Learning to Walk

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I have been to enough dog training classes to know that, if there is a problem, it’s mine–not the dog’s. I’ve had Chewy for almost 4 years now and I recall our early times as pleasant. A rescue, he was needy for attention and I gave it to him. His is a loving little guy, but also demanding in the true terrier fashion. Or . . . have I brought that out in him?

Not long ago I would take Chewy on my three mile power walks. He’d stop once in a while to sniff and mark the grass or a pole, but would get into a groove, and since he’s faster than I am, his presence helped me to keep up a good pace.

During these COVID times, things have changed. I no longer take Chewy on my long walks. On the short walks around the neighborhood, I have grown increasingly irritated with his constant stopping to sniff and pee. I want to enjoy my walks, mind wandering as I listen to birds twittering. I want to look not at the dog, but at blossoming trees. Now Chewy increasingly stops and walks as slow as possible, nose in the grass. Or, catching a sound or whiff of something fascinating, tries to double back the way we came.

“Leave it!” “Chewy, what are you doing?” “Come on!” “Let’s go!” My words are increasingly agitated and I know he can feel the tension pouring off me. I know I could drag his 8 pounds down the sidewalk, but that would be cruel and someone might report me to the Humane Society. I was beginning to feel that he was doing these things to annoy me. Sounds like a cranky mom. Time to go back to doggie school–that is, time for me to get back to training.

I started back with my usual commands, “with me” and “release.” They say it doesn’t matter which commands you use, as long as you are consistent. I hold the leash handle in my right hand and my left gives him just a couple of feet to play with. Whenever I spy his cute little nose moving to the side, drawn by some irresistible scent, I give a quick tug. It’s interesting how training a dog to walk on leash is like using the reins on a horse. I often say “uh-uh” at the same time. He knows what that means.

I am constantly amazed by the dog’s intelligence. He gets it. For a while I was saying too much–praising him when he did it right, adding “go, go, go” in a high-pitched, excited voice, still saying “let’s go.” I finally realized those other vocalizations are confusing. If I praise him while he is walking properly, he thinks it is a “release” and heads right for the nearest tree. So now it is just the two commands. I only praise him when he’s already been released. I give him plenty of release time. I even pick out his favorite trees and bushes on our usual walks. In time, I should be able to decrease the breaks in the walking, as he doesn’t need to check all the spots another dog has marked.

I still yearn for a leisurely stroll with my mind drifting up into the clouds, but I’ll have to take those walks without Chewy.

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