To Structure Walk or not to Structure Walk

What is a structured walk and why is it so important? If you don’t already know, walking your dog is not just a leisure exercise for your dog. It is an essential activity as important as food and water. Dogs are explorers. In the wild, a dog will walk all day looking for food and “smelling” the sights. It is essential for their well being and their sanity. Dogs who don’t get regular structured walks are not only bored, but they may very likely become depressed, unstable, aggressive, and/or destructive.

Of course, it would be impractical to walk your dog all day long, but lucky for us, a decent one-hour daily walk is all you need to keep your average dog happy. Some dogs require a bit more than others and some not as much. It all depends on your dog’s energy levels. If you have a high energy dog, they will require long walks. If you have a lazy dog, one half-hour daily will do just fine. Assess your dog’s energy levels to determine their needs. Don’t just go by their breed. It’s true that some breeds require more exercise, but even within breeds, every dog is different and they all have their own level of energy they have to spend.

Dogs that require longer walks can be a challenge. Who has time to walk a dog for two hours a day? On the upside, dogs with elevated levels of energy will most likely love to run. So if you’re a jogger, this would be perfect. Take your dog with you on your morning jogs. Not only will he/she get the exercise they need, but it’s also one of the best ways to bond with your pet. The same applies if you’re a cyclist, skater, or rollerblader. Your high energy dog will love it. Just be sure to train them properly before you take them out for a run. You both want to stay safe out there.

When I first took my dog, Jake, out for a run on my bike. He would suddenly stop for nature calls without much warning. I had to improvise quickly so that neither of us would get hurt. However, once I came up with my system to ride safely with him, we both enjoyed the ride. Come up with your own system and I’ll guarantee you’ll both love the result.

If you have a lazy dog, and you’re not much for running or walking, you’re in luck because your walks just became a lot shorter. Unfortunately, even lazy dogs still need to walk daily. It’s in their DNA. Walking is as important to them as entertainment is for us humans. Even dogs who don’t want to go for walks need them. You can’t get around it. But at least your lazy dog will be quite happy with a fifteen or thirty-minute daily structured walk. Just enough time for them to get out of the house, experience the smells of the area, leave their sent around, and do their business. These are all activities that dogs need to do.

So now that you know why you need to walk them daily. You may be wondering why I keep referring to structured walks instead of just a walk? When dogs walk in packs, they are not just walking aimlessly. There is always one dog in charge and they are the ones—barking orders—to the rest of the pack. Every dog in the pack follows that one dog where ever he/she goes. He/she is the “alpha” dog. The calm assertive leader. Dogs need a calm assertive leader to show them the way and keep order so that they feel safe, protected, and stress-free. If dogs don’t feel safe with their leaders, they will assume the role. What does that mean? It means that if you’re walking your dog and they don’t feel like you’re in charge if they don’t feel like you can protect them, they will take charge. They will lead you. When a dog takes charge and they are walking you, they make all of the decisions and they will do what they think is appropriate whether you like it or not. When that happens, it is difficult if not impossible to get them to listen to you at home. Dogs need to trust you. When they don’t, it’s not only bad for you, it’s stressful for the dog.

A structured walk is essential for your relationship with your dog. That is the crucial time for you to take command of your dog and show them not just who’s in charge, but that you will protect them from predators and that you will lead them to something tasty. Once you’ve mastered the structured walk, all other behavioral problems the dog may have will diminish if not disappear altogether. The dog will begin to trust you and they will follow your commands with no question. But first, you must take charge and master that walk.

Mastering the structured walk is not difficult. Sure, it’s challenging because it requires a different frame of mind that you’re used to, but it’s not hard to do and practice makes perfect. Dogs don’t want to be in charge and they are more than happy to let you lead them, but only if they can trust you. They are already set to follow you and the second you show them leadership, they’ll surrender, and you’ll be amazed at the result if you do it right.

Here’s the trick. The walk starts the minute you think about taking the dog out for a walk. Under no circumstances should you get your dog excited by asking them if they want to go for a walk. Picking up the collar and leash will already get your dog excited. Getting them all wound up verbally will only make your job more difficult. Only put the collar on the dog when he/she has calm down. This requires a little patience, but it will happen. If your dog is running back and forth, body wagging, and looks like a Ritalin overdosed child at Disney World, your dog is not ready to have his leash on. When the dog sits and pays attention to you and only you, that’s when they’re ready.

Go ahead and put on the collar and snap on the leash. Your dog may become excited again. And again, she/he is not ready for a walk yet. Your walk should begin with a calm submissive dog, always! When it’s time, walk your dog towards the door and open the door. Present the world to him/her. Let him/her sniff, look, hear, but they are not allowed to walk out that door until you are ready. Once you’re ready, step out first and allow them to follow you. This ritual should be practiced every single time you take your dog out. Miss it once and your dog will have difficulty trusting you. Consistency is key with dogs.

Once you’re outside your dog’s job is to walk next to or behind you at all times. Show them you’re in charge by leading the way. Walk with confidence and with purpose. Keep the leash loose, and next to you at all times ready to make a correction if the dog gets strays off course. Stay calm and collected. If your dog gets distracted, correct and relax. Don’t get angry at your dog, don’t yell at them, for god’s sakes don’t hit them. A nice snap of the leash, a firm sound and stare is all you need to correct their behavior.

Pretend you’re a dog exploring the world. Once you’ve explored one area go to the next. Dogs will get bored if they take the same walk every day. Take a different route, take them to the park, to a different neighborhood, drive if you must, keep the dog engaged. Trails, for example, are treasure troves for dogs and you’ll both have a great time. If you find an interesting spot explore it for a few minutes and let your dog explore with you. Let him sniff and investigate. The world is like Facebook to him/her and she/he may even “leave a comment,” let them and then move on to the next interesting spot. The walk is all about exploring and bonding.

There is no bad time to walk a dog, but the best times are right before they eat. There are no rules about this. But just like in the wild, dogs walk to find food and shelter. A tasty reward after a nice walk would be very much appreciated.

Walking is a bonding time for dogs. In fact, it is the best way to introduce two strange dogs to each other. After a good two-hour walk, two dogs who’ve never met will be best friends after. That’s the power of the walk. Master it. It will make all the difference in your relationship with your dog.

Lost in Translation

The relationship between humans and dogs has been an ongoing affair for over thirty-thousand years. It seems like we were tailored made for each other by God or by nature, or whatever your beliefs may be. Dogs are as much part of our history as we are to theirs. The story of the domestic dog is the story of us and vice versa.

When I think about the relationship between man and dog, it boggles my mind. How can two creatures who have nothing in common get along so swimmingly? Perhaps the answer lies in the basics of our shared primal instincts to survive and thrive, perhaps the need for companionship, or the sense of belonging to a pack/group. Whatever the reason, we have enjoyed each other’s company, mutually, for millennia and we both benefit from this symbiotic relationship in so many ways. The real question is, HOW? We don’t even speak the same language!

They say that the key to a great relationship is communication and as long as you have honest communication lines open then any relationship could thrive and flourish. Believe it or not, that applies to your relationship with your dog. But how do start and keep lines of honest communication with your dog when they can’t talk? Wouldn’t that be great though, if only dogs could talk? If only we could have a conversation with our pets. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get their side of the relationship?

The truth of the matter is that we already have those lines open. We are just not listening. Dogs are always communicating with us just as we’re always communicating with them. We talk to our pets all of the time even when we don’t realize it. I’m not talking about the verbal command or when you come home and dump all of your day’s frustrations on your dog in the form of a little story. Verbal communication means something different to your dog. The tone of your voice plays a bigger role in their reaction of what you’re saying to them. So it’s not what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it, that the dog reacts to.

A dog can learn to differentiate between sounds, that is true. You can teach your dog to pick up an apple, for instance, instead of a ball. The dog knows the difference and they can associate different sounds with different objects. They can even learn verbs and adjective sounds, but that is all they are to them, just sounds. To a dog, these sounds aren’t words. Dogs don’t have the brain capacity to string words into a sentence. It’s almost like talking to Siri on your phone or your Amazon Echo. Dogs will pick up a sound and associate it with an object or an action, and, if they really want that treat, they’ll do it.

Dogs are incredibly smart. It is believed that they have the mental capacity of a two-year-old child. So anything that a two-year-old is capable of doing, a dog can too. If you’re a parent, you can speak to your baby, and they do listen, but they can’t quite understand. The same goes for dogs.

However, that doesn’t mean that dogs can’t communicate. Dogs are constantly communicating with us. And I do mean constantly. They are continuously telling you things, we just have forgotten how to listen to them. Dogs already listen to us. At some point in history, we knew how to communicate with our dogs and we formed a relationship. Today, only a handful of people are able to do this with their dogs. Those people are usually behaviorists, trainers, vets, dog walker, mostly people who work with dogs. But the rest of us, we have no idea that our dog is even trying to tell us anything. We have forgotten how to understand our dogs and that is a cause for concern.

In the past, the relationship between dogs and humans was a mutually beneficial relationship. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Dogs have become, for lack of a better word, our “slaves” and because they don’t have the cognitive thinking necessary to protest, they tolerate the current situation as best as they can. Don’t think that because your dog wags his/her tail that they’re happy. Imagine if you only knew one word in another language and someone speaking that language spoke to you in their native tongue. Say they snuck in the only word you recognized, and bells start ringing in your head. Could you say, without a reasonable doubt, that you understood that person? Did you really communicate with that person? The answer is, no. All you did was picked up that one word. Without its context, it would be impossible to determine the meaning of the speaker’s intent.

It is the same with that tail wag. Understanding our dog’s body language is essential for all pet owners in order to have a good standing relationship with their animal. Before that happens, all that we have is an animal in captivity whose comfort and happiness only comes second to ours because admit it, it’s impossible to give a good life to anything when we don’t understand their wants and needs. And much too often we don’t take the time to understand them because it just isn’t convenient. I’m not innocent here. I fall into this same category. I never gave it much thought in the past. After all, they’re just dogs. Who cares? My point is that we should care. I thought if I am going to have a dog in my life he/she should be family and just like me, she/he should have a voice and I was going to listen to it.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I first found out that odd huffing sound my dog was making was a dog’s laugh. Who knew that dogs were capable of laughing? It was a life-changing experience for me and it made me want to learn more about him. That’s when I realized that like most people, I just wasn’t really listening to my dog. He was just there for my entertainment, for my benefit. It never occurred to me that a dog can laugh and if a dog can laugh when he’s playing, they can be upset when they feel neglected. And that’s when I understood that we should all be listening to our dogs for the sake of their wellbeing and our families.

It is a fact that 77% of serious dog bites happen at home from your own dog or a friend’s dog. The sad truth is that if we, as a people, listened and understood our dogs when they “spoke” to us, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Dogs are constantly telling us whether or not they like what we’re doing to them. They give us so many visual signs that we often misinterpret. A dog will NEVER bite you without warning. I don’t care what you know. I don’t care who told you what. A stable dog will NEVER, EVER attack their owners without warnings. The warnings might be subtle, but they’re there and they include: licking their lips, moving away, nudging you with their snout, lifting up their paws, tensing their bodies, they may even softly bite you. These are some of the signs a dog will give you that we misinterpret as playful just before they bite you.

When dog bites happen, yes we get hurt, but that pain heals and goes away. Unfortunately, the repercussions for the animal are sometimes extreme. The dog is often thought of being aggressive and is often surrendered to a shelter where they are labeled as aggressive. Some people abandon the animal leaving them to wander the streets. And sometimes the dog is destroyed. All because we didn’t listen to them when they expressed themselves.

Unlike humans, dogs can’t use rational thought. They don’t understand the concept of cause and effect as we do. Dogs just react. You can train the animal to react differently to every situation, but why can’t we just take the time to learn to read our dogs? I know some of you might cringe at that. Especially us Americans who think there should only be one language in the world and that should be English. It’s a lot of work to learn something new. It’s so much easier to give that task to the animal. Let them conform to us, not the other way around. We own them, we are the masters. Aren’t we?

I hope that my readers don’t see it that way. I hope that I have reached a few of you because when I started listening to my own dog I suddenly realized I now have a friend instead of just a pet.

Understanding your dog is good for everyone and it could even save lives, both human and dogs. It is our responsibility as the pet owners to take on this challenge. Dogs are already doing their part and they’re eager to teach you. All you have to do is listen and learn.

As Loud as the Big Bang and Just as Great

IMG_2097Growing up, my family did a lot of moving around, from Ohio to Puerto Rico, from Puerto Rico to California, and back again to Cleveland. It was my life for a better part of my childhood and I learned not to get attached to anything because I knew it was all going to change soon.

I lost toys, drawing, books, CDs, notebooks, pets, friends, and assorted personal items during these moves. As a result, I gained a valuable skill. I learned to pack everything into one box and quickly. This skill has come very handy at times when moving or organizing. Just don’t ask me where things are because I wouldn’t have the first clue. The downside of all this moving is that I learned not to get attached to people or pets. I never had a friend that lasted more than a few months. I never had a pet that was with me for very long. I never had to experience the pain of saying goodbye to pet, when I was a child.

Today, I live with my wife Sarah and eight pets. They are all adopted. We don’t believe in buying pets when so many animals need homes if we had more room we’d rescue all of them. However, for now, we’re good with two dogs and six cats. It’s like a damn zoo around here. And surprisingly, our home doesn’t smell like a barn at high noon. I’ve been assured of that by people who visit. Of course, they could have been trying to be nice, but I’m going to choose to take their word for it.

Each of our pets has their own personality. They’re all funny in their own way. Whitley, who is feral, wants so badly for us to pet her…just as long as we don’t touch her. She’ll come over and meows at us to be petted and as soon as we reach over, she bolts.

Faith, the boss, she likes to be in charge. She kept order around the cats, smacking them around when they got out of line. Of course, we never quite understood what was the criteria she considered “misbehavior.” It all seemed so random to me. But since animals don’t do random there must be a reason, right? She’s still around, but she’s retired her boss title after she tried bossing around Jake, our pit-lab mix. That was a big mistake. He did not like it one bit. Faith lost some fur that day.

Gracie, the diva, this cat never liked anyone but Sarah. She was just fine living on her own. “Get away from me and close the door behind you!” If she was a cartoon, that’d be the bubble over her head. That all changed when Sarah and I met and moved in together. Gracie is a different cat now. She’s almost social! She lets me pet her for hours, when before she’d swat at you if you pet her for too long. Even Sarah can’t get away with that. I’ve become her human.

Sammy, Cider, Jake, and Lucy they pretty much keep to themselves. They try to give each other as much space as possible. Sammy and Whitley are brother and sister. They spend a lot of time snuggling together. Cider… well, she’s an odd duck. She’s the youngest and acts just like it. Jake and Lucy, are our only dogs. Poor Jake, all he wants is for someone to play with and not one single animal in the house will. Not even Lucy. So he spends most of his days sleeping and barking at the UPS guy when he comes around.

We inherited Lucy from Sarah’s parents after they passed. She has no interests in anything other than getting treats and having her belly rubbed.

Finally, there’s Joey. Joey’s Gracie’s sister. Though you would not think so from looking at them. They couldn’t be more different. Joey was all about chatting and being social. She’s also the first cat in Sarah’s clowder to greet me with her loud meow! I swear, the echoes of her meows can still be heard in background noise along with the Big Bang’s echo. She’s so loud and OMG was she demanding. She’d come over and want both Sarah and me to pet her nonstop. That’s all she’d ever want. She just never tired of being petted. And you could do no wrong. There’s no wrong way to pet this cat, rough, gentle, she couldn’t care less. She loved the attention.

I know that we shouldn’t say this, but she’s my favorite. She’s so funny, so chatty, and with so much energy. If she were human she’d be the active type. Always in the mood to do something. Hang out with friends, maybe go clubbing. Or maybe she could’ve been a movie star. The fun kind of actor like Amy Adams, or Denzel Washington. I don’t think she knew how to take life seriously. In a way, she’s a lot like me. Can you blame me for thinking of her as my favorite?

A few weeks ago, we noticed that she wasn’t eating crunchy food. We thought it was a tooth decay problem. It turned out to be a tumor under her tongue. The vet gave her a few months tops. Sarah was devastated, and I hated seeing her so upset and not being able to do anything. Since I don’t get easily attached to anything. I kept calm and collected and tried to be a rock for Sarah who only had a short time left with Joey.

We brought her home and we talked about the options the vet gave us and we both decided that we weren’t going to put Joey through the hell of chemo or surgery. We both thought that was no kind of quality of life for her. We decided we were going to keep her as comfortable as possible so that she’d live her final days as happy as she could be.

Finally, a few days ago, we noticed the tumor had gotten so big, that she wasn’t able to eat anymore. The poor thing was starving but couldn’t eat. She’d look at me as if begging me to give her food. If I could have magically made the food appear in her stomach I would have, but I have no magic powers. All I have is the ability to not get attached to things.

We took her once more to the vet to see if there was anything they could do to make her feel better; we didn’t like the options, and neither would have Joey. When the vet said the words, “euthanasia,” it was like something snapped inside of me and it was now real. I thought I was prepared. I thought that I didn’t get attached to things. I was so wrong. That was one of the most difficult decisions we had to make, but it had to be made. Because keeping her alive would have been for our benefit, not hers and we both thought that would be cruel.

Sarah and I just held each other and cried for I don’t even know how long. I was heartbroken. It’s like I lost all control suddenly and I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I couldn’t even breath. I couldn’t believe what was happening! Joey, who’s next to us doesn’t even know what’s going on. She doesn’t even look sick. We thought she was going to outlive everyone and here we were, considering ending her life, hoping, praying for another viable option. The sad truth of the matter was that no matter what option we chose, her life would have ended that day.

We chose to end her life humanely. The vet injected her with a powerful sedative and stepped out to wait for the drug to take effect. We petted and loved her until she slowly fell asleep. When the vet came in, Joey was completely sedated, but we were still there with her petting her. We wanted to make sure that she was loved all the way to the end. We weren’t going anywhere.

I don’t know if there is a heaven or not, but it’s comforting to think that as she passed she found her way on George’s lap (Sarah’s father who just past last year,) laid down and purred herself to sleep. It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not, it’s just a nice thought. Someone said to us that it was a great gift we gave her. It’s so weird how differently we all look at death and dying. It’s never easy to lose anyone. I thought that my childhood prepared me for this. It didn’t.

I wasn’t sure if I should share this story or not, but I think I should. I think it’s important to grieve and talking about your feelings is part of the process. Death is part of life whether we like it or not. I’m sad that she’s gone, but I’m happy to know that she was in my life and that we gave her a good home.

Good-bye Jo-Jo! I love you and I will miss you!

The Importance of Walking Your Dog

Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. — John Grogan

bored-pupDo you walk your dog? Do you walk her/him daily? In today’s fast-paced world, it doesn’t seem like we have much time to take our dogs out for a well-structured walk. We’re too busy trying to earn a living. Some of us have two, maybe three jobs just to put food on the table and pay the rent. So who has time to walk a dog? Well, that’s what I would like to do for you.

So why should you hire me to walk your dog? That’s a very good question. There are hundreds if not thousands of dog walkers out there. What makes me so special? I’ll get to that in one sec. But before I do, let me first explain why it’s so important to walk your dog by painting a picture.

Dogs are living, breathing creatures just like you and me. And you like you and I, we need food, water, exercise, entertainment, and love. We all need those basic essentials and we all do our darndest to fulfill them. When it comes to exercise and entertainment, well, to each their own, right? Some of us don’t all get to the gym as much as we should, while others live by it. But we all do chores around the house like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, preparing food, what have you. The point is that we all get some sort of exercise in some way form or fashion.  By the same token, we all have a favorite activity to keep us entertained. Some people play sports. Others prefer to sit in front of a TV. Some like to browse the web on their computers. Others like to read a good book. We ALL do something to stimulate our minds. Whatever your pleasure is, you have something that keeps you active and/or that entertains you.

What if someone took all of that away from you? What if someone kept you in a room with no TV, no books, no internet. And maybe two or three times a day they’d come in to feed you and to make sure you had plenty of water. And just to be nice they’d might even rub your belly a little, but then they’d walk away and leave you in that room all by yourself, with just your thoughts? Would that be a life worth living?

If I were in that situation, I’d go crazy. I’d probably start bouncing off the walls, yelling and screaming, breaking things just to get some attention. Even if the attention I get is negative, at least it’s something.

So why am I painting this eerie picture? I’m not doing this to make you feel bad. I don’t want you to feel bad. The purpose of this website is to educate people about their dogs. That picture, however horrible sounding it is, that is the life of a dog that doesn’t get regular structured walks.

Dogs that don’t get regular structured walks are bored out of their minds and they will often find ways to amuse themselves in ways that you may not understand nor appreciate. Some examples might be constant barking, chewing on your shoes or slippers, destroying your property, aggression towards other animals or people, unwanted surprises of the fecal kind, the list goes on and on. A lot of these behavioral problems are a direct result of boredom. Face it, if you were locked in a room with nothing to do, you might also resort to some of these behaviors.

How do you entertain a dog? Good question. Think about what entertains you. Humans are visual people. We consume a host of visual stimuli to engage our brains to keep us entertained and hence sane. Dogs, on the other hand, experience the world through their noses. When a puppy is first born their eyes and ears are shut close. They can’t see or hear for several weeks. However, their noses are as developed as they’ll ever get.

A dog experiences the world via their nose. Their sense of smell is everything to them, just like pretty pictures and words are to us. They live for it. If it was left to their own devices dogs would wander for hours on end smelling everything. The world is their facebook and have you noticed that they pee on everything. That’s like them commenting on a post.

Dogs need daily structured walks in their lives. Food, water, and love are awesome and they need that too. I bet you are giving your dog more than they’ll ever need when it comes to those necessities. Why not go the extra mile and walk them regularly?

For those of you who can’t take the time to walk their dogs because you can’t because time is scarce. I mean, who wants to wake up an hour before they have to, to walk around aimlessly through their neighborhood carrying a bag of dog waste. Who wants to come home after a hard days work to do the same? I couldn’t be more sympathetic. Walking is more of a chore than a fun activity for some of us and it’s okay. That’s why dog walkers exist. That’s why we are here for. To help you keep your dogs well exercised and mentally stimulated. So that when you come home, you’ll have a tired puppy with ZERO interest in your shoes or slippers. Because a tired puppy is a good puppy.

Hopefully, by now, you understand why it’s so important to walk your dog and that it’s not just a leisure activity for them. So why should you hire me? That is completely up to you. You should hire a dog walker that you feel comfortable with. Remember, this person will have access to not only your pet but your home, your belongings. You must have a rapport with your dog walker. My suggestion is to shop around and find someone whom you feel comfortable with. Sit down with them and have a conversation about your pet, life, the Yankees, whatever… Get to know your dog walker. And most importantly, make sure that they know the difference between a regular walk and a structured walk.

Dogs need rules as much as they need anything else. The walker should be in control of the dog at all times. The trick is that the walker is taking the dog for a walk, and not the other way around. Unfortunately, a lot of dog walkers don’t know the difference. And while an unstructured walk might provide some exercise, it also provides too much excitement of the wrong kind.

I’m here to help you with your dog walking needs. Give us a call and make an appointment to sit down and chat about your dog and I will do everything in my power to provide your dog with a well-structured walk or run.