Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Exercise Equipment

I learned something while Bobby was here over the holidays. I mean, I always learn something while he's around but usually it's about him since he's so different from Emily and leagues different from his predecessor, Cameron. This time, though, in addition to learning about him I learned something about me.

Up to quite recently Emily has been content to kick Bob's ass up and down the furniture for hours on end with brief breaks to lick out his jowls, the doggie equivalent of washing your mouth out with soap, I believe. When we walked they walked at the same pace with her often shouldering him out of the way or beating him to a particularly fragrant pee spot. This visit was not the same. She doesn't have the cornering skills to chase Bobby around the parquet floors nor the energy to beat him everywhere. For his part, though, he adjusted quite well. When we all walked together, as long as there wasn't a squirrel or cat in sight, he matched his pace to hers and was obedient and kind with nary a trace of the puppy I know lurks beneath. Then I took him to the park alone for some off leash time because if she wasn't going to put him through his paces someone needed to or there would be hell to pay. That dog was off like a shot, pulling and jumping and weaving and sniffing away with no regard for who was behind him until I gave him a "corrective jerk" or bellowed out some sort of command.

I haven't been to off leash time in years due to Em's...unpredictable personality. She likes a lot of dogs but the one's she doesn't she really doesn't like. She's never hurt anyone but she's provoked attacks on herself more times than I'm strictly comfortable with. So there was an adjustment period for me. It felt scary to unhook his leash and just let him go, trusting him to like me enough to come back. I'm not entirely stupid so I brought treats. He got a treat on the way, he got a treat before I took the leash off and within a minute of that I made sure to call him back for another treat. Never hurts to have something yummy fresh in one's mind.

Turns out Bobby doesn't really need a lot of dogs around. He'll go and say hi to some of them but that's not top on the agenda. I knew this, of course, Kath tells great stories about it, but I hadn't seen it in action. Bob does not like to chase balls, he doesn't chase Kongs, he doesn't chase other dogs. The boy likes a good stick. Boy does he like a good stick. If you throw a good sized stick he'll run after it, pin it down and turn it to mulch in short order. I learned quickly, though, that if you keep two sticks he will run after the first one, catch it then look back to see if you'll throw the second one. So I did. We leap frogged stick after stick like that for 20-40 minutes a visit no treats required and our full attention on each other.

This is how I found myself, early on the last morning of 2008, striding purposefully up a hill, breaking a sweat in the 15 degree weather while winging stick after stick before me. My form was poor, I whacked myself and the dog repeatedly and I was puffing like the Little Engine That Could but I was warm and I was having a pretty good time. I thought to myself, "This is why I don't need no stinking stairmaster." Then I thought, "No, really this is why I don't need a stairmaster!" A dog is the only piece of exercise equipment required.

Back in the day, when Em was young and off leash and incorrigible, I first heard the phrase "A tired dog is a good dog." I was so offended. I thought it didn't give a dog enough credit or that it was somehow cruel. I'll say it before you do, I was stupid, I know that now. The thing is I still contend that the phrase should be "A tired dog is a happy dog" and happy dogs are far, far better behaved than the alternative. Fewer things in my house got chewed, fewer cat-related altercations were to be had, fewer dollars worth of stolen food were discovered when my young, energetic, working dog was properly exercised. You know who else was properly exercised as a result? You betcha! I can't believe all the exercise potential I wasted when we had a backyard and just let them go out there to beat each other up. Backyard time was not enough for my young shepherd and her young border collie companion. They were too easy on each other. I should have been walking their asses all over Brooklyn on a regular basis. It's no wonder they almost pulled me into traffic and they ate my hat and stole an entire pizza! I deserved every bad action because I wasn't giving them what they needed. Live and learn, eh?

I don't need to go to off leash but I know that, given the extreme bad attitude of my cats, Bob does when he's with me. If he's tired and calm and not playing into their bull we all do better. But wow, I felt pretty good about missing my dance class after my discovery. I also realized that an older dog is a bit like a broken down treadmill. You're still going to be able to use it for exercise but that burning smell is going to cut down on the length of the workout. Today, with 2 inches of mostly unshoveled snow on the ground, it took 10 feet before Emily's morning walk was slowed to a crawl. She was happy to be there but in no hurry and even the 10 pound boots on my feet weren't going to bring me into "feel the burn" territory. That's OK, I didn't get her for the exercise potential and I know plenty of dogs I can borrow if I need some motivation. Next time (though there will never be a next time since she will live forever, she promised) I will know better. I'll do better by me and better by the dog.

Need to get your heart rate up daily? Go on out and adopt a (spayed and/or neutered) dog. It won't be cheaper than a treadmill but it's going to look a whole lot nicer in your living room.


  1. What a great story! I used to walk Daisy almost every day. Even as she got older she turned into a puppy when it snowed. Sigh. I miss her.

  2. Yeah, today was the first time ever that she didn't have even a brief period of excitement over the fact of the snow. I'm calling the vet to talk about pain/arthritis meds. I'm sorry you don't have your puppy around anymore.

  3. I'm sorry too, Auntie.

    Good advice, Kizz. And may I toss out the idea of a training class too? Tires out their minds and helps facilitate the tiring out of their bodies.

  4. I'm not against training classes by any means. I wish I could have afforded one for her but it was way WAY beyond budget. I knew, and learned, a little bit here there and everywhere, though, and think I could have avoided a LOT of the original pitfalls if I'd started out with a butt load of exercise.

  5. Well done! Great writing. Beautiful piece.

  6. i want a dog. Can you call my husband and read this over the phone to him?

  7. I so wish I weren't allergic to animals. THat last photo - to die for that face!

  8. Anonymous10:41 AM

    LOVE the post and the pictures. This makes me want to get a bigger dog next time.

  9. Great writing here, Kizz. You should get this published, no joke. And I'm not just saying that because it's Bobby you're talking about! It's just so true about dogs and exercise (and how a dog's person gets that built in exercise as a bonus).

    Why is my dog so crazy about sticks?

  10. I so miss having a dog. Even though we pledged to wait a year after our geriatric dogs died to get another, I am missing having a hiking, walking companion.