Downtime

My Mom’s Dog Despairs Each Morning I Can’t Walk Her

Should I stop doing it on the weekend?

A dog holds a leash in its mouth.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Barna Tanko/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

My mom’s dog associates me with walks first thing in the morning. I stayed with her this past summer, and we went on walks every day at around 5:30 a.m.

I’ve moved back in with my mom, but I’ve started a new job that starts and 7 a.m. Because of the commute, I can no longer take the dog on those 5:30 walks, as that’s when I need to leave. This has been going on for three weeks, and she looks dejected as I get ready. It’s breaking my heart. She has a huge yard and doggy door, so she doesn’t need these walks, but I do walk her as soon as I get home from work.

I still get up at 5:30 on my weekends to walk her, which makes her so happy. But should I cut those out, since I can only do them two days a week?

—Commuting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Dear Commuting Is Such Sweet Sorrow,

I find it odd that there are so many movies based around the presumably zany conceit of what if dogs could talk? Dogs are plenty communicative as is, and they can be downright loquacious if they want something. There’s no need to dub in Danny DeVito’s voice; your mom’s pup is getting her point across loud and clear.

Your question resonates, because I often face a similar situation. My mother-in-law’s dog, Stevie, occasionally stays with us, and she associates me with morning walks, too. She starts stalking me the moment I get out of bed, and heaven help me if I slightly jangle my keys. That’s her cue that a stroll is imminent, and she’ll whine and whimper until I give in. Annoying as it may be, I’m pretty sensitive to the begging. I mean, look at her. She’s just so darn hopeful.

A dog sits on the living room floor looking at the picture taker.
Nick Greene

There are times when I can’t take her out first thing, and like your mom’s dog, she seems to fall into a pit of despair. Try not to take it so hard, though. Dogs have evolved to become nature’s greatest manipulators. In a couple thousand years, they went from scavenging in the woods to getting the prime seat on the couch. They know how to get what they want from us.

This is a good moment to mention that, while I write a pet advice column, neither my own dog nor Stevie are perfectly trained. They’re terrific pups (the best dogs in the world, some pet advice columnists would say), but I often give into their begging, because I’m a sucker. Of course Stevie whines: It works, and I usually wind up taking her out before I’ve put in my contact lenses. But you have places to be, which is something your mom’s dog doesn’t yet understand.

The best way to get a dog to stop begging is to ignore the behavior and then reward her when she’s calm. If you can, put aside a few minutes before leaving in the morning to play with your mom’s pooch in the backyard. If that isn’t realistic given your extremely early commute, try a quick bout of “sit/stay” training to get her wheels spinning. Be sure to give her treats after either activity. She’ll eventually get excited for her new, truncated routine, and you can leave the house knowing that she was able to spend some quality time with her favorite, hardworking friend.

Do the same on weekends, so you can keep her conditioned to the routine. That way, any activity that comes afterward is a special bonus. You shouldn’t withhold something you both enjoy just because you can’t provide it every single day, so keep going on those weekend treks. You and she deserve it.