Annie Phenix had me at the title. My membership into the Midnight Dog Walker's Club began with my blind, highly sensitive chow mix. As some blind dogs do, Penny had reversed day and night, leading us to discover that her anxiety was greatly decreased when I walked her, for a full hour, at midnight every night.
The truth is, I loved this time with her. I felt like midnight dog walks were a magic hour in our lives, a precious secret that no one else seemed to know. It gave Penny the closest thing possible to a return of vision in the form of ample time to sniff the myriad animal trails that traversed our neighborhood. For that single hour, her stress was reduced enough that the old 'huntress' could again put her tracking nose to work, as though the moonlight held an elixir that restored her youth and confidence.
For myself, those nightly walks, year round, gave me the opportunity to learn the constellations, long on my list of things I wanted to learn some day. Now, I feel like Orion is an old friend whenever he shows up in the winter sky. Those walks gave me my first (and only) sighting of a barred owl, which I watched glided onto a tree branch directly over our heads. I saw coyotes, heard great horned owls and glimpsed a fair number of shooting stars.
And then there was the gift of just watching this brave creature, terrified by day, bold by night, navigating blindly as she scent mapped our neighborhood. I studied her body language keenly and watched her learn to follow the most subtle movements of the leash, as we navigated around obstacles. She fascinated me and I adored her. I had inherited Penny after my father died so I was grieving during this time so, you know, those walks did a lot for both of us, I think.
And then Penny died.
My midnight walks stopped, of course. For a while after Penny was gone, I would stand out in the yard under the moon, and just not know what to do with myself...Orion up there in the sky, hunting Taurus with his ever present canine companion, Sirius, and me, earthbound, no Penny alongside to join in the chase. It didn't feel right to, you know, just go to bed, but normal middle-aged women don't just walk around at midnight for no good reason.
I didn't think I'd ever take those walks again, honestly. One more tiny grief among a growing number of losses.
But then, funny story...I started pet sitting and, with no dogs of my own at home, my schedule became a bit heavy on the 'my dog just doesn't do other dogs/bikes/garbage trucks very well' end of the canine spectrum. And so, Presto!, my midnight walks resumed with quite a cast of reactive characters.
Good thing I had already learned the constellations because there is no star gazing when you are walking a reactive dog. I might give Orion a "Hey, how you doin'?" nod but past that, it was all senses on deck, learning the ways of a dog who would only be with me for a short time while their owner was away. (And for those who know what 'trigger stacking' is, you can appreciate that being with a pet sitter already turns the stress up a notch for sensitive dogs.)
Good thing I love late night walks and have the kind of life that allows me to sacrifice those hours of sleep to nocturnal perambulations. Since these dogs are visitors, I may only have to do this for a few short days. It might be tough but I would figure I could always catch up on my sleep once they went home.
These pups I have come to know and love live with people who are coping with their reactivity every day and those midnight walks can lose their romantic appeal pretty darned quickly, especially if you have to wake up early for work, or have kids to take care of or, you know, a need for sleep.
In a nutshell, if I could get EVERY dog owner, reactive dog or not, to read ONE book this year, THE MIDNIGHT DOG WALKERS WOULD BE IT.
YES, there are a lot of good books out there. I'm suggesting this one because it is so good you might actually read this one start to finish (AND find yourself looking up the resources in the appendix). You and I both know you have a lot of unread and half-read great books. This won't be one of them once you crack the cover.
Annie Phenix has been where a lot of you are, and worse than many of you will ever deal with. The story of her first dog will have you yelling "NO! Don't do it!!" like you are in the audience at a horror show. You know exactly what is going to happen but our heroine is just too young to know better. And from that story you are hooked because it is sooo easy to see how maybe that naive dog owner could have been you. Or has been. Or maybe you are seasoned in dealing with difficult dogs and you recognize a kindred soul. You want to know how it all works out. You want to know how she turns it around.
And like any good book, you find yourself caring. About Annie. About the dogs she works with. About the dog she lost. About your own pet and how you can best help them cope with their challenges.
And it just might raise your compassion for the folks out there that you see dealing with whirling dervishes on the ends of leashes in your neighborhood, because when we understand something, compassion has a chance to overtake our judgemental natures.
Yeah, I am saying that this book can make you a better person.
Sounds a little crazy doesn't it?
But I know it to be true. (Okay, it's true for me. Dogs are making me a better human and learning how to help them continually raises the bar. Books that help me get better at what I do also help me be better at who I AM.)
So, if you are serious about what you are reading it may be true for you also, all this growth, because while you are flipping pages you will soon find yourself getting a wonderful education on how to work with dogs in a positive manner, even when said dog is going bananas.
Hey, some people go to yoga classes. Some meditate. Maybe some will learn to play the sitar. There are countless roads to cultivating compassion and inner peace but if you want to test out where you are on the 'Zen Master' scale, walk a reactive dog. Commit yourself to being the calm point in the life of a creature who finds life overwhelming (or at least parts of it, like mail trucks, kids on bikes, garbage trucks, men wearing hats and other members of one's own species). It's a practice like no other. (And not one you can combine with Pokemon Go, in case anyone is asking. Dog walking + Mobile Video Games = Worst. Idea. Ever.)
The education in The Midnight Dog Walkers is sound, accessible and presented responsibly. Phenix stresses the wisdom in working with a reputable trainer even while noting that many readers will try to go it on their own, at least at first. And because she knows that, she does her best to give a good, sound foundation in how to work with dogs that even the owners of non-reactive dogs will gain considerable benefit from. There are wonderful resources in the appendix, as well as throughout the book. It is a fast read, but by no means superficial. Like a perfect meal, you will feel pleasantly full, not overly stuffed with dense material that is hard to digest.
And should you commit to working with a qualified trainer, this book will go far in giving you the foundation that will help you gain maximal benefit from their services.
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Filed under: Book Reviews