After the longest winter ever, Jax, Tink and I emerged today for our first neighborhood walk of the spring. In fact it was our first walk ever as a threesome and was fairly short for that very reason.
Tinkerbell (or Tink) came into our life last year right as I was learning about the connection between lawn care chemicals and the soaring number of cases of canine cancer. She also came into our lives in July when it is too hot in the Chicagoland area for puppy paws on hot pavement, especially in our essentially treeless subdivision. Since we essentially went from summer straight into the Polar Vortex last year we have not had her out on her leash as much as we would have liked to.
While Jackson attended continual obedience classes and daily walks during moderately mild weather, Tink has been essentially home schooled. Between my obsession with avoiding pesticides and toxins from neighboring yards and parks plus a steamy summer and a frozen winter, young Tink has spent most of her time frolicking and training in our fenced in yard and has missed out on a lot of leashed walks.
Today was so gorgeous I decided it was time to head out into the world, or at least a small radius around our home. It was sunny and in the high 60s, warm enough for me but not too hot for them, and I was ready to wipe and wash their bodies, paws and faces when we got home.
Armed with my cell phone, a dispenser full of eco-friendly dog poop bags, my pepper spray (for fending off other dogs) and my keys, we headed out. We made it around the corner, turned around, and headed back home to try a different tactic. Plan B was formulating in my head as we made our way home in a less than dignified manner; Plan B was to practice some loose leash walking.
Back home I put Jackson in his kennel with a bowl of water. Tink obediently ran into her kennel, always mimicking her big brother’s actions and learning from him, both good habits and his few naughty habits as well. She stood quietly in her crate watching me head back to the front door, probably wondering if I was going to realize I had forgotten to shut the door to her crate.
“Tink, don’t you wanna go for a walk?” I asked and she sprinted to me, leaping into the air with her four long legs askew as she reached me. We had been working on not jumping on humans for the last few weeks, and I’ll give her credit, she didn’t jump on me, but she could not contain her joyful leaps when she saw that I had her leash in my hand.
Once outside without Jax, Tink was great on the leash, especially for an 11 month puppy who had not had nearly the experience that Jax had gained by her age. One of the hardest things in dog ownership and training, at least as far as I am concerned, is to resist the urge to walk when the dog is pulling on the leash. I failed this miserably with Jax, letting him develop bad leash habits because I was just so excited to have a walking buddy again. With Tink I forced myself to stay strong, reminding myself that putting in the work now would lead to a lifelong walking partner who walked with me in harmony instead of attempting to drag me to each and every tree and good smell on the path.
And so Tink and I walked through the subdivision, me stopping each time she pulled, having her resume the heel position, starting back up and walking in harmony until the resist to pull was too strong. With the mantra “no forward motion if the leash is tight” going through my head, I stopped every time she pulled. Eventually she caught on (or became too tired to pull) and we walked along peacefully, a sweet female lab exploring the world and her proud dog momma.
We arrived home, I swapped out dogs, gave Tink a nice bowl of water and a Cloud Star cookie and then grabbed Jax’s leash and headed out for our first walk since he had been neutered in December. I was anxious to see if the lack of testosterone and another year of maturity would impact his leash manners.
Jax had been my first puppy in over a decade and I foolishly started walking him on his leash before we went to obedience school. I had been so excited to have a walking buddy again that I let him develop some bad manners involving pulling me. With his immense strength this presented a problem; although I could hold him back and win the power struggle it was not relaxing and it was embarrassing. I knew I looked like the woman who could not control her dog, the owner who had been a total pushover. His other manners were impeccable; his leash walking skills were atrocious but we had done a lot of practice and were very close to great manners when I stopped walking him last summer.
I was not disappointed. At three years old my Jackson is finally a gentleman on the leash, a complete 180 degrees different from the first two years of his life. We only had to stop a few times because of pulling and he quickly got into his heel position and sat and waited for me, gazing up at me as if to say “sorry, Mom, I forgot”.
Although I still have a great fear of lawn pesticides and treatments being used in neighboring yards I’m looking forward to more walks with my pups this spring and building to the point where the three of us can walk together. It’s not as easy to have the human/canine bonding moments on walks when you’re walking two dogs at a time, at least not two lively young Labrador Retrievers, but we will get there. For now, though, they are sound asleep, worn out and dreaming of all of the things they saw and smelled today.