_ I've been meaning to tell you how much our puggies have changed since walking with you. Over the holidays we were visiting a lot of different households where, in the past, the puggles were not necessarily praised for their manners and calm behaviours! But this year... what a difference!!! They're so much more relaxed and happy, Chris and I are overjoyed!! I'm so grateful you came into our lives!
It's not me (well, maybe a small part) - it's the trails!
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Yesterday I worried my new friends, two pugs named Ernie and Bella might not be ready for trail hiking. I and their owners (family) had been inspired by the image of the puggies experiencing the sense of freedom that comes from being leash-free on the trail.
But at the High Park off-leash area, Ernie had roamed too far and although he was found on the other side of a fence along the path, he had traveled and stood alone and somewhat confused away from Bella and our pack. He had visited with me at our house before the walk, sharing Frida's toys and treats, and being cuddled by me and my daughter Caroline. I always do this with new dogs, as well as with dogs who hike regularly with us. I think it helps develop a powerful bond - we become relatives.
Anyhow, Ernie and Bella's family reassured me: they had thought Ernie might get carried away, but they had been willing to have him hike off-leash. They suggested Ernie stay on lead if I felt more confident, but should I sense a shift in his staying power, I might give free rein another try.
Yay and yay! Today we came home for some quality bonding and then headed out for Humber bay Park East. Ernie gets anxious in the car, so he likes a reassuring arm around his torso. Bella watches over him.
At first I kept Ernie on leash, but within five minutes he was running through the bushes and along the path. Whenever he came within arms reach I'd call his name and give him a peanut butter star from Fetch on Roncevalles. I like to think the honest affection I felt for both him and Bella helped keep both Puggies (as well as for Giselle who shared the hike) within range, but I know those treats were tempting.
After the hike, Bella and Ernie came home with us once again, briefly this time. On the way back to their house, Ernie was calmer in the car. From time to time I'd say "I know, it's not easy for you" and I'd hold him close. He didn't understand the words, but I do believe he felt my empathy. There seemed to be a certain flow between us, deepened by our hiking time, and I felt honored.
I love trail walking with my canine companions. And I wish all my dogs were trail-ready. Before I take a new friend on a trail, we go to High Park. Some dogs will explore and check back in. Others share their discoveries alongside. Occasionally, a new friend will get too carried away with roaming.
And so I ask all humans of the dogs who hike with me whether their dogs are trail-ready. I always hope they are; but dogs can get lost on a trail. And human voices cannot carry far enough or may not be heeded. I walk such a dog, a bright, energetic fox terrier who finds a scent and follows it. In our trail walks, she will have to be on lead, followed by a romp with other dogs in an enclosed off-leash area. Her human is working hard to improve her dog's recall. And when the time comes, they will both accompany me on a test trail walk.
So it's vital to inform your walker/ hiking guide of your dog's habits and tendencies. Trail walking may commence immediately or may become one of your primary goals for your dog.
My Frida has been hiking with me since she was a puppy. She acts as canine guide and companion and was born to this work. When the hike works, everything is in sync, dogs, human, earth, sky, all.I am wishing this for you and your dog.
Janice is the founder of and primary caregiver at Happy Trail Dogs Service. She is also the founder of an arts-related non-profit and worked in the fitness industry for over two decades. She is an artist, editor, writer, and mother of two wonderful women and a glorious lab named Frida.