There was once a time when I never took my dogs anywhere unless they could all go. After all, it just didn’t seem fair to take one or two while the others were at home. As a result we reached a point where no one seemed to go anywhere. We might go for short walks around the neighborhood but even those trips seemed to be limited. With three dogs I felt more comfortable with at least two handlers - and four? No way was I tackling all of them on my own. Not to mention Stark was his own special handful when he first came to live with us, there were little manners, let alone loose leash walking with that dog. So we went out less and less, I poured more time into trick training and things we could do at home. No one seemed to suffer for it, but still, I longed for the days when a dog could accompany me quietly on a walk.
Then one night I was listening to one (of many) Absolute Dogs videos and Lauren Langman said, “Fair does not always mean equal”. That phrase stuck with me, like a mantra. What was fair for one dog may not be fair for another. And it certainly wasn’t fair for one to go without a privilege simply because another was not ready for it. How had I not seen this before? With children it had been obvious, so why hadn’t it transferred to the dogs?
That day changed our lives and I began to plan things differently. Before social distancing, Ella went out with me three to four times a week. She was the most appropriate to visit my grandmother in assisted living, and the best temperament to work with other dogs. She’s even been known to be used as a substitute puppy. Stark is always my go-to demo for seminars because he’s got the strongest boundaries. I know I could talk for hours with him still laying there. Luna’s my best trick demo, but struggles when I’m not interacting with her. On the flip side training classes depend on the dog that needs the most work. When Stark was getting ready for his first scent trial he went to class with me every week when I’d much rather rotate them out or bring two dogs on the same night.
While “fair is not equal” doesn’t transfer to single dog household, the same questions apply when deciding if you should be taking your dog at all. Are they ready for that type of environment? Should any dog be going where I am going? Will this outing help me reach my goals for my dog? Can I give my dog the attention they will need while we are out? We often overlook these questions and simply take our dog because we want to or because we think we should. This can be especially detrimental if by taking them we allow them to rehearse unwanted behaviors.
Today I took Ella and I went for a two-mile walk on a trail we had never been to before. As I said, she’s the easiest dog to take just about anywhere and my goals for our walk were pretty simple - don’t pull on the leash. In other words, we were walking to get out and enjoy some fresh air. I had no training goals, nor was I concerned that she would rehearse anything I didn’t want. She passed with flying colors, in fact she checked in more than I had expected her to and I actually lamented that because she was so short and I had brought such a long leash she kept getting tangled!
On the flip side I took Charlie out this afternoon in our neighborhood. His walk wasn’t “bad”, he wasn’t pulling or yanking on the leash but I knew that because we had been cooped up for most of the winter that taking him somewhere new would be difficult for him. I work with Charlie the least, he’s really my husband’s dog, and he can still get excited at just the prospect of a walk. So I set him up for success. A short walk on pavement, ignoring the extra sniffy grass and smells, and not getting too far from home. I suppose the good news with me having time off and the entire world shut down is that he and I can get in some more training time. True training, not a walk just to stroll and get out. If I want a relaxing walk I don’t take Charlie. I have to work when walking him, where the other three I can just enjoy. Like any training, short, frequent sessions will do more good than either of us suffering for a mile.
I also have to be careful because it is far too easy to compare one dog to another. Charlie is not his siblings. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, after all, that’s what makes them unique. So remember as you plan your days - fair does not mean equal. Set your dog up for success and treat each one of them as individuals. Make sure that you are putting the right time and effort into the exercises and games that will benefit them, they’ll be glad you did.
And for the record, I’m fully convinced Charlie enjoyed his games of catch and magic hands, just as much, if not more than Ella’s stroll.
Owner, Head Trainer