October 1, 2019

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


The morning is wet and cool. Rain, sprinkles, really, has been coming and going since we started our morning walk. Waldo is up front at the extreme end of his leash — where he likes to be. I’m eight meters back, holding onto the other end. The tether is taut and Waldo is pulling me uncomfortably forward. I’ve tried to talk him out of this for some time, but his response is to try to talk me into picking up the pace. He’s up there, saying, “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go.” I’m back here, saying, “Stop pulling, stop pulling, stop pulling.”

I’ve tried several tacks at trying to get him to at least go along with my idea, even if he doesn’t like it, all to no avail. I’ve tried gentle jerks on the leash, a tactic that has worked for me with other dogs, but he just ignores them. I’ve tried stopping and waiting until he stops pulling and then continuing. He just starts pulling again. I’ve tried a remote collar that beeps, then buzzes. The first time I hit the button, he looked around as if to say, “What the heck?”, but then continued on as if there were no beeping and buzzing. I swear he’s thinking, “Oh, well, whatever.” Nothing seems to work.

I’m right-handed, that’s where I hold the leash, and my right shoulder has gotten a little beefy, compared to my left, and is a bit sore at night. All that pulling is uncomfortable. I can’t imagine that it’s very comfortable for the dog either. There are times when Waldo gets so excited, for no reason I can see, that he runs hard to the end of the leash, where his head snaps to a sudden stop while his body keeps going in a somersault. I worry about him hurting his neck. Sorry, Waldo, the leash is not gonna go. You’re going to have to learn, somehow, to walk with it and do it in a way that’s good for both of us.

I worry that his behavior is a result of his not getting enough exercise. We walk 5 miles a day, hot or cold, rain or shine. Our trainer tells me he gets plenty of exercise. She has worked with us weekly for a few months now and has seen Waldo in all of his moods. It’s her assessment that Waldo is a normal happy dog that loves to engage in activities. He has a head-strong personality, is full of energy and just tries to get away with whatever he can. She thinks this will probably go on for another two or three years before he calms down a little.

So, I try a new approach. Whenever Waldo pulls at the end of the leash, I shorten it until he’s right next to me. I then let him return to the end of the leash, which he does with gusto. This sends him the message, I hope, that responds to his “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go,” with a, “Whoa there, pardner,” that tells him that, if he wants to keep going, he has to stop pulling. So, we walk along in fits and starts as we make our way down the trail. There are periods, lasting ten minutes or more, where the only tension on the line is that from the spring in the handle of the retractable leash. Maybe it’s working, but every so often, Waldo needs to check to see how serious I am about it. Or, maybe that’s all wishful thinking.

What I do know, for sure, is that Waldo and I spend many hours in each other’s company, tugging and pulling, walking along out in nature. We both sniff the air, look at the greenery, listen to the animal life around us, feel the breeze as it dances around us and, sometimes, get wet in the rain. We walk until we’re tired and a little sore, then go home and chill, often with a nap that we take together. We are not adversaries, we’re just dancing around each other, finding a choreography that works for us both.

What we are is an old man and a young dog who are happily sharing a life.

“Come on, old man. What you waiting for?”

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