I quit walking my dog Alke over two years ago because I could not get him to stop pulling, which was excruciating on my arms and on my lower back. The flare in my lower back pain is what ultimately precipitated my fibromyalgia (thanks, nerves!), and I just could not manage walking him as I also tried to manage my pain. Now that I’ve reached what is hopefully my therapeutic level of medications and work/life accommodations, I’ve begun trying to walk him regularly again.
Walking Alke is still not easy. In fact, taking my dog on a walk is usually a frustrating experience. He’s made significant strides in not pulling on the leash. I make him sit when he pulls or walk the other direction (see, you don’t get what you want when you do that!). Still, the constant little tugs as he steps a little too far in front of me makes my arm ache, and an unexpected swerve to smell a bush will send jolts of alarm through the nerves in my back. He’s made progress, but each step had been painful and frustrating. I prefer a solitary walk by myself than one where I’m constantly achy and reprimanding my dog for infractions that other people likely see as minor. It’s not fun.
As much as I dislike walking him, Alke absolutely loves it. I began walking him on my lunch break a few months ago, and he’s quickly fallen into the routine. If I don’t walk him by about 1:00, he will follow me around the house and stare, stare, stare at me. He’ll get in front of wherever I’m walking, sit down, and stare at me expectantly, clearly begging. If I’m working at my desk, he’ll sit by me, place his head on my thigh, and stare up at me with a face full of bare want.
Now that we’re in this walking routine, I feel frustrated and guilty when I don’t walk him. We can’t afford a dog walker. Moreover, I can lift weights! I exercise! I’m reasonably fit! I hauled a backpack up a mountain just two weeks ago! Why can’t I walk my own damn dog? I have to remind myself that having a strong sentient creature who weighs 55 pounds and is attached to you by a tether is altogether a different skill than a wearing well-fitted and secured pack, performing a bent-over row, or doing a hammer curl. There’s no point in being angry about the things I can’t do anymore; I need to be kinder to myself as I am.
In being kind to myself though, I may not be kind to my dog. I’m wavering about giving up our lunch walks. On our walk yesterday, an off-leash dog came bounding up to us at a full play-with-me sprint. Alke is normally well behaved enough on the leash to not tug when a dog is walking near us. Or he’ll sit somewhat impatiently and whine a little when a dog passes us. He’s so well trained off-leash that he can sit in our unfenced side yard while a dog walks past and not leave the yard because he knows he’s not supposed to. The other dog will yap and tug and make a fuss, and Alke will whine but not leave the yard. He usually won’t even take more than a handful of steps toward the walking dog.
Yesterday’s aborted walk was a different story. Alke usually wants nothing more than to play with other dogs, and this marauding dog wanted to play. Alke lunged forward multiple times at this dog with all his strength. Repeatedly. The dog ran away from us while the owner apologized profusely, and I tried to walk on to get away from the dog and finish the walk we had just started (we were maybe two houses away from home). The owner apparently failed to recall his dog because his dog came racing up from behind us, and Alke jumped sideways at him, nearly knocking me off my feet with the unexpected force of his sideways lunge, and my back screamed nope! I had to walk my dog back home, drop him off, and finish my walk without him. Even without him, by that point, my back was in agony.
I complained about the pain and the encounter with the marauding dog to a friend, and she asked me how she could help. I joked that I could use a massage and a dog walker. Since she lives several states away from me, she scheduled a massage appointment for me the next day. I was so flabbergasted that I initially didn’t respond with sufficient gratitude for her kind, kind gesture, and I am very grateful. The massage was soothing, and the masseuse worked out some kinks in my back. Her gift was generous and calming and restorative, exactly what I needed after my back was tugged every which way by my 55-pound wiggle butt of a puppy. I have such thoughtful, generous friends.
Now that my back has calmed down, I will have to reconsider whether I can handle walking my dog on a daily basis. Luckily for him, today is unseasonably warm, so we can spend a good chunk of time playing Frisbee in the yard, which may be my dog’s third favorite activity: (1) playing with other dogs, (2) walks in the neighborhood, (3) fetch ad naseum.
If you have any dog-walking tips, let me know! I’m going to have a hard time saying no to this face.