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Posts tagged ‘dog walking’

The Map in My Heart

Just the other day I learned that one of the dogs I used to walk, back when I was dog walking in Philadelphia, had passed away over the summer. This is the fourth time this year I’ve gotten this kind of sad long distance news.

It’s been almost five years since I was living in Philadelphia, walking dogs full-time. So it should really come as no surprise to me that many of the dogs I used to walk, who were middle-aged five years ago when I moved to Maine, are now seniors. And now, every few months I get the news that another one of them has left us. I am always a little surprised and always deeply sad.

Many of them are now ten or twelve, and more and more these days, they are gone. But for me, all of the dogs are frozen in time – just as I left them five years ago. They are strong, vibrant, and healthy. They are alive in my memories and they are forever young in my heart.

Not only do these dogs – who I spent day after day with, for many years – occupy a special place in my heart, but I have a lasting connection to Philadelphia through them. I think it might surprise my former clients to know how deeply I identify certain streets, neighborhoods, public art – a total sense of place – with their dogs.

sadly, this mural is long gone too.

Side by side these dogs and I explored every nook and cranny of a certain part of Philadelphia. Together, we took in the murals, the mosaics, the tiny trinity row homes with magical gardens, met the neighbors and the mailmen, and monitored the subtle, daily changes of the city as the seasons shifted.

Even if the dogs moved away – to other neighborhoods, suburbs, states – or passed away, they are permanently linked in my heart and mind with the place where we met up for our adventures, day after day.

I cannot visit certain areas of Philadelphia without seeing the dogs. They’re all there: block by block, imprinted memories on the sidewalks where we walked together.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I can drive or walk down certain streets in Bella Vista or parks in Queen Village and Pennsport and not immediately think of my old friends. Years after they’re gone, the dogs are still so alive for me, so fully present in the streets of Philadelphia.

This is something different from what I feel with my own dogs. With Boogie and Birdie, I have many memories of lots of different things: waking up with them, going on vacation, the day we brought them home, the daily ins and outs of their care. But with the dogs I walk, it’s super concentrated and very specific. When you spend so many hours, somany weeks and years caring for the same dogs, walking the same routes each day at the same time, it becomes impossible to separate the place from the dogs.

There is no Palumbo Park without Kali. No Christian Street without Roxy. No smell of cookies wafting from Isgros without Pearl. No Earp Street without Chula. No FDR Park without Snick and Snora. No Front Street without Ricky. No Cianfrani Park without Sadie. No snow falling in Mario Lanza Park without Doak. No Tasker Street without Max. No Three Bears Park without Toby. No Old Swedes Church without Lola. No Queen Street without Sophie. And on and on and on and on.

So many excellent friends to explore the city with each day. So many patient teachers and tour guides showing me how to see this place that I had lived in for years in a whole new light. I fell in love with Philadelphia through the dogs that I walked. They taught me how to find treasure, beauty, and magic in everyday places.

And so the dogs and the places are connected, for me, forever. A moment in time that never fully passes. Where every dog, no matter where they are now, never ages.

Every block, a memory, a story of your dogs. They are forever young, teaching me to see the city through their eyes and noses.

They are the map in my heart.

Color Me DINOS

In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a post called Swedish Yellow Dog making its way across social media. It encourages dog owners to use a little yellow ribbon on their dog’s leashes to indicate that their dog needs space. People really seem to dig the idea.  And for good reason – it’s a smart idea!


On this side of the pond, my buddies over at Dog Flags introduced a handy color coded system for dogs that covers a variety of messages, from “Friendly” green flags to “Ask Before Approaching” red ones.




I’m a big fan of any system that helps people communicate with each other (especially from a distance), so that their dogs don’t have to deal with unwanted encounters. It’s a great way to “talk” to other people about your dog’s needs, without having to say a word.

Dog training centers, dog parks, pack walks, dog competitions and other dog groups have been using the color system to communicate their dogs needs for a long time, typically using red as the color for dogs that should not be approached without permission.

The DINOS logo dog (inspired by my Beagle mix Birdie) is wearing a red bandana for this very reason:

But there’s a little problem: only the doggiest of dog people know what these colors mean.

And only polite dog people care enough to respect the color system.

That’s why they work so well in closed groups, like pack walks or dog camps. Every one is on the same page and working towards creating a positive experience for all dogs. It’s responsible dog ownership and interaction at its best.

It seems that the only way a color coded system will work out in the wilds of the public is if there’s a huge PR campaign launched to educate the average person about the meaning behind the color system and what to do when they see a red or yellow flag.

Oh, and we have to settle on a color. I’m all for red, for DINOS, obvs.

This campaign would need to cross all sectors of the pet industry: dog trainers, vet offices, humane groups, boarding and grooming, pet publications, retail, etc. and would need to be promoted uniformly in a variety of mediums. The message would need to be clear, concise, and consistent. If various companies marketed their own color coded products and kept changing the messaging, it would confuse the public.

And even then, we’d have to be content with the fact that despite a big push, only a small portion of the public will internalize and respect the color system.

We know this because: half of us walk around with t-shirts that say “Keep Back” while our dogs are wearing bright orange flak jackets that read “GET AWAY FROM ME!” and shoot off warning blasts, but yet…people still come over to pet them, while commenting about their ritzy coats. Sigh.

And a color system won’t even put a dent in one of our biggest problems: off leash dogs that are not under voice control or are roaming unsupervised.

It’s a battle we’ll never fully win.

But should we try anyway?

If more people were aware that a dog wearing a red bandana, Dog Flag, or ribbon on their leash needed space and knew they needed to ask permission before approaching, I have no doubt that some dogs would be spared some unwanted interactions with other dogs and/or people.

But I don’t think that any dog should have to wear a color-coded item in order to be treated with respect by others. I’d rather teach everyone to be respectful of ALL dogs. 

So what do you think? Is it time for a color coded PR blast? Will people really get the message or is it just another layer of confusion in this dog-avoids-dog world? Have you tried a color system? Are there down sides to this idea?

December update: The color debate is an international conversation with many pros and cons. At this time DINOS™ is not officially associated with any color system. You can read more about the yellow ribbon idea here.


Walking Dogs in Thailand

Ten years ago this month, I was in Thailand with Brian. As in, right this minute, exactly ten years ago, I was there. I find this hard to wrap my brain around as I sit here, in Maine, looking at a foot of snow and thinking of the thousands of days that have passed in between that trip and this month.

Back then we didn’t have any pets, not because I didn’t want them (I looked at dogs the way other women looked at babies), but because we were in a state of flux. Before heading to Thailand we had spent almost four months on the road, driving cross-country, and had purposely not adopted any pets prior to our travels, so we’d be free to go.

Lucky for me, when I travel I always find a dog to walk with, and this was true even in the hills of Thailand. When I got home from that adventure, it was clear to me that my day with a handsome dog in Southeast Asia was one of my favorite times in a trip filled with special days.

I wrote about my Thai dog friend for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then I started my dog walking business.

Here’s what I wrote a decade ago:

Bordering on obsessive, I keep detailed journals of my travels, jotting down what I ate, the type of transportation I took around town, and how much it cost to get into the museum. Remembering where I’ve been in gory detail helps me to recapture the more elusive emotions of being in a foreign place. There is, however, one trip that wasn’t recorded in my journals. Now, a year later, I can’t recall the name of the river I cruised down or find the names of the guides who took me there. But I remember what matters most – how I felt.

When our group of sun-poisoned, sweaty backpackers arrived at a Lisu village, as part of a guided trek through northern Thailand, the villagers weren’t particularly thrilled about our arrival. Still, trying to show our gratitude for their hospitality, we spent hours teaching the Lisu children the most effective way to throw a Frisbee. But the only one who was interested in us was a mutt we dubbed Rusty. Continuing our hike the following day, I took my usual place at the back of the group, where I was surprised to find none other than Rusty the dog. Always a pushover for a handsome guy on four legs, I was excited that he had joined the trek.

Rusty and I were a perfect match; he waited for me when I crossed rivers, and ran next me through poppy fields. He occasionally mistook the group for cattle and tried to herd us into a pile, but otherwise he stayed by my side. Rusty was my own personal tour guide for the remainder of the trip.



On our final morning, the group scrambled onto bamboo rafts for the ride back to civilization. As the group drifted away, calling for Rusty to follow, he hesitantly dog-paddled towards me. Leaning over, I hauled a shivering Rusty onto the raft, relieved that I didn’t have to let him go so soon.



Floating down this river, which I can’t name or find on a map, Rusty and I splashed and played and soaked up the sun. I was totally immersed during those hours, absorbing everything and, for a rare moment, living simply in the present. As we sat together at the front of the raft, the rest of the world faded away until it was just me and my dog.

I’ll probably never know the name of the river we were on that morning. But, one of my best memories is of that raft ride – hanging on to a great dog, my face being licked clean with appreciation.

I’m beginning to realize that knowing someone will remember you, like the girl who might grow up to be a champion Frisbee player, or finding a perfect afternoon in the sun with an unlikely friend, is far better than knowing all the facts.



– Jessica Dolce lives in Philadelphia, where her landlord won’t permit a dog in her apartment. (2012 note: that was my byline back then. Oh how the times have changed!)

P.S. After re-reading this, I had a panic attack that I left a dog in the wilds of Thailand, lost and confused, post raft trip. Brian assures me that the guides knew Rusty and helped him get home via truck. Phew.



Retractable Leashes: Handy Tool or Fifteen Feet of Doom?

Meeting a ROAR (Rover on a Retractable), can be a nightmare for other people walking their dogs, especially DINOS. ROARs are often 10-15 feet away from their owners and this makes it difficult for us to step aside and let them pass without our dogs interacting.

From a distance it’s super hard to determine if the incoming dog is on a retractable or off-leash all together. I’m not a big fan.

flexi lead

My own personal experience with retractables varies from just fine to pretty awful. I walk some small dogs on retractables and I have no problem keeping my tiny DINOS close, I lock the leash when we pass others and I let them roam when we’re alone. I do my best to use the leash correctly and follow common sense dog walking etiquette, the same as I would with a flat leash.

But, I’ve also had really bad experiences with them. I’ve burned my hand trying to grab at the leash when the braking mechanism failed. And worse, my fear reactive DINOS, Boogie, was attacked by a ROAR.

Picture this: there we were strolling on the sidewalk, when a very large dog, standing in his driveway on a retractable, began to chase us. The weight of the dog running at full speed snapped the bulky handle right out of his surprised owner’s hand. The dog ran towards us, bulky handle scraping on the sidewalk, making a terrible noise. He jumped on top of Boogie, biting him on the head. Boogie didn’t fight back, but he did curse at the other dog pretty loudly. The man who owned the large dog was afraid to step in and help me because he had another dog, also on a retractable, and didn’t want to drag that dog into the chaos. It took a third person to step in and get the dog off of Boogie.

Would this have happened if the dog had been on a flat leash? Maybe, but I honestly doubt it. It was the force of the big dog hitting the end of the line at a full sprint that snapped the huge plastic handle out of his owner’s hands. It was the crazy sound of the handle crashing behind him that amped the dogs up even more. It was the lack of a flat leash to step on, to safely pull his dog away, that kept the tussle going because there was nothing to grab onto (the giant handle was left dangling a foot or so off the attacking dog’s neck).

Do I think retractables should be banned? Nope.

Do I think they have a place and that place isn’t highly populated areas? Yep.


In addition to the control issues, the problem is that, no matter how skilled you are at using them the equipment is known to fail. I’ve worked in pet stores and seen them returned, over and over again, for snapping. I’ve had the breaking mechanism fail on me. And that’s why Consumer Reports wrote that delightful article on finger amputations.

But these leashes aren’t going anywhere, so in the interest of exploring the more (and less) responsible methods of using retractables, I’ve compiled a DO and DON’T list (available as a pdf, minus this whole intro, for easy printing).


A Guide for ROARs (Rovers on a Retractable):

Retractable Leash Etiquette


DO: Be aware that retractable leashes have a reputation for breaking, snapping, and otherwise failing.

DON’T: Let your dog’s retractable get tangled around another dog’s body. The friction from the moving tape or string can cause serious injuries.

DO: Lock your leash to 6 feet or less while walking your dog in public around other dogs and/or people (not all people want to be approached by your dog).

DO: Use them in unpopulated areas, such as the woods or your own back yard.

DON’T: Use them with a gentle leader or other training tools. The point of those tools are generally to teach your dog not to pull, to engage with you, or for better control. It’s a confusing message to a dog to be on both a retractable and a head harness or corrective collar at the same time.

DO: Purchase the best quality retractable you can afford. Typically the tape ones are stronger than the string ones.

DON’T: Expect to teach your dog to stop pulling while using these. Your dog is enjoying pulling ahead and wandering off.

DO: Work on your dog’s recall at other times, so that you’re not just relying on the leash to gather your dog back.

DO: Be aware that those bulky handles are difficult to hold on to if your dog hits the end of the line at full speed.

DON’T: Let your dog wander off while in public places like the pet store or at the vet’s office. If your dog can walk away from you, into another aisle or across a room, the point of using a leash (for management) has been defeated.

DO: Consider them a potentially useful tool for environmentally fearful dogs, dogs that are semi-feral with humans, or other dogs that may need some extra space while they are building confidence.

DON’T: Drop the leash, especially if you’re working with a fearful dog. The bulky handle “chases” behind them, making a terrible scraping sound on pavement, further terrifying the dog.

DO: Be aware that Consumer Reports notes that people have suffered serious injuries, including finger amputations and bad burns from retractable leashes.

DON’T: Walk your large reactive dogs on retractables in any place you may encounter their triggers. It only takes a second to miss the opportunity to lock the leash and then you’ve got a thrashing dog, fifteen feet ahead of you.

Printable PDF is here: A Guide for ROARs

You Know You’re Living with DINOS™ When…

Ah, life with DINOS! It’s filled with quirks,  isn’t it? If you live with DINOS you’re actually part of a super cool group of humans. I like to call them Team DINOS. We’re willing to do all kinds of oddball stuff in order to enjoy safe, happy dog walks. Are you part of the team?

You know you’re living with DINOS when…


Your dog walking equipment consists of a leash, poop bags, high value treats, a cell phone, and…a head lamp, so you can walk your dog before the sun comes up.

You’ve caught yourself browsing for Direct Stop on your lunch break.

You drive your entire dog walking route, to search for any trouble spots, before going for a walk.

The unexpected sound of keys jingling makes your stomach do a back flip.

You know what a Happy Muzzle is and think they’re super cute.

Blind corners are scarier than a Hitchcock movie.

You’ve considered adding “excellent horizon scanner” to the skills section of your resume.

You’ve stood around, pretending to admire someone’s mailbox, while trying to keep enough distance between you and the slow moving dog ahead.

You’re considering teaching your Great Dane how to use the toilet.

If you win the lottery, you’re buying a private dog park.

You’ve criss-crossed the same block more than three times to avoid other dogs.

You have a preference for the kinds of cars you like to hide behind.

Your hamster’s exercise ball is starting to look like a good idea for your dog, if only you could build one large enough for your Lab.

You know where all the fenced-in baseball fields, tennis courts, and other non-dog park spots are located. And you go there at 10 o’clock at night.

Your neighbor hasn’t looked you in the eye since “that time” you told her where she could stick her roaming off leash dog.

You day dream about what kind of privacy fence you’re going to install.

You’re excited to walk dogs in the rain or snow, since bad weather means fewer dogs to bump into.

You’ve whispered “be very, very quiet” to your dog, as you tip-toed past a sleeping dog in a yard.

You’re not afraid to jump a fence, squeeze behind a dumpster, or cut through someone’s back yard to avoid an oncoming dog.

You think Plastic Man and Inspector Gadget were on to something with those extra long arms. Perfect for catching off leash dogs at a distance! 

You bought equipment for a home gym, but you already have a gym membership. The treadmill is for the dog.

On your walks, you wear poop bags on your hands, like mittens, so you can scoop and run.

You’ve got your trainer, your vet, and animal control on speed dial.


What else? Share the quirky stuff you do with your DINOS in the comments section!