Friday, August 29, 2008

One woman, two dogs and two leashes

I am standing on the corner between my 100-year-old city house and the high school park, my urban development neighbor bustling around us and five leashed dogs sitting , waiting for my 'okay, go on' permission No pulling, no jerking ahead or backwards—-five dogs all walk and stop and sit, move forward, sideways and backward as a team, more or less on my left or just ahead of me, with only the occasional 'over here' or 'this way' to remind the youngest to pay attention.

I was younger then--in my city years—-so maybe I was closer to the top of my game. Moving easily along sidewalks with a gordon setter, three springer spaniels and my small black mix, the dogs sat at heel when I stopped or when bikes whizzed past, eagerly accepted pats from passers-by, stopped at corners and waited to cross the street on command. Five well-worn leather leashes—-two in one hand, three in the other—-kept my team within a couple feet of me at all times.

At the park, they would have more freedom. Jazz and Muni, with 100% reliable recalls, could bounce around us playing tag, leashes off and draped around my neck. Taryn and Nola, hard-wired escape artists I trusted only one day at a time, would alternately join the game of tag dragging a leash so that I only had to monitor one of them. Bard the setter would be switched to the long flexi lead to stretch his legs, provoking the tag-play by bouncing just out of reach of whichever dog was confined to the six foot radius.

Switching each leashed dog to the flexi meant downs and stays for everyone. I'd un-drape one six-foot leash from my neck, and clip it to the dog's collar while unclipping the retractable leash at the same time—-then clip the flexi to the next dog, remove that dog's six-footer and drape it around my neck. Happy 'okay', treats for all, and then once again five dogs would bounce in a haphazard circle with me as their center pin. An exercise at the park would be an hour project—and then, collected up on five short leads, flexi stowed in my waist pack, we'd head back home, five dogs of different sizes walking as a team around me.

How did I ever manage to walk five dogs at once, I wondered this morning as I give Madison a 'sit' and send a gentle pop in Casey's direction to get eye contact for a sit signal. Now two english cockers--the old red boy and the young blue roan girl--take me for twice-daily walks on their own agendas. One is busy chasing scents on the 26-foot flexi, and one exercises nose and legs on a 12-foot homemade long line of 4mm orange-speckled climbing rope. Now-aging Casey used to bounce around loose on the 300-foot electronic leash, responsive to the slightest tap on the transmitter I wore around my neck. Meanwhile his partner in crime—-first Bard the gordon setter, then Reuben the gordon setter, and now Madison the english cocker—-would exercise nearer to me at varying levels of skill, safely tethered to listening by the retractable flexi. Bard used the same flexi for almost 10 years, but Reu wore out the springs in four of them while he lived with me. Madison is well on her way to retiring flexis, too—-she's on her second retractable lead in two years.

Bard was the first dog I put on an electric collar. He responded to it completely, and for several years, I walked carrying two shorter leads around my neck with the e-collar transmitters on the whistle lanyard. Bard and Casey exercised around me, playing tag with each other and reliably listening with at least one ear for the direction words--'over here, boys,' 'leave it,' 'down,' or 'come!' When Reuben moved in, his puppy time spent loose and reliable was only months—-as he grew into headstrong adolescence, he started to ignore the e-collar. After two frantic chases, I put him on the retractable lead to reinforce my status as she-who-must-be-obeyed. Casey stayed loose, listening to his own e-collar while Reuben grew up, and later being a good example while Madison learned words.

But these days, the 14-year-old red dog needs hand signals to see the words he can no longer hear. His old e-collar startles him, rather than guiding him, so these days it hangs uncharged on his crate. Madison is doing much better with skills like 'come' and 'over here' and 'wait' -- I even get the occasional 'sit' at a distance. But knowing the limits of her leash and remembering not to pull me are skills with plenty of room for improvement, and I haven't been out of the hospital or strong enough to give her the e-collar groundwork she needs to understand and respect the tool.

So I'm back to two leashed dogs—-and carefully switching one from retractable leash to shorter leash during each walk. Sits and stays hold them in position for the leash switch this time around. But I have to remember to motion an 'okay' release for Casey; he no longer hears the permission to stop working, Madison will move and start bouncing right away on the 'okay,' while Casey holds his sit or down, watching me expectangly for his 'go' signal.

My leash handling suffered during those years of exercising dogs reliably loose on e-collars. I could never manage two flexi leads, but these days I find one flexi and a shorter non-retractable leash a challenge. My fingers fumble as I switch the leash clips, and I've stopped both dogs more than once by stepping on a dragging long line that slipped out of my hands. I finally put a carabiner clip around the handle of the flexi, so that I can run the handle loop of the climbing rope long line through and anchor it. I can usually still manage to hang on to the handle of the flexi, controlling both dogs by rotating the flexi handle around and using it to give oomph to my line control.

Casey can't hear my reminders to stay close, and Madison would follow her nose off a cliff if the scents were interesting enough. Sometimes when I rotate the flexi handle over my head or around my back to straighten their lines, I tangle a line in my sweatshirt. But the dogs don't seem to notice that I'm no longer the woman who expertly handled a five dog team along city sidewalks on daily walks to the park. We're just one woman, two dogs, and two leashes, moving from place to place more or less in the same direction, one step at a time.


  1. Anonymous11:33 AM

    What a beautiful story! I, too am one woman, two dogs and two leashes and laughed at some of your 'challenges'! I recently stumbled while out walking my 2 dogs on leash (mini schnauzer and mini daschund) and stepped on my poor doxie's foot, causing it to swell which needed $450 of vet care! However, all is once again well and back to "one wojan, two dogs and two leases". Thank you again for sharing your story!

  2. charlene9:02 AM

    i agree....great story!
    another woman with two dogs and
    two leashes...
    aka charlene


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