nce every five years my “regular” job gives us four weeks paid time off for a sabbatical. We have one year to take that time and I put far too much thought at the end of last summer into when to use it. Fall or spring, narrowing down to the exact month, only to find all that careful planning brought me to today. April 1st, 2020. Not the best time to have chosen with the Coronavirus raging in the United States and the rest of the world. I could tell you about the dog shows I had planned, the trip with my mom, or the hike in southern Utah on my Luna bucket list. But I’m not, because they won’t be happening, at least not right now. It would be easier to dwell on what cannot be, but I’m determined to focus on the opportunity I have been given.
Last week I wrote about Ditching the Routine, but I’m on a personal journey to find a delicate balance. I want to build a routine for myself that fosters more productivity, focus, and self-care, all while breaking routine for my dogs. It sounds counterproductive, but I know that structure can also leave room for flexibility. You see, I do better when I plan, and I do better when I write, which is why I’ve decided to share this journey with you. Every day, for the next 30 days I’m committing to writing in this blog, no matter how long or short the entries. There will be dog training (of course) but I hope that I will have more to share. Maybe inspire others to ask what they can do to make the most of this time, rather than focusing on what we have lost. Because one day the world will open back up to us again and we will long for it to slow once more.
I think it’s important to realize that for dog owners, social distancing has gifted us with an amazing opportunity to work with our dogs. To be undisturbed by others when we are at the park, to create more calmness while we are working from home, to find more time to play. And yes, to be grateful we have them for comfort on the long days that lie ahead. So one of my many goals is to spend some one on one time each day with at least one of my dogs. Something I often miss in the whirlwind of day to day life.
Although my sabbatical does not technically start until tomorrow I decided to kick it off today after work. Stark and I swung down to the vet to pick up medication for my cat and then the two of us hit a city trail for some exercise. This is a major ditch for us, between work and training classes I don’t often make time to just walk with my a dog outside of our own neighborhood. I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve taken this particular route, at least a year, perhaps more. Since it’s near our vet and Stark came to me from them after he was surrendered I was reminded of a walk down the same path we had taken when he first came to live with me. Some of my favorite pictures of him are from that day. But the walk itself had been a bit stressful.
Back then Stark was what most would label as reactive. Even now I have joked that he is deceptively reactive, for he rarely reacts to distractions in the outside world these days. He can still hit threshold when he is excited or startled, but its rare rather than expected. But for the Stark that first came to live with me every little distraction spelled danger and could turn him into a barking mess. Other dogs could be a nightmare.
Today I lost count of the number of people, cyclists, and dogs we saw (while maintaining a careful distance). I even heard one owner ask her dog after countless “leave its”, “Why can’t you be more like that dog?”. Well, the simple answer is, we play games. Lots of games, at home, in class, on that city trail. Games have become a way of life, a natural “training” that just is part of our day.
Because of games Stark was oblivious to each and every distraction we ran into today. The only thing that made him even slightly nervous was the sound of cars overhead as we walked under a tunnel. A little bit of magic hand (one of his absolute favorites) kept him going though. He is a dream to walk and ironically I spent more time worrying about the distance between humans than what my dog was doing.
After we went home and scattered dinner in the back yard for all the dogs. Scatter feeding is an excellent enrichment activity that allows your dogs to work their brains and their noses. It was the first time I’ve fed them this way since the winter. Stark wanted to play with his “cow” (a soccer ball), but the other three grazed for so long I left them out back while I went in the house for another 10 minutes or so. Luna choosing to stay outside without me is a win all on its own, but I’ll leave that for another day.
So here I am, on the eve of my sabbatical, with the world full of uncertainty ~ and a lot to be grateful for. I’m excited for the next thirty days and to stretch myself to make the most of it.
Owner, Head Trainer