Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Defensive Dog Walking & Mindfulness

Defensive Dog Walking. It's what I practice as a Pet Professional, and if you are a defensive driver, you'll get the concept pretty quickly.

It's a typical morning, and you are out walking your dog, one hand gripping the leash (or lead), and the other your morning cup of java. Rounding the corner, you are paying little attention, since your mind is scattered in several directions, planning the day ahead.

Your dog is on an expandable lead, way out of your reach, zigzagging down the street. You are caught off guard since you haven't noticed the person or dog approaching, until they are both too close for comfort. Aggressive Fido is staring down at your dog - not a good sign. An altercation, or worse, could ensue between dogs or their guardians. That would not be a pretty picture.

How do you practice defensive dog walking? Let's begin with what you know, and what you don't. You know your dog and feel you can pretty much predict his or her behavior. (But are you really sure what your dog will do 100% of the time?) You don't know the dog coming towards you. You don't know if the dog is well trained or aggressive. And it's possible that the person with the other dog isn't a responsible pet guardian. Here are my suggestions:

If you have any concerns about who is approaching, cross the street, or turn around and walk in the direction you just came from.

Use a non-expandable lead. With the expandable, your dog may be too far out of reach and at a safety risk. Dogs on expandable leashes can frequently be seen walking their people. The person has relinquished the leader role, and it's no wonder that the dog believes he or she is in charge.

Keep one hand free in case both are needed to grab control of the lead. No beverage sipping, no idle chatting on your cell.

The Buddhist concept of mindfulness has sifted into our every day parlance. A simple word, yet challenging to put into practice. It has to do with presence. Being fully present, fully aware, in the moment. Focusing on one thing, at one time. Like walking your dog.

So try being more present, more mindfully aware of your surroundings. Be the leader, so your dog isn't walking you. You know what happens if children think they are in charge. Dogs aren't any different in that respect. Both need boundaries for their own safety, for co-existing in a society. That's where responsible dog guardianship comes in.

This is not a warning about your neighbors or friends, or even the benevolent stranger with well behaved dogs. Just friendly advice to practice some mindfulness when dog walking on Portland's busy streets. Stay safe.

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