Who wants to go on a walk?
For almost seven years now, one of my favorite moments with my dog is when we are getting ready to go for a walk. She loves to smell the city, picking up the news left by neighborhood dogs and residents. But before we ‘saddle her up’, also known as getting her harness on, she and I have created a ritual.
I ask her the magic question, “Hey, Cleo, do you want to go for a walk?” If she is sleeping, her head rises, her ears perk up and some form of a wag begins. Maybe two or three years ago, if I said, “Who wants to go for a walk” she would have jumped up and raced around to find a toy and express her enthusiasm by squeaking it madly. Today, as an old dog, she’ll respond to my question with a cautious “maybe” expression on her face, before pushing herself up from the floor and walking over to me.
What hasn’t changed with age, is Cleo’s anticipatory dance before we get out the front door. I stand facing her and she walks towards me, head low, until her head is halfway through my legs. She will stand there and wait for me to pet her. She likes it when I reach down and underneath to pet her tummy. Often I sneak in a soft hug and kiss her fur at this point.
Our exchange used to be more playful, but today I am often using this opportunity to give her a warm up massage. Her stiff joints and achy neck benefit from getting a rubdown a few times a day. I also walk my hands across her back, and haunches, to feel her for lumps, or to check on how a hot spot is healing.
What I’ve learned with Cleo is to temper my petting and massage based on her response. I will touch or hug her, stopping every few moments and wait for her signal. Some days she signals for more touch, some for less. Maybe this mutual respect has allowed Cleo to be more calm around strangers and strange dogs. I believe this ‘give and take’ has helped build a strong bond of trust between us.
From the day we met, she has been a dog who looks people in the eye, and holds their gaze for a long time. But, I watch closely for her yawn that says, “I’m not feeling it, please stop.” I know by her quiet manner, smile and soft gaze that she likes it when I groom her face like a mama, but I’ve learned there is a time and place for that exchange.
If you watch her body language, it tells you when she prefers that you hug her from the side, not facing her directly. She definitely has her moments when she wants to be your “buddy” and sit next to you, rather than be babied and kissed on the muzzle.
Building our relationship over something as simple as a walk together has been invaluable to me, and I hope for Cleo too. I am grateful for each day that we can do this little ritual together. After she has passed, it will be these memories that stay with me, when I want to go for a walk.
This article was written by LIFE+DOG editor Sharon Castellanos.