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What is your dog good at?

I’m one of those kids who was too heavily involved in extracurricular activities in high school and college and probably now.

As an “adult” I have trouble sitting still. I have basically no attention span and can’t really watch TV or movies because I get bored. Most conversations with me lead to something like, “Oh, look what Scout (our cat) is doing!”

I also overload my dog with activities – dog playdates, trips to the dog park, obedience classes, too many tricks and commands.

Ace has participated in pretty much every dog activity and dog sport Fargo has to offer.

I want Ace to be a therapy dog, a disc dog, an agility dog, an obedience star, a dock diver and an advanced retriever. I know he could thrive at all of these and he does do well at them.

But I realized recently that I’m spending a lot of time getting my dog riled up when what I truly want is a calm, obedient dog who can tag along anywhere and remain relaxed and quiet.

Ace is a lot like me in that we both love sports and outdoor adventures, but we also require a lot of down time. We both shut down under stress. We both depend on breaks and relaxation in order to re-charge.

Black lab mix and woman sitting by the lake together at Maplewood State Park MinnesotaAce doesn’t need daily “activities” in order to be fulfilled. All he really needs is a 20 minute walk, a pat on the head and to be told he’s a good boy. He’s a dog, after all, and his needs are very basic.

Ace would often prefer to spend his afternoon lounging around on his dog bed rather than playing with his (many) dog friends.

Although there are a lot of suburban dogs who are extremely under-exercised and under-trained, there are also a lot of dogs that are stressed out because they are constantly being energized and wound up by their owners.

Ask yourself this – does your dog truly need a daily trip to dog daycare, or would he prefer a relaxing afternoon on the couch? Does he truly need to run around at the dog park every day or would he prefer a casual walk with his favorite person?

What I’ve realized is that Ace feels some amount of stress when I overload his schedule just as I feel stressed when I overload my own schedule. I can see it in the way he looks away from me or smacks his lips or scratches around his collar in order to take the focus off whatever we are doing. I can see it in the fact that he is tired most of the time.

I’m learning to pick up on what he’s trying to tell me.

Ace and I have spent many hours running around together. Now I’m learning to spend more time lying around.

Other than his crazy, retrieving instincts, most of the compliments I get on Ace are about his calm, gentle temperament.

I asked myself what Ace and I are truly good at, and it’s just that – remaining calm in all situations.

Instead of getting Ace worked into a frenzy over tennis balls and Frisbees, tricks and agility, why not work on some calming exercises?

By “calming exercises,” I mean spending 45 minutes just sitting in a park somewhere or taking a casual stroll through downtown. It could mean giving my dog a treat simply for making eye contact or for lying down and staying while another dog barks at us. It could mean taking Ace to watch a soccer game or to sit at an outdoor part of a restaurant and to reward him just for lying there being a naturally good boy.

My dog is already well ahead of most when it comes to paying attention and obeying commands on and off leash. I would love to build on this, especially now that he is 5 years old. I would love to have him remain at my side under control without a leash in all situations, or at least 90 percent of the time. Good dogs are still dogs. 🙂

We’ll still take the occasional agility or trick class. We’ll still play a lot of fetch. We’ll still go swimming and camping and biking.

We’ll just require more breaks.

Josh and Ace and I spent Easter/my birthday at a Minnesota State Park. For a $5 permit we happened to have the entire park to ourselves. I spent a lot of time sitting around watching my dog. There was no need for a leash as Ace never strolls more than a few feet away.

When I threw his Frisbee, he’d chase it. When I walked to the water, he’d swim. But mostly Ace just lounged around in the grass, rolled in things, chewed on sticks, stared into the fire, watched some geese.

This is the point where Ace and I are at in our d0g-human relationship.

It’s a nice place to be.

What is it that your dog is really good at?

Black lab mix lying down chewing on a stick in a park

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