Barnaby has been my dog, and I have been his human, for five and a half years now. We know each other pretty well.
For example, he knows exactly how many pitiful gazes he can employ when I’m eating without actually crossing the line into begging. He knows that there shall be absolutely no whining to go outside in the morning before I am fully conscious. The wildness of his tail-thwaps is unmitigated, but he no longer breaks stuff in my apartment with them.
For my part, I have learned that Barnaby is super happy to help with pre-washing all the dishes; that I may no longer use the word “Frisbee” within his earshot unless Frisbee is actually about to happen; and that if I try drying him off without starting by rubbing his face vigorously with the towel, then he will try to hide in the corner as though something unforgivably terrible is happening to him instead of, you know, a TOWELING.
I persist in the belief that I’m the alpha in the relationship, but I really empathized with Chris Pratt’s character in Jurassic World when he gets all snarky with that military dude who, like, wants him to hunt with raptors and stuff, and he’s all like, “MILITARY DUDE. I don’t control the raptors. We have a relationship. We have mutual respect. Which you can’t possibly understand, because the human characters in this movie seem to have pretty one-dimensional understandings of gender roles which having Bryce Dallas Howard traipse through a jungle in stilettos does nothing to help, Spielberg. For the literal love of tennis shoes, let her put on a pair of sneakers before outrunning a T-Rex. The irony of her escaping velociraptors and flying mini-tyrannosauri only to die from hitting her head when she inevitably twists her ankle is literally all I can think about.”
This week, I decided that I should begin doing a little more off-leash training with Barnaby. He’s fabulous on-leash, and fairly good even without the leash, but he has this one little pesky habit that I want to work on, and it goes like this:
While on a walk, I’ll tell him to sit. And he does.
I tell him to stay. And he does.
I walk away. He continues to both sit and stay.
I turn around and call him. And he comes.
And then…he keeps going.
He stops…eventually. It can take a while to lose all that momentum.
So yesterday, at the end of a walk in my parents’ development, I decided to use a little cut-through to try and help with this problem. The cut-through, a little concrete sidewalk passing through a couple of backyards, lets out right in front of my parents’ house. It contains two 90 degree turns, and I reasoned that if the dog couldn’t see what he was barreling toward, he might be more inclined to stop rather than run right past me.
So I told Barnaby to sit and stay, and then walked twenty feet, around the first turn. And doncha know it, as soon as I was out of sight, the dog came running around the corner, eager to see where his human had gone. I sighed, and made him sit again. This time, Barnaby realized that the point was to actually sit and stay regardless of whether he could see me or not, and waited for me to summon him.
I walked around the second turn, turned around, and called the dog.
And there he came, flying around the corner, the expression on his face one of unmitigated joy. He had found his hooman.
Watching his expression of pure elation coming closer, closer, oh wow that’s coming up awfully fast, I realized three things:
- He wasn’t slowing down.
- My parents’ house was in sight, across the street.
- My damn dog was going to run right into the street unless I stopped him.
And so, my friends, I stepped directly into the path of 95 lbs of speeding bone and muscle.
I felt the brush of soft fur, followed by the world gently turning 90 degrees, and then I was lying on the concrete sidewalk, looking up at tranquil gray clouds.
Enjoying the unexpected lie-down, I took stock of all my various body parts. As near as I could figure, I had done a perfect flyer, one that would have made my aikido instructor of a decade ago proud: I hadn’t fallen on any one part, but on my entire right side. There were going to be some scrapes and some bruises, and that was it.
Barnaby, meanwhile, had not crossed the street, but noticing that he had collided with something during his exuberant dash, turned around and came back to see why his hooman was suddenly cloud-gazing on the sidewalk. From my prone position, I told him to lay down, and he gladly plunked his puppy butt on the grass. I clipped his leash on his collar, and he smiled at me.
“Listen” I told him. “You didn’t do anything wrong. But you didn’t exactly do anything right.”
Barnaby panted happily. My hooman is saying things at me.
This face, you guys. He was looking at me with this face.
We’re going to save more off-leash training for another day.