Some dogs you meet, and you’ll never find anyone happier to see you. Tails are wagging. Barks and yips accompanying non-stop kisses. You know this pooch is excited to see you and that you’re going to have a great walk together.
When I met Zeke, I thought this was the case. He came to the door and his tail was wagging. His cold wet nose was giving me the once over. He approved. He licked my knee, and I scratched behind his ears.
I was warned that he was an anxious pup, and that he can be stubborn at times. He had some complications with his shoulders, so I knew I had to be careful about him lunging after squirrels.
With the leash and harness on, we walked out the door, and out the front gate. I was excited. Zeke’s tail was wagging. Nothing could go wrong.
Except we didn’t move. Zeke looked up at me. He looked at the gate. He looked back at me. I knew we had a problem. I had a bag of treats with me to coax him along, but I didn’t think I’d have to use any of them.
We did lurch forward at one point, to bark at a squirrel, but the moment was short-lived.
After thirty minutes of walking, I had managed to get him to each end of the block. Most of the time was spent with Zeke staring off towards the house. I would lure Zeke down the street, with a bag of treats strapped to my hip. We’d only get a few feet before he’d turn around and look back home.
I felt like I failed. It wasn’t a walk, it was a short shuffle across the sidewalk.
When I got back to the house, Zeke’s parents were waiting for us. I told them how far we got, and waited for a response.
“That’s great! A solid first step!”
They knew walking with Zeke would take some time. I took the encouraging words, but I was convinced that the day had been a failure. I wanted to take Zeke further than half a block.
Next walk, I showed up and Zeke was happy to see me.
We started walking and Zeke was moving. No looking back or anything. I was convinced this was it. This was the moment we had the breakthrough and we would be sprinting down the street.
We rounded the corner of the block. A whole new world.
Zeke stopped. I coaxed him forward with a treat. We kept moving.
“That was a close one but at least we’re still-“
Zeke stopped. I brought out the treats. He didn’t move.
Zeke looked back anxiously. I tried to cross the street with him, throw him off his game, but he always knew where home was, no matter how much I tried to distract him.
Walk Two felt like a failure. We went further than the previous walk but we still hadn’t left the block.
I was worried. Not just about how far we’d gone, but about Zeke. He must be so anxious that leaving home is pretty painful.
Zeke’s parents were excited we got to the other side of the block, but again, I wasn’t satisfied.
The next time I saw Zeke, I wasn’t sure how far we would get. I was at the point where maybe we would never leave the block. Maybe I needed to accept the block. The block would be ours and that would be that.
I took Zeke out the front gate, and we just stared at each other. His big brown eyes stared into mine. He started to move, so we crossed the street. I let him sniff some plants and some overturned pots in a driveway.
I sat down next to Zeke and scratched behind his ears, and we both sat quietly for a moment. I looked back to the house. I had a feeling we’d be seeing it for a while longer.
Zeke started walking away. I stood up and he pulled me forward. We walked down the street.
We turned the corner.
We went four blocks down.
We went up the street and turn the corner.
We stared at a cat.
We went four blocks back to the house.
Zeke stared up at me, smiling at the front gate.
I have no idea what changed in Zeke. I like to think it was my gentle touch that made him comfortable to continue forward, but really, I can’t say for sure. Possibly, he was tired of the same scenery and wanted to move on to find new sights and smells.
What I did learn from this was not rush a relationship or force an encounter. Not all pups are outgoing and extroverted, constantly sprinting and pulling at the leash. It takes time for some to get comfortable with change and themselves.
I’m glad I hadn’t been pulling Zeke along, forcing him to go where he didn’t want to go. That would have gotten us nowhere. Literally.
Zeke and I have great walks now. I just let him lead the way. Once we’re out the front gate, we’re constantly on the go. Zeke’s searching for new smells, and new squirrels to stare down. And now that we’re walking farther, we see a lot more squirrels.