Picture the scene: You have won a brand new, high performance car. Congratulations! Only one problem – you don’t know how to drive. Do you:
A. get in the car right now and try to drive it without knowing how to control it, thinking that if you don’t do so you will be seen as a bad driver, or
B. Get some lessons first, making sure you start somewhere with no distractions, and give yourself time to learn the controls until you feel ready to go into traffic?
C. Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup final
The correct answer is B. One of the wrong answers is more ridiculous than the other too. It makes perfect sense to take your time and learn the controls first; otherwise you could end up in trouble very quickly.
OK, time for question #2 - How long should it take before you pass your test? Is it:
A. After 10 lessons
B. After 3 weeks
C. As long as it takes – people learn at different rates
D. Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup final
The correct answer is C. As you may have guessed, Geoff is a red herring (there is always one in any multiple choice question).
Well done if you got all 3 questions right. It was pretty easy though, right? However, now here comes the wry twist...
You have just got a new dog. Congratulations!
Only one problem – it pulls like crazy on the lead and goes mad if it sees another dog. Do you:
A. get out on the streets anyway, and try to walk the dog without knowing how to control it, thinking that if you don’t walk your dog everyday you will be seen as a bad owner, or
B. Get some lessons first, making sure you start somewhere with no distractions, and give yourself time to learn the controls until you feel ready to go into the big, wide world?
C. Geoff Hurst etc.
I always see people outside, getting dragged along by their dogs, sometimes in thunderstorms (I am in my car - I'm not a storm chaser), believing that they must do so everyday. I can’t imagine that these people – or their dogs – are enjoying the expedition. Many of the dogs are wearing all kinds of contraptions designed to stop pulling and - quelle surprise - they don't work. If the owner doesn’t show their dog that they are the one to trust outside, the dog will take over that responsibility, and no amount of gadget or gizmo will change the dog’s mind. If a dog thinks it is the decision maker, it will also decide if anything out there needs to be dealt with, including other dogs, people, cars, bicycles, children etc.
The solution is simple - take your time and get the controls right. The fact is that if we were not around, dogs would not go for a walk, yet we are continually told it is necessary to give them regular exercise, often by dog trainers who say it leads to good behaviour. If that were true, football players would be angels... Do we treat cats the same way? What about budgies? How does one exercise a goldfish? Pass the egg whisk…
When you look what dogs do when left to their own devices, you see the reality. How many go for a bit of a stroll because it's a beautiful day? How many dogs strap on a pedometer to make sure they have covered enough distance for their health? When they are not eating and sleeping, they may get up for a wander, sniff around a bit and - for proper exercise - play for a couple of minutes. A stress-free dog is not going to waste energy.
The good news is that when you know that walking the dog is very much like learning to drive a car, you can start from the beginning and go at your own pace. The walk is not a must, it should be a bonus. Get the controls right, and you can enjoy going as far as you like. The only real pressure to walk your dog is that which you put yourself under.
Here is one final thought - as dogs get older, their capacity for physical exercise diminishes. We don't expect older people to be as active as they were when they were younger. I wonder how well Geoff Hurst would fare if he tried to play in the next World Cup?