When I take longer or harder hikes now, I have to leave my senior dog, Otto, at home. It’s for his own good; he just gets too sore on the day after – or even later that day – following the longer walks that my younger dog and his even younger friends need to tire them out. Knowing that I’m preventing him from getting too sore to get up easily doesn’t make it any easier for me, though: As soon as Otto sees the signs that a walk is impending (leashes gathered, treat bag getting filled, sneakers getting put on) he will station himself in front of the door. If he’s outside, he will stand behind my car, with a determined “I’m coming with you!” look on his face. And he knows the difference between me getting ready to go for a walk and me getting ready to go grocery shopping; he doesn’t stand in the way of my departure for the store!
Otto is still very capable of joining me and my friends for a walk of a mile or two in cool weather. This last interminable, hot, dry summer was hard on him, as he doesn’t tolerate the heat well; I’d take him only for very short walks where there was water available for wading and swimming.
The catch-22: He needs to keep moving to stay fit; he just can’t go as far or as fast as the younger dogs. So I’ve taken to taking him for his own walks, just him and me. And I have to say that it’s a delight.
The places where I usually walk with my dogs are all off-leash areas. I almost never see anyone else on my local trails, and when I do, I can easily call my dogs to me and leash them for the minute or two it will take to pass by whomever else might be out there. So I don’t often have to walk my dogs on leash, but for Otto’s safety, when we walk around our own rural neighborhood, he has to be on leash – especially because he can no longer hear oncoming cars well, or me calling him back to me. But around here, as we walk alongside our country roads, walking Otto on leash is a pure pleasure; he’s got amazing on-leash skills.
When I adopted Otto, way back in the summer of 2008, I hadn’t yet discovered the wonderful off-leash areas and trails that I drive to for most of my longer walks; I mostly walked Otto in and around my small town. And I’m not bragging, but we walked so much that first summer (as I was trying to get him tired enough to not stay awake all night barking at the stars), that we really perfected Otto’s polite leash-walking skills. He doesn’t pull and he doesn’t lag. He might walk a little bit ahead of me – but so what? I don’t need him to stay right at my side, and I don’t mind if he wants to stop and sniff something every so often. His hearing has gotten very bad, but his vision is still very good, and he often spots a squirrel going up a tree or a stray cat crossing the road ahead of us before I do. He’ll raise his tail and prick his ears, and then look back at me with shining eyes: “Mom, did you see that?” Though he “checks in” with me occasionally when we are on an off-leash walk with other dogs, when it’s him and me, connected by a leash, he stays much more tuned into me, communicating more with me about what he’s seeing and smelling.
It’s a hassle to find the time to take two walks on our dog-walking days, and to make extra food-stuffed Kongs to bribe Otto into not looking sad when I’m loading up Woody for the drive to one of our off-leash trails for a long walk, but the extra time alone with Otto is sweet – and absolutely worth it.