Last week a friend and neighbor went on vacation and asked me to walk her two adorable shih tzus a couple times while she was gone. She had a whole crew of friends and neighbors willing to help her out - and I had taken care of her cat once - but this was my first experience with her dogs.
This is a person who has come to my rescue many times in the past several months - taking care of Maggie when I was at my dad's hospital bedside or checking on my cats while we were out of town. She even - along with another neighbor and friend - drove to Alliance with me to help clean out my parents' home to get it ready to put on the market.
And, when I was a brand new puppy-mommy earlier this year, she helped save my sanity a time or two by volunteering to puppy sit Maggie lest I lose my new puppy-mommy mind.
So there was no question that I'd help out.
The only real question was whether I could handle walking two dogs at the same time. I mean, walking Maggie takes 100% of my effort and concentration as the eight pound little stinker nearly pulls my arm out of its socket racing from one side of the sidewalk to the other. She scrambles into bushes sniffing like a professional bloodhound seeking a lost toddler. Mostly she's looking for squirrels to intimidate and terrify with her ferocious barking. And if she encounters a dog she doesn't know? Fuggetaboutit. Killer-Dog-Maggie emerges to "save" the day.
So when I entered Suzy's house for my first double dog walking session, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought I'd find two frantic dogs desperately seeking the nearest fire hydrant.
Instead, I found two calm little angels who greeted me and let me pet them without yipping and hyperactively jumping three feet in the air to catch my attention. As if that were necessary.
When I called them over to me so I could put on their collars and leashes, they...well, I don't know any other way to put it, but...they came over to me. Oh, sure, maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but it's an experience I've never had with Maggie Minx. Getting the leash on that dog is like a major battle of wills. You'd think because I'm bigger and stronger, it wouldn't really be much of a competition - but you'd be wrong, kemosabe.
So once Chai and Cruiser were properly outfitted and I had several trusty poo bags stashed in my pocket, off we went.
And let me just say, it was a completely different experience. I mean, these dogs actually walked. They didn't pull and tug and run willy-nilly to and fro. The biggest effort I made was occasionally switching the leash handles as they traded sides.
Sure, they sniffed and poked at leaves and left doggie pee-mail like regular dogs...but walking them didn't require a death grip on their leashes in case they discovered a squirrel that needed to be taught a lesson.
After about 10 minutes of Maggie Minx walking, my hand has usually cramped into a claw-like configuration and I'm ready to go home so I can apply a tub of Icy-Hot to my sore joints.
So imagine my surprise when I looked at my watch and realized I'd been out with Chai and Cruiser for a good 25 minutes without so much as a twinge of pain in my knee or a nasty reminder from my bursitis-riddled shoulder.
It was then that I marveled, so THIS is what dog walking is supposed to be like!
The biggest mistake I made was putting Chai's harness on wrong. I fretted about it for the first few minutes of our walk once I realized she could potentially escape. But this brief experience with actual calm dogs gave me the courage to remove her harness completely without worrying that she'd immediately bolt. I then hooked the leash directly onto her collar. I figured if she hadn't pulled on the leash up to this point, I wasn't in any danger of choking her. Trying this with Maggie would be akin to tying a noose around her neck and stringing her up - not something I have ever considered doing even in those new puppy-mommy moments of madness.
The only tense moment of the entire walk occurred when we spotted a young couple walking their black lab. Maggie doesn't do well with (a) big dogs and (b) big dogs who are strangers. She loses her ever-lovin' doggy mind and we immediately beat a hasty retreat because I cannot take her eardrum-shattering barks.
(And, yes, if we know the dog in question, we've tried putting them together to get to know each other. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. The Magster is apparently very particular about her doggie friends.)
Instead, Chai and Cruiser looked calmly at the couple and their dog - and then went back to sniffing at leaves and leaving pee-mail. They didn't utter a yip or a growl. No warning barks. No crazed puppy eyes.
I was astounded. And thrilled. I didn't have to pick them up and run for the hills to avoid a Doggie Apocalypse.
Instead, we calmly continued on our way and arrived back at their home at a leisurely pace.
I calmly removed their harnesses, collars, leashes and other paraphernalia necessary for a good doggie walk. Their unused poo bags went back in the poo bag holder and I calmly gave them (and the cat - with whom they get along most of the time – an anomaly in Maggie's World) a couple more affectionate pats before calmly setting the alarm and calmly locking the door and heading home.
(As you have probably gathered by now.)
My blood pressure and pulse were surprisingly normal, I didn't have sweat dripping down my forehead and into my eyes from dragging any hysterical dogs away from other dogs, runners, walkers, bike riders, or blowing leaves that look suspiciously like a moving target that needs to be eliminated.
When I got home - and just before the wrangling started to get Maggie's leash attached - I immediately called the dog trainer.
We clearly have some serious work ahead of us.