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Tour Guide of Life


That’s how I’m greeted when I walk into a room. Or rather, that’s how my dog is greeted. My existence is an afterthought. It isn’t until after Tucker gets a few butt scratches and he wags his tail, smiling up at the human welcome party whose good cheer reflects Tucker’s, that the person glances up to the other end of the leash and sheepishly says, “Oh, hi. Sorry. How are you?”

I merely shrug with a smile. “It’s okay. I don’t matter. This is Tucker’s Tour of Joy; I’m just his chaperone.”

It is said in earnest. Although the paperwork I signed half a decade ago states that I adopted Tucker and he is my dog, a more accurate and binding contract was scribed in our souls that day. Therein it states that I am his human: not only his guardian, but his tour guide. Like a guide taking a visitor through the Amazon jungle, I am Tucker’s guide on his journey through life. The Amazon tour guide knows the native language and cultures, keeps his client safe, introduces him to all the best sights and experiences, and makes sure that his charge is getting the very most out of the jungle journey.

Such it is for every pet guardian:  feeding and sheltering is just basic survival. Being a tour guide is teaching a dog about this foreign land called the human world. We help them navigate its strange ways and accepted practices. We teach them what is safe and not safe, and most importantly we don’t just take the journey academically—we go for the ride to show them just how fun this wacky world is.

As for what is fun, that is our challenge and our joy. We must experience the world as our dog does to truly understand what is fun for them. Taking them out to our crowded bar where the music is loud might be fun for us, but probably not so for our canine companion. Walking along muddy trails in a meadow after the rain when the scent of deer and squirrels and birds and life permeates the air—now that’s a theme park day for a dog.

A co-worker of mine said recently, “Tucker is so lucky to come to the office every day with you. He must love that.”

I shrugged. “It’s better than sitting at home alone, but I’m sure there’s other things he’d rather be doing.”

“What do you mean? Dogs just want to be with their people,” she stated.

That always sounds self-important to me and not always true. I argued back, “Sure Tucker likes spending time with me, but he’d probably also like to hang out with dogs, go for a hike, chew on that antler by himself, have some adventures—not just be in an office every day. I certainly don’t want to be in an office every day.”

There are some dogs whose prime focus is their person, but others prefer the company of their own kind. Every dog is an individual. As a tour guide, you need to glean what your client enjoys, what their risk aversion level is, and what to absolutely avoid outside their comfort zone.

While we, as humans, can come up with our entertainment, our dog’s life—its excitement and its boredom—is dictated purely by us. He can’t just pick up the Sunday New York Times and do the crossword puzzle (then again neither can most of us.) Nor can he play Sudoku, read a Hemingway novel, or truly appreciate a night of Netflix and chill.

Just as an Amazon tour guide must keep his client busy, lest he choose his own dangerous adventures like tracking a jaguar on his own in the middle of the night, we must provide sufficient entertainment for our dogs. Otherwise they set their own itinerary which very well may include challenging games such as “discover what’s inside the couch cushions,” “how long does it take to chew through the back door,” and “how many socks can I eat without feeling sick.”

Our dogs are not here for our entertainment. We are here to provide theirs. You just need to find out what your dog enjoys—and be prepared, it may not be the activities you would choose. I would love if Tucker enjoyed Fetch and could run off a bit of energy doing so. But he prefers “Keep Away” to “Retrieve.” In Tucker’s version of Fetch, I end up running more than he does. Some dogs love the water and enjoy Dock Diving. Others can’t stand having wet paws. Your hound may enjoy a barn hunt (a sport in which dogs are let loose in a barn to find hidden scented objects in haystacks and corners), while your terrier would prefer to spend the afternoon in bed, disemboweling every squeaky toy in the house.

Dog activities have evolved quite a bit in the past century, and more so in the last ten or twenty years. Although dogs have moved from the fields and rural communities to urban life, their natural instincts are still the same. So now, more than ever, we need to find the activities that cater to their needs even though we’re not in their natural setting.

Look into sports and training classes in your area that are provided by positive trainers. Classes go beyond basic obedience and Canine Good Citizen certification. Dogs today can enjoy the structure of Rally, the speed of Agility, and the acrobatics of Parkour. There are even dance competitions you can do with your dog! Not only can these activities be fun for your dog, but they can be just as rewarding for you.

If you can’t get to class with your pup, there are plenty of games and activities you can do on your own. Searching “Canine Enrichment” in Facebook brings up a few groups that share games you can make at home: from licky mats made of silicone pot holders and snuffle mats made of fleece strips to search games involving old paper towel rolls—you don’t need a lot of money for your dog to have a lot of fun.

Being a pet guardian is more than just feeding and sheltering an animal. You are your dog’s tour guide. They cannot navigate the jungle of human life without you. They need you—not just to avoid pitfalls or communicate with the natives; they need you to show them how fun life is.

The best teachers are those who learn from their students; and the best tour guides are those who allow their clients to show them something new along the way— a new perspective. As you guide your dog on this journey, remember to experience it as he or she does: an adventure full of potential, fun, and love. You are your dog’s tour guide of life; but he or she is the one leading you on your greatest adventure.

Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.