A long leash on life " or not | SierraSun.com

A long leash on life " or not

Katie Shaffer

I was gazing out the window of my house the other day, taking a break from my work at the computer, when I noticed a woman walking a young lab on a short leash.

Another dog, who looks like a mix between a chow and a golden retriever, who I sometimes see wandering around the neighborhood, was trying to pass the woman and her dog. He was cruising across an adjacent empty lot at a happy pace. The lab strained on his leash to visit with the mutt who was showing off all the glory of absolute freedom. As the woman pulled the leash tighter, she was dragged by her dog into the snow and mud that lined the road. I could see her getting upset. When she got control of her dog, she scolded him harshly. It was hard for me to watch.

Because I’m not much of a believer in walking your dog on a leash, my dogs have enjoyed a freedom that not all dogs experience.

Perhaps in the view of many, I’ve owned dogs who have no manners because they occasionally wander under decks or into garages, pee on fence posts, sprint after rabbits, and generally nose around until they are called back to continue accompanying me on our walk. According to my dog’s view, anything that stands vertical in a yard is probably a pretty good thing to sniff and pee on. This is not appreciated by everybody.

The dog I currently own is a gentle, mellow, 3-year-old yellow Lab. He graduated from Jeannie Collin’s Kindergarten Puppy Training held at the Truckee Donner Community Center. Jack was issued a diploma, which I’m not sure he entirely deserved, since learning to walk on a leash was not a skill he fully acquired. Despite Jack’s shortcomings, I highly recommend Jeannie’s class.

I realized that one vital area of Jack’s training was lacking when I put him on a leash to take him to the vet for a routine shot one day. My older dog never liked going to the vet, and her stricken behavior as I would pull into the veterinarian’s parking lot would tip Jack off. Chloe’s legs would start to shake and she would move to the far reaches of my truck, making it as hard as possible to be reached by human hands. This time it wasn’t Chloe’s turn, but Jack’s.

Being a generally cooperative boy but also being no fool, Jack reluctantly let me hook the leash onto his collar while Chloe gave him a look that said, “Better you than me.” Jack then leapt out of the truck, morphing from timid boy to wild boy in a matter of seconds. Not accustomed to being attached to me by a 6-foot leash, he jerked this way and that, pulling me toward the shrubs which have been showered upon and scented by hundreds of dogs, causing a rope burn on my hand.

This incident finally convinced me that training your dog to walk on a leash isn’t an entirely bad idea.

Until recently, Jack has almost exclusively enjoyed his daily walk on trails rather than paved streets where, in my opinion, a leash is not necessary.

After the rope-burning experience, I purchased Jack one of those retractable leashes. I am actually using this leash during the winter months when the trails are too muddy to navigate. I put Jack on the leash when we traverse busy intersections crossing from one quiet street to the next. He no longer pulls me along, although getting him to walk on my side of the snow poles is another feat on which I am still working.

Jack is obedient on the leash because he knows he’ll be let off once we are away from fast-moving cars.

I always get a momentary flash of anxiety as I approach someone walking their dog on a leash as my dog is wandering along

unleashed, within ear shot, maybe at my heels, maybe not.

As Jack runs free while I carry the leash, I am at least provided with a weak conversation starter as I approach someone walking their leashed pet. “Uh, sorry?” I utter as I hold up the leash with my dog obviously not tethered. I am faced with a reality check at this point. Here’s someone who maintains control of their dog at all times, and here I am and, “where’s Jack?”

I’m suddenly side-tracked by my feeble situation. And if Jack isn’t readily nearby, he’ll inevitably come bounding out of nowhere to make friends with the leashed dog. It’s like my personality type, which is unconcerned with being in total control of my dog, is suddenly exposed when I come across someone who is walking their dog in a more responsible manner.

As Truckee gets more suburbanized, I think there are more dog owners walking their dogs on leashes. I’m just not sure I’m meant to be one of them.

Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident. “Life in our Mountain Town” appears regularly in the Sierra Sun. Contact Shaffer at kshaffer@ltol.com.