Walking the Dog

My mother is going to love this one.

My office on campus is about a 25-minute walk from my home. I left my office on campus at 4pm this afternoon. I got home about three minutes ago--an hour and 25 minutes after leaving my office. My shoulder hurts from carrying my bags. My hands are cold from being outside for so long in below-freezing weather. My head hurts from trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. And, above all, my arms hurt from carrying the dog.

You will ask, "So if you were carrying the dog for most of the time, why did it take you an hour and 25 minutes to get home?" Answer: "I don't know!" I know, I know, she's just a puppy, only a few months old. Everything in the world is new to her: the afternoon sky, the birds calling from the still leafless trees, the other dogs in the neighborhood, the rocks and plants and concrete and people and ice and snow and mud and gum and cigarette butts and sticks and poop and pears (yes, pears; we also found part of a banana today).

Of course she needs to stop and sniff--or eat--them. Of course she should be allowed to sit in the middle of the sidewalk as the people are walking to and fro so as to be able to greet them properly when they exclaim, "Oh, what a cute puppy!" (and even when they don't). Of course it is ridiculous to expect her at such a young age to get the idea of walking alongside of me for more than ten of my steps at a time. Of course.

There was nothing in any of the stupid dog books that I spent all autumn reading about this, G*d damn it. Pulling on the leash, yes. We're working on that: if she starts pulling on the leash, say, because she actually starts moving at an appreciable pace and suddenly I can no longer keep up with her without breaking into a run, then I stop and hold still until she lets the leash go slack. Fine. But what about when she stops and won't move and I'm pulling on the leash? Fair's fair, you could say. She won't move until I stop tugging. Except she won't move whatever I do.

I've tried enticing her with one of her tug-ropes. That worked maybe once or twice the first day we did it, but not anymore. I've tried praising her enthusiastically whenever she manages to break into a trot beside me. But it doesn't seem to encourage her to keep moving for more than a few of my steps. I've tried picking her up every time she stops and sits down (today's last ditch technique) in the hopes that she will be as frustrated as I am about not being allowed to walk. Ha. Like anybody would ever think that one would work.

My mother is doubtless in hysterics by now, thinking about that little pull-toy Snoopy I had when I was two (or thereabouts). It had wheels that would turn its little legs so that as you pulled it, it would look like the doggie was walking. Except that I apparently always tried to pull it too hard, and so it would fall over and I'd end up dragging it along the floor. At which point, I would lose it (or so my mother tells me) and start crying or yelling at the toy because it wouldn't "walk." As I am sure you are not at all surprised to learn, I was thinking about this toy and my mother's story about my reactions to it about, oh, halfway along in my puppy's and my "walk" this afternoon.

Already I had had a nice chat with a woman whom I met in the first or second block going north, who had assured me that she had had a terrible time teaching her puppy to walk, but who was still surprised that the problem I was having was not with my puppy's tugging, but rather her sitting still. And already I had tried simply picking the puppy up every time she stopped, even though the only thing that that seemed to achieve was making myself more and more frustrated. I had had visions of myself dropping her or slipping on the ice myself and falling with her. I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier when, truth be told, all she was doing was trying to learn about the world. And fulfilling the expectations that I have from what others have told me about how stubborn female corgis can be.

Okay, now you're laughing too, aren't you? Oh, no, I'm not stubborn. Not me.

Ha. You know what they say about people looking like their pets, right? Also, you know how much what I wanted in getting a dog was nothing so much as an animal soul-mate, my little daemon externalizing all my interior emotional states. Well, right. Suddenly, as I was standing there next to my oh-so-stubborn puppy watching her sniff the air and trying to wander in every direction except the one in which my feet were pointing (purportedly a highly significant cue for all dogs except mine), I had to catch my breath because I realized that I really was looking not just at my dog, but at me.

Who else do I know who balks when people try to push her to do something she isn't quite ready to do? Who else do I know who can't simply follow a straight research path anywhere because she is always so anxious about whether she has sniffed out every scrap of evidence in the field? Who else do I know who is desperate for everybody she meets to like her and tell her what a good dog she is? Who else do I know who enjoys being outside in the snow, looking at the birds and the other dogs and the trees and the sunlight and wishes she had more time simply to be? Oh, right. That would be me.

Lesson number one that my joyous little puppy Joy is clearly trying to teach me: patience. One day she will walk with me all the way home and we will make it in not much more than 25 minutes. One day I will publish that best-selling book that I keep dreaming about. But for the moment, I'm clearly just a puppy and I need time to do my research.

[Update after puppy class: It turns out the one thing I should have done is the one thing I was most definitely not doing: ignoring her when she balked and refused to move. Apparently, turning around and calling back to her, never mind actually coming to pick her up, was simply rewarding her with my attention for doing exactly what she was doing already. I wonder how this translates into motivating myself to get writing?]


  1. Hilarious and familiar. My first and second chows were pretty good about walking...until they got tired, and then they sat. Even if were were a mile from home. Even if we were in the middle of a national forest, in the rain, with hours to go before reaching a good campsite. And they weren't little puppies at that point, either. They were half-grown adolescents. When they were on the smaller side, they got tucked into my sweater, head popping out beneath mine. When they were bigger, they were slung over my shoulders, front paws in my left hand, back paws in my right. It provoked much hilarity from pedestrians and fellow hikers, but what could I do?

    And neither of them would run with me, at all. Under any circumstances. Race in the yard off-leash, sure, but not on leash.

    It is indeed a lesson in recognizing what you can, and can't control

  2. LOL! I never thought about slinging her around my neck, but with a corgi, that might actually be a good option. They're sort of long and thin anyway. She'd look just like a fur stole--only wriggling!


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