Love on a Leash: A Meditation on Dog Training- Part Two

In the city, leashes are the law, and with good reason. The law is there to protect citizens and their property from dogs who might do damage left unmanaged my their owner’s watchful eye. But for dogs like Bodhi, the leash is only partly about the law. The leash is mostly about the love.

Off the farm, there are a lot of unsafe situations Bodhi might get himself into were he not connected to me by that leash.  And, frankly, he knows it. That leash is our connection, our relationship. If our relationship is good, and we’re paying a reasonable amount of attention to one another there is never much tension in the leash. I’m not walking him, and he’s not walking me. We are walking together. But if he’s not paying attention and gets off track, I may need to give it a quick tug. If I’m not paying enough attention and the leash gets twisted, or if I somehow drop the leash, Bodhi will stop and sit down. He seems to understand that his well-being is connected to mine, and if that leash is not in place, he doesn’t run. He waits for me to get it straightened up. He knows that he CAN’T untangle it himself. He can’t reattach it.  He can only wait for me to take care of it. His part is simply not to run from me.  His part is to trust.

The more confident and curious he is feeling, the longer the leash he wants, but the moment he feels threatened or unsure, he wants to walk very close by my side. He wants to see me and hear me and feel the gentle reassurance of the leash securely held.

This is so akin to my relationship with my beloveds and with my God. If I’m not checking in as much, it’s because I’m feeling secure and confident, and I can feel that cord of our relationship in place. If things are tangled, I assess whether I’m the dog or the walker in the relationship and behave accordingly. If I’m the leader, I’m responsible to untangle and reattach whether or not the tangles were of my making. But, to be clear, I don’t chase. I walk and call, but I don’t chase. If I’m the dog, I wait. I listen. Maybe I lick your face or bark a little bit.

But even with all the training and care and practice, there are still a few problems Bodhi and I  sometimes encounter on our walks together.

Confusion over who is leading.

When walking with the children or another adult, I sometimes let the other person carry the leash.  If Bodhi doesn’t have the same respect or trust for other person carrying his leash, he doesn’t behave as well. He’s insecure. Sometimes he even thinks he might be dominant. He’s still listening for and watching me rather than his handler. This can make for a bit of confusion, but I want him to know that it is safe to trust other trustworthy people, so we practice. As the relationship between Bodhi and a new handler builds, each are more confident and things go more smoothly.  I’m exactly this way when encountering new people. If my beloveds vouch for you, I will do my best to give you the benefit of the doubt until our own relationship is established.

Encountering other dogs who are off-leash.

The behavior of dogs who are off-leash can’t be easily predicted. We’ve met a few who were very sweet and just wanted to say hi, others who’ve just trotted peaceably past. Once, however,  we were approached by a dog that was off-leash and aggressive. I had no choice but to let Bodhi off leash as well so he could defend himself or flee if necessary. My momma and daddy have had to let me off leash a time or two I think. I’m a better dog for it, but the whole situation could’ve been avoided if everyone had been leashed to love in the first place.

Forgetting which end of the leash we’re on.

This is the problem that arises when Bodhi believes he needs to protect me. There are so few situations in which this might ever be the case. But, bless his heart, he loves me, and he wants to make sure I’m ok.  He forgets that in the city, I’m the leader. I’m the protector. He goes back to his less civilized nature. Listen, I’ve been there. For instance, don’t you say nothin’ about my daddy. I see people every single day getting their hackles up for Jesus too. Jesus doesn’t need your protecting. Quit your barking and your biting. Don’t forget which end of the leash you’re on.

I imagine Daddy and Jesus might feel a lot like I do when Bodhi gets protective of me on his leash. First of all, he is never barking and carrying on about a threat that might actually be dangerous to me.  The problem is usually more territorial in nature if you want to know the truth. When I start to get yappy or nippy, it is generally about a threat to my own sense of pride or security- more akin to growling kittens off the couch than anything legitimate. Body’s reaction, and mine, is endearing on one hand, but embarrassing on the other. It is very sweet he wants to “protect” me. But he’s also a cockapoo, and I’m a grown competent woman with a leash around his neck.

Petters

Most folks are aware of the etiquette of not petting a service dog when he or she is working. In that case, it’s a matter of distracting the animal who truly is taking care of his or her owner.  Those animals are so well trained, well behaved, and patient that they will undoubtedly be a joy to pet, and they’re so very cute in their little vests and such. But most of us understand that petting a working dog  can be an inconvenience or even a danger to the owner.

Bodhi’s issue is nothing like that of a service dog’s. You see, Bodhi’s adorableness does attract petters.  He’s not doing any work at all, and he looks downright cuddly, and he is VERY friendly… right up until he snarls and snaps at your child perhaps forever traumatizing both them and you. He appears more civilized than he actually is.

I try to let people know in advance that they should respect his boundaries, but a few times he’s fooled me into thinking I didn’t need to make that warning. When he snapped, I felt so terrible that I thought I might not leave the house with him again. However, other times I have given the warning, and people have ignored it. Now I do have him on a leash. And I will use my relationship with him to protect you and your property from him up to a certain point, but once you are interacting directly with him… that’s your relationship to negotiate.

Having encountered animals of the 4 and 2 legged variety who appeared more civilized than they were, I’m more careful to listen to what I’m told about those I encounter.  I base my impression of them on more than  appearances and present behavior alone. Just because someone loves that animal (or person) and has tamed them enough to walk through town looking docile and respectable doesn’t mean they’re safe for me. Likewise, just because another person can’t interact peacefully with them doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do so. In the past, I sometimes saw that very thing as a challenge. I’d be “the one” to get them to settle down. No more. I leave the tough cases to Jesus and observe warning signals much more carefully.

Ultimately, both people and animals are capable of a wildness both beautiful and devastating.  Out of a desire to live in community, we leash ourselves in law and love to those who will hold us accountable for our actions and walk with us peaceably on our journeys with the promise we’ll be taken to the farm, the woods, the wilderness to let our wildness have safe expression from time to time.

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