Our neighborhood here in Vermont is an off-leash area. Dogs stroll through our yard now and then on their way to lunch dates or business meetings or somesuch. There are extensive hiking trails behind our neighborhood, and people are forever tromping down the road in various stages of sweatiness preceded by muddy canines.
Marley, however, as a new member of the family, couldn’t be trusted off leash. I couldn’t be sure he’d return. This turned out to be a problem when he met his new friend, Rufus. It’s hard to hump a golden retriever when you’re on a leash. Not that I’ve tried; I’m just going on my observations here.
The first evening they met, things got a bit rough for a dog on a leash, so I brought Marley in the house. Rufus and his friend sat outside our door staring in through the glass. “Can Marley come out to play? Please? Please?” I put Marley on the long lead and let them at it.
Even rougher was hiking with the dog. Sure, I could get up Mount Mansfield, but just try coming down it with a dog on a leash. I double dog dare ya. He was good about not pulling, but there was only so much he could do as we scrambled down the rocks. For the last 40 minutes, all I could think was, “This will end sometime. Eventually, this pain will be over.” The human body isn’t designed to sustain such repeated thudding.
Then, I realized that Marley knows exactly where his supper dish is and who fills it. We experimented with the off-leash path and in a cemetery. We tried time in our yard, which is unfenced. And now, three weeks into living with us, the dog is off-leash.
He comes when he’s called, even if he’s in the middle of a hot-and-heavy makeout session with another dog. He stops to check on me. He runs off into the woods and then comes crashing back to me. If we get caught in a rainstorm, he may run ahead, but then he waits for me at the trailhead. Or at our front door, under the covered porch, presumably wondering what took us so long to get out of the rain. Yesterday, he did try to get a baby deer to play with him, but when I hear the animal’s bleat of fear and called him, he came running. He’s totally got this.
He gets in the car and sits on command. He still jumps when he’s anxious, but he’s getting better at understanding that nipping and jumping are uncool. He waits till I get up to ask to go to the bathroom. He sleeps on his own bed at night.
“We need to get this dog into a training class,” my husband keeps saying.