If you were to drive the streets of my hometown every morning around 8:30am, you would see me walking the bike path with my dogs. I walk and walk and walk for 4-6 miles in an attempt to stay relatively fit. Or at least that is what I tell people. But mostly I walk because I have this belief that my dogs have the ability to both quantify and remember the amount of exercise and stimulus they get, and I believe they hold me most responsible for keeping those numbers up. I know that in 9 weeks, give or take, our routine is going to be thrown for a crazy, slightly painful loop, so I’m trying to make sure they get extra love (for dogs, exercise=love) every chance I get.
Here’s the catch: Enid, beloved, darling, sweet and oh-so-cuddly Enid has a slight anger management problem. When we first adopted her, and brought Falcor to the shelter to meet her, there were no signs of her slightly psychotic side. Her first full day and night at our house found her in the midst of a dog party, when a few of our friends came over and, knowing our open door policy to dogs, brought a beagle and yorkie. And she barely seemed to notice. A boisterous and bounding vizsla named Jack hardly made her blink. When we introduced her to the dog park, she fit in fine. Sure, she stayed pretty close to my heels at all times and yes, she may have done a bit of growling when male dogs lingered a bit too long near her girly bits, but who can blame her? When meeting Terrance and Potato, the cats in her life, she was mildly interested, but not really bothered. No aggression, no barking, no biting. Just some mild crankiness, which I personally can relate to very easily.
Sometime after we left California, around when we got to Norway, she turned a corner, and not in a good way. She began growling when we walked past other dogs during our daily excursions. Then it escalated to barking. And finally she took it up a notch to lunging and pulling on her leash. Like a total nut. Lucky for her, she’s small and most dogs simply look annoyed. Unlucky for her, she’s small and if one big dog decides he wants to silence that nuisance, she’s in trouble.
This behavior is unsafe. It’s annoying. It’s embarrassing. And we’re responsible for it. In all seriousness, it’s hard for me to admit that I’ve let her down in this way. She acts out because of some kind of insecurity, a trait many rescue dogs come with, and it’s my job to make her feel secure. I am seriously adamant about rescuing animals, rather than buying into the corrupt breeding process, and I know people tend to use behavioral issues as an excuse to bypass the shelter. But my fanny pack and I are on a mission to prove those naysayers wrong.
Whether your dog training philosophy is more Cesar Milan or Victoria Stillwell, the truth of the matter is that we, as the humans, are the parties with the cognitive ability to assess and change the behavior of the dog. Letting them control us, if I stopped taking walks because of Enid’s outbursts, is insanity. And that’s why I have started wearing a fanny pack.
It’s an eggplant colored nylon number from Eddie Bauer, circa 1993. At the time, when my sister and I received these, I was just starting my awkward phase and it was the perfect accessory to my bangs and Birkenstocks with wool socks. Sometime later, when I was taking measures to make myself less nerdy (at least outwardly), it was relegated to a drawer in my parent’s closet. And now it lives again as a crucial tool in my training regimen.
Whether we’re talking toddlers, rescue dogs or adult men, distraction is a key behavioral technique that can help you avoid all kinds of tantrums. Enid, being a former resident of the mean streets, is a slave to food. If there is food, and it’s for her, her mind is blown. She completely loses all interest in any other activity, sometimes simultaneously losing control of her motor functions, and fixates on the edibles. So my new plan is to carry delicious training treats in my beautiful fanny pack on all and any walks we take. And when another dog approaches, we stop, we sit, and we stay. If the sitting and the staying lasts all the way until the dog passes, we are rewarded with a treat. If it doesn’t, we don’t. It couldn’t be much simpler. For Falcor this is dream come true, since he is capable of sitting and staying while a parade of dogs goes by, so he is rewarded every time. So far Enid is batting 3 successful encounters out of 5 total. Not too shabby for two days of practice.
The next 9 weeks are important ones for me, for the dogs, for Dave. Having things run as smoothly as possible before the baby actually makes its appearance will make for a less stressful transition. So I walk, I exercise patience, I sacrifice fashion, I believe it will work.