Sunday, October 17, 2010
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.