Thursday, January 30, 2014

100 Mile Pact Follow Up

Florida walk.
For me, it's incredibly hard to admit when I haven't done something I said I would do. Unfortunately,
it happens pretty often. I love to jump on the bandwagon of a 10 day challenge, a 30 day challenge, or something even longer. I am full of enthusiasm at the beginning and then, as life and my responsibilities creep back in, I lose my footing and forget the initial feeling of unstoppable-ness. And I don't finish.

This behavior accounts for so many things in my life: file folders labeled and carefully organized but empty inside their box while papers overflow from countless gift bags where I stuffed them for later sorting, a garden that started out meticulously planned with tiny seedlings lined up in perfect rows that ended in rogue tomato plants and half grown but inedible watermelons that never received the proper amount of fertilizer and care, and, probably most famous of all, piles and piles of partially knitted accessories that were meant to line the cyberspace walls of my painstakingly thought out Etsy shop that somehow no longer seemed interesting or lucrative to me by the time that first spring after my opening rolled around. So often, I find that I am full of hopes and good intentions, and then I lose myself along the way in another endeavor and the previous undertaking is left to trail off with little of the pomp and hoopla with which I welcomed it into existence.

Beach walk.
And so it was with my 100 Mile Pact. If you don't recall, or if you've never visited McGee and me in the past, on November 14, 2013, I set out to walk 100 miles with my dog before the year came to a close in hopes of working on some of her behavioral issues and my skills as a dog leader. So many of you asked kindly along the way how we were doing, and I found that I just couldn't answer. It's not that we weren't walking at all, we were; however, as the days closed in on 2014 and our mileage stayed relatively small from day to day, I saw the number of miles that we would need to walk per day to meet our goal increasing hugely with every passing nightfall.

But something was different for me this time: even though I knew we couldn't make it, we kept on walking. Together, we logged some of the longest walks we have ever taken together (5.76 miles, 4.56 miles, 5.19 miles) and I didn't care that I knew we weren't going to get to 100, I was just enjoying hanging out with my dog.

We both benefited in so many ways:
  • McGee learned to look to me as a leader of equal (if not more!) importance than Dog
    Smiling walk.
    Dad and I learned how to be a more confident dog handler.
  • Together, we got used to her equipment and comfortable with the double leash/Freedom Harness/Gentle Leader combination.
  • We met other people in our neighborhood who are having similar issues with their dog. We exchanged contact info and will hopefully be able to figure out a way to work together to help our dogs.
  • We got shout outs from people driving by who were impressed by our dedication to walking and training. This was a great confidence booster!
  • McGee's happiness when it's time to go for a walk is palpable and contagious!
  • I got more exercise than I have gotten the whole time we've lived in Maryland. I used to walk everywhere in NYC- easily miles every single day. Taking these walks with McGee reminded me how much I love walking as a mode of transportation and gave me peaceful, quiet time to think and reflect on my days.
  • McGee actually got double goodness on the walking front because I think Dog Dad felt a little left out, so he ended up taking her for some walks so they could have alone time- pretty cute. 
Christmas lights walk.
The final stats from our walking adventures looked like this:

Total days available to walk: 37
Total number of walks taken: 23
Most walks in one day: 2
Longest walk in one stretch: 6.05 miles
We walked in the rain, in the cold, in the dark, and in the morning (ugh).
We walked on the beach, on the road, on wooded trails, around in circles, and in Florida.
McGee saw countless cats, squirrels, motorcycles, birds, and about a bazillion other dogs- and she ignored them approximately 60% of the time.
We walked 61.74 miles.
Dog Dad wants to know if we're going for 1000 miles in 2014.
I told him I have some knitting to finish.

Monday, January 20, 2014

McGee's Gear: What She Wears While We Walk

Yup, we're still here. McGee and I have been catching up on snuggle time and cleaning after two whole weeks apart. I missed my baby so much while I was away, but got to spend lots of quality time with my sister's sweet Benny. He comes in handy when the Wisconsin weather drops down to nearly -60 degrees. We spent a lot of time curled up watching Harry Potter.

Probably the most challenging thing about leaving McGee in the care of others is the amount of gear that she comes with. We have so many doodads and thing-a-muh-whats-its that we use to keep our little McBossy in line and it can be a real struggle to get her "dressed" and ready for an outing.

We had a good question posed to us on our Facebook page about one harness that we use in particular, so I decided to take the opportunity and give a run down of the doggie equipment we use on a regular basis.

Martingale Collar

Right now, McGee wears a pretty boring martingale collar that we picked up from PetCo on the day that we brought her home from the shelter. Though there are many cuter options available for collars that buckle, I feel strongly that a martingale collar is the way to go. This type of collar slips over the dogs head and tightens if the dog pull on it's leash (preventing the dog from slipping out of their collar and getting away). After walking many, many shelter dogs, I have learned to covet martingale collars for this feature in particular. While her PetCo collar isn't very trendy, it has lasted us over a year and a half at this point and, while it does show a little dirt, it's holding up very well.
PetSafe Easy Walk Harness

This was the first harness we tried for McGee when it became clear that we needed backup on our daily walks. It fits her very well and doesn't rub or chafe. The downside is that there is only one point of attachment (front of the chest) and, while it does lessen her ability to pull a little bit, we found that she was constantly tangling her front legs in her leash, especially when she would get excited. Also, being a strong puller and an excitable dog, McGee would often end up flopped over on her side if she had a particularly energetic outburst. Comical, yes. Productive, not so much. We have since moved on to another choice of harness.

Freedom No Pull Harness

Dog Dad and I like this harness quite a lot. It comes with a double ended leash that clips in to two spots on the harness: one spot on the front of the chest and one on the dog's back. The benefit to this is an automatically shorter leash and more steering capabilities. I feel much more able to keep McGee at my side with the Freedom harness because I can steer her shoulders with the front portion of the leash and keep her at my side with the portion clipped to her back body. This harness is a bit more weighty than the Easy Walk, but still comfortable (it even has a little velvet lining to prevent chafing) and it comes in lots of pretty colors. McGee has spent lots of time in this harness learning to walk like a lady. We picked ours up on Amazon.
PetSafe Gentle Leader
After we exhausted all of our training potential with harness only, we decided that a head halter might be the next best thing to try to give us even more control. The main idea here is to relieve pressure that a dog would be placing on their throat if they were to be walking with a leash attached to a collar around the throat. A head halter can also deter a dog from barking and jumping and give the handler more ability to gently remind the dog where he or she should be looking (at the handler!). We also found that McGee's exuberance sometimes led to a feeling that we were being "hauled" behind her when she was wearing her harness, no matter which one. The Gentle Leader definitely took her some getting used to (we used lots and lots of treats!) but eventually she came to accept it and only gave us a momentary glare before becoming her jolly old self and trotting along as usual. We found that the Gentle Leader gave us access to tons more eye contact from McGee and she soon realized that barking and freaking out is a very undesirable action when you've got a loop around your snout.
Snoot Loop
The latest piece of accoutrement to find it's place in our bag of tricks is called a Snoot Loop. It's similar to a Gentle Leader, but it's got more bits and parts. Sort of like a straight jacket for your dog's face. The Snoot Loop was recommended to us by our trainers during McGee's eight week reactive dog course. We lost her Gentle Leader halfway through and decided, what the heck, let's give this Snoot Loop thing a whirl. The long and short of this review is that McGee feels certain that the Snoot Loop was designed by Satan himself. She hates it with a passion. I think it's the bit that comes down between her eyes that really wigs her out. She just can't seem to get used to the feel of it on her face and, no matter how many treats I try to encourage her with, she spends most of the walk with her head hanging and the rest of the walk dragging her face on the ground to try and rub the feeling away. We gave this one a good effort, but I'm not sure which one of us was more relieved to find her old buddy the Gentle Leader buried at the bottom of a bag of stuff. I will say that I saw other dogs in class experience great success while working with their Snoot Loops, but I think McGee was just too dedicated to her Gentle Leader by the time we gave it a shot.
And that's that. Now that we have evolved as a walking team, McGee and I usually settle on a combination of Freedom Harness and Gentle Leader. I clip in to the Gentle Leader with one end of her leash and the backside of her harness with the other end. It strikes a good balance for us between controlling her body (harness) and keeping tabs on her busy dog brain (head halter). She always wears her collar with I.D. because I am a worried mom and want her quickly identifiable as MINE in case of any catastrophe.
Rocking her Freedom No Pull Harness and her Gentle Leader at the same time. Look at that smile!

 What is your go-to dog walking gear?
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