I’m half-a-dozen sips into my morning coffee when I hear a steadily loudening conversation between someone with a deep voice and possibly a chipmunk. I look out the window and see a cartoonishly mismatched pair coming down the road; a Paul-Bunyan-sized man and a dog so small that if the man were to open his palm all four of his little friend’s crayon-sized legs could stand comfortably on top of it. In front of my house their conversation elevates to a squabble, and they both stop walking. The only thing keeping them from looking like two drivers arguing over who’s to blame for the fender-bender is the connecting leash.
The man talks to the dog in a firm tone, while the dog responds by jumping and spinning, his verbal reply more chirp than bark. After a few seconds, I see that I’m witnessing the leash-train portion of their relationship, which I know from experience is a tough time. For them it hardly seems worth the effort. When the dog tugs, can the man even feel it? Does he sometimes forget the dog is with him? If he does forget, and has to cover his mouth for a surprise sneeze, the leash and dog will go cracking through the air like a bola whip.
It takes a special kind of person to leash-train a dog, someone with limitless patience, like a professional dog trainer, a saint, possibly a Jedi. I tried as hard as anyone to leash-train my own. For weeks, every day after work, we’d train, and for a few steps the leash would hang comfortably slack in my hand, but just when I’d start thinking yes, yes, that’s it, you got it, they’d pull (hard), and I’d stop (barely). They’d pull until they got tired, and then stop. Then we’d start again, the same routine, over and over, jerking and jolting down the street like a car driven by someone driving stick for the first time. Sometimes I’d catch myself staring at their straining legs and claws digging into the sidewalk, and I’d be willing them to walk at a slower pace, just a little bit slower, but it never worked. Lifting one of the passing cars with my mind felt more possible. In the end the problem was simple; their desire to run was stronger than my desire to walk. Ten years later they’re still towing me down the street. I learned to walk faster.
Usually when I see someone attempting to leash-train a dog, they’re a wreck (like I was), emotionally leveled from all the hours and days of silent, fervent pleading. “Oh, please,” their eyes always seem to say, “please, for the love of God, just… just stop pulling. I’ll do anything.” Like me, they bought the books, sought advice from their dog-having friends, and checked online for alternative solutions, but nothing helped.
This man, though, looks like he knows what he’s doing. His voice is direct but calm, his manner diplomatic, and his spirit (so far) unbroken. They go a few more rounds before continuing on their way. After a few paces the dog starts pulling again. The man stops, steadfast in his determination for a future of relaxing, peaceful walks. The dog keeps pulling, straining to gain the slightest inch, yet undeterred, not bothered at all by the lack of success. He’s happy just to be outside, walking around, together, no matter the pace.