Friday, October 28, 2011

Companionship

I changed the blog photo (see right). Among the dogs' favorite weekend activities are the many opportunities to soak up rays on the patio. Harry in particular likes to warm his old bones in the sun.

I always put out two dog beds, plenty of room. And it never fails that when I look out the window to check on them, the dogs are crammed together on just one bed.

They are always touching, always in contact. It is so amazing to me that two toy-obsessed, territorial, guardy smooth fox terriers can be so relaxed in each other's company.

Agility in KSA Week 4

This was by far our most exciting class yet. I realized after last week that the dogs weren't ready to commit to obstacles and that I probably rushed them into that first sequence (yeah, I'm feeling my way through this; cut me some slack). Yet in some ways that stumbling success we had with the jump-tunnel-jump sequence gave them a tiny taste of what agility could be like. So they came back for more this week and I was better prepared.

MH and I meet early--she helps me unload my car and set up the equipment and then we work our dogs in our own small private class for a good 45 minutes before the first handler shows up for class. MH uses a handling style suitable for the NADAC venues that she trialed in--she prefers to stay almost entirely outside the course and handle from a distance with "switch" and "out" commands. I show her the Derrett handling system but I'm not sure I've convinced her yet that it is a more reliable system for getting your dog around the course faster! I never competed in NADAC so it's interesting to see how the different course styles shape handling styles. I prefer to run with my dog because I feel more connected to her and of course the Derrett method emphasizes and even requires that connection between dog and handler. Even so, NADAC-style handling works for some handlers and dogs--the beauty of agility is that it accommodates us all. But back to class!

This week, I decided to have the handlers do some progressive send drills with a single straight tunnel and then a single jump. I had them start at the tunnel exit and call the dog through. Then I had them move 3 feet back and give the dog the tunnel command and run forward to meet the dog beyond the exit. Then I had them start at the tunnel midpoint. Finally, I had them start back with the dog, first running to meet the dog beyond the exit, then stopping halfway and calling the dog as they were exiting so the dog came around to meet them. They had to do all of this on both left and right sides. And for the final drill (calling the dog as it exited the tunnel), I made it harder by forcing the handlers to start working their start-line stays so that MH and I can be gradually removed from the picture. These were fast, physically active drills that wildly exceeded our expectations! MH and I are proud and amazed and excited by this small agility revolution happening before our very eyes!

I am waiting for some video--and I will post plenty this time because these drills were so wonderfully successful. In the meantime, here are the usual still shots I manage to sneak in with my camera. When I look at these pictures, I see one very important thing: the big smiles on everyone's faces.

PM and Nellie--you can just see the tip of Nellie's tail as she runs into the tunnel.

Our tiny star Webster and his mom C. He may be small but he's a real dynamo!

Kris and Kanga. He gives all of her commands in Polish but I think she has no problem understanding what she needs to do! MH grinning in the background.

JH and her "old" dog Aris. You can see how he drops that right hip just a bit but it doesn't affect his enthusiasm at all. I love her expression in this photo--no wonder he's so happy!

Chris and Beau. What a change from last week! There's no other way to describe it: Beau is diving into the tunnel!

And speaking of progress, Mr. B played his "I'm a sensitive, anxious dog, don't make me touch that scary tunnel" with me just once too much. MW was holding a veritable plate of hot dogs out to him...and he just wouldn't go in the tunnel. So I picked him up with an arm around his chest and sort of pushed/set him in the tunnel, which was smushed up to all of 4 feet long at this point, hardly a major trek. I was gentle of course, but to our utter amazement, he walked right on through to mom and the hot dogs. So we lengthened the tunnel and I pushed him in a few more times. By the second set of drills, I was able to hold his lead and at most sort of guide his head into the tunnel...and through he went! No trauma, no drama, MW was ecstatic, and I'm pleased that it all went off so smoothly at last. Sorry, I don't have any photos of this tiny miracle but I'll bet that some video will be coming soon!

No, I don't think I want to go in there, thanks. Mr. B and MW before the intervention.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Said That I Wouldn't...

post anymore on local politics and culture. I suppose I should amend that to say, I won't comment on local subjects anymore. But this op-ed piece by Mai Yamani in Al Jazeera is a fascinating read. We expats are all talking about this.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brrr!

A cold front rolled into the Eastern Province on the heels of the sand and dust this weekend. When I took the dogs out for their walk this morning, it was 66 F! I actually put on a sweatshirt.

Now I would be the first to tell you that 66 F is hardly sweatshirt weather, and I am aware that 66 F hardly represents a "cold front" for most of you. But no matter where you live, that first cold spell at the end of the year always feels colder than it really is. Your body isn't prepared for it--it was 100 F here on Friday afternoon, we are all still in summer mode (hats, sunscreen, water bottles, etc.).

What is missing from this lovely weather are the many smells that a westerner would associate with autumn: wood smoke; the dry, dusty smell of fallen leaves; holiday baking and roasting; the cedar chest scent that clings to the first wool sweater you haul out to wear.

When I was thinking about autumn smells, it occurred to me that there are oddly few environmental odors here, and even fewer that we can associate with the seasons. The folks who live in Ras Tanura can smell the damp salt smell of the Arabian Gulf every day but back in Dhahran there isn't much to smell. Sure, it can get kind of stinky in Khobar and the back side of the commissary isn't very nice, but those smells are there year-round.

All our lizard brains have to go on to tell us that the seasons, they are a'changin, are the temperature and the length of day. And my lizard brain is telling me to put a blanket on the bed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Agility in KSA Week 3

I've got 90 minutes of video from yesterday's class to wade through! Definitely some great footage of the dogs and handlers. But I've been feeling kind of crummy for several days--the weather changed and we've had strong winds from the northwest blowing sand and dust around so my sinuses are now officially on strike. On top of that I've been fighting an intestinal bug that's been going around. I have steamed snow peas and rice waiting for me; after I eat some, I'll probably head off to bed early. So you will have to be content with still photos again.

MH and I introduced the handlers to their first sequence, the classic jump-tunnel-jump. I even put up cones although they are hardly necessary for only three obstacles! Somehow the cones make it look a bit more like the real thing. I was really surprised at how hard it was to get the handlers to cross the plane of the second jump, that is, to continue forward and reward their dogs on the other side. The handlers kept stopping right before the second jump--and of course the dogs did too. But this is a First Ever for all of us, me for instructing and them for doing, so we are all learning new things. I'll explain the exercise differently next time.

After we had them do the basic sequence on both sides a few times each, we had them do it again with a front cross before the second jump. They are definitely getting smoother and faster with their footwork and timing. 

It's been quite a while since I had to train the basics and I'll admit that I need to back up a bit next week and work them on drills for sending to jumps and tunnels. But despite the steep learning curve we are all on, everyone seems to be having a great time. And I always have to keep that primary goal in mind!

I just want to thank all of you blog readers for sharing the news of our agility adventure with your friends. The page views of the first post are setting records for my blog (not that this is a high traffic site to begin with; it's all relative). But thanks for forwarding the link!

Kris and Kanga. They were absent last week so we had her work on a straight tunnel instead of a curved one. Notice that the bar is set low. The surface is rubberized but still a bit too stiff so all of the dogs jump very low bars.


PM and her crazy lab Nellie. Later in the class, Nellie got the zoomies, dived under the mesh we have clipped up on the openings of the area we are in (admittedly, the mesh really isn't intended to stop a determined dog, and it didn't), and continued her zoomies in the larger school grounds. There's always one in every class! Nellie was collected in good order however.


MW and her shepherd mix Boodle. MH is patiently holding his leash. Mr. B (as I have nicknamed him) is an anxious dog who is very cautious around new things...like scary plastic tunnels. He just doesn't want to put his feet in there. But this picture represents a huge success over the first week: Boodle actually put his head and shoulders in the tunnel. I've loaned MW my second tunnel so she can continue Mr. B's desensitization at home during the week.

This is Chris and his gorgeous standard poodle Beau. You can tell that they are both into this exercise!

J and her terrier mix Aris, who is 10 years old and has a bit of a bum hip. She was completely unprepared for his speed out of the tunnel, but adjusted quickly! J was a bit worried about her little old guy when I invited her to sign up for the class. She didn't think he would run. Well, he hops over the bars like a pup, reads her turns like a seasoned champ, and walks around during class like he owns the place.


Another picture of Chris and Beau. MH grinning in the background. I have to constantly remind my basic obedience folks to praise their dogs but the handlers in the agility class are much more proactive. Chris poked around on the internet, found a recipe, and made some fabulous little cheesy treat bites--brought baggies of them for everyone in the class! You can tell that Beau found them well worth working for.

I wanted MW to be able to practice the front cross footwork for this exercise and since Mr. B is not doing the tunnel yet, I loaned her Mimi. Here, MW isn't crossing the plane of the jump so Mimi correctly interpreted her body language to mean that she should wrap the jump. What a beautiful tight turn my little terrier can make!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Relaxing in the Kitchen

In addition to the agility class, I'm teaching two sessions of the basic obedience class, one here in Dhahran on Thursday afternoons and one in Ras Tanura on Fridays. We had our third agility class meeting this morning and we have a ton of video and photos as a result of having a dedicated videographer (MH's husband, who gave up his usual Thursday morning to do this for us). But I am feeling a bit saturated tonight with dogs and dog training (the basic obedience class today was particularly engaging and tiring) so I'm going to post instead about relaxing in the kitchen.

I am quite capable of zoning out on the couch while watching a movie (I rarely watch sitcoms and never watch reality shows---big yawn). I much prefer relaxing on the couch with a good book (more and more these days it is an ebook although I still ready plenty of the old-fashioned tree-killing variety). But above all, I find that I unwind and relax most often in the kitchen.

It's sad that I'm stuck with the dollhouse kitchen in my hovel but I've learned to make do with everything else and the kitchen is no exception.

The monthly (or so) making of the dog food is one of my most elaborate kitchen events involving all sorts of equipment and knives and pots and vegetables. Making my whine is important but only sporadically time consuming--dumping yeast, sugar, and grape juice into the 20 L round Gott cooler (customized with a hole in the top and tubing duct-taped in to create a one-way valve) is messy but not that complicated. The big time sink for whine making is the bottling stage. I have to wash and sterilize the bottles a couple of days ahead of time to let them thoroughly dry inside before transferring the precious whine into them. But it doesn't really matter because I look forward to even the most quotidian kitchen tasks.

I have a bit of a weakness for prawns and last weekend bought 2 kilos of fresh ones from the wonderfully expanded, awesomely newly renovated Tamimi store in Khobar. Two kilos--that's a lot of damned prawns. It took me nearly an hour to clean and devein them all (divided into bags, I promptly froze most of them). It was certainly an hour of hard, messy work--but I found it extremely satisfying. How could you not? Just imagine that giant bowl of fresh, clean prawns ready to go!

My usual kitchen rituals involve making dinner. I love to cook and I love to eat what I cook. If I can't cook, rather than settle for some gross prepared frozen meal, I will eat a bowl of muesli and yogurt instead. And of course I must have a glass of whine or two while making dinner. It is only the cook's due, in my opinion.

In this post, I am sharing my recipe for Mango Chutney. I make this fresh then cook fresh prawns in it or use it as a sauce over grilled hammour (which is what I am going to have for dinner tonight). It also works well as a dressing on top of greens or rice served with grilled lamb (look, I live in Saudi Arabia; everything goes well with lamb). For you purists out there, I am perfectly aware this isn't the same sort of gummy spicey stuff you get in jars at the store; this is more of a "field" version of chutney).

Mango Chutney
  • Wash, peel, and coarsely dice a large onion. Put in saucepan with olive oil.
  • Peel and dice several large cloves of garlic. Set aside.
  • Wash, peel, dice one or two large mangos. Ripe ones are sweeter but even unripe sour ones are okay to use here.  Set aside.
  • Wash, peel, and dice about a thumb's worth of fresh ginger. Set aside. 
  • Gently saute onion over low to medium heat. Stir frequently. When the onion begins to turn clear, add the garlic, mango, and ginger. Add to taste salt, black pepper, and curry powder. You can add a bay leaf too but this is not critical. If you are feeling frisky, toss in some dried red chili pepper flakes (I always do). 
  • If you don't have real curry powder, you can use a mixture of turmeric (3/4) and cinnamon (1/4). If you use a commercial curry powder, make sure it doesn't already have salt in it. If it does, don't buy that kind again and don't add extra salt. You can also use powdered ginger instead of fresh (add about 50% more volume if you go with powdered ginger).
  • You will probably need to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water if this mixture looks dry or sticky (which it will if you add a lot of powdered spices). Add the water in small volumes until the mixture looks smooth but not runny.
  • If you used sour not-quite-ripe mangoes, add 2 tablespoons of honey. 
  • Optional: wash, peel, and separate a tangelo or tangerine (remove seeds and white stringy bits from each piece). Add the pieces with the mango. 
  • Optional: instead of honey, dice some dates (remove pit) and add with the mango. You can add dates even if you use ripe mangos. Yum!
  • Optional: squeeze a lime into the pan. Lime and mango were made to go together.
  • Stir well. 
  • Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until the mango pieces just begin to fall apart. Add water if needed.

If you want to use this with prawns, add them a couple of minutes after the spices. If you want to use the chutney as a dressing for grilled fish or meat, cook it completely, remove from heat, and cover until ready to serve with the main dish (the flavors improve with the sitting anyway). You can easily "perk" it up with a tablespoon or two of water added over very low heat and a bit of stirring.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Agility in KSA Week 2

The main focus this week was on the front cross. I remember struggling mightily to learn how to do this move way, way back in the day (remember that I am blessed with the grace and coordination of a potato). So I decided to use some role-play to let the handlers practice over and over without their dogs. MH was a very patient dog!! I had to remind the handlers to "set your dog up at the jump" and they would all go back to MH and tell her to sit and stay! Very amusing. We didn't make her jump any bars, though.

Unfortunately, we have no digital record of any of that. MH and I are far too busy watching handlers and dogs to keep a camera going. (Yeah, yeah, tripod blah blah blah. We'll set them up next week.)

But fortunately, Jeanette decided to film my introduction of the FC. So I present a short clip of that here. I know you really want to see the people in the class and their fabulous dogs. I hope to have a helper next week to man the cameras so we can share more of that.


video


I want to make two points with this short clip: (1) Mimi has to be the most patient smooth fox terrier in the history of smooth fox terriers. She holds that damned sit stay for nearly a minute while I'm walking around and waving the precious fur tug-n-treat about! Amazing. And (2) I really need to increase her rate of reinforcement!

Ignore my blather in the clip. It was my intro to the cross. We spent most of the next 20 minutes doing the role play then another 20 minutes with handlers doing the crosses with their dogs (the dogs are all on board; the handlers need more practice!).

And apologies for being such a sweaty pig. We had a wave of humidity come in and it was just brutal last weekend. I'll wear a more photogenic outfit next time. MH wants to make some "promo" videos!

Inspiration

I know you are all checking the blog for an agility update (I can tell because the page count is up) but I am going to first put up a short post about teaching people and their dogs.

I think a lot about how to do that since it has become my major hobby here in KSA. This session I tweaked the lesson plan for my basic obedience course after nearly two years of success because I thought that the handlers would do a better job of the "final exam" (teaching their dogs a trick/behavior that I don't teach in class) if I introduced the concept of shaping sooner. I spend every obedience class circulating around to each dog and handler multiple times, giving them my undivided attention for at least a couple of minutes each visit. I check the gear in my little plastic crate every Wednesday evening to make sure I have all of the handouts, clean up supplies, toys, and other items I might need for the coming weekend. I buy and process turkey hot dogs and chicken breast and string cheese to make sure that the instructor always has the best treats. Before every new session, I distribute a questionnaire to each handler and I read them before every class for a couple of weeks until I know every dog's name and the particular issues or questions each owner has. I send an email update almost every week to review what they should be working on at home.

In short, I invest a lot of time and energy in preparing and delivering the basic obedience classes.

And now the ante has been upped considerably with the agility class. I pack all the gear in my car the night before. I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to ensure that I get to the class site by 5:30 a.m. so that MH and I can unload my car, dolly all of the stuff to the site, set up equipment, and work our dogs before class starts. I bought DVDs and reread training books over the summer so that I had a variety of methods ready to hand to explain the same concepts in different ways. I design exercises to take into account the limitations (challenges?) that the dogs and handlers bring with them. I am barely a step ahead of these classes in terms of planning but knowing that I can be creative and flexible with my tiny set of gear helps.

And every time I step in front of a class of hopeful handlers with their excited dogs, I call to my mind the agility instructors who inspired me, who taught dog handling with humor and insight and kindness, who seemed to display infinite patience even when I, as a participant, wanted to throttle one of my fellow handlers. I think about how they organized their lessons, their gear, their own dogs. I think about how they encouraged me and others. I think about all of these things in those few seconds at the start of each class because I want to be that kind of trainer for my classes.

In particular, I want to single out Debbie Spence, owner of PAWS in north Texas. I spent a couple of years training with her when I was in Dallas (many of the posts in the first two years of this blog are about my training and trialing experiences as one of her students).  Of all of my agility trainers, she has become my role model. Debbie, I want you to give yourself a pat on the back for being such an inspiration that I could even conceive of the crazy idea of bringing agility to Saudi Arabia.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Agility...in Saudi Arabia!

I have been bursting with this news for months but have waited to post on the blog until I had photographic proof...of the first ever performance of dog agility in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

I've been working two years for this! Two years of teaching basic obedience through Aramco Community Education (I've taught well over 60 dogs and owners now), two years of earning gold stars (mine are among the most popular Community Ed courses), one year of making do with Rally Obedience, two years of dog classes without incident (neither poop nor aggression), two years of being patient (not really), two years of planning and scheming and false starts.

And here we are at last. The photos in this post are truly historic. Oh, I know they look pretty tame to you North Americans who can attend an agility trial or visit your trainer just about any weekend you feel like it, or simply step out into your backyard. Oh my, we are certainly starting small.

But it is a start.

I had goosebumps when I started class this Thursday.

I won't burden this post with a lot of text. That can all come later as the course progresses. But I'll give you a short outline here: we are meeting from 6:30-8:30am on Thursdays (our weekend). We will move to a huge, grassed, fenced soccer field at the end of October. The course will meet every Thursday well into December. I continue to base my dog training within the securely fenced confines of the Dhahran middle school. Aramco Community Education has made this possible and I can't speak highly enough of their willingness to help me make it all work.

I am basing my handling system on Greg Derrett's system since it is the most logical one (to me; let's not get into an argument about that here, my agility readers). In addition, I've incorporated all sorts of training bits from Leslie McDevitt (Control Unleashed), Sandy Rogers (One Jump Two Jump), and Jane Killion (When Pigs Fly).

For this inaugural class, the entire equipment set will fit in the back of my Honda CRV (along with Mimi's crate): two tunnels, a chute, tunnel bags for them, stick-in-the-ground weaves, seven jumps, and a table with two heights, 4" and 12". I made the jumps and the table here (there are many adventures associated with those activities; the tales are best told in person over a glass of wine or two). I bought everything else and either had the items shipped in (i.e., jump strips and tunnel bags from J&J and tunnels from NTI Global) or hand-carried them to avoid Customs TFW (i.e., the special PVC connections for the jumps).

Purists, beware. I am cutting and pasting as I go. I don't have to follow any rules except those that work in KSA. Our goal isn't competition but the doing of the thing itself--and hopefully some more refined training of our dogs in the process. Oh, and having fun!

Enough of my blathering. Please enjoy these pictures of our first class.

I do have to make one final comment: Mimi was indeed present and she and I did a demo of serpentines, threadles, and other crazy stuff. I think some of the other folks might have pics of us.

It's important that I mention this because in the end, this is all about Mimi. It's all about what I will do for my dogs.
 
MH, my co-instructor, and her PWD Austin showing some of their moves.

MH and our first morning's demo setup: 5 jumps in a circle and a tunnel. Baby steps, baby steps.

The brave handlers who signed up for DOG-301! Big dogs, little dogs, young dogs, old dogs, and handlers who have no idea what agility is.


Skipper is an old, arthritic lab but Marion really wanted to find something that allowed her to have one-on-one time with him (she has a much younger black lab who is as wild as they come). Here, Marion is introducing Skipper to the jump (bar on the ground, of course)--rewarding him for hopping over the bar without touching it. I don't have the luxury of only teaching people with Ferrari dogs. I have to figure out how to ensure that dogs like Skipper and handlers like Marion are successful, and most importantly, have a good time.

Here's Cheri and her boston terrier mix Xena being introduced to the jump. I used Sandy Roger's method as described in her DVD "One Jump Two Jump." All of the dogs were successfully clearing a low bar for a click and a treat after about 6-10 reps.

Introduction to the tunnel. Where's Mom??? Jeanette is doing her best to get Aris' attention by crawling into the tunnel while MH is doing her best to simply hold Aris and let him figure it out. I keep telling the handlers, stop worrying about looking stupid. Nobody is looking at you--they are all looking at your dog. Might as well instill this in them as early as possible.

Oh, there she is! Aris figures out the tunnel and runs towards his mom.

The tunnel provided the class lots of laughs. Here's Webster, one of my Rally Obedience stars (he has a heel to die for) being handed off to MH by his mom Crystal. We did four reps for the tunnel introduction; most dogs got it by the third rep although half had to have a shortened tunnel to start out with. Webster is a mini dachshund with truckloads of confidence--he had no problems with the full 12 feet of the tunnel!


Kris and his lab Kanga (the angle of the photo is not too flattering but she is unfortunately overweight when viewed at any angle). She has just shot out of the tunnel to her handler.

So raise a toast to our intrepid little group and wish us well!

Quotidian

The lemon bars came out fabulous. Just as gooey and tart as they should be. The powdered sugar is cosmetic, added right before serving; I decided not to mess with that part of it. G, I like the idea of using a coffee grinder to make powdered sugar and may try to make some for the heck of it. Sorry, no photos of the yummy lemon bars. My camera isn't quite up to taking sexy food shots.

Instead, I will offer you a picture of the dogs that I took this morning while sitting on my porch enjoying my one cup of coffee that I allow myself per day. (Caffeine in all of its forms causes me to have extremely intense migraines. I see flashing lights, get nauseated, become light sensitive, feel like someone is shoving spikes into my frontal lobe--all of the classic symptoms fucking my brain up at one time for up to 24 hours at a time. Good times there. If I am super strict about my caffeine consumption, I can pretty much eliminate migraines; for example, I no longer eat dark chocolate. It has made a huge difference in my quality of life.) Anyway, back to this beautiful morning! It was 69F when I got up to take the dogs out to pee at 4:00 am and only 71F a few hours later when I snapped this picture of the dogs soaking up the earliest morning rays peeking over my patio wall. Fall is officially here in Dhahran!


I took this picture because the sky is almost never blue here. It is usually tannish and hazy or so overexposed from the sun you can't even really see the sky. During dust storms, it can become rusty orange. The clear blue today was a real treat!

View of the blue sky this morning from my porch.

I thought I would close this quotidian post with the recipe for one of my favorite dishes. It has many variants and names depending on the culture making it and the spices they like to use (raita, tzatziki, etc). I make it regularly for myself and frequently take it to potluck events since it is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Here is my recipe for cucumber yogurt dip/sauce/salad. It's low fat, sodium-free, and super easy to make.
  • Wash some cucumbers. The final volume of the dish will be twice the volume of the cucumbers you use. You can peel them if you want. I don't since the Saudi cucumbers aren't waxed and I think the dark green skins look pretty in the final dish.  Dice the cucumbers and place in a large bowl. Dice is a subjective instruction. You can thinly slice, mince, dice, even grate--whatever strikes your fancy.
  • Peel and mince some large cloves of garlic. You should know how much garlic you can handle--but this dish just cries out for you to let yourself run wild with garlicky abandon. Add garlic to cucumbers.
  • Drizzle some olive oil into the bowl. 
  • Stir well.
  • Let the cucumbers and garlic marinate at room temperature for about an hour. Stir them two or three times.
  • Just before serving, add a volume of plain, unsweetened yogurt equal to the volume of cucumbers to the bowl. Stir well.
  • For exotic presentations, you can add mint (fresh or dried) or orange zest or grated carrot or sprinkle the top with sweet paprika.
  • You can serve this dish as a stand-alone dip with crackers or use it as a side dish to grilled meats (it is excellent with lamb).
  • This dish improves with age; keeping it overnight in the fridge and serving the next day enhances the garlic blast several times over.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Walking the Dog

I came across the concept of the “companionable walk” while reading “Inside A Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz (I highly recommend this book; even though it has footnotes and references to scientific literature, it is a fun and funny read; note that Amazon reviewers who gave it only one or two stars mentioned that it had “too many big words”; just another example of why America is doomed): taking a walk with your dog is one of the more relaxing activities available to us dog owners (I would add to that list taking a nap with your dog, but I suppose napping isn’t technically an activity). The walk is made even more companionable when we are with a dog who knows the route, the routine, when we are in no particular hurry, perfectly happy to stop at every shrub and pole for a quick sniffing update. We move along together, each content with his own thoughts yet sensitive to the observations of the other.

The idea of the “companionable walk” resonated with me. I spend a lot of time walking my dogs and thus spend a lot of time thinking about these very things. I find it amusing that Harry knows that if I turn around after depositing the trash in the depot, it means we are going on our “Safaniya” walk, his particular favorite. He whips around and begins pulling me across the parking lot to the sidewalk that begins this route. With the smooth accuracy of a flock of birds, the dogs simultaneously turn to the left after we exit the hedges at the start of our morning walks along the circum-golf course path. I no longer say a word or indicate the turn with the leashes; the dogs know that we always turn left at that place.

The dogs and I often stop to examine the same interesting things, although for very different reasons: is that a flower up ahead on the ground or a discarded food wrapper? When we found a hedgehog balled up next to the soccer field one night, I joined in with the poking (never fear, we left it unmolested although Mimi drooled on it in her excitement at the discovery of something so new and exotic). 

Even though one isn’t supposed to, I stick to a routine that doesn’t vary by more than 15 minutes for any particular outing. On our early morning walks, usually started by 4:45 a.m., we regularly see perhaps no more than 4 or 5 people, and then not even every day. It is much more common for us to encounter one or two people every morning for a week…then they decide it is too hot/early/dark to engage in that much activity that early in the morning and they disappear. Lightweights, I say to myself, my virtuous satisfaction only slightly dimmed by the fact that I am out there because I have to be and given the choice, I’d rather sleep in too!

I’ve had agility runs where my dog and I were completely in sync. The feeling is exhilarating. The “companionable walk” is similar but not quite as jacked up with adrenaline. While walking, we get a chance to observe our corner of the world and spend time contemplating the small changes in it. 

So I encourage you to set aside the rush of your day, the stress of work, the demands of your phone, and take your dog for a walk.

Postscript: When I read the title of Ms. Horowitz's book, my first thought was of the classic Groucho Marx joke: Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. I was delighted to discover that she selected the title based on that very joke!