September 22, 2023

The Toughest Day Taught Me Another Way

I was doing my thing – same old, same old. Walking off leash with Sophia and Anieko on the trails. Then a sequence of events culminated in what will stand out for me as the most difficult walk we’ve had to date. I say “to date” because honestly, I am sure there are more harder walks to come.

But for now, this one feels like it was the pinnacle of challenging.

Would I wish it away if I could, as though it never happened?

Well, no I wouldn’t – thank you for asking. Because what I learned from this walk and what it taught me is invaluable, and I might not have found it otherwise.

The walk was so so bad for 3 reasons.

First, the dogs were overwhelming Frankie, a dog who usually plays really easily with them. But this time Frankie was hesitant. It made Anieko and Sophia amp it up and try even harder to get her to play. Which ended up with Sophia pinching Frankie too hard and you could see it hurt her a lot.

That stood out as a painful point for me, that a dog had a bad experience because of my family.

Next it was the poo. This is one of our favourite subjects – as I’ve written about in understanding the poo attraction. I swear, since I’ve written that blog, it has been like a prophecy for us. Never has there been more poo rolling than since I wrote that post.

This poo was dark and sticky and I didn’t see it at first. But I could smell something. Then when she turned to the side, I could see that Anieko’s shoulder and neck were covered in it. So bad.

Interspersed with all of this was them running all over the place, jacked right up. With me just watching 2 black and white blurs, trying to figure out how to slow everything down.

Then the pinnacle - the third thing - was Anieko discovering that some small creature was hiding in the shallow of a short tree stump. She managed to stomp it hard enough with her front feet to collapse whatever barrier was there between her and a very small animal.

I got there just in time to grab her away as her eyes lit up and she realized she would probably get a hold of this critter.

I stormed her out of there, and felt exhausted. And sad. About how our walk was ruined and I probably had the worst dogs on Earth, or at least in Kamloops.

It felt like a bad storm. One that hits you and pounds you so you can’t catch your breath.

As I walked with them – Anieko held by her long line – I felt so defeated.

I longed for control. I considered what kind of suggestions and helpful advice my dog training counterparts might offer me, and I understood the appeal of using force and manipulation to achieve desired results.

I could have punished them. Corrected them. Shamed them. Ignored them. Rejected them. Withdrew from them. Something to make them know how they had done something wrong.

It makes me think of years ago, how our dog Layla smashed through our front window. She was barking at another dog outside and lunging against the 11 foot wide plate glass window. Until it shattered.

She wasn’t hurt, luckily and funnily enough. But she made quite a mess and quite a repair bill. I remember how my how husband – my boyfriend at the time – was so frustrated with me and angry when later that day I was affectionate with Layla.

He was intent on staying mad at her, so she knew what a bad thing she had done.

But I wasn’t mad. And I couldn’t hold it against her.

It was the same that day on the trail, after I felt like my dogs had run roughshod all over my nerves (and still there was a dog to de-poo).

I couldn’t hold it against them. I could only contemplate how to react to the experience.

I had already confirmed that I wouldn’t be converting to obedience training anytime soon. There’d be no cookies or clickers or “watch me” or e-collar for added insurance.

Neither would I be revoking their off-leash privileges. Really, it was one very bad day when many tough things happened, all in the same walk.

They still needed to run, and we needed more time to figure ourselves out.

No giving up yet.

What I didn’t realize in the midst of that horrible experience, with me totally spent and emotional and Anieko and Sophia completely oblivious and wishing for the next adventure, was that it would catapult me forward into a new way of understanding and experiencing my off-leash trail walks with my dogs.

I asked myself how I would respond, and I still didn’t know.

I’m not sure when the understanding happened, but I felt some clarity come over me.

I had been spending so much energy trying to draw my dogs out of their world of chasing scents and dashing trails that I hadn’t realized what a one-sided agreement I was proposing. And what a shitty deal it must have been for my dogs.

Even though I was as inviting and as supportive as I could be, I was still asking them to always be the ones to give up what they were doing to engage with me. I was constantly watching for my opportunity to steer their momentum towards me and what I wanted to happen.


What would it look like if I really took an interest in what my dogs were doing? The way I wanted them to be so interested in me?

I asked myself that, and I came up with a 3-pronged plan.

First, I could join them while they sniffed things. I could wonder and exclaim alongside them about how good that clump of grass or smear of poo smelled. At least I could imagine it. Plus – there was the added bonus of me being on the spot to put a lid on things when the poo smelled good enough to roll in.

Second, I could walk with them as they dashed off trail. I could go with them and explore too. I wasn’t as fast as them, but I could make the effort and show my enthusiasm and interest in what they were enjoying.

Third, I could lead my own off-trail groups, and initiate excursions to walk and wander on unexplored land. I would also generously invite my dogs to go with me on these side adventures.

I would firmly plant myself in their world and find out what they were engaged in and up to and be there with them in the things they’re passionate about.

If they like it, I like it.

This plan doesn’t come from a place of manipulation or ulterior motives – trying to create a “look at all the things I do for you, so now you’d better pay me back for my efforts”.

I realized, most genuinely, that the thing I want the most is for us to be together, however it happens. To share experiences and to be in each other’s company.

I want to be where my dogs are. I want them to feel heard and understood, and that I really want to be in their lives.

So now I sniff things, symbolically, with them. I chase them into the woods, and lead them into unknown parts.

We’re having so much fun together, and I’m included - I’m not on the outside looking in. I am a part of it, I am one of the dogs.

I am so grateful for this shift. It is the first in the 3 months since Anieko came to live with us that she wants me involved in what she’s doing out there on the trail.

I’m an honorary one of the gang.

It means we’re more closely associated and we’re more connected. We’re more in communication and we’re safer.

When we need each other, we’re always closer or close by to each other. We’re never far from each other. And the dogs are more open to the things I want to do – like stop and sit and watch the world, while they dig holes as they wait.

Sometimes we come together to make a new plan, which may involve me holding onto a long line to let something pass or to avoid something else.

It feels like they care more about what I care about now that I care more about what they care about.

That is how I learned how to do things in a new way – in the consideration and contemplation that followed the storm of the horrible off leash walk.

In the aftermath of such a challenging experience that might have had me headed in a different direction, if I didn’t have the values and principles of shamanic dog training to help me stay open and available to new ways of navigating, I’ve taken another step into the intimacy I’m always wishing for with my dogs. More dismantling of the barriers and the separation between us.

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