Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Just the other day, one of my closest friends said to me, "Yeah, I like your dog, but he can be a little pushy, a little loud, and a little obnoxious. Come to think of it, he's kind of like you!"

Not even a week later, as I was demonstrating the Beast's uber-excitable behaviour whenever someone comes to the door, another friend burst out laughing and said, "Ha! Who does that remind you of?" He was, of course, insinuating that the Beast's behaviour reminds him of my own.

So I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days now. There is, after all, a popular concept in the doggie world that says that your dog has a tendency to mirror your own behaviour. Is the Beast just the canine version of me? Do I have to change my own bad habits so that he can become a polite young man instead of a frenetic nut bar? And more importantly, am I a frenetic nut bar?

To get to the bottom of this, I should start by describing the Beast. He derives many of his behaviours from his genetic profile. Indeed, he reflects both the best and the worst of two highly-intelligent, hard-working, and high-strung herding breeds (the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie, for those of you who may have forgotten even though I probably mention his breed in every single post...)

Let's start with the good qualities. He is extremely intelligent and has a very strong work-ethic, making him a very willing pupil, very eager to please, and quick as a whip. Find the right motivator (like a tiny piece of kibble), spend a few minutes a day with him, and he'll be rolling over and giving you high fives within no time at all. He's also fiercely loyal to his pack, never straying far away when he's off leash and making sure that no harm comes if one of us is, say, running down a dark street at 6:00 in the morning and someone unexpectedly comes out of a parking lot, catching us off guard (that poor man might have suffered a minor heart attack, but the upside is that anyone stupid enough to mess with me wouldn't get away with much).

But there are also not-so-good qualities that come with these breeds. First of all, as a dog bred to work, even when humans are not around to supervise, the Beast instinctually likes to take control and make his own decisions, meaning that he likes to challenge authority on a constant basis. And when his herding drive kicks in at the dog park, he tries to control every dog by barking and running circles around them, driving everyone - canine and human - more than a little bonkers. And because he is such a hard worker, he focuses so intensely on this task that it is almost as though he is in a trance. No command that I utter has any effect at such a time. And then there is the incessant barking whenever someone comes to the door, which increases in crescendo as his excitement mounts to the point where he just cannot stop himself from jumping all over said innocent newcomer.

In other words, he is an extremely excitable, overly vocal, control-freak who likes to be the centre of attention at all times.

As for me, well, let's just do a little side-by-side comparison, shall we?

Extremely excitable
It does not take much to get the Beast excited. Simply picking up his food dish sends him into fits of Tasmanian devil-like pirouettes. Coming through the front door propels him to jump and maul hubby and I. Opening the car door for him to hop in leads to excited yelps and major bum-shaking. And his entire body is a lightning bolt of tension before we let him off-leash at the dog park because is just so ready to go.

Now we have worked very hard on calming him down over the last seven months, and we have had major success at teaching him how to relax before we let him get what he wants. But he can flip the excitement switch on like that with a nanosecond's notice, and his entire body will convulse, his tailless bum will wag, his face will break out in a silly grin, and he will pant and bark and whine uncontrollably. He really can't always help himself.

And neither can I. Good news makes me positively giddy. Great news makes me lose complete control of all of my cognitive and bodily functions. I essentially break out in the human version of bum wagging, panting and uncontrollable barking. Like the time that my husband called me at work to tell me that he had secured tickets to our first Grey Cup game, and I jumped out of my office chair, simultaneously crying and screaming, while a colleague looked on in horror convinced that I'd just found out that a loved one was struck by a car. Or the time that I met my favourite quarterback of all time and probably scared the hell out of him as I stood in the middle of the bar, heart racing, waving my hands in front of my face (I really did try to stop them but I couldn't) and shouting, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!! It's you!!!! It's really, really, really, really, really you!!!! I'm your biggest.... Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God..." Or when I stood in line for hours to buy tickets to my first Springsteen concert and exclaimed to the ticket agent when I got one of the last pairs of seats available, "Holy shit!!!! I am so happy that I could kiss you right now!" while jumping up and down in the same spot.

So yes, we are both slightly excitable...

Overly vocal
I've said it before. The Beast barks. A lot. High-pitched, sharp, and incessant. When he has something to say, the whole world knows about it. Or at least my neighbours do...

But it's not just the barking. When he wants anything, he will find a sound to make to get our attention. Sometimes he whines. Sometimes he yips. Sometimes he makes sounds that can only be described as wookie-like. And he'll keep going and going and going until he tires himself out (because we refuse to give in and reward such bad behaviour). And since he is so persistent, that can go on for a while.

As for me, well, I've been a chatter-box my whole life. I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk. (Ever notice how long some of these blog posts are?) Loudly, at times. I always have a story to tell, or an opinion to express, or a sentiment to share. When I feel something, you will know. So will everyone else within at least a block's radius.

And when I want something, well, I hate to admit it, but I will nag. "Honey, can we get a dog?" "Honey, when are we going to get a car?" "Honey, how many times do I have to tell you to pay more attention when you wash the dishes?" And so on, and so on, and so on. I'm sure that my husband is too much of a gentleman to admit it, but my constant vocalization of every little thing I feel and thought that I have must be as annoying to him as the Beast's best Chewbacca impersonation.

So we are both a wee bit expressive...

Control-freak
According to that great bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, a control-freak is someone who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done. That sounds like the Beast to me.

Now in fairness, he was bred to move large herds of livestock, so he needs to be confidant in his ability to control a situation. The trouble is that he doesn't actually herd sheep for a living, so there is no need for him to be such a pushy and persistent control freak. Still, he likes to be in control. In the dog park, he likes to tell all the other dogs what to do, which includes barking at them when they don't follow his precise instructions. And at home, he ignores hubby and I when he doesn't feel like doing what we ask him to do, sometimes requiring a correction or twelve to remind him who is the boss.

And, well, I don't herd sheep for a living either but I do have control-freak tendencies. Thankfully for my staff, not so much at the office, where I seem to have no trouble delegating. But at home, I can be a drill sergeant. I don't mean to be, but I like things to be done the "right" way (as in the way that I would do them). Which is why, since the day I saw hubby throw the pasta noodles in unboiled water and put it all on the stove at the same time - without even salting the water!!!! - I gasped and kicked him out of the kitchen, and have refused his generous offers to help me cook dinner every day since. It's also why he is not allowed to help me paint rooms in our house. Because, well, it doesn't look as nice as when I do it. I like things done a certain way. My way. And only my way.

So the Beast and I have that in common too...

Likes to be the centre of attention at all times
When the Beast comes into the dog park, or meets another dog while we are hiking through the Arboretum, he makes his presence known. With wild abandon, he will bound right into the centre of pack of dogs, leaping in the air like a ballet dancer, and practically screaming, "I'm h-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!!!! Look at me! Look at me! Look at m-m-m-m-m-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!!!!!" (Then he'll try to take control of the situation by barking and telling every dog what to do. See above...)

And as eager as he is to please others, he loves to be recognized for a job well done. Once he figures out a new command or a new rule, he is so proud of himself. He just sits right down in front of you, puffs his chest out, and looks up at you with his great big brown eyes as if to say, "I'm so good, aren't I, Mom? Don't you think I deserve an ear-scratch for that? Maybe a big juicy steak?" He likes to get his gold stars, that is for sure...

As for me, well, I am usually one of the loudest people at a party. I like to tell jokes. I like to make people laugh. I like to be noticed. It's why I wore a weird asymmetrical haircut for three years, and why I have such a vast and colourful shoe collection. But I especially like it when people tell me that I am good at something. When I sang on our wedding day, I literally shone with glee when people came up to me to tell me that they had no idea what a good singer I was. And I still have an e-mail from my boss thanking me for my role in a particularly difficult file hanging on my office bulletin board. I like people to pay attention to me, to know who I am, and to know that I am a good and capable person.

So yes, Beasty and I are incorrigible attention seekers as well...

The question, then, is: has my dog always been an extremely excitable, overly vocal control freak who likes to be the centre of attention, or did he just become this when he met me?

I think that I was likely unconsciously drawn to the Beast because he reminds me of myself. I also think that he has a hard time controlling some of his less-than-preferred behaviours in certain moments because I don't always set a stellar example. Either way, we are two different species, but we are also two peas in a pod.

The real question then is: how on earth does my husband stand living with two of me?

You'll have to ask him that question the next time you see him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Boot camp

The Beast is the first dog that I have had since I left my childhood home over 17 years ago. Which is why I read about three or four books about dogs before he came home. Which is also why I figured that I should hire a dog trainer.

Most people looking for a dog trainer probably have to shop around. They might undertake an extensive Google search or ask fellow dog owners for advice. But not me. Nope. I lucked out. 'Cause one of my best friends married a dog trainer.

My buddy's wife is so much more than a dog trainer though. She operates her own business out of her 17-acre ranch, which includes a doggie day-care, basic and behaviour-based training, rehabilitation of dogs with more severe and challenging issues, and boarding. All of these services are firmly rooted in pack philosophy. She is the Alpha, and her family - including her own three balanced dogs - assist her as she teaches appropriate social behaviours to others by integrating them into her pack. Whether your dog is there for a day or whether he is there for six months, he will benefit from her firm but fair leadership, plenty of exercise and socialization in a wide open space, and integration into her own family home so that he receives all the attention that he needs and deserves.

Hubby and I have taken advantage of her expertise on a number of occasions. Before the Beast even came to live with us, we talked to her about what we should do to get ready for such a high-strung breed. Within the first two weeks of having him, we enlisted her for an initial training session, and she came over to our house and taught us how to walk him properly. We've emailed her with S.O.S.'esque messages over the past seven months seeking advice on how to handle some of his less pleasant behaviours, like barking non-stop whenever someone approaches our house. And we've waited for the opportunity to board him with her so that he could be whipped into shape, boot camp style!

I call it boot camp because as part of the boarding experience, each dog gets a one-on-one, twice daily 15-minute training session, tailored specifically to their needs. But the training doesn't end there. Whether it is walk time, playtime, or feeding time, the Alpha is never far and is always ready to deliver an important life lesson in the form of a correction for bad behaviour. Whereas some owners are prepared to cut their dog some slack if they disobey (guilty) and others are prone to get really frustrated and yell a lot (ashamedly guilty), that doesn't happen here. This trainer stays calm and in control at all times, but doesn't let her canine clients get away with any untoward behaviour. No barking unnecessarily. No trying to control all the other dogs. And no jumping up and down in wild excitement for no good reason.

If you remember this post and this post, and this... well, most posts really, you can probably see where this is going...

Suffice it to say that we were excited to enroll our little soldier in some quality time with Alpha. You see, although hubby and I have worked with him a lot - and have even made some significant and noteworthy (if I do say so myself) progress - we know that there are aspects of his behaviour that still need work (like the barking - I really do have to write a post all about the barking one of these days...). And while we aren't naive enough to think that all it will take is a one-week stay with a top notch trainer to turn him into an angel (that would truly be a Christmas miracle), we also know that she has knowledge and tools far beyond what we possess, and that at the very least, she will lay down a good base upon which we can build.

Christmas gave us the opportunity we were waiting for. Neither of us could help but smile a little as we drove him out to her place on December 19th. I do believe that hubby even looked at him at one point and said, "You have no idea what you are in for, buddy," with more than a hint of glee in his voice as he said it.

Over the next eight days, we spent quality time with my family, eating too much, exercising too little, polishing off too many bottles of wine, playing too many mindless video games with the nieces and nephews, and spending too much money on Boxing Day. The Beast, on the other hand, spent eight hard core days of learning the rules of balanced and healthy doggie behaviour. And through email updates every couple of days, as well as a post-boarding debrief session that lasted over an hour, I gather that he found his "vacation" more challenging than I found mine...

So first, the good news. Hubby and I were assured that the Beast quickly integrated into his new "pack" without difficulty. That he enjoys being around humans and dogs alike and that he is very social. That he is a smart boy and that he learns quickly and easily. And that he has excellent name recognition, even from a distance.

But... For every positive statement, there was a "but"... Like:
  • The Beast quickly integrated into his new pack without difficulty, "but" he gets very excited and too wound up around so many dogs. He can't control himself. As a result, he could be a little annoying to some of the more submissive dogs; or
  • The Beast is super smart and picking up on commands very easily, "but" he keeps pushing to see if I will let him get away with something. He tests every single rule and everything with him is a fight until he realizes that I won't let him win, which sometimes takes a very long time; or
  • The Beast will look up at me the minute that I call his name, "but" he will only make his way to me on his own time as opposed to when I want him to come.
In other words, I've got my hands full with a dominant, excited dog (I knew that), who feels the need to control every situation (I knew that too), and who thinks that he is top dog (yeah... I hate to admit it, but I guess I knew that too). 

Which is why he won't stop barking when someone comes in the house. And why he won't pay attention to me in the dog park when he is hyper focused on something else, like another dog. And why he only comes when I call him about 60% of the time. And why he pulls on his leash rather than walks nicely beside me whenever we are heading off to someplace that makes his excited. Because I am not yet firmly established as his pack leader, and so he decides to control me.

As excited as I was when I dropped him off about all of the great things that he would learn during his sojourn with Alpha, I couldn't help but feel a little bummed as I was standing there listening to her tell me about all the things that he still needs to learn. More accurately, my ego was a little bit stung. Wasn't I doing anything right? I mean, I did get him to stop his Tasmanian Devil routine during his feedings. And I did get him to run nicely alongside me when I go out for a run or a bike ride. And I did get him to stop yanking my arm out of the socket when we go for a walk, even if he does pull when we get closer to a park. And I did get him to be relaxed when he's in the house, even if he is a crazy, frenetic monkey when we are in a dog park. None of that was easy, but I did it. Where was my recognition for that?

As we drove home, armed with some brand new tips and instructions for the Beast's continued training, he rested peacefully in the backseat (likely ecstatic to be safely back in the arms of humans that he could control) while I sulked a little. Until hubby intervened.

"What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see the Beast? You haven't stopped talking about him for eight days!"

"Of course I'm happy to see him," I said. "It's just that I don't like not being good at something, and I feel like I'm not very good at raising the Beast. You heard her. He was a handful! He was probably driving her nuts! What if she thinks that I'm a bad dog owner? What if she doesn't ever want him to come back? I feel like I've done nothing right and like I have to start back at the beginning!"

"Wow! You got all of that from our conversation? Because here's what I heard. 'He pushed the envelope for the first couple of days, but once he learned the rules, he was great.' And she didn't say that you were a bad dog owner or that he is a bad dog! And her list of things to work on wasn't exactly huge either. And it included all the things that you asked her to help us with. Maybe you're overreacting."

I really hate it when he is right...

And he is right. Now that the Beast has been home for a couple of days and I've started to see some success with some of the new tips I got from the trainer, I can see that I can have more and more success with this dog. Yes, I have done things right, but I also have to keep going with his training because it's not a time-limited process.

So I need a boot camp too.

Which is why the Beast and I are now enrolled in more training sessions with Alpha. So she can whip us both into shape!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just like learning to ride a bike

This past Sunday, I found myself clutching a hot chocolate in a local coffee shop, while bouncing up and down in one spot as I desperately tried to bring some circulation back to my fingers and toes. You see, all 20 of my digits were frozen solid, because I had just returned from a 10k bike ride. On December 11.

Now I know a few cycling fanatics who are brave (or crazy) enough to bike all year round. But not me. No sir. I wimp out sometime around Canadian Thanksgiving. When it starts to rain a lot and when that North wind really starts to feel like a North wind.

But this year, it's been unseasonably warm. And snow free. So as we've somehow convinced Mother Nature to extend autumn, I've saved my bike from storage dust bunnies for a few extra weeks.

Which makes the Beast very happy. Because biking is one of his top favourite activities. Right up there with eating and, well, eating some more.

T'was not always so.

The enlightened idea to get the Beast running along side a bike came to me as so many of my dog training ideas do; while watching a dog show (although I can't remember if it was The Dog Whisperer or At the End of My Leash). Biking = good, according to t.v. canine experts. Especially for high energy dogs like mine. Also good for doggies who don't like following direction. They kind of have no choice but to pay attention to you when they are being forced to keep up to (and out of the way of) a bike. So two birds, one stone: drain the Beast of his vast reservoir of energy and firmly establish myself and hubby as top dogs!

So one Saturday afternoon about a month after we brought the Beast home, we figured that it was time to give this biking thing a whirl. Remember how excited your parents were on the day that they decided it was time to take your training wheels off and get you riding a two-wheeler all on your own? Well, that is how hubby and I felt: confident in our abilities to lead our little man through this exercise and convinced that he would be a pro within a few minutes!

Now remember how you felt the first time your Dad gave you a push and let go of your bike? Remember how you screamed, "No dad, don't let go! Don't let go!" as panic rose in your throat and you shakily made your way down the street and into a garbage can at the end of the alley? Yeah, that pretty much sums up the Beast's feelings about this whole experience...

The first exercise was relatively simple: introduce him to the bike. So I led the Beast over to this two-wheeled monstrosity and let him have a good sniff. No problem. He likes sniffing things. And he's really good at it.

Next, I leashed him up around my waist, grabbed the handle bars, and went for a little walk, so that it was bike, me and the Beast, in that order. Also no problem. He knows how to walk, after all.

Then I straddled the bike, one leg on either side, and kept walking down the street. This is the part where the Beast started to get a little jumpy. As he was getting closer to the wheels, he started looking around for hubby, as if to say, "Dude, where are you and why are you letting her walk me next to this weird looking thing?" But after a couple of minutes, he settled into a cautious pace, casting a cautious eye on the bike every now and then.

After going around the block a few times, I decided to up the ante. It was time to get him to respect the bike, and learn how to stay out of its way. So I gently nudged him with the front tire once.

He didn't like that very much. 

The Beast leaped 6 feet into the air and about 6 feet away from the bike, growling and barking and having a general fit. And remember, he was tied to my waist, and I was straddling the bike. So violent was his reaction against the nudge that he took me down, along with the bike, and the three of us landed in a pile one on top of the other, with the Beast on the bottom writhing like an individual having a demon exorcised from him. I, on the other hand, was swearing a blue streak, as hubby looked on, trying not to laugh. When he felt it safe enough to come close to me without fear of getting a knuckle sandwich, hubby helped untangle the Beast, the bike and me. And then, ever the optimist, he said, "Well, this is good. I'm pretty sure it means that the Beast will respect the tire, right?"

"Something like that," I mumbled. Then we called it quits for the day, deciding that learning to ride a bike is something to be done in stages.

We went out again the very next day, and repeated the exact same exercises. This time, the Beast didn't throw a tantrum, although he clearly wasn't having any fun and was having a hard time relaxing. So we did this over and over again for a week, no more than 15 minutes a day, until he finally started to calm down enough around the bike for us to actually try taking him for a ride.

Hubby tried first. Having learned from my experiences of being pulled down before we were even riding the bike, he decided to hold the leash in his hand and take the Beast for a ride. We found a large, abandoned parking lot and hubby started pedalling in large, slow circles. The Beast started to panic, bucking and lunging away from the tires, and looking at me with a plea in his eyes to make this hellish experience stop. Hubby, ever the calmer influence than me, held firm and got the Beast to focus on him and the bike ride. It took ten minutes before the Beast stopped whining. And while his furtive glances continued, I watched as the leash got a little bit more slack because he stopped trying to leap as far away from the bike as possible. Then I watched as hubby started to pedal a little more quickly, and the Beast kicked up his own gait to match the bike's. Still cautious, and still a little panicked whenever the bike made a turn, but settling into a reasonable pace.

We did this for another week. And we watched him closely. And when we noticed that his ears were finally dropping back, we knew that he was actually starting to enjoy this bike thing. And so...

His summer days became filled with bike rides. When we wasn't busy as my running partner, hubby would take him on 6 or 7k bike rides along the river in the mornings. Every Sunday, the three of us would take off for a 5k ride to the Farmer's market, followed by a visit to the nearby dog park, and a 5k ride back home. And some nights, when I would come home from work, I would trade in my walking shoes for my bike and take the Beast for a nice ride so that he would be sure to settle into a nice quiet evening.

And he loves it. I mean, LOVES it. Every bike ride starts out the exact same way: the Beast taking off in an all out sprint, daring hubby or I to keep up with him as he sets the pace for the initial stages of the bike ride. Within a few minutes, his panting can be heard by all within a three block radius, but his face is glowing with the biggest puppy grin. And his ears are pinned straight back, the ultimate sign that he is having the time of his life. The further we go, the more he slows down, until he is content to trot alongside us at a more reasonable pace, casting the occasional glance back to make sure that whichever one of us taking up the rear has been able to keep up. And everyone who passes us in the opposite direction smiles at him, sometimes exclaiming in amazement that they have never seen a dog run alongside a bike before. The Beast smiles back at them as if to say, "Yeah, I know. I'm a freaking rock star!"

There have been unfortunate mishaps. Like the time his herding instinct kicked in when we stumbled upon a gaggle of geese and he pulled me straight off my bike and on top of him. Or the now infamous cone episode, when he dodged a lunging dog and ran straight into the rear tire of hubby's bike, suffering from a nasty bout of road rash that drove us all crazy for two weeks. But neither of these episodes have made him scared of the bike. Like a true pro, he gets right back into that saddle.

These days, there's not enough light to bike early in the morning or in the evenings after work, so our bike rides are relegated to Sunday trips to the Farmer's market and the dog park. I don't know how much longer this will last, because let's face it, when the snow falls, the bike gets stored. So I admit, I would love to have a white Christmas, but I'm okay with the snow holding out a little longer. Because there is nothing like seeing the Beast's face break out into that smile as he runs top speed alongside my bike every Sunday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Friendship

Every now and then, when I have had a tough day at work, or when I need advice, or when I just feel the need to giggle a little, I will whip out my berry and fire off a PIN to some of my favourite ladies.

"Ladies, I need my girls. Quick drink at 5:30?"

And then I eagerly await the vibration of the multiple responses, hoping that we can all find that sweet spot window between our work days and our evening home obligations to spend a few fleeting moments together. Not because I like to drink (ahem). But because sometimes, there is nothing better than laughing a little with your best pals.

Friends are special people. Sure, family members and spouses are special too. But they kind of have to be there for you when you need them. I mean, there's blood and vows involved. But not friends. They are hanging out with you because they actually like you - no pretending involved.

And so it's no surprise that some of the most important relationships of my life have been those that I have developed with the friends who have seen me through life's emergencies, victories and defeats. From the two guys that I spent most of my university time with (in a campus bar) watching football and singing karaoke, to the two girls that I spent the rest of my university time with (in a campus bar) talking about boys, to the ladies that I now share a glass of wine with (in a downtown bar) to discuss life frustrations in general, I have been lucky enough to share a lot of laughs and a lot of support with a lot of special people.

Not to mention a lot of drinks... So I guess I do like drinking...

Anyway...

The importance of friendships surpasses the human world. Doggy experts everywhere agree that socialization is one of the cornerstones to having a healthy and balanced dog. Based on my own experience, I tend to agree. The dogs that I have known in my life who aren't properly socialized (like the next door neighbour's Boston Terriers) are unfriendly, aggressive, bored, and lonely.  This is why hubby and I spend so much of our time in dog parks - to properly socialize the Beast so that he can grow up to be a good canine citizen.

Well, that's the trainer's reason for letting him run around with other dogs. But there is a more heartfelt reason for our twice-daily treks to the dog park. I truly believe that the Beast has formed some special friendships with a few special dogs. (And by special, I mean the ones who like him despite his insistent play-with-me-now-or-I-will-bark-in-your-ear attitude). So this is a little tribute to the Beast's three bestest friends.

First there is Murphy, the German Shepherd/Border Collie mix who hangs out in the Arboretum on Saturday mornings. I knew that there would be an instant connection between the two of them the second they spotted each other across the way. Both of them got down into the typical Border Collie crouch and gave each other the typical Border Collie eye, waiting for the other to make the first move. Murphy, being the youngest of the two, bolted first, and the Beast took off like a shot after him, chasing him around and around a wide circle. All of the Beast's finest herding skills - including hip checks and barking - were on display as he moved Murphy back toward the humans. When Murphy had had enough of being chased, he slammed on the brakes, turned around, and began to herd the Beast, using the exact same moves which are clearly engrained in Border Collie DNA. For ten minutes, we three humans just stood there, watching in amazement as our dogs became the perfect mirror images of one another, their deep satisfaction evident by the goofy grins pasted on their panting muzzles. Such kindred spirits they became in that short period of time, that it broke my heart a tiny bit to tear them apart.

Then there is Sampson, the German Shepherd. Sampson is HUGE. I mean, he must outweigh the Beast by 60lbs. To many - dogs and humans alike - he must look imposing. But I am an eternal lover of German Shepherds, so the minute I met him, I was in love. I didn't actually think that the Beast would share my admiration for this big strapping boy, since he generally prefers dogs his size or smaller who he will have a better chance to dominate. But Sampson took a liking to the Beast, and perhaps the Beast felt that he had no choice but to take a liking back. Ever since their first meeting, they have spent countless hours wrestling together in the snow bank outside of the local arena, until they are both so tired that they can do no more than lie on their sides and futilely swat at the air around them. And even as their tongues are dragging on the ground, they whine and protest as soon as it is time to go to their respective homes.

But the most special pal of them all - the Beast's BFF, if you will - is Ruby, the Black Lab. The Beast met Ruby one morning this summer when he and I were finishing up a run and stopped in at the local dog park for a good sniff. It was 6:30 in the morning, earlier than our usual arrival time, so I wasn't actually sure that there would be any dogs to play with. But as we turned into the park, the Beast's ears perked up with anticipation as he sensed the presence of another canine. I let him off his leash and he bounded up to the top of the hill, where he caught his first glimpse of Ruby, playing fetch with her human below. From the moment that he ran full speed down the hill and plowed her over in his excitement, to this very evening when he met her in the park just a few hours ago, the Beast has longed for Ruby's company. She is the full package. She lets him chase her. She chases him. She plays fetch with him. She wrestles with him. She plays keep-away (the stick or the ball) with him. And even better, because she is the most docile creature I've ever met, she always lets him win. The Beast loves her so much that if another dog - male or female - dares to come near her as they are engaged in play, he will unleash a vitriol of barking so shrill that windows across the street are likely to shatter. I have spent many a morning watching these two young friends greet the sunrise together with a rousing game of any-of-the-above games. It is, I am convinced, the purest form of happiness.

Which is, after all, what my best friendships have always brought to my own life: uncomplicated joy.

And the occassional drink.

Which reminds me, it's been awhile since I got the girls together...

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's just been one of those days...

Today I had a serious case of the blechs.

I blame it on a few factors. I'm seriously lacking in sleep. I had a day full of inefficient and irritatingly long meetings. I had to rush to get out of the door this morning after losing track of time. Oh yes, and it's been a dark, bleak and rainy Monday (see here for my thoughts on this least esteemed day of the week and here for my meteorological lament about precipitation).

Suffice it to say, this was the kind of day that kicked my ass a little, and that left me wanting to do nothing other than crawl into my bed with a big bowl of ice cream the minute that I got home.

Which is why I stayed at work a little bit later than I had to.

"What?" you are probably exclaiming. "How does that make sense? You're having a bad day, you want to be at home in bed, yet you are purposely staying at work? Are you crazy?"

Don't worry - this is not the first time that I've been called crazy, and it likely won't be the last. But in this case, there was actually a method to my madness. You see, hubby and I have an unwritten rule that he or she who gets home from work first is responsible for taking the Beast out for his evening stroll and romp in the park. And remember, today is Monday, it is raining, and I feel blech. Oh, and I took him out for a 6k run in the rain this morning and didn't really feel like getting soaked to the bone twice. So I didn't really want to be the first one home. Our rule may be unwritten, but the "I just don't feel like it" excuse doesn't fly well chez nous.

And so I admit it. In an attempt to secure second place in the race home, I dawdled. I successfully found a few unattended e-mails that needed answering. I did some filing (even though I have an assistant who is far more adept at that than me). I found a couple of reasons to send notes to my boss or other colleagues. And I returned a couple of phone calls even though I knew that the intended recipients would be gone for the day.

And then, when I was sure that hubby would be packing up his office and leaving for the evening (and when my dear friend called to offer me a ride which I will take over the bus any day...), I left the office, secure in the conviction that I could simply come home and sprawl out on the couch while I waited for a soaking wet Beast and a soaking wet hubby to come home for dinner.

But alas, I beat hubby home. I realized it the second we drove up and I noticed the garbage bin still at the curb. Hubby always brings the garbage bin back to the house when he gets home first. I grasped at a glimmer of hope that perhaps he took the Beast for a walk and intended to pick the bins up on the way back, but in the back of my mind, I just knew that he was still at the office.

And that I would be stuck walking with the Beast in the rain.

(Insert unmentionable expletive here. And maybe another one here...)

Well, in the words of my esteemed and wise father, "Dems the breaks, kiddo." I would just have to suck it up, find my rain gear, and get this walk over with.

But something happened to my attitude almost the minute I entered the house.

For starters, whenever the Beast is freed from the confines of his crate, he does this incredibly infectious dance that hubby and I have nicknamed the "happy bum dance". Most dogs would simply wag their tails, but the Beast doesn't have one of those, so his entire bum shakes ferociously back and forth. It is the most darling thing that I have ever seen, and it puts a smile on my face every single time. Even though I know that it is probably a sign of how badly he has to pee, it is nice to pretend that it is because he is just so darn happy to see me. And sure enough, as soon as I let him out tonight, he did the happy bum dance all the way to the patio door, looking up at me the whole time with a smile on his face (which actually probably meant, "Hurry up lady and open the door. I gotta pee!").

By the time the Beast had fulfilled his bodily needs, I was changed into my dog park clothes and ready to hit the streets with him, rain gear and all. And as I pulled on my rubber boots and slung my dog-walking knap sack over my shoulder, the Beast was sitting like a perfect gentleman at the front door, waiting for me to clip his leash on and take off. If you had any idea how long it took me to get him to wait patiently to go for a walk, you would understand why this sight makes me so happy. Even happier because the whole time, he had a big goofy grin on his face, almost as infectious as the happy bum dance.

And then there was the walk itself. Yes, it was raining. And yes, I got soaking wet. But each time I would glance down to the Beast at my side, I could not help but notice how happy he was to be out and about. His ears were back, his nose was up in the air so that he could sniff everything as we walked by, and every now and then, when I would make a kissey sound to get his attention, he would look back at me with that big silly grin.

So we walked for half an hour. And when we got to the dog park, we were greeted by two other dedicated dog owners who were braving the elements with their dogs. So we stayed there for half an hour, playing fetch with the boys and watching them get more and more dirty as they ran through puddles, snow piles and patches of mud.

It wasn't until I my fingers were so numb with cold that I had lost feeling in them that it occurred to me that I was actually having a good time. In the cold. In the dark. In the rain. On a Monday. Despite my blechy day.

It's like I told one of the dog park humans this evening in response to his polite, "How was your day?"

"Well," I said, "it was actually pretty shitty, until about half an hour ago."

"Yeah," he said. "That's what dogs do. They make your day better."

And he is right. There is something about the Beast's live-life-right-now-no-matter-what-is-going-on attitude that sweeps me away every single time. He doesn't care about the weather. He doesn't care about the day of the week or the time of day. He doesn't care that he spent the previous eight hours by himself in the house while hubby and I were at work. He just loves life, and wants to live every moment to its absolute fullest. How on earth can anyone resist that attitude?

I am quite sure that there will be plenty more blech days. But I am pretty lucky that the Beast will be waiting for me when I get home to put a smile on my face while I watch him do his happy bum dance.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, little buddy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The fight of the Beast's life**

(**Some melodrama may apply)

There are two things that you should know about me.

1 - I am not - by choice - a parent. While there are undoubtedly many wonderful things about having children, I have found that there are more than a few fringe benefits to not having any. Such as: freedom to go on a vacation whenever I want to; the ability to spend all of my money on myself; peaceful nights of uninterrupted sleep; and the ability to hand over a screaming child to someone who is truly responsible for their well-being.

2 - I am also a very bad volunteer. I have tried to find a cause so inspiring that I would be more than willing to give up my precious spare time for the greater good. But alas, I am selfish with said precious spare time, and loathe to share it. I appease my bad-citizen-induced-guilt in two ways: I give an outrageous amount of money to various charities (remember, no R.E.S.P. to which I must contribute...); and I don't nag my obsessively civic-minded husband when he gives up his spare time to any number of community-oriented causes, from the alumni association to the community association to the community spring clean-up to delivering community newspapers. Believe me when I say that he volunteers enough for our entire neighbourhood.

So with this knowledge about me firmly in hand, you may be surprised to hear that last night, I found myself sitting in on a community meeting involving the redesign of an area local park to make it more family friendly. Certainly, I was surprised that I was willing to give up 2-plus hours of my life that I will never get back. Also certainly, 6 short months ago, I wouldn't have gone to such a meeting, since (a) we don't have kids who could benefit from new play structures in the 'hood and (b) my civic-minded husband always goes to these things and would aptly represent our interests (or non-interests as the case may be).

But not last night. Nope. This time, I found the cause that made me willing to forgo pvr'd episodes of The Dog Whisperer and a glass of wine.

(Insert suspenseful pause HERE).

They want to mess with the dog park!!!!

(Insert audible gasp HERE, followed by a solid "How could they?!?!" HERE).

I suppose I should back up and tell the story properly...

So, hubby and I live in a downtown neighbourhood. We have a backyard, but it is tiny (20 by 40) and taken up mostly by deck. Hardly any kind of yard in which a high strung doggy can run around freely. As a result, since adopting our Beast, my husband has been forced to listen to me muse about moving to a bigger house with a bigger yard (and a bigger mortgage). Being the money conscious kind of guy that he is, and knowing that my musings have a tendency to turn into ceaseless nagging, he has taken it upon himself to remind me that a mere block and a half away, there is a fabulous green space, officially designated by the City as a dog-friendly park, where the Beast can run around to his heart's content. Furthermore (hubby takes great pleasure in pointing out to me), if we were to move away from this community, we would be tearing the Beast away from all of the great puppy pals he has made over the past six months, including his girlfriend Ruby the Black Lab, whom he loves more than life itself...

So by manipulating my Beast-sympathetic heart strings, hubby has convinced me that this park makes our 'hood the best possible place for us to live. So I should just STOP looking at houses for sale on mls.ca...

But then a few weeks ago he came home from his monthly meeting with the Community Association with news that our City Councillor had found money for the redevelopment of the park, and that...

"What?!?" I exclaimed before he could finish his thought. "They can't take away the Beast's dog park? Who the hell do they think they are?"

"Um, honey, nobody said anything about getting rid of the dog park," he said in his oh-so-logical-and-measured tone of voice.

"Oh, she might not have said it, but she is thinking it!!!  Why else would they renovate a perfectly lovely green space where only dogs run around, hubby? Huh? Huh? HUH????"

...

It took awhile for hubby to talk me down off a ledge and to convince me that our Councillor was not, in fact, the devil incarnate out to destroy our life with the Beast. When he finally did manage to calm me down, he recommended that I e-mail the Councillor with my ideas about the park redesign, so that they could be taken into consideration during the design stage. So I sat down with my laptop in hand and typed out the following statement in the subject line:

LEAVE THE PARK ALONE! LET THE DOGS RUN FREE!

Which hubby later made me erase, along with a few expletives, when I asked him to read the e-mail.

In the end, I toned down the rhetoric and sent a somewhat less bitchy e-mail, and the Councillor was kind enough to pass my comments along to the designer. She was also kind enough to invite me to a community meeting, where the plans would be unveiled and we would have a chance to comment.

It is only fitting to pause here and ask if anyone has ever seen the movie Footloose.  Remember the scene where Kevin Bacon appears in front of town council to request permission to hold a senior prom? He knows that the entire council is against dancing, and that a good number of townspeople are equally against dancing, and that he has a hard battle in front of him. So he whips out a Bible (thanks to his girlfriend) and finds ample evidence of Christian dancing to bolster his case. And in the delivery of his impassioned speech, which secured him a standing ovation, he gave millions of viewers goosebumps, and the feeling that they could achieve the impossible... (Even though town council ultimately voted against the dance and he had to hold it in another jurisdiction...)

...Well, in my head, this town meeting became my Footloose. I convinced myself that the Councillor and the designers and a big whack of community members would show up determined to run the dogs out of town. And while I didn't turn to the Bible to find evidence of the goodness and utility of canines, I spent days thinking of what I would say when given the opportunity so that I could convince them that they were wrong, that I was right, and that dogs deserve a place in the 'hood to hang out too. I was bound and determined to be articulate, convincing, and get my standing ovation, dammit!!!

So I went to the meeting. I looked at the plans. I listened to the Councillor talk about responding to the needs of the entire population of this area. I listened to the project manager give an overview of park renovations. I listened to the designer give a description of everything that he thinks he should do to this park to make it perfect, including reducing the dog footprint to a fenced-off 30% of the park so that elements such as a splash pad (there is another three blocks away) and a community theater stage (and there is another of these too, just one block away) could be included.  And I waited patiently for the presentation to be over so that I could get a chance to speak.

And when the presentation was finally over, I put my hand up faster than everyone in that room, and I got to take the floor first.

And so I told a packed room what it means to dog owners to have a park in the area. That it is difficult to see a plan that reduces dogs to a mere corner of the park when they have access to the whole thing now. That there has to be a way to make it more inviting without pushing one segment of the population out. And that elements such as splash pads and theaters that exist a few blocks away need not be repeated here at the expense of space for everyone to enjoy the natural elements of the park.

I didn't get a standing ovation. But I did get a few fellow dog owners thank me after the meeting. And I did spark quite a debate about the splash pad (who knew...). But most importantly, I stood up for my Beast. I articulated for him something that he can't say for himself: the importance of having his space and his friends and his time to be a live-in-this-very-moment dog.

So no, I don't have children. And no, I don't volunteer very much. But I am responsible for taking care of another sentient being, albeit one with four legs and a lot of fur, and I do believe that his well-being should count for something in this community.

I have no idea how this park battle will turn out. But I know that I will fight until the bitter end to get rid of that damn splash pad and make sure that my boy has enough room to be a dog.

And who knows. When all of this is said and done, maybe I will have found the civic cause that makes me get off my ass and work in the community...

The things I do for this dog...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday morning blues

From the time that my mother and father got me my very first clock radio in the fifth grade, I have set my alarm every Sunday night with a hint of sadness. After all, this ritual marks the last few waking moments of my weekend, and the rapid descent into the most dreaded day of the week. Monday.

Waking up on Mondays is always the harshest of the rise-and-shine rite. After a two-day hiatus, the alarm ushers in some insanely early hour with a far-too-loud-for-that-time-of-day alternative rock song from my fave radio station. Hubby, who sleeps furthest from the alarm, always seems most surprised by its obnoxious ring on Monday mornings, which makes him more prone to reaching across my face with his arm - elbowing my nose in the process - to shut it off. And every Monday, without fail, the first word that pops into my head is an expletive, followed by "I am sooooo not ready for this...." I can honestly say that there has never been a Monday morning where I have sprung out of bed, excited about life and about the week that awaits me.

And if I ever meet someone who is that excited about the start of the week, I will clock them, so help me God....

Nonetheless, rise-and-shine I must, particularly since in the division of the Beast's a.m. exercise, I somehow drew the short Monday stick (along with Wednesday and Friday, while hubby takes him out in the wee Tuesday and Thursday hours). So like it or not, I have no choice but to get up-and-at'em. (Insert a second expletive here...)

Now unlike humans, dogs have no concept of time. They don't know that there is a difference between, say, Monday morning and Friday afternoon. They have no concept of the weekend as fun time and the week as responsibility time. So they obviously can't be affected by Monday morning blues...

...Or can they?

(Cue dramatic music...)

Lately, it would in fact appear that the Beast hates Mondays just as much as I do...

Take this morning as an example. Just like every other Monday, my alarm clock went off at 5:00 a.m. Hubby jumped three feet out of bed and hit me in the face in a vain attempt to hit the snooze button. I cursed at him, shut off the alarm, and grumbled something about not wanting to go to work. After a few more grumbles and curses, I slowly got out of bed and rolled my sorry body downstairs to let the Beast out of his crate.

About halfway down the stairs, I realized that there was something amiss. Normally, the Beast would be roused by the sound of the alarm clock, and would start rustling around in his crate, eager to gain his early morning freedom. But not this morning. He made absolutely no sound as I made my way onto the first floor, not even when I punched in the code on our house alarm. When I lifted the blanket that is over his crate (placed there to stop him from waking up with the sunrise... although admittedly not so important at this time of year...), he was not in his usual downward dog stretch position. Instead, he was still curled up in a ball. Even opening the door to his crate barely stirred him. He just wanted to laze around in his bed, as I had wanted to do just a few moments earlier.

A couple of minutes later, I cajoled him out of his crate and to the back door so that he could step outside for his morning constitutional. Normally, he happily stays outside for a few minutes, taking the time to explore the backyard (even though he has seen and smelled it a million and five times before). Not today. He did his stuff and then came right back inside. And instead of following me upstairs to patiently wait for me while I don my running gear, he went right back into his crate, curled up in a little ball, put his head down, and let out a great big sigh.

I actually thought that something might be wrong....

And then hubby said, "Maybe he's bummed because it's Monday..."

"Don't be ridiculous!" I said. "He's a dog! What does he know about the days of the week."

"Well," said hubby. "You're always watching those dog shows. Maybe he's sensing your unenthusiastic Monday morning energy and mirroring you."

(Note to self - stop watching dog shows when hubby is home...)

Admittedly, I found this theory slightly interesting. So I went to my journal. Since bringing the Beast home, I have kept a journal that chronicles our successes and our failures. I keep track of his exercise, his feeding, his playtime with dogs, his barking, and so on and so forth. And I always, always comment on his mood, as well as mine. The purpose is to see if I can find any patterns that account for his behaviours, both good and bad. And so I looked back at the last few Mondays. And low and behold, this is what I found:
  • Seems more sluggish on our run than usual;
  • Went back into his crate when I brought out his leash;
  • Not as playful at the park with his best friend this morning;
  • Barely barked at all this morning.

Oh my god! The Beast really does hate Mondays as much as I do!!! I mean, he never willingly spends time in his crate, especially not when it is time to go for a run! And when he sees his best friend at the park, he usually goes nuts! And he barks all the time because he is always excited! Could it really be that, like me, he just wants to hide away from the world a little bit longer on a Monday morning? Is he as unwilling as I to face another (potentially stressful) week?

Then it hit me. The Beast's Monday morning mood has nothing to do with it being Monday. It has to do with Sunday.

You see, Sunday is the biggest, most fun filled day of the week in our little family. All three of us sleep in (until the oh-so-late hour of 7:00 a.m.), but that is where the laziness stops. Once we are awake, we hit the streets - hubby and I on our bikes and the Beast pounding the pavement alongside of us. We cover a distance of just over 4k, the first 3 of which are at the Beast's all-out-top-speed (because in his excitement, he pulls me) before we arrive at our destination: the farmer's market. The market is scintillating enough on its own, with a million different scents to stimulate a young pup's senses. Including a breakfast tent full of bacon and sausage ripe for a mooch like the Beast's pickings. But right next door to the market is a fenced-in dog park, where we let the Beast run around with his friends for at least 30 minutes before we even hit the stalls. Then hubby and I go shop, while the Beast tries his best to look charming in the hopes that another market-goer will give him one of said pieces of bacon. After wandering the aisles of the market, we hop back onto our bikes and, albeit at a slower pace, make our way home over another 4k. After these two hour outings, the Beast can be counted on to nap for most of the afternoon.

But of course, the day doesn't end there. By the time the afternoon winds down, the Beast is ready for another walk, and so we usually take off together for a nice long but easygoing stroll. To end off the weekend, we almost always end up at one of two neighbourhood dog parks, where the Beast will spend some time burning off the last vestiges of his energy reserves before heading home for dinner. Then he spends the rest of the evening watching me as I cook Sunday dinner, chewing on an elk antler (purchased at the farmer's market), and patrolling the front window as he watches all of our neighbours put their garbage out for Monday morning pick-up. By the time my bedtime rolls around, he very willingly runs into his crate, and is more than ready for Doggy Sandman to take him off to Doggy Dreamland.

And then, a mere seven hours later, there I go waking him up before he has had the chance to replenish his vast reservoir of puppy energy. I'm the obnoxious alarm clock. But not because it's Monday. Simply because he's still recharging his batteries.

So maybe he doesn't mirror my Monday morning blues. But it's still kind of nice to know that in this house, at least on Monday mornings, he and I share the same low key energy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Arboretum

Despite living in this city for over 17 years, until very recently, I have never set foot in the arboretum. I've cycled past it or driven through it a million times, but I've never ventured in. As beautiful as trees are, I'm just not all that in to nature. I prefer to spend my time in sidewalk cafés or checking out funky downtown boutiques rather than picnicking with Canada geese and ducks in the middle of a bunch of trees.

But then I got a dog, and everyone kept saying to me, "Have you taken him to the arboretum yet?"

"What's so special about the arboretum?" I would ask.

"It's doggy heaven!!!!" area dog owners assured me.

And so it was that I found myself leashing up the Beast for a run one morning and heading south towards the fabled arboretum to find out for myself what exactly was so special.

I really don't even know where to begin... Suffice it to say, if I were a dog, I would LOVE this place...

First, there are the trees. Obviously, right. I mean, it's an a-r-b-o-r-e-t-u-m. But think about it. What do dogs love to do when faced with a tree? Sniff all the dogs that have been there before, and then pee all over the thing to leave their own trail. The first time I let the Beast off-leash in the arboretum, he literally ran from tree to tree to tree in a dizzying zigzag pattern, peeing on every single one. I don't actually know where he gets his pee reserves from, but he could spend the entire day peeing on each and every tree in the arboretum if I let him.

Then there are the other dogs. Brave dog owners from across the city flaunt the no-dogs-off-leash signs that pepper the entire 16 hectares of the arboretum. And there are dogs of all kinds. Fearless squirrel chasing German shepherds. Ball crazy Labrador retrievers. Leaping Jack Russells. Energetic pitbulls. Pony-sized Great Danes. Not to mention the most adorable Welsh Corgi that I have ever met. They run around all over the place (peeing on trees), offering the Beast more than enough opportunities to socialize. In fact, our little Romeo has snagged himself a couple of girlfriends who meet up with him every Saturday morning for little wrestle-and-chase dates (in between bouts of peeing on trees). And if they don't show up, it's all good. Because there are lots of other willing playmates to choose from!

And of course, there are ducks. Millions and millions of ducks. Although the Beast will leave wildlife alone 99% of the time, every now and then something inside of him goes absolutely crazy for ducks. Some sleeping prey drive awakens, and when he is done peeing on trees, off he goes, sprinting and leaping through entire flocks of ducks, causing them to disperse and rally in another corner of the arboretum, only to be disrupted within seconds of settling in. Perhaps he is practicing his herding. Whatever it is, it is so funny to watch that I even don't mind that his recall sucks when he is in the throes of rounding up duck droves.

And why are there so many ducks in the arboretum? Well, because of the big giant duck pond right smack int he middle, that's why! Which means SWIMMING!!!! (http://herdinthehood.blogspot.com/2011/10/waterlog-dog.html). Ducks or no ducks, the Beast is liable at any time to take a cautious leap into the pond. In fact, he loves the pond so much that even once it has dried up by mid-October, he still can't help himself from going in and wading in the mud (mixed with god knows what else, but it sure does stink!). Even the dreaded hose-down that he gets when he arrives home from one of these romps is not enough to dissuade him from his mud bath. And to the disenchantment of many other arboretum-goers, he has persuaded more than one of his canine friends to follow him into the stench hole for a little wrestle....

But best of all, there is a never ending supply of sticks, which he usually discovers under a tree that he has been peeing on. And sticks are the GREATEST THING EVER ON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE PLANET - at least according to the Beast. First of all, they make great toys for playing fetch, so on those days when I leave the house too quickly without a ball, the arboretum has this unprepared mommy covered.

Secondly, every dog knows that one of the best games in the world is keep-the-stick-from-the-other-dog-who-really-seems-to-want-it-as-badly-as-I-do.  The Beast will literally run laps around every single dog in the arboretum - with a stick hanging out of his mouth - until he succeeds in convincing one of them that they MUST GET THE STICK NOW!!!!! He will then spend the next few minutes torturing said puppy by kicking it into high gear and weaving in and out of trees to protect his stick at all costs. The odd time, he will let the other dog have his stick, but only so he can either (a) give chase and bark at the top of his lungs or (b) play another top-five favourite game - tug-'o-war. Either way, I have seen him wear down some of the highest energy dogs out there with his never-ending love of games to be played with sticks.

So yes, the arboretum is definitely doggy heaven. About the only thing that could make it any better would be if liver treats grew on the trees. And while the Beast likes spending time in any dog park that we take him to, there is something about the arboretum that has me convinced that it is his absolute favourite. Nothing matches the look on his little face when he realizes that we are about to enter this treed paradise. Certainly, his bum never wiggles as much as it does when he gets unleashed on arboretum soil.

One thing is for sure, it is my absolute favourite. Seeing the Beast run around like a kid at Disneyland, hopping from tree to tree, sniffing everything in sight, making new doggy friends, bouncing through the duck ponds, and chasing down or eating sticks puts a smile on my face every single time. (Not to mention how ecstatic I am that an hour in the arboretum is enough to tire him out for the rest of the day...).

But it's more than that. I have discovered, 17 years after moving here, that the arboretum is truly a gem within this city. There is nothing quite like a sunrise run through the tree-lined lanes that border the arboretum and that lead you straight into its heart. And there is nothing like spending a beautiful autumn day strolling through this magnificent park while sipping away at a Starbucks coffee. And there is nothing like watching the pink hues of sundown through the trees and over the canal. It is truly a beautiful place, a small refuge from the loudness and craziness of the city that surrounds it.

And I would likely have never discovered it had the Beast not come into my life.

So thank you, Beasty, for leading me straight into doggy heaven. Because it's a pretty great place for humans too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Waterlog dog

When I was a kid, I loved, and I mean L-O-V-E-D, to swim. My parents told everyone I was part fish. Which I guess makes me a mermaid... But I digress...

The point is that swimming was one of my all-time favourite past-times. I harassed my parents every single summer day to take me to the beach. I harassed my parents to put me in swimming lessons. I harassed my parents to get us a pool. When they finally got us a pool, I spent hours and hours and hours and hours and hours a day in it. I never obeyed the "wait one hour after eating before you swim" rule - as long as I wasn't eating or sleeping, I was swimming. I would come out of that pool every single day with hands so pruney and wrinkly that my grandmother looked younger than me...

Even as a teenager, my obsession with water continued. While all the other girls my age were more interested in purchasing teeny little bikinis, slathering on sun tan oil, and baking themselves in the sun, I would climb into my one piece sport suit, slather on SPF 45 sunblock, and spend the day jumping off the dock in the middle of the lake with the boys. Or I would (badly, oh so very badly) water ski. Or I would swim laps across the lake. Anything other than waste time sunning myself on the sand.

So when my family adopted a Labrador retriever/German shepherd cross, I was ecstatic! I imagined spending long days down by the lake with my dog, me swimming to my heart's content, and the dog retrieving various toys and sticks that I would throw from off the dock.

But alas, despite the infamous water-loving Labrador retriever heritage, this dog despised water. She was so petrified of water, that the minute the car pulled into the parking lot down by the lake, she would practically screech (if dogs can even do that...). The one and only time I succeeded in leading her down to the shore (admittedly with brute force), she escaped my clutches and it took me an hour of driving around, calling out her name, to find her. No water-filled dog days of summer for me and this pooch...

And then I moved away from home, went to university, and stopped swimming (having found new favourite activities like beer drinking and card playing). These days, I am one of those girls who is much more interested in shopping for bikinis and laying on the beach soaking up sun rather than doing laps in a pool or at the lake. (Although I still wear high SPF sun block because my freckles and blue eyes don't mix so well with the hot sun...).

All this to say that "water-loving" was not a required selection criteria when choosing a dog. Especially since I'd made up my mind that I wanted an Aussie - not exactly a breed known for aquatic prowess...

Still, in my never-ending quest to exhaust the Beast and drain his energy, and because I saw an episode of The Dog Whisperer once where Cesar talked about how swimming is one of the best ways to tire out a high energy dog, I thought I would introduce the Beast to the water to see how things would go. And low and behold, just 2k from my place is a local doggy watering hole, where downtown dog owners take their mutts to cool off on uber-hot and sticky days. So off we went on our bikes, Beast running alongside, to check it out on one exceedingly warm summer afternoon.

If dogs bred to work in water were planning to band together and take over canine-dom, this is their headquarters. The place is crawling with water dogs! Labrador and golden retrievers jumping off the shore and into the river to retrieve tossed balls. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers chasing after errant sticks floating down stream. Portuguese water dogs splashing around, possibly in search of fishing nets. Even mighty Newfoundlands patrol the shores of this dog park. Although from an equally esteemed - albeit land-loving - working background, the Beast stuck out a little like a sore thumb among this sea-faring crew!

But he wasn't about to let all that water get in the way of his favourite game in the whole wide world. Chase! Whether he is doing the chasing, or whether he is the one being chased, there is no game that he would rather play.

Now since the park was full of Labs, I should back up a bit and talk about the Beast's relationship with this favoured breed. He has tried to make friends with many a retriever in his short life. But he finds it supremely challenging. This is because the vast majority of retrievers that he has met are singularly focused on the object being thrown to them by their owners, and not on him. And in his little mind, he is the party dog, and they should want to hang out with him and chase him around. When they inevitably don't listen to his commands to chase, the Beast gets frustrated, which is expressed through very loud and very repeated barking. The only reason the Beast tolerates retrievers, I believe, is because eventually, an object gets thrown and the retriever takes off after it, finally giving the Beast an opportunity to gallop after him across the park, if only for a fleeting moment.

So surrounded by Labs and other ball - and now water - obsessed pups, I wasn't sure how the Beast would react. But I could see his little eyes fill with excitement as he watched Lab after Lab after Lab make mad dashes and running leaps off the rock face and into the river in pursuit of their balls. So I said a little prayer, told him to behave, and let him off his leash.

The Beast was off like a flash! He had spotted a beautiful chocolate brown lab who, over and over and over and over again, was retrieving balls from the river for her owner. He would throw a ball, and within a couple of seconds there would be this huge SPLASH. The Lab would gracefully and easily swim out to the middle of the river, snatch the ball in her teeth, swim back to shore, hop out, shake herself off, and trot back to her owner, where she would gently lay the ball at his feet and then eagerly await the next throw.

When the next throw came, off she went, and like a bolt of lightening, the Beast, who was a good 15 metres away, took off. He was closing in on her fast as his long legs moved into full out sprint mode. And he just about caught her two when she lifted herself into the air and threw herself into the river.

All of a sudden, with a look on his face that can only be described as the doggy version of "What the f@$k!!!", he slammed on the brakes and teetered on the edge of the rock face, with nothing but more rocks and water below him. Desperately, he kept looking out to the water, whining and barking at the Lab - whom he hadn't even yet greeted with a butt sniff - as though saying to her, "No fair!!!  You can't just escape me by jumping into the water! Get back here right now and let me chase you on land right now!

And sure enough, as she made her way back to the shore, the Beast got more and more excited, audibly panting and excitedly wagging his entire bum. Then she got out of the water, and without even a glance in his direction, shook herself off and headed back to her owner to await another throw. The Beast was a little stunned.

But it didn't take long for the Beast to figure out that if he wanted to play with this dog, he was simply going to have to dip a toe in. Which is exactly what he did on the very next throw. This time, he watched from the shoreline as the Lab went leaping into the air and splashing into the river. And then, he dipped in one front paw. And then the other. Very tentatively and slowly making his way into the water, small step by small step, until there was no more rock underneath him and he had no choice but to swim.

I nearly peed my pants laughing.

First of all, by the time the Beast finally took the full plunge and began to do what I guess can be called swimming, the Lab was already back on shore shaking herself off. Second of all, compared to the powerful and graceful Lab, which is truly a site to see when in full stride in the water, the Beast was the goofiest, clumsiest dog I have ever seen. The Lab takes long, quick and steady strokes, propelling herself gracefully through the water with her tail, making her way out to the middle of the river and back to the shore easily and without wasting any time. The Beast, on the other hand, kind of bobs along in this aquatic lope, with his head moving slowly up and down, side to side. All he could manage to do was a very small yet very slowly swum circle, having absolutely no chance of successfully chasing the Lab all the way out to her ball.

Yet, he kept going in. And he clearly was having the time of his life. I've learned to read his body language; when his ears are back alongside his head, he is relaxed and calm. And in the water, his ears were all the way back and he had a side-to-side Aussie grin pasted on his freckled face.

So as I watched him take his first foray into aquatic sports, I was actually feeling kind of proud. Proud of myself for opening up his world to new and exciting activities. Proud of hubby (who does not swim and does not exactly like water) for letting go of his own nervousness and enjoying watching the Beast play in the water. But most of all proud of the Beast himself, for taking that plunge - albeit toe by toe - into the water and for figuring out so quickly how to swim. I was like a mom watching her kid put on skates for the first time and take to the ice. And no matter how clumsy and awkward my guy was in the water, I was damn proud of him!

So add swimming to the Beast's ever-growing list of awesome things to do on a summer day. Or on a fall day, as we recently discovered on a Thanksgiving stroll through the arboretum when he dove into the duck pond - with his backpack on - and came out covered in mud and algae. And let me tell you - as gross as that pond is and as bad as he smells when he comes out of it, nothing beats the grin on the Beast's face as he slowly and clumsily makes his way from one end of the pond to the other.

I just better stock up on that waterless shampoo spray and few more towels...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go...

I have known that I wanted an Australian shepherd from the first time that I took my brother's Aussie out for a run. Since that day, and before making the move to adopt one of my own, I have spent countless hours on the Internet researching the breed so that I knew what I would be getting myself into.

I have to be honest - the Australian shepherd is a bit of an intimidating breed (which may explain why it took me so long to actually adopt one...). Here are just some of the traits that describe the esteemed Aussie, according to any number Google hits:
  • Aussies are dominant and pushy, necessary characteristics for a dog bred to control livestock;
  • Aussies require constant, lifelong training and discipline - not just a six week obedience class - because of their more dominant personalities;
  • Aussies are highly energetic and need lots of exercise. Rigorous exercise. Strolling is not enough;
  • Aussies are reserved and may develop behavioural issues (such as aggression) if not properly socialized;
  • Aussies are intense and hyper-focused;
  • Aussies bark. Sometimes a lot. It's a herding thing;
  • Aussies shed. And not just a little. So you'd better get a damn good vacuum cleaner if you don't already have one, or just learn to live with dog hair EVERYWHERE. IN. THE. HOUSE. (including places you didn't even think your dog could get into...)

As you can see, it's a l-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-g-g-g-g list. Some on-line Aussie enthusiasts have even stated that they spend more time trying to talk people out of getting an Aussie then they do trying to convince them to adopt one. Rescuers repeat story after story of the Aussies in their care, adopted by families who fell in love with this gorgeous breed but who soon found that they could not keep up with their new high-energy and super smart dog. Which explains why rescue organizations ask for a very detailed and full accounting of your lifestyle before you can adopt an abandoned Aussie.

Well, hey. What can I say. I like a challenge. And since the Beast demonstrates every single trait listed above - and a few more for good measure - I have my work cut out for me (as chronicled in this very blog).

The good news is that these many intimidating and challenging Aussie traits can be tamed. The trick, according to many experts - breeders, rescue organizations, and trainers or behaviourists who specialize in Australian shepherds - is to give the dog a "job" to do. It took me a while to understand what was meant by this. Indeed, I had to Google "what does it mean to give an Australian Shepherd a job?" because I couldn't stop thinking that I had to buy a flock of sheep and let them graze in the backyard (which is a problem since I have no grass back there...). Thankfully, I discovered that "job" need not be so literal. It is merely anything that will appeal to the Aussie's strong work ethic, that will focus his attention on one specific task, and that will stimulate his uber-intelligent mind. Examples range from the obvious (sheep-herding, which this dog was bred for) to the fun (agility training or fly-ball) to the more mundane (following simple rules and commands).

And so, hubby and I have found ourselves searching for the perfect "job" to give our Beast, to help quiet his hyper-focused and slightly obsessive compulsive mind. So far, we've come up with a few:
  • He must sit before he exits or enters the house, whether its to go outside for a bathroom break or to go for a long stroll;
  • He must lie on his bed while we eat;
  • He must sit and stay when I let him off the leash at the dog park, until I say "break";
  • He must walk (or run) nicely beside me, focused on me and the direction that I want to lead him in. He is not to be out front, sniffing everywhere he wants to sniff, impolitely shoving his nose at every doggy or human passer-by;
  • On days when he is particularly jacked up, he must carry a backpack which is stuffed with his portable water dish and his own water bottles.

But by far, his most favourite job is on garbage day.

In our neighbourhood, garbage day is on Mondays, which is also one of our morning jog days. So every Monday morning, the Beast and I set off in whichever of the four directions strikes our fancy and put a few kilometres under our leash. Then we head off to the dog park to run around with other neighbourhood dogs or to play fetch. And then we get to work. Taking out the garbage.

First we go through the house together and collect all of the garbage bags - from the bathrooms, the kitchen and the backyard. Then we go outside to the carport, throw the bags into the large garbage bin, and we take it to the curb. We then go back inside and grab the wet recycling from the kitchen, which we deposit in the green bin and drag to the curb. Finally, we go back into the house together to sort the recycling, bring the appropriate batch outside to the appropriately coloured recycle bin, and carry the recycling to the curb. At the end of the day, when I get home from work, I bring the Beast outside with me and we collect the bins together and bring them back to the carport.

I have never seen the Beast so focused on one single task as he is when he helps me take the garbage out and bring the bins back in. He focuses solely on me and on the task at hand, happily prancing by my side with his head up, his ears back, and a big, proud smile on his muzzle. It is the one time that he does not get distracted by every single thing that is happening around him. Kids can be playing outside, other dogs can be running around, and my neighbour - who he adores and who he will never pass by without an enthusiastic greeting (usually in the form of a loud bark and vigorous bum wiggle) - can be out on her morning jog, but he notices none of them. All he seems to care about is escorting me back and forth from the carport to the curb as we put out or bring in each of the garbage bins, one-by-one. It is a sight to see.

Garbage day is not something that most people look forward to. Indeed, I used to happily sit back and let hubby take care of this task pre-Beast. But I gotta admit that I kind of enjoy taking the garbage out now. Silly, I know, but if you could see the absolute pride on the Beast's face when he helps me, you'd understand. Heck, he makes it look so fun that you might even like to take my garbage out!

But you can't. That job is taken. By the best worker in town.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Weekends

I have a tough job. I work hard during the week. I feel a lot of stress. Which means that on weekends, I want nothing more than to relax. I don't want to have to think. I don't want to have to do. I just kind of want to be. Weekends, for me, should be all about lounging around.

They should be. But they aren't. Because I live with an energetic dog...

Now I have been a morning person most of my life. With the exception of my undergrad years - when I was known to stay out until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and wake up at 2:00 p.m. - I have always been an early riser. In my books, staying in bed until 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday equals sleeping in, and spoiling myself rotten.

Still, even if I am seldom in bed past 7:00 a.m., I like to lounge around. My preferred Saturday morning ritual looks something like this:
  • Wake up sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Stay in my pyjamas
  • Retrieve the Saturday Globe & Mail
  • Put on a pot of coffee
  • Drink coffee and read every section of the Saturday Globe & Mail (except the business section - hubby just reads that and summarizes for me)
  • Watch TSN Sportscentre 
  • Fill out the Globe & Mail crossword
  • Eat some breakfast
  • Tell hubby to stop harassing me about getting up and doing groceries

And eventually, after what I deem to be a long enough period of lounging around (which could be from anywhere between two and four hours of good solid downtime), I hop in the shower, get dressed, and walk down to the grocery store with hubby.

Well, that is my preferred Saturday morning scenario. And I even got to put this wonderful do-nothing-plan into action on more than a few mornings in my life.

But not anymore...

Now, Saturday morning looks something like this:
  • Wake up between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Immediately get dressed
  • Let the Beast out of his crate and into the backyard
  • Take the Beast out for at least an hour and a half. He gets his exercise (which can be a long walk, a bike ride or a run), followed by a drop in at one of a few doggy parks for socialization and fetch.
  • Come back home
  • Put on a pot of coffee
  • Have breakfast
  • Feed the dog
  • Get on with the rest of the day.

Aside from reading the Globe & Mail and the pyjamas, can you see what is missing there? A whole lot of lounging around is missing there, that's what!

You might be thinking to yourselves that there is plenty of time for lounging around once the Beast and I return from our morning of fun and activity. And I suppose, on the one hand, you are right. Certainly, once the Beast is well fed and well exercised, he likes nothing better than to plunk himself down on his dog bed for a good chunk of the day. I, on the other hand, now find myself incapable of doing so. You see, the secret to lounging around and doing nothing is to do so before you get dressed. At least for me. Once I'm dressed, my brain sends a signal to the rest of my body to get up and at 'em. No more time for watching Sportscentre. No more time for reading the Globe & Mail. And no more time for filling out crossword puzzles. Time to clean, go for groceries, reconcile household expenses, or even to get some work done.

And it's not just lazy mornings that are gone. It's lazy afternoons. Like days when you want to watch back-to-back football games and enjoy a couple of beers, for example. Or days after big Thanksgiving dinners where you ate way too much food and the only thing you want to do is curl up with a good book and read off your turkey coma.

Well, those days are long gone too. Because right smack dab in the middle of an exciting fourth quarter, or just at the part of the book where things are getting really interesting, the Beast starts to get restless and needs to be let out for his afternoon walk. And don't think you can ignore his restlessness either until the game is over. No freaking way. He is relentless with his whining and his barking and his dancing all over the place and his dropping toys in your lap and his.... well, you get the picture.  When it is time to go for a walk, it is time to go for a walk!

Which is how I came to find myself, over the course of this Thanksgiving long weekend, putting in a 9k run, a 10k bike ride, a 2.5 hour doggy date in the Arboretum, a 5k round trip walk to the best dog park in town, and at least a couple of other walks and a couple of other romps in the park. Who said long weekends were for relaxing...

So my days of lounging around are seemingly over.

But here's the kicker. I thought I would mind. I thought I would mind that I can no longer stay in my p.j.'s until noon if I want to, or that I can no longer sit in the basement watching non-stop football all day on Sunday, or that I had to cancel my subscription to the Globe & Mail because I found it unopened until late Sunday evening. But the truth is that I kind of don't mind. Sure, there is that split second when I am lying in bed on Saturday morning and I think to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could stay in my pyjamas all day long!" But that moment truly is fleeting. There is even, I admit, a tiny moment of resentment when I am lacing up my shoes and taking off on an early-Saturday-morning run or a middle-of-an-exciting-football-game walk. But as soon as I set foot outside with the Beast, and see how absolutely happy it makes him to be out in the great outdoors, I can't help but surrender to his enthusiasm and enjoy myself. And I can't help but become a little bit more energized because of it.

So I've altered my perspective a little. Weekends - whether long or regular-sized - are still all about coming down from the stresses of the work week. It's just that now I recharge my batteries by replacing my pyjamas with running shoes, and the Globe & Mail with a furry, excitable and adorable companion.

And I think I might actually be less stressed than I ever was before.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goodbye Dee

About 8 years ago, my brother called me to tell me that he got a dog. Let's call him Dee. Dee was a greyhound, rescued by a lovely Canadian couple from a Florida racetrack and brought to Canada to be placed in a loving home. So the story goes, my brother walked into the kennel to pick out a dog when Dee sauntered over to him and nudged at his hand for a good ear scratch.

Little is known about Dee's pre-rescue life other than that he was likely not treated very well. His sole purpose was to race, and when he stopped winning, his "owners" made plans to discard him. When he was found by this rescue organization, he was about to be put down, had a mouthful of rotten teeth, patches of fur missing (likely "bedsores" from lying in a crate the entire day), and was all skin and bones.

Yet he had the most soulful set of eyes... It is no wonder to me that my brother fell instantly in love with him, gave him a good ear rub, and immediately took him home.

The two of them were inseparable, the truest depiction of man and his best friend that I have ever seen. Rather than put Dee in a kennel when he travelled home to see our parents, my brother would load him into the back seat of his car and drive half-way across Canada rather than take a plane. When we had a family portrait done as a gift to my mother for her 50th birthday, my brother insisted that Dee be in the picture. When my brother bought brand new couches, he swore that Dee would no longer be allowed to sit on them, but that lasted about three hours until Dee snuggled up beside him and claimed half of the love seat as his very own. Dee had my brother wrapped around his paw, and my brother loved it.

Dee had a few quirks (like his fear traffic, his vile hatred of snow and cold, and his stubborn refusal to walk a step further once he had made up his mind that he had gone far enough). But all in all, you could not ask for a more well-behaved and easy-going dog. Even when my brother brought a young Aussie puppy into the mix - first as a foster but eventually as a member of his pack - Dee wasn't phased in the least. The Aussie became his younger brother and his best pal, and it even gave him some gas in his tank to have a younger, more energetic pup in his life.

But in the past year, Dee had really begun to show his age. Although greyhounds are typically known as lazy dogs (despite their racing pedigree), Dee was almost never awake, and even if he was, he would almost always be lying down. The last time I went over to my brother's house, I noticed how much trouble Dee was having getting up and lying back down. He was no longer the enthusiastic door greeter that he had once been either, as though he could no longer be troubled to expend the energy required to walk to the front door and give me his usual doggy kisses. I even mentioned to my hubby after visiting my brother a few weeks ago that I was worried about Dee, and the fact that he was perhaps not much longer among us.

And then last night, I got an e-mail from my brother.

Dee is gone. He was put down on Friday night. He was 12 years old.

I didn't realize how much I had grown to love this dog until I read and re-read my brother's email a few times, tears rolling down my face. Even now as I write this, I am still getting choked up. Obviously, I'm upset for my brother, who is hurting at the loss of his faithful companion. But I'm also upset for me, and for the fact that I won't get to see sweet Dee again. If you are a true dog lover, this is a dog that cannot but touch your heart when you meet him. It's those eyes. Even as he grew older and more frail, those eyes were still young, full of life and unconditional love.

When my nephew was about 4 years old, he looked at my brother and said, "Uncle B, Dee is the perfect height for a hug." Then he wrapped his arms around Dee and gave him a big squeeze, while the dog just stood there, perfectly calm and quiet, and let this silly little boy manhandle him a little. This is the image of Dee that I will forever have in my mind.

To a damn good dog...

I'll miss you, Dee. And so will the Beast.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night"**

As the dying days of Indian summer give way to the chilly breezes of autumn, more than just the leaves are falling. The hours of daylight are rapidly diminishing, making it more and more difficult to wake up in the morning. The mercury is beginning its slow descent towards winter, forcing me to switch out my summer and winter wardrobes. And, at least in these parts, the rain has not stopped coming down for days on end....

...Sigh... Goodbye summer...

Many things end with summer. We wrapped up our softball league a couple of weekends ago. Soon we'll dismantle the patio furniture, take down the gazebo, and move our bikes to the basement. We'll have less white wines chilling in our fridge and default more and more to reds. And the slow cooker will replace the barbeque as the cooking method of choice.

Many things also begin with the end of summer. The harvest begins in earnest, and hubby and I benefit from bountiful farmer's market stalls. New seasons of our favourite shows - this year it's The Good Wife - begin, giving our PVR a major workout. And of course, the fall coincides with the holy trifecta of sport - football, hockey and baseball - so that my t.v. is permanently bouncing between TSN and Sportsnet.

But one thing remains ever constant. The Beast's breeding demands exercise. No matter what Mother Nature is sending our way.

We take the Beast out twice a day. And not for 10 minute spins around the block either. He has way too much energy to release. He is out for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the early evening. Mornings are relegated to either a run, a bike ride (when weather permits) or a nice long romp through the arboretum, sometimes followed by a visit to the dog park. In the evening, we usually strap on his backpack and take off to discover new streets in the neighbourhood, always stopping in one of many parks for a rousing game of fetch. Our little athlete requires nothing less. The proof is in how happy, adjusted, and (for-the-most-part) well behaved he is in the home (until the doorbell rings, anyway, as evidenced by his most recent display just 10 minutes ago when a friend and her daughter stopped in for a visit...).

But back to his high exercise demands. We knew this would be the case when we chose to adopt a member of the Aussie clan, one of the more energetic dogs out there. Indeed, this is why we chose this breed, so that I could have a companion on my runs. I've also come to look very forward to our after-work walks. Hitting the road with the Beast helps me to reset my thoughts and switch from work mode to family mode, something I used to have so much trouble doing that I would find myself staying wide awake at night thinking about work. And there is nothing better than hitting a local dog park and watching the Beast having the time of his life out-pacing all of his best friends, wrestling with his favourite German shepherd, and leaping in the air to catch his ball. I really enjoy this new routine! (Of course, losing a few extra pounds as a result of my own increased activity doesn't hurt either...)

Yet...

...I can't deny that as the cold and wet autumn settles in, I am finding thoughts such as "Oh, we can take a shorter walk this morning" or "Surely if we just skip one walk it won't be the end of the world" or "We don't really have to stop in at the dog park today" creep into my head.

A big part of it is because I hate the rain. Like I mean, really, really hate the rain. Much as I love cities like Vancouver and London, I don't think I could live there without slitting my wrists. Grey skies are depressing! I hate the rain so much that I would take a day of minus 30 with clear blue skies and sunshine over a day of plus 15 with rain.

And for the last four days, it hasn't stopped raining. I have had to go for a run in the rain. I have had to go for evening walks in the rain. I have had to play fetch in the rain. I have had to do many, many things, for many, many days on end that involve standing outside in the rain getting soaked. (I've also spent a lot of time worrying about how dirty my house is as a result of wet, muddy dog...) Whereas if I didn't have a dog, I would forgo the run for another day. I would stay inside and read a book or watch t.v. after getting home from work. Or I would stay at work and get stuff done there since it wouldn't be worth being outside. In short, I would put my life on a hold for a little while and hide out.

But that's the thing. Unlike Major League Baseball, there are no rain delays when it comes to taking care of your pet. I can't just pull a tarp over our favourite walking paths in the morning and hope that the skies will clear up and the ground will be dry by the time I get home from work, with a promise that I will take the Beast for an extra long walk then. No way. He needs his twice-a-day exercise routine, and he needs his socialization. Pure and simple.

The Beast didn't have a choice in the matter of who he decided to come home with. He wasn't given a list of prospective dog owners to choose from. He couldn't interview a bunch of us and say, "Hey, I need someone who can live with a lot of erratic barking whenever someone comes near the front door, and someone who is willing to take me outside for at least two hours a day so that I can run around and burn off some craziness. No need to apply if you aren't able to deliver that, Mister!"

No, we chose him. We decided that we wanted to bring him into our home, because we felt confident that our lifestyles were suited to having a dog like him in our family. We can't renege on that promise when the skies turn a little grey, the sun hides for a little longer, or the temperature starts to drop. Having the Beast with us is a 365 day-a-year commitment, because he has 365 day-a-year (somewhat-high-maintenance-at-times) needs.   

So it's a good thing I bought those rain boots, but I'd better invest in a better rain jacket and probably a pair of rain pants, and while I'm thinking about it, a rain hat, because carrying an umbrella when walking a dog is a pain in the ass.

And I'd better brace myself for another long, dark Canadian winter, because he's gonna need his exercise then too...

... Gulp



**Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City (and a good way to describe how I feel about my obligation to comply to the Beast's exercise regime...)