Good dog!

Ramona the Pest has been a Very Good Girl lately. We’ve walked or jogged together almost every day since this semi-quarantine began, and now she’s learning to work off-lead. 

Getting a dog to work without a leash is challenging, because the handler has to trust and respect the dog enough to relinquish control of its movements, and the dog has to trust and respect the handler enough to listen and follow directions instead of running off and getting into mischief.

Some dogs are better suited for this than others. Under the wrong circumstances, an off-lead excursion can turn an asset into a liability or amplify a personality quirk into a real hazard.

Ramona is a bit scatterbrained when she’s excited, and walks are Very Exciting, so I start our lessons by walking or running several blocks down the alley with her on a loose lead. 

Once she’s settled down enough to focus, I drop the leash and let her drag it, paying close attention to our surroundings so I can run interference quickly if I see trouble brewing. I like working her in alleys, because they present plenty of distractions but few real hazards, and they’re narrow enough that I can catch up to her quickly if she tries to bolt. 

We had a great training session the other night. She did very well at heel, sit, and stay, remained polite while visiting her friend Bruce and his housemate (who was less polite), and even did a little modeling next to some breezeblock walls:

Brown dog cocking its head and looking at the camera
I’m pretty sure she knows how cute she is.

Brown dog licking its chops
“I was told by Applecare that there would be treats.” — Ramona, probably

Two dogs greeting each other over a concrete wall as a third dog flashes its teeth
I wish I spoke dog. I’d love to know what he was saying. (Probably some variant of “You damn kids get off my lawn!”)

My long-term goal is to be able to take her on long runs off-lead, because handling the leash siphons off a little more energy than I’d like — no big deal for a 5K, but unpleasant at half-marathon distances and beyond. We’ll see how it goes.


Voice of Experience

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Voice of Experience
Tumbleweed Motel, Coldwater, N.M.

Morgan padded into the kitchen, her eyes red, damp curls sticking to her cheeks. Dr. Kavanaugh rose to pull out a chair for her.

“Thanks,” Morgan mumbled, sinking into the seat.

“De nada,” Dr. Kavanaugh replied. “How are you feeling?”

Morgan shrugged. “He’s gone,” she said, blinking back tears. Her mother stooped to hug her as Dr. Kavanaugh turned toward the stove. The scents of peppermint and licorice rose into the dry air as Dr. Kavanaugh poured Morgan a cup of the decoction simmering on the back burner.

“Drink,” she commanded in her school-administrator tone that brooked no argument. “Peppermint, licorice, and slippery elm. Don’t try to talk until you’ve gotten some of it in you. The nicer you are to your throat now, the less it will try to get back at you tomorrow.”

Morgan glanced up at her with a lopsided smile, nodding her thanks. Dr. Kavanaugh smiled back at her. “You have questions. I don’t know how many I can answer, but I’m going to try to anticipate some of them to save a little wear and tear on your vocal cords.”
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