Happy first day of fall!


When it comes to autumn, I am basically a walking, talking meme. I love it. With the exception of pumpkin spice and Halloween (yeah yeah, gasp in horror), I love everything about it. I love the cooler temperatures and being able to wear hoodies and going apple picking and having bonfires. I adore pretty coats and scarves. My favorite landscape includes a gunmetal-gray sky and fiery leaves. My ideal year would be nine months of fall, snow for Christmas and New Years, and spring the rest of the time, just so I could really appreciate fall when it came back.

I really don’t care much for summer, partially because my dogs, despite being shorthaired, are pretty sensitive to the heat. Nelson seems to like going out and roasting in the sun, but if you ask him to actually, you know, move, he’s panting in no time. Niles, with his color and lab-ish fur, starts to melt even faster. Neither of them like water, so summer activities are pretty much relegated to after-dusk walks and indoor games like Destroy the Stuffed Animal, Destroy the Blanket, Destroy the Cardboard and Destroy the Shoe. Now that it’s fall, we can walk to our heart’s content.

Hah, um, kind of?

For Nelson, walking to his heart’s content is around the block, MAX. He much prefers to walk with other dogs, and when I say “much prefers,” I mean “refuses to go farther than 20 yards otherwise.” When he has a buddy, however, he trundles along happily at half the speed of smell, stopping for 10 minutes at a time to sniff or stare unblinkingly at the power-walker across the street. Since you have to be at an actual standstill to move slower than Nelson, he’s not what you would call a “puller.” However, he goes on no walks without his front-clip Freedom harness (thank you, Pitty Love), and this is why.

Nelson is a lot of dog. He’s 75+ pounds, and most of that is in his head and front end. He thinks everyone out on the sidewalk is there to meet him, so in order to keep him from lurching into the path of every unsuspecting pedestrian, stroller or bike, a front-clip harness provides the best steering and security without putting any undue stress on his glorious velvety neck wrinkles. And, if Nelson ever did get it in his head that he really wanted to pull, I’d be damn glad he was wearing a harness and not just one of the frou-frou brocade collars I like to buy him.

Niles is pretty much the opposite of Nelson. He walks fast and he prefers to walk alone, so if you think I’m walking the two of them by myself, you can forget it. He’s also quite reactive; if he doesn’t see anything that sets him off, he walks like the angel he usually is, relaxed and attentive and leash swinging comfortably. If something triggers him, however, we can pretty much throw the whole walk out the window.

A few weeks ago, it seemed like Snow White had invited all the woodland creatures to play on the sidewalks. Nary a squirrel was actually in a tree; they were all doing wind sprints through the yards. There were so many robins hopping along I could only assume they had made a blanket decision to commute on foot. At one point, an entire flock of sparrows burst out of a bush so suddenly I almost peed myself. On top of that, it appeared that everyone else in town had picked that hour to walk their loud, reactive dogs.

Needless to say, Niles was having a hard time. At one point, he completed some kind of aerial tumbling move that would’ve made Simone Biles proud. I couldn’t even get him to look at me, let alone put all four feet on the ground or sit down. It was not fun.

However, because Niles always walks in a double-clip leash, martingale collar and front-clip harness (thank you, Going to the Dogs Rescue), it was not the end of the world. Did the harness magically make him trot along like a show dog? No. Did I feel I had complete control over my dog even if his behavior was a little embarrassing? Yes. Was I really glad that my stressed-out dog didn’t also have to contend with prongs stabbing into his skin or a chain choking him out? Yes.

If you have two choices and one of them is kinder and more effective, why wouldn’t you choose that option?

So, as we begin the most perfect and wonderful and delicious of all seasons, I hope you’ll #HarnessTheLove along with us. Autumn is beautiful, dogs are wonderful, taking dogs for walks in the fall is amazing, and pain, fear and punishment have no place in that. Anyone who tells you differently is lying and their favorite season is probably that super gross span between winter and spring when everything is terrible. February, I think it’s called.

P.S. If you don’t have a front-clip harness but think they sound gosh-darn terrific, check out this info from the Academy for Dog Trainers. While you’re at it, take a gander at the #HarnessTheLove tag for great stories and tips on front-clip harnesses.


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