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photo (1)This past weekend it has been FREEZING in LA.  I don’t care what others in the country think about that statement.  IT’S FREEZING.  We are not built for this cold weather.  I swear the only insulation my house has is whatever rat poop found its way into the walls and 90% of my coats are decorative (aka useless).  I can guarantee its warmer in your house in Minnesota than it is in my house in Los Angeles right now.  I’m frozen solid.

Anyway, since it’s ridiculously cold I went up Runyon with Riggins in the afternoon instead of the morning this past weekend.  I haven’t done that in forever.  New group of people!  Walking through the dirt parking lot I passed 3 young men.  One yelled out at me, “you look like you are a really good mom to that dog.”  He went on to say I looked very attractive and was sweet so he is my new BFF and I’ve decided afternoons are a much better time to hike!

As a good mom to my dog (he said it not me) I thought I’d pass on some of my walking/hiking knowledge to you!  At no charge!  Let me start by saying I am not a trained animal person but I have seen a number of “Dog Whisper,” “It’s Me or the Dog,” and “My Cat from Hell” so I feel like that, along with my own street smarts, is training enough.  Maybe we shouldn’t consider this real “rules” as much as “what Wendy thinks.”

Walking a dog on leash – My view is don’t do it if you don’t have to.  Dogs are crazy on leash.  In general a dog will want to protect his/her master and tethering the dog to you only makes that protective instinct worse.  When Riggins is bad on leash it’s because he perceives the crazy person/dog passing us to be a threat to me causing the guttural growl that translates into, “don’t mess with my Mama.”  I know very very sweet dogs that are a**holes on leash and being walked by their master.  (This is a good time to stop and say all my dog’s bad behavior and problems are my fault.  Isn’t that the first thing you learn in all those TV shows … it’s always the humans.)  Best to walk/hike in a location that allows off leash.  Of course you have to walk on leash most of the time so here are my tips:

* Get rid of that retractable leash.  Seriously.  I realize a good number of my friends use this type of leash.  I dare you to find one trained (aka not me) dog person that says walking on a retractable leash is ok.  They won’t.  It’s impossible to control a dog on that kind of leash.  Get a lead.

* Stop the sled dogs!  Don’t walk a dog with a harness on that allows him/her to pull with his/her full weight.  All dogs instantly become sled dogs in a harness.  Big or small you are just asking that animal to pull.  Use whatever equipment gives you control of the dog.  Riggins uses what I call his “walking harness.”  He hates it because he knows if he is bad it pulls around his arms … so don’t be bad.  (his looks kinda like this – http://www.amazon.com/Guardian-Gear-Harness-Large-Black/dp/B007E4S750)

* Why the giant stick weirdo?  Almost every person in my neighborhood walks their dog while holding a giant stick.  I assume to ward off other dogs from attacking theirs.  I’ve walked Riggins in this neighborhood for 6 years and NEVER ONCE had a dog attack either one of us.  Once — just once — a giant pitbull made it out of his gated backyard and came running toward Riggins and me at full force.  I stopped, held my ground, held up a “stop sign” with my hand and said “OFF.”  This was followed by a “SIT” (with appropriate hand single) and “GO HOME.”  The giant scary dog did exactly what I said.  EXACTLY.  Turns out that “scary dog” was really well trained (even if his humans didn’t know how to secure a gate).  This isn’t always going to happen.  I’ve known dogs to fight and know dogs and humans that have been hurt in the exchange but you carrying a stick really only makes it worse.  DO YOU KNOW HOW SCARY IT IS TO SEE A HUMAN COMING AT YOU THE OTHER WAY WITH A GIANT STICK????  Seriously — you are asking for it.

* Walk pretty.  This is what I tell Riggins he has to do.  Walking pretty means beside me and a 1/2 step behind me.  Riggins is a champ at this (as long as it’s me walking him, he hasn’t seen a squirrel, cat or chicken — it’s happened — and doesn’t have to poop).  He often gets told he is a “good dog” from strangers when we are on a walk and  he is on his best behavior.  I really think what helped him most with this was having him run with me when he was younger.  I held the leash in a way that he had to pace right next to me and after a while of constant pace he had no choice but to fall in line.  A pooped dog is a well behaved dog!  That and a short leash.  A short leash just makes it easier for you to control your dog.  I use one that is a mix of long and short like this, http://www.arcatapet.com/item.cfm?cat=15069.

* Keep out-of-the-way!  This is going to be one not everyone will agree on but I read it somewhere and it makes sense to me.  When walking a dog and another dog is being walked coming at you the dogs should both be on the inside so that they pass one another with no human in between.  Looking from the front it would be, from left to right, human, dog, dog, and human.  I know this is a killer for some but a well behaved dog should have no problem with this.  Remember that a dog tethered to his/her master is going to be more aggressive with his/her “save my human” mentality.  If you, the fragile human, put your body between your dog and the other dog doesn’t it make sense that your dog will go crazy trying to get over and protect you.  If everyone remains calm two dogs can pass each other, quickly sniff, and move on.  Riggins gets a C+ on this.  He has NO PROBLEM when we are walking the neighborhood as long as the other dog doesn’t bark first.  Riggins is the anti-alpha so he waits to see how the other dog reacts.  Unless the other dog is tiny.  He will walk past a tiny barking dog like it’s nothin’.  He is also REALLY BAD at this when walking in certain locations like around the lake at Silver Lake (this is LA so it isn’t a lake as much as a reservoir with a giant chain link fence all around it).  Riggins learned to walk on my right side and come hell or high water that is what he is going to do around the lake.  That leaves him smashed between me and the small concrete burm/chain link fence.  I’ve tried to get him to the other side when dogs pass and have even pushed his butt over to make that happen but it doesn’t last long.  Luckily he is perfectly happy in his safe smushed position and really never even notices the other dogs on that walk.

* Lots of dogs are good.  My neighborhood has a good number of dogs but they are house dogs and don’t do much more than sit at home and walk around the block once in a while.  Their owners cross the street or go up a driveway or walk in someones lawn to get away from the big black dog and crazy woman coming at them on the sidewalk with no intention of moving.  In short most of the dogs aren’t socialized.  Silver Lake, for example, is dog heaven.  Most dogs are pack dogs and being with others is good for them.  Riggins is always much better behaved when on a walk in a high dog populated area.  When off leash and on a hike Riggins will happily fall in line behind whatever group of dogs he can find.

* Be cool man.  You want your dog to freak out?  You freak out.  Nothing annoys me more at the dog park than when two dogs get a little aggressive in their play and from all around the park you hear “NO NO NO NO NO, OFF OFF, NO , CHARLIE COOOOOMMMMMEEEE HHHHHEEEERRE, NO NO NO NO NO” usually in a high-pitched voice.  That only makes things worse.  I think we  can all agree that dogs feed off our energy so keep calm.

Wow this is a long post and I haven’t even gotten to my hatred toward the leash law on hiking trails and really probably lost most of you after the first paragraph so I’ll stop.  One final word.  I know I’ve been very lucky.  As much as I believe dogs can be trained and well-behaved I realize this isn’t always the case and a dog is an animal that, at any moment and for any reason, can use his/her teeth for evil.  After writing all this I’m probably going to be eaten by a labordoodle on my next walk.  If that happens I leave everything to Riggins.

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