|When I still lived in Chicago a few years ago, I went to a yoga class in February. The instructor started class by offering gratitude for being on our mats. Then, she gave thanks for the gray day we had, saying that rather than grumble about the wet, cold, dark day to look at the dreary clouds as a cashmere blanket wrapping us up.|
I wasn’t buying it, it was only 5 pm, but it felt like midnight. That time of year always makes me want to make a pot of soup that I can eat all week. Then spend the rest of the time hiding under the covers until the sun shines, even a tiny bit, throughout the day. However, I chose to build my life in a place where it feels wet and dark a random portion of the year, no matter what time of day it is. So, rather than grumble about it, I got myself a happy light.
As I walked Gavin this Sunday, it made me think about how dogs are our happy lights. They beckon us to rest, with come-snuggle eyes, when our bodies are tired, yet our neverending to-do list tempts us. They kiss away tears when we’re sad. They get us moving, outside for a walk, when we need external motivation to enjoy nature and the sheer joy of being healthy enough to put one foot in front of the other. They make us laugh, getting us out of our overactive minds, by eagerly waiting for us to throw the ball then clumsily pouncing on it before deciding whether or not to bring it back.
The weather is cooling here in Ohio, which means Gavin needs an extra layer for every ten degrees the temperature drops. Even sweatered up, my fellow cold-weather wimp’s love for people doesn’t waver.
He still wiggled and squirmed for my neighbor when she was taking her laundry downstairs. She stopped and oohed and awed over him while she told me that every time she saw him, his happiness made her day. Then, while we strolled through the neighborhood, a woman stopped her car, and baby talked to Gavin about how cute he was in his sweater. He obliged by smiling and doing his “I-don’t-know-you-but-I-love-you” dance.
I can’t take credit for my dog’s sweetness nor his charm. But, I consider myself lucky so many moments throughout the day that I experience his light and happiness. And, it makes my day when he brightens someones else’s.
One of the things I miss about training dogs or attending in-person events is meeting people who adore their dogs. There’s something so beautiful about connecting with a human being who I know, by looking in their eyes, even after only chatted for a few moments, that they’d bend over backward to give their dog(s) what they needed most, quality time, in whatever way that particular dog (or dogs) required.
This past weekend I wrapped up (for the most part) months of working, planning, coordinating, and lots of overthinking with my kitchen move and the website redesign/photo update with an outdoor photoshoot of phenomenal people interacting with their dogs at my favorite park in Columbus.
In between takes, I chatted with everyone. And, when my next-door neighbors were lamenting about how their teenage dog didn’t care about pleasing them at all, I thought about Gavin at that age and how he’d bite my butt on walks when he was frustrated. Or when he stared at me then lifted his leg and peed on my couch after months of dreamy outside potty behavior, or how he’d grumble like the Tasmanian devil when I asked him to do anything.
And, I thought about Finn while we walked and walked with Sasha and her two dogs to the perfect spot under the skyline. Finn loved walking, and the distance we walked together was nothing for him, an appetizer, as it was for her and her dogs. But, the lazy dog I live with now would have wanted me to carry him about ten minutes into our stroll.
After we wrapped up with everyone Saturday afternoon, I was exhausted. It’s been a roller coaster of a few months. But, I was also unbelievably grateful for everyone who gave me their most valuable gift, their time. For two days, every person who came to the park with their dog(s) was lovely, kind, and joyfully agreeable to switching from the right to the left so we could see their face in photos, and man was it fun.
I had big plans after our photoshoots to work out and pack up a few orders (sorry) but, instead, I decided to reward myself with time. It was a beautiful day, and I had a couple of hours before my sister’s birthday dinner, so Gavin and I chilled in the backyard while he smiled, sniffed the air, and I thumbed through a magazine. For a split second, I felt guilty about not being productive. Then I reminded myself that the gift of doing nothing in the backyard is something I don’t have in February in the midwest, so I indulged in time with myself, time with my dog. Time enjoying something I adore, reading a magazine.
May you do the same today and this weekend, indulge in time doing what you enjoy most, give yourself and your dog(s) your most precious gift, time. It’s finite, and we all have to enjoy every single second that we can.
When Gavin first came home with me, there’s nothing that would wake him from sleep. It took some adjusting. My Finn was always ready to save me from whatever I tripped on or dropped. And, while I knew in my soul that I was ready to love another dog, the habits ingrained in my heart for almost 14 years needed their own type of nurturing to change.
The rescue I had adopted Gavin from estimated him to be two years old but within days, I knew (and my veterinarian confirmed) that he was maybe six months old. So, letting a biting, chewing, hooligan puppy sleep was in my best interest.
I sometimes watched him while he slumbered. It gave me such peace to know that he trusted me enough to relax and let go completely. I can’t imagine what it was like for him to be tied up outside with his brother or sleeping on concrete in the shelter. But that’s one of the many amazing things about rescuing a dog. You can celebrate their Gotcha Day AND their birthday, even if you kinda-sorta guessed/made it up.
Now, when I’m packing orders or adding batch numbers to pouches, I can feel Gavin’s gaze on me. Watching. Waiting. Letting me know he’s ready for snuggle time anytime I am. I’m grateful. I’m so happy we found each other and that 8+ years later, he still trusts me and wants to be near me.
I’m not the only person he lurks after. It’s fairly common for him to follow other walkers and runners. If the person pets and loves on him, I have the opportunity to tell them, “please don’t think I’m following you, but he’ll try to stay on your heels.” People usually laugh. But, even pre-COVID, it was a bit trickier when Gavin wanted to lag behind someone who gave me the vibe they didn’t want to engage with him. There’s a lot of stopping, the occasional awkward moment, and my derpy dog completely clueless as to why he can’t be nose-up-the-butt to anyone and everyone.
We recently got caught in an unexpected torrential downpour. Within seconds of it starting, my shoes were so drenched that it felt like I’d waded through the river. Well, Gavin, hates rain and when he hates something, he freezes. I knew he was miserable, and I knew standing in the rain would continue to make him miserable, but he couldn’t move.
So, I picked him up and carried all 65-pounds of him for a few steps. I needed a break, so I placed him on the sidewalk again for a second. Fate was on my side because another walker came up from behind us, and Gavin loves people more than he detests being wet, so he followed fast. I kept my distance but was super thankful for the other hapless hiker who helped us make our way out of the park and home, where it immediately stopped raining.
This week is Gavin’s kinda-sorta birthday, and we’re going to celebrate with some quiet time in the backyard, a Peanut Butter & Blueberry pouch, and lots of snuggling. I hope whatever’s on your agenda today that you find time to let loose with your dog(s), in whatever way makes you happiest.
|When there’s too much change, even the good kind, Gavin gets a stressy belly and becomes a full-on grass munching moo-cow. I can usually prevent it by proactively playing his favorite games, running through fun training exercises, or pulling something from his arsenal of anxiety-reducing stuff (all approved or recommended by our trusted veterinarians.) |
But, despite my best efforts Saturday morning, Gavin couldn’t stop incessantly eating weeds and grass on our walk. I worried about pesticides and the potential harmfulness of the sod itself so, I went to do the only thing that really relaxes him, sit on the ground next to him.
We were in a spot where people often leave poop behind, so I was trying to quickly assess the ground to prevent adding absolute ickiness to the situation when a car pulled up, and a man asked me something about where the river was. I said, “my dog is struggling right now, I’m sorry, but I can’t help.” The man yelled/said something that didn’t sound nice, which didn’t make me feel any better.
We sat in the parkway until Gavin bounced up on his own and resumed our walk (going home would seem like a great option, but that’s a change and stresses him out.) I watched Gavin the whole walk and worried about him, wondering what I missed that caused our voracious grass-eating setback while praising him for every sniff, wiggle, and relaxed body language.
The next day, I could feel the tension building in my belly as I prepared for our walk. I come from a long line of people who demonstrate love by worrying. But, the retired dog trainer in me knew that any strain and stress I carried with us would affect Gavin so, I sat down on his dog bed and invited him over.
I gave him a stuffie to kill, which he loves. As Gavin ripped and murmured and spit out pieces and parts of his Rose’ All Day toy, I relaxed because I was enjoying my dog enjoying himself. Our walk wasn’t perfect, but it was much better. Gavin carried his favorite toys and happily ate from his Bark Pouch when he walked away from brush and greenery.
As we headed home, a lovely man stopped and asked me if the path continued for a long distance, in the direction he was walking. I told him that it did, but it was confusing to find, there were many underpasses, and it was much less populated, so I wouldn’t recommend walking it alone. The man thanked me and walked back towards downtown. And, I was happy about being able to help that time because I was able to let go.
My kitchen days start at 4:51 am, and I often don’t fall into bed until 1 or 2 am the next day. I’m not working the entire time, of course. But given that it takes about three hours to set up and tear down in the rent-by-the-hour kitchen, it makes sense to make as many pouches as we can each day we’re there.
When my mom agreed to watch Gavin all day on my kitchen days, I promised I’d make her dinner. It was the least I could do to show her how much I appreciated knowing my dog was being loved on, taken care of, and completely happy because Gavin LOVES his nanny. I loved having a regular date night with my mom to hear what crafty things she’s been creating or get her opinion on how to get air pockets out of my recipes that are thick when they’re hot or any other process improvement I was trying to make. Gavin’s daily rundown was always the same—sleep, eat his beef taffy, sleep more, follow her around, or stare at her while she ate. Often, he’d stand by the door like he needed to go out, but as soon as she dressed him in all his gear, he’d run and jump on her bed and roll around on his back like a potato bug.
As the days became longer and later, my mom started making me dinner, despite my pleas to the contrary. Even if I’m fighting a bit of guilt, I still love our post-kitchen dinner dates. And something absolutely amazing has transpired. My sister now comes over and often makes some delicious concoction that she spent far longer than I’d spend searching for each ingredient at the grocery store. My brother also joins us, often chiming in with hilarious anecdotes or funny videos he’s created of the family.
They didn’t choose my business, yet they’re there for me, caring for my dog while I’m lifting heavy pots, hoping not to drop what I’ve spent hours creating. They pick up a refurbished crate that I thought was going to be the perfect silencer for my air compressor in the new space, or they help me transport my piston filler, or they run around to grocery stores because many of my ingredients have been difficult to procure, and SO much more.
Most importantly, they’re there, at the end of the day, with their beautiful smiles, presence, and love. I don’t know what I’d do without the love and support of my family and friends. And, please know that this small business owner is also very grateful for you.
|It’s amazing how the dog(s) in our life helps us find and become the people we’re meant to be. When Finn was still here, our walks were long and fast. My lug loved to move. And, while he liked people, he was more interested in the walk, so he breezed past human pedestrians with a happy glance. I needed the silence, I was training dogs at the time, and our walks were time to replenish my introverted energy. |
Gavin, on the other hand, loves him some people. Anytime, anywhere. And, I enjoy the random encounters we have after a nice stranger indulges his need to wiggle, smack them with his tail, and love on them because now my job requires a lot of alone and focus time.
Wednesday morning, Gavin and I had just finished his ten-minute decompression time/water break/snuggle session at the park when I noticed a man walking towards us with a woman in a wheelchair. The woman and Gavin both were so excited to meet each other that I could barely contain Gavin as I walked towards the sidewalk where they stopped. The man’s eyes sparkled, and he had one of those smiles that seemed so natural, he may not have even been aware he was beaming.
I learned that her name is Robin, and she has aphasia (a condition affecting her ability to communicate). When Gavin approached her, she grinned, leaned over, and petted him like they were old friends. Gavin continued his usual wiggle-shimmy-I-love-you dance while she rubbed his side then looked towards me. She pointed at my leggings, which had photos of dogs on them, including Gavin. I explained that they were part of a fundraiser for Faithful Forgotten Best Friends, an organization run by a lifelong family friend that helps homeless and low-income people by providing food and medical care for their pets. Robin’s smile grew bigger. The man’s eyes sparkled more. And Gavin continued to show them what a lovebug he is.
We said our goodbyes, and Gavin and I walked a bit further, and I stopped again to give him more water. As I sat on the grass, under the shade of a tree with Gavin, I turned around, not knowing why. And, I saw Robin waving emphatically from the window as the smiling, sparkling man drove them out of the park.
If it weren’t for my amiable dog, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet those two beautiful people. May your next encounter be just as joyous.
Gavin was a big factor in where we’re currently living. We’d lived for five years without a backyard, and I knew he’d love having a safe space to lounge outside during warm months. And, our walk path is perfect for him, we pass only a few houses (fewer dogs to bark at him from windows), we see tons of people who want to pet him (his fave), and our path is popular with bicyclists, so, it’s rare that we encounter off-leash dogs (his fear).
It’s not uncommon for those of us who love our dogs to do what doesn’t come easy for us. When I trained dogs, I was always in awe of my clients’ sacrifices to help make life easier for their dogs. Some moved to quieter neighborhoods, so they encountered fewer triggers when walking. Some isolated themselves to manage stranger danger better. Some arose at ridiculously early hours to avoid crowds.
Shoot, even positive leash training is tough. I still remember trying to learn how to simultaneously talk to Finn, pay attention to what he was communicating, be uber aware of our surroundings, all while walking and treating. It was exhausting, and I’m sure he was confused while I figured out what I was doing.
So, this holiday weekend, while I chill with Gavin in his man cave, I’ll raise a glass to you. I commend you extroverts who turned down plans to stay home with your dog during fireworks. I celebrate you night owls who get up far earlier than your body prefers to beat the heat. And, I praise you if you’re learning to leash train for the first time or with a dog who’s new to you. It’s laborious multi-tasking, but it gets easier, I promise.
|My sister and mom made this photo set of my beloved Finn and my sweetheart Gavin. I see it every morning when I wake. It’s my reminder of why I do what I do. I love walks, specifically with my dog.|
My lug, my Finn, created that love. His endless energy, adventurous spirit, and into-everything-naughtiness inspired me to walk him, A LOT. It was bonding time, great exercise, and I noticed my mind was clearer and calmer after our strolls. One night, we were attacked by two dogs who pulled their person across the street to fight Finn. It was noisy, scary, and heartbreaking. Fortunately, we were both physically unscathed, but our walks changed. Finn was scared (for a good reason) and began barking and lunging at every dog we saw, even from blocks away.
I wanted to help him, to ease his stress, so I began calling trainers. One trainer told me that he could completely fix Finn’s reactivity with a shock collar. I knew absolutely nothing about training, but I knew I didn’t want to shock my dog so, I continued searching. After finding the trainer who helped me rebuild Finn’s confidence, my love also grew for my mischievous, brilliant dog. That’s when I fell into dog training.
After Finn peacefully passed, it took me a few months to feel ready to love another dog. When I rescued Gavin, my only two requirements were that he liked walks and was older than two years. Well, Gavin’s insatiable love for humans fooled me during our meet-and-greet into thinking that he loved walks. He loved meeting me and was happy to accompany me because I was new and novel. However, I learned quickly that Gavin was easily frustrated on walks, wasn’t food motivated at all, and was only six months old.
I tried every smelly dog treat I could find. I spent countless hours cutting up various cheeses, hot dogs, meatballs, deli meat, and more. My hands were always greasy. I ruined clothes. And, still, Gavin refused to eat treats when we were outside.
That’s when I began concocting Bark Pouch blends. I wanted Gavin to feel confident on walks, despite his sound sensitivity. And, for his safety, I wanted him to learn to walk on a loose leash happily and as easily as possible.
My walks with Gavin look very different from Finn’s walks, but looking down at his beautiful chocolate brown eyes while he smiles up at me, trotting along, brings me so much joy and peace.
And, my wish for you is that your walks with your dogs—no matter what stage your training—delight you in some way.