Nicole Tsong feels the pull of her puppy, Coco, and of the great outdoors.
MY LIFE HAS BECOME more granular since the arrival of my puppy, Coco. Her nose is usually on the ground, so I am always on alert, in case she eats something she shouldn’t. She is half chocolate Labrador retriever, after all. (Her other half is Great Pyrenees.)
My walks meander more, too. As she has grown from baby to preteen, she has improved at walking with me instead of spending all her time stopping and sniffing. Don’t get me wrong: She still stops and weaves across the sidewalk. When we are at Seward Park, she stares at Lake Washington, pining for the water. She doesn’t know she’s not permitted on the beach. Sorry, pup.
Before Coco, I was a walker, or tried to be. Sometimes I was reluctant, forcing myself to put on a rain jacket and get outside for 30 minutes and 2,000 steps. (I relied on walking from the light-rail station to get closer to my daily goal of 10,000.)
With Coco, I drive more, shuttling her with me to classes, appointments, puppy playdates. But as anyone who has ever had a puppy knows well, my main goal every day is to wear her out.
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So, we walk.
Once she turned 4 months old, we started to put in more mileage. Now we walk around 3 miles a day. I’m hoping the day will come when we can squeeze in twice as much. I have walking goals for the year, and we are behind.
I used to listen to podcasts while I walked, or chatted on the phone. It’s hard to manage a puppy in training, with requisite treats for good behavior, while juggling a cellphone. Besides, Coco does not approve. Early on, she lodged protests by sitting in front of me and barking. Was she trying to get my attention? It worked.
I walk tech-free, and follow Coco’s gaze. I notice all the interesting things on the ground, and sometimes wonder what she smells. I look up at crows or woodpeckers. I notice ducks in the water. I see squirrels before she does. I hear barking dogs.
And Coco, in all her wisdom, prefers trails and grass over man-made hard pavement. I follow her up and down hills. She’s made me hardier. I walk unless it’s a downpour; even she doesn’t like heavy rain.
Now that she can walk longer, we often drive to parks, where she can greet lots of dogs and people. But we always walk in our neighborhood. I’ve met all kinds of people who pop out to meet Coco; a puppy will help you get to know your community.
Coco also keeps me accountable for taking breaks from my computer. I used to set timers; Coco is my alarm system now. I build her walks into my day. We spend a lot of time outside, from playing fetch in the yard to meeting up with pup friends.
Coco has helped me relax, too. I’ve come to realize you can get a ton done in two hours — if you put your mind to it. (Constant productivity is overrated.) I cherish my Coco breaks.
Now that she’s older and I can leave her for longer stretches, I would like to get back to taking transit at least once a week to reduce my driving and add back a few steps. But thanks to her, I know that no matter what, I will walk and be outside every day.