Cue the Shoes
Developing Cues that Remove Barriers to Human Exercise
Perhaps the most important thing to teach your people is the value of exercise. It is well known that most humans do not exercise enough. Even those who do exercise tend to do it for only thirty or forty minutes a day. But for you this is really just warming up. You must recommend to your people that there be three or four hours of exercise every day (followed by three or four hours of sleep, of course, with only brief interruptions to bark at the mailman, to respond to a can being opened in the kitchen, and to check all the bathrooms for open seats because you are desperately thirsty).
There are many ways to train your people to get out of the house and elevate their heart rate, and to do so you will likely have to develop some cues that your people can understand. People can be very resistant to physical activity, especially if a new season of television programming has just been released on Netflix. Furthermore, communication with people can be tricky, because they do not appear to speak any language encountered in other species. This does not mean that all is lost. Persistence is the key to any such enterprise. Even if they don’t get it right away, if you keep at it, and consistently apply the methods outlined herein, you will eventually succeed.
One of the most efficient methods of cueing your people to the need of exercise is during the process of their putting on shoes. If you do not know about shoes, you soon will. Since most people tend not to leave the house without some form of shoe strapped to their feet, the actual application of shoes to feet is cause for celebration, and means that one of the barriers to going outside has been removed—this is the perfect opportunity for you to act.
Watch your people’s daily activities as carefully as you can, and find out if they do indeed wear shoes. (Even if the shoes they wear don’t appear to be shoes at all, you may find that rubber flaps left on the floor near the door, or fluffy decorative puffs in the bedroom near the nightstand, are indeed shoes. If there is a question about whether or not an item in your household is a shoe, sniff the item in question for human foot odor. If there is human foot odor, it is likely a shoe. Furthermore, if there is a pair of the item, it might also be an indication of shoeness, especially if accompanied by human foot odor, and or actual human feet inside or on top of said shoe. Rarely will you find a pair of something in a household that contains human foot odor and or human feet that is not an actual shoe. Or at least a sock, though the socks do not necessarily, or usually, come in pairs. Socks tend to come in a ball, which is in itself a special kind of joy, but is an item for later discussion.)
If your people do wear shoes, you may notice that nearly every morning after waking from their nightly rest, they put on their shoes. It is extremely important as a household dog that when your people put on their shoes, you begin to celebrate at once—and with gusto—so that they will not miss this very important cue. If they miss your cue, they may decide not to go out. Or they will go out without you, and their exercise regimen will not be maximized. Your enthusiasm will tell them, without question, that the easiest thing to do right now would be to go outside with the dog and throw the ball or chase a marmot or pull a bridge span across the Continental Divide. One of your most effective rhetorical methods at this part of the day is your enthusiastic relentlessness.
Please note that the wearing of shoes may seem odd at first, as the shoes appear to have no purpose other than ritualized foot dressing, and your people protect their shoes to the point that they will become angry if you try to chew on, carry into the yard, or bury their shoes. Certain forms of shoe may be carried to the person who’s foot they smell of in the morning, and some humans appear to appreciate this act, so you may initiate your own sort of exercise cue; but beware that humans can be fickle, and fussy, and unpredictable, and they may not appreciate the amount of saliva you will necessarily apply to a carried shoe.
For now, simply be aware that shoes are important, and that they indicate something good, something to be watched and aware of, and when the shoes come out, your celebration will become part of their ritual. Ritualized foot dressing then becomes ritualized companion activity, for walking or running or playing games not otherwise allowed or encouraged inside the house. There are many other ways to encourage exercise, but shoe cues are easy, effective, and likely come naturally to almost every dog. Once you’ve established yourself as a regular morning exercise companion, you are well on your way to a healthier, happier human household.
“Cue the Shoes” is from a longer, unpublished piece called Sadie’s Way: A People Training Manual, which is a companion to my book You Are a Dog: Life through the Eyes of Man’s Best Friend (Harmony/Crown).