I wear my dogs’ house keys on a lanyard around my neck, meager in comparison to other dog walkers’ bundles. I am strictly small time: I have no place in the March 19th Brooklyn Heights blog discussion of who the best dog walker in the Heights is. Because I grew up with Labrador retrievers and am owned by one, I fell into taking out a jolly crew to get their ya-ya’s out in Hillside Park.
Someone suggested in that discussion that any out-of-work person could find employment by dog walking. I’m sure my busier colleagues snorted. I certainly did. Dog walking has a difficult, sometimes bloody, learning curve. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pug at the end of the leash: a dog is a dog. A dog lives in a different world, lower to the ground, a place of information overload. The cup of coffee abandoned on a curb is the smell of coffee distinct from the smell of milk and the smell of cardboard. It’s the fun of ripping or retrieving, the possibility of a quarrel with an oncoming Pomeranian. The pug can become so focused on the smells that it tangles the walker who is manipulating three other dogs, each of whom is equally focused in a square dance to find a smell of piss, hump a pal, find safety from the razor bike down the block.
A dog walker has to be on constant lookout. The old woman leaning on her opened umbrella will need the full sidewalk but there’s a pit bull across the street already straining and barking at the pack. Can you to walk in the street? Should you step between cars and wait? What’s between the cars? Is one of the dogs likely to lunge into the street? A dog walker knows the feel of each leash and can untangle them behind his back and regroup to keep the adventurous dog as far from the street as possible and the poop-eater on a shorten leash. The primary emotions dogs cycle through are fear and play; not all dogs in one group are on the same page.
I fear the twelve-year-old walking her dachshund. Sure, Taylor can handle Max when the sidewalks are empty, but will she get out of the way when my pack is heading toward them with construction across the street? Can she move fast enough if the beagle with a craving for wieners books it? Is Max a perfect angel or will he succumb to a hatred of bichons or sirens?
Walkers have to perform a delicate choreography with one another. At home, their charges are pets. On the street they’re dogs – sniffing, listening, tasting, playing, watching, sensing and fearing, all under the unnatural condition of leashes. If you want to be a dog walker, start by looking at your surroundings as a series of negotiations.
And learn to dance with the other dog walkers.
– Frances Kuffel