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Karen B. London
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Walking Dogs for Friends in Need
This small act can be a big help

Normally, they take their dog out for long walks and runs daily, so she’s used to hours of vigorous exercise. Today, that wasn’t going to happen. The husband was in great pain recovering from surgery following an accident. The wife had been up all night attending to him and had worked all day at a stressful job trying to catch up after taking two days off following the accident.

They are very together people and capable of handling life’s speed bumps. Yet when I offered to swing by later that day and take their dog for a walk, they were most appreciative.

In tough times, something has to give, and it’s common for the dog to suffer a bit in the short term. That’s not a criticism—it’s just how it is. No matter how much we love our dogs and how responsibly we care for them, sometimes life sneaks up on us. Whenever anyone has a disruption in life, attention paid to the dog can decline. It happens when people move, when they are ill or have any serious medical complication, or even when they start a new job. It certainly isn’t the best week ever for most dogs when a new baby joins the household.

Offering to walk a dog can often relieve people’s guilt that they can’t do it. It may also prevent the dog from acting crazy, barking, chewing or performing any other behavior that is no help to a household that is already under stress.

It’s hard to know how to make life easier for people who are going through a rough time. My first thought is that perhaps I can assist with some dog care because I know how to do that. I also remember how grateful I was when a neighbor walked our dog and spent some time being with him when I went to the hospital to give birth to my son and our official dog sitter couldn’t make it until much later that day.

Many people have a hard time accepting help for themselves but will accept it on behalf of their dog. That means it can be more helpful to offer dog walking services than to bring food over, to help with the house work or to run errands.

Has anyone every helped you out by caring for your dog when you were struggling?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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