As July comes to a close, I start thinking about the end of summer. It’s not that I’m a pessimist, but there must be a slant of light or some other subconscious signal in the air that turns my thoughts to death and dying and the futility of life and the universe. Like I’m some kind of French philosopher. Okay, that may be a little extreme (yah think?). Let’s just say, then, that I start thinking about falling leaves and the onset of autumn. Even though summer officially ends more than a month and a half from now, the truth is that when September begins, it’s all over. There’s something about the cooler air and shorter days that seem to instill a kind of spiritual sobriety in me. Kids go back to school and people seem more focused on the business at hand than at having fun. When that happens, an internal alarm bell goes off signaling a last chance to engage in leisure pursuits that only warm weather permits, that August seems to beg of us.
And so I put a plan into action. Not one that requires a long getaway or vacation but more of a microburst approach: Taking a day off here and there at separate intervals and spending it intensely trying to relax and having fun, getting to the heart of summer without letting anything get in my way. And that inevitably involves my dogs. They seem not only to get it, it’s almost as if they happily lead me to it, as if to say, This is how to spend a perfect summer day with your best friend.
The key to this is not allowing any work or responsibilities to sneak in. And that’s the hardest part. This is a pure endeavor, after all, so pursue it purely and at your own risk: that means paying no mind to the constant drumbeat of your own conscience trying to argue against it or the persistent angry phone calls from your boss (see item 2). Shut that down immediately. And, most of all, have fun.
So here’s a step-by-step approach to having a perfect summer day with your dog. Remember that it depends on following your own and your dog’s instincts and pursuing your own pleasures. So while my example works for me, you’ll have to make adjustments.
- Hop out of bed with a spring in your step and don’t turn on your computer. This is critical if you do what I do, which is running a website, namely Petswelcome.com. If you are one of those people who actually has a real job and have to leave your house, I’m very sorry for you. But don’t call in and fake sick. Tell them the truth. “I’m spending quality time with my dogs.” I’m sure they’ll understand.
- Once you’ve solidified your independence, immediately engage with your dogs. I say something to them that captures their attention like, “I’m cooking meat later and you’re getting some!” The most important thing in that statement is the word meat. The second is the exclamation point, the way you say it. Don’t use the word “burgers” because, unless they’re a poodle or really smart, they won’t understand you. I find “meat” works every time because it also sounds like “treat.” You want to get their attention so they’ll follow you around all day. This is essential. At this point, turn your phone off. That’s right. You heard me. Turn it off. Really. TURN IT OFF!
- Now, I suggest hopping in the car and taking them to a nearby place—a dog park or nature walk or rail trail or even a town—that you’ve been wanting to visit but never got around to. This way you’re both involved in a joint exploration, everything new and interesting, which is a wonderful summer thing to do. My choice would involve a body of water. Just sitting by a river or a lake or hanging at a pet-friendly beach and watching your dogs splash around as the world passes by is positively soul restoring. A little nap makes it even better.
- Head back home and find a good book to relax with. Or do a crossword. After a few hours lying around on the shore, you’re going need some rest, a less taxing activity. I recommend a book that has dogs in it and I recommend reading it outside. If you have access to a hammock, make a beeline for it. This is critical. Nothing says summer more than a hammock. Either way, try to do it under a shade tree or on a porch or your stoop with your dogs and read out loud to them. Or, if you’re doing a crossword, ask them for answers. “What’s a three letter word that means very annoying? Middle letter is A.” You think you’re throwing them a softball and that they’ll answer, “Cat.” Odds are, though, they’re thinking, “Man.” But don’t take it personally. In general, they’ll cock their heads like you’re an idiot. You might very well be, but don’t give in. Keep reading and/or pressing them and they’ll settle down and fall asleep. After all, they know there’s meat down the line so they’ll be compliant. Read until you also fall asleep. (BTW, if you get two naps outside in one day, you’ve won.)
- Turn on music. Get the barbeque going. Drink something cold. Give your dogs a treat. At this point everyone should be in a really good mood. Make sure you cook a separate burger for your dog(s). They’ll be watching for that. Dogs in general will eat cheeseburgers but prefer it plain so don’t disappoint or try to overdo it with too many condiments. If there’s one things dogs can’t stand it’s a sycophant (that’s their job). When it comes to dessert give them a lick of your ice-cream cone. But just one. It’s a bonding experience that will ensure that they will follow every command you issue in the coming winter. There’s no evidence to back this last statement up whatsoever but, hey, it’s summer and optimism should reign supreme.
- After the meal go outside again and stare up at the stars. This is summer at its best. Point out Sirius the dog star (part of the constellation Canis Major). Be sure to mention that Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and that it has a visual apparent magnitude of -1.46. If your dogs are not yet asleep, that bit of information should do it. Then be sure to point out every canine related object in the sky, including Canis Minor, Procyon, as well as Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs constellation. Also, point out that there are no cat constellations. Ouch!
- Wake your dogs up and head off to bed. Break your longstanding rule against letting them to sleep with you. Of course, if you do, they’ll now want to sleep in your bed all winter. But winter sucks anyway so fight that battle when the snow flies. For now, you will all appreciate the camaraderie and sleep like a baby–the perfect end to the perfect summer day.