Sunday, October 17, 2010

Marydale Park

I think I’ve discovered one of the greatest ironies in owning a reactive dog: the daily walk.

The exercise inherent in a walk seems to reduce anxiety, which means that walking is a vital part of helping my dog feel better. I certainly noticed a correlation between exercise (or the lack of it) and subsequent behavior in my behavior logs. At the same time, walks can really set a cautious or fearful dog back. After all, you can’t control what you encounter, like loose dogs. In fact, I’ve found that when such unpredictable events happen, Maisy needs at least a week to recover, and even then, I think the effects are longer lasting.

This became a point of conversation at Maisy’s recent appointment with her veterinary behaviorist. Since April, we have encountered many loose dogs while walking in our neighborhood, and we’ve had several close encounters. Three required the use of citronella spray, two were reported to animal control, and all left me feeling panicky. As a result, I began to seek out alternative places to walk, but had little success. The best option I’d found was walking at Como Lake, a beautiful but popular destination that was just too busy to be relaxing.

This week, on a whim, I stopped off at a small park, with an even smaller lake, halfway between Como and my house. I’ve driven past it dozens of time without a second thought, both because of its size and its proximity to its more popular cousin. As it turns out, though, this makes it perfect for us. We rarely encounter any one else at this park, and so far, we’ve never seen another dog, on-leash or otherwise. Better yet, the probability that we will encounter a loose dog seems quite low; only two of the four streets surrounding the park are residential, and those have a minimum of 50 feet between the path and the road.

Although the lake is small, the walking path around it is just over half a mile in length. This really is ideal, because it means that on the nights I’m in a hurry/tired/lazy/the weather sucks, we can bang out a quick walk in almost no time. Or, we can loop the lake two or three times and have a respectable walk. Hopefully, this repetition will not get boring, but hey- I’ll take boring and safe over interesting and unpredictable any day.

I’m pretty excited by this find, naturally, and I hope that it really is as amazing as it seems. In case it isn’t, though… where do the rest of you with reactive dogs take them for walks? Are you fortunate enough to live in a quieter area? Do you drive your dog somewhere so you can take her for a walk? Do you do something else entirely for exercise? I’d love to hear how others handle this daily challenge.


Ally and Eclipse said...

Because of the stress that additional stress/anxiety puts on Eclipse's already damaged kidneys we resort to multiple walks on the treadmill a day. Not ideal but until we start working with a trainer (should get that going in the coming 8 weeks, hopefully!) and can get Eclipse to be comfortable walking past the two dogs at the beginning of every walk it's not worth is. Not to mention he gets so stressed the exercise doesn't do him much good!

katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

I am so Glad you found somewhere safe and beautiful to walk! You already know from following our journey how important walks are to my Maizey. With Meeka I scouted all the neighborhoods within walking distance of my house and found two that are almost dog free. To keep things a little spiced up I vary the routes with in those areas.

Our biggest challenge is our own street. There are at least 6-8 dogs to pass in about .10 mile to get to get out of my neighborhood. On days where Maizey can't handle that we get in the car and drive to the corner park and walk from there. (Always seems sooo funny to people that I will drive that little ways to start my walk. I just smile and move on, they just don't get it.)

I too am really interested in finding alternative exercise options, especially for winter. I would love to have someway to get some of her energy out and then walk, as the first half mile or so she is so excited it is the hardest.

Do you think that successful stress free walks help Maisy to build confidence? I a still learning how much a reactive pup can learn the world is not really a big scary place. Of course that would vary with generalized anxiety compared to episodic anxiety, don't you think?

Sorry I talked about getting a walking challenge going and then slacked on it, I still am thinking how to do it best with all else that is going on and would still love to have you and your Maisy join us!

Sorry too for another novel of a comment, but you gave me another thought provoking post! ;))

Crystal said...

I knew I couldn't be alone in this... it's frustrating. I'm pretty lucky that Maisy loves her ball, and that she's small enough that we can play inside. It's easy to keep her exercised with that combo...

Katie, I'm not sure if (stress-free) walks have helped build Maisy's confidence or not. She has built up a lot of confidence in the last year or so, though. I think that part of it is that I bring a clicker and treats on walks, and I click/treat interactions with "scary" things. I've also done that at home and at training.

katie said...

Hi Crystal, I have found keeping things fun and a high reinforcement rate is key to a good walk also.

Although I don't use a clicker in connection with reactivity at all now. The clicker charges her too much. Since reading your post about not using the marker word I have started trying to condition a low toned, quiet, "goood" instead of her marker, "yes!" I saw evidence of this helping this weekend and am working on a post about that now.