcomed the children, their unimposing sizes, their smiles, the little hands that touched her just the way she likes.

The terrier, my young boy, the twenty-pound lump of snuggles who drops his large and heavy head on my lap whenever I sit down, reacted differently. These people swarming around us after winter’s stillness were dangerous, he decided. His owner needed guarding, he decided. I will chase them all away from you – those runners, walkers, bikers, the other dogs approaching in curious greeting, and most especially the children with their small hands ready to ruffle fur, with their small voices raised in question: “May we pet your dogs?” – all of them. Don’t you even dare to talk to us. Come no closer. Get away now!

His message was loud and clear, as only a dog’s growling, barking, and lunging can be. And for a few weeks as outdoor life went from ghost town to bustling, my twenty-pound dog, the little bandy legged guy with the outsized head, transformed into the dog that no dog owner wants to have and that no innocent bystander wants to encounter.

There’s always a final straw moment and we had ours. It involved the dog lunging at a woman on her way to yoga class and starting a multi dog melee with me at the center of it, wrapped up and rendered immobile in a tangle of leashes. This all happened within one minute of setting out, two blocks from home on a quick trip just to the corner mailbox. I was mortified. I was done. Once the humans separated the dogs, I marched my two home, unclipped leashes, and put myself in a time out. Shaken, I sat in the living room and thought maybe it was time to send the puppy to the country or anywhere far, far from where I was at that moment.

As the quiet worked its calming magic, my overreaction subsided. I knew I wasn’t sending the terrier anywhere, but I also knew I could not have a once good dog-turned bad dog. Everyone, especially the dog, deserved better. Solving this wasn’t going to be as easy as wagging my finger in his face and cautioning him to straighten up and fly right. No. Our solution involved change. Big change.

Ah, sweeping change. One more in the list of so many that I had been confronting for months.

There was the relatively mild early winter that turned into an isolating, record-breaking winter’s end. The main bathroom that was taking weeks to be torn up and rebuilt. The book I had started and had to put aside during the construction as a cadre of builders, plumbers, and electricians traipsed through my house. My daughter’s empty bedroom and my son’s that would need my attention when the professionals left, the carpets in both I needed to rip up, the walls I needed to patch and paint. My husband, switching jobs and working in a new office half a country away. There was me, alone, or not quite alone as, at the center of all this, I had this dog absorbing all the crazy vibes and acting out.

From where he stood, so low to the ground, defensive behavior after weeks of disruption to our routines and circumstances made sense. I’d had my moments too, believe me I had. But the only answer to everything was to get back to work.

I pushed myself out of the time out chair in the living room. I filled my pockets with treats, leashed the dogs back up, and began what would be for us an ongoing behavior retraining process. Oh, it is a process and the puppy’s doing better. But who knows what lies ahead?

We can learn a lot from owning dogs and from their different stages of development. Dealing with the different stages is part formulaic and easy, as I learned from our dog trainer: Stop. Reflect. Make a plan. Enact it. The hard part is accepting that both flexibility and change will always be necessary.

Change is something to work with and through. Sometimes we even need to be the catalysts taking charge and making change happen, whether we like it or not. None of these is ever easy. But doing the work beats being at a standstill, restrained by anything like a few heavy-duty dog leashes or your own fears, and unable to get out of your own way.

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Speaking of change…

The winter also brought the news that we will be moving to Geneva, Switzerland. I’m in the process of packing up for an August move. Weeding out and packing almost fifteen years of belongings and doing some necessary home renovations along the way are some of the reasons I haven’t been blogging so much. I’ve also been trying to eke out time for a few fiction pieces in progress…in between the endless painting and trying to track down someone to replace my deck fencing. (If you know anyone who has free time, by the way, send them my way.)

Beyond all that, though, for several months I’ve been growing restless within the confines of sharing food stories and recipes. I won’t go into all the reasons why. Fortunately for all of us, the impending move sort of kicked the restlessness into high gear, and I’m welcoming the change in surroundings as a way to freshen up the blog posts. If lucky, a new theme will evolve in an organic way as I transition into European life. But if it doesn’t, I’ll stitch together various new threads – hopefully interesting threads of ideas – into a patchworked whole and continue to share observations with you from my new home.

Off for the morning walk! I hope each and every one of you is enjoying the rebirth that is spring.

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All above photos property of Liz Waldman, dog walker extraordinaire, owner of The Dog Connection.

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©2015  Jane A. Ward