Divide and Conquer

I assumed the responsibility of principle dog walker even before Mr. Knitting Sarah and I were dating, way back beyond recorded history when we were just friends and it was his dog, not mine. I didn’t grow up with animals until I was a teenager and then it was cats. I didn’t know the first thing about dogs and because of this I had little trust for them and was pretty all-around wary of them. This all changed when at 21 years old I moved in as a roommate with two friends, one being the man who we now know as Mr. Knitting Sarah (it’s a long, winding story — I’ll leave it at that for now) who had a beautiful dog named Becket. Becket was an Akita/Shepherd mix who was as sweet as could be with family and friends, but notoriously did not like many people outside his inner circle and, well, let’s just say he was an excellent guard dog.

I will never forget the first day I got back to my new apartment when no one else was home and Becket greeted me at the front door. We stood for a moment watching each other, trying to decide what move the other would make. I figured it was even odds that he’d let me in or make sure I exited quickly. After a moment, I said, “Do you want to go for a walk?” and I reached for his leash. In that moment, he leaped in the air with joy and from that moment on we were always friends. He and I shared a walk or two daily for the rest of his life.

It’s something I really love, whether it’s on a trail out in a natural area or around the neighborhood, I love taking those walks with my canine friends. The fresh air, the bonding with the inimitable spirit of a dog, and just the sheer joy of that daily walk helps me to appreciate all those subtle changes that happen in the world around us every single day. I’ve carried on the daily walk routine with Moose throughout his entire life and now with Bear as well.

This week was marked a turning point at our house, though. With Bear hurtling toward giant status, I had to finally admit that walking both dogs at once (now weighing close to 150lbs between the two) was no longer good for anyone. Even with a kid along willing to help, it was just too much chaos with a lab who has so much love for everyone and a puppy who is still learning his manners. So this week I started adjusting the boys to a new schedule where each dog gets their own walk with me.

At first it was a little sad to leave one dog behind as the one not leashed up  stares at me heartbroken (I don’t know why, but if you ask them, I am an amazing walking companion), but all it took was one day to see the huge difference it made for all of us. My walks with Moose are dreamy.

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Oh wait, that’s just Moose dreaming!

In any case, he used to be a horrible tow truck of a dog just pulling like his life depended on it on walks, but now because of how much I had to revisit my training skills with Bear and maybe because Moose is happy to bond and get the 1-on-1 time, he is the picture of perfection when he walks. He listens, he rarely pulls, and we just really enjoy our time together outside so much. A couple days ago, we stopped to watch Bald Eagles courting over a nearby field. Yesterday we stopped to listen to the flock of a couple hundred robins a few streets over from our house.

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I wake up excited for my walk with Moose every single day. It is a breath of fresh air, a joy that I feel privileged to experience each day.

Bear’s walks, of course, are more work right now than play.

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This guy hasn’t quite figured out how to appropriately express how excited he is to meet new people and dogs. Unfortunately, it tends to come out in excited growls and barking which can be off-putting to potential new friends when you’re 50+lbs, with shaggy black fur, and puppy levels of energy. He’s figuring it out, but it’s a process and it just takes time and lots of practice. And while it’s a very different experience than walking Moose, I can’t help but feel lucky that I get to help guide this sweet pup as he learns about the world around him. Every time I practice recall on our walk and call him back to me I’m reminded of this as his giant paddles/paws, floppy ears, and toothy grin full of love and joy eventually flollop  back to me.

What I’m think about every day as I walk these boys is to be mindful that every person and every project and every task has a different starting point and different requirements and that it’s important to factor those points into my expectations, to meet each person, project, and task from its own unique starting point. It can be very easy to be frustrated when a spinning project takes a little longer than I expect, just like it can be hard to remember not to hold Bear up to the same standard we are used to with our 7-year-old been-there-done-that-mastered-my-manners Moose.

It can be frustrating, if you leave out the dog training and homeschooling and life living, to know that these two bobbins have been sitting for a few days, waiting to be skeined instead of drying and finished.

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Just like if you don’t take into account his breed and personality, it can be hard to accept that Bear is much more stubborn and is taking his own sweet time learning to really listen.

It can be hard to admit that even though the bobbins for this project are just under 1.5oz each I’m only getting one finished each night.

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Just like it can be hard to admit that I really can’t walk two giant dogs at once.

Sometimes it’s important to divide and conquer, to split things up and carve manageable pieces out of larger scale projects. In a world where multi-tasking is revered as king, there is still something important to be said for taking more time in order to give things the attention they deserve. To do a job well,  sometimes that means you will progress more slowly. If you want to be joyful in what you do, you have to allow your expectations to honestly jive with realty.

Maybe that means that with spring here, you busy tidying the yard and house and are just plugging away with a round of two of that latest sock WIP each day instead of logging inches upon inches each day…

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Maybe that means that instead of spinning, you’re taking this mutt on your second dog walk of the day…

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Maybe that means instead having all these letters circled and thus all these singles done for this project…

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You are just starting bobbin 3 out of 6 tonight.

Whatever the realty of the requirements of your next task, the place from which your next student needs to begin learning from, or how much of an uphill battle your upcoming round of puppy courses may be…

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May you be unafraid to divide and conquer where necessary and may you be inspired to allow your expectations to play nicely with reality.

14 thoughts on “Divide and Conquer”

  1. I love this. I have a beautiful yellow lab ((11 years old) and his beautiful son who just turned a year old!!! Just beginning to get past some of the puppy craziness when walking but every blowing leaf and mud puddle here in NH is potential for joy. I relate about walking the dogs. After some 20 odd years of owning Labradors I can say that they are my sanity. On a bad day a long walk outside with my buddy sets the world right again. What a gift they are. Wish I could post a photo!

  2. This was so well written, Sarah, and such a great reminder. I’m so very glad that through the hubbub you’re finding “you” time, even if some of it is shared with those sweet faces (how can that EVER not be good?). And a little spinning or knitting every day, soon adds up to a lot. Keep taking care of YOU and the rest will fall in place. And thanks for the reminder that dividing is also a great way to conquer!

  3. This is so well said! I’ve been owned by plenty of dogs (and cats) over the years. Bear sounds a lot like the Maremma we had – very stubborn and opinionated. He definitely had his own ideas of what should happen, and when LOL.. here’s a tip: never teach a giant breed to sit up and beg, or he will get away with everything for the rest of his life!

    1. Bear is Newfoundland/Shepherd/Great Pyrenees so I would venture he’s a whole lot like a Maremma. There are A LOT of those Great Pyr tendencies in him. I am a stickler for meal times and not begging (same with our lab), so they know better than to make requests from me! But oh yes, is this little guy stubborn indeed!!! Wow!

  4. So glad that there is joy in the new system! And yes, small chunks gets things done. Isn’t that the lesson of the original socks with Sarah? And spinning 15 a day? We have to stop putting pressure on ourselves and just enjoy the moment, whatever it brings!

  5. Good lessons here. Enjoyed reading this post. I’ve been saying for some time now that nothing is a race…it is far more important (and interesting) to enjoy the process. So if it takes me a week to knit a sock or two or a month, that’s ok as long as I am enjoying it. I’ve always been a cat person – never had a dog of my own, but boy do I love taking dogs for walks!

    1. “There is more to life than increasing its speed” is one of my all time favorite quotes! True words!!!

      I had cats from age 16-21 and I think they can be great pets. I love the camaraderie I share with dogs and our daily walks, of course!

  6. Awe! It sounds like there might be light at the end of the tunnel the way you describe your walks with Moose. Lily is either pulling so hard that she’s grunting or she’s lagging behind. She also is aggressive when she meets people on the road. PLEASE BE MY FRIEND! Your spinning is absolutely stunning

    1. YES! Moose has always just been a freight train. Bear is starting to pull a bit too now that he’s older, but the key with him is to consistently reinforce that pulling won’t get him where he wants to go. I serpentine all over the road a lot. 😂 If I can get his nose off the ground when he’s walking, he’s actually pretty good. 😂 Buy stock in dog treats though because I am buying A LOT these days.

      Bear is in a fearful stage, too, so although he eventually warms up to people and dogs, he leads with barking and growling. And that’s intimidating since he his already 50lbs+ and has a big boy bark. We were advised to comfort him calmly to help him learn to be calm in those situations and to make sure he has a good personal bubble. This method also doesn’t train him to stop growling since that’s his way of warning us he’s not ok. Learned a lot day in class about our boy! I remember it was the same our other dog – that initial class is so helpful just to see your dog in a structured space with other dogs. I find it very helpful!

      1. I have noticed that treats are a good distraction especially when we are walking. She’s a good watch dog but doesn’t need to get upset when the neighbors are in their yards. We really need to look into some classes especially since I’m the main caretaker and I have no experience.

      2. Part of that is probably her age and just figuring stuff out, but I’m guessing she’s super smart and training tips and consistent enforcement for these behaviors will go a long way. Bear has a really strong guarding instinct (he’s half Great Pyrenees) and is also going through a fear phase (normal for dogs at this age), so his go-to is to bark at everything right now. It’s a lot of work, but we’ll keep at it!

        As for classes, just call up your vet and ask. They usually have recommendations! And 4-6months is a great time to do a puppy class or basic manners usually!

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