Sure, there’s a lot of cute guys in Chicago, but they’re too complicated. Humans in general are.
Instead, I’ve given my heart away to the four-legged friend in the photo, Marty. And he’s given me his heart back! It was a tad unexpected, but these things usually are.
(Full Disclosure: Marty belongs to the relatives I was living with when I first came back to Illinois. That’s how we got to know each other.)
It all started when I took a chance on Marty & brought him with me to a weekend retreat in Wisconsin back in April. At first he was really skittish in the extra cab of the truck. But he settled down after a while.
We stopped at a lot of rest stops & country gas stations along the way for potty breaks & supper, but he was still pretty jittery.
At the campground, he circled wider & wider, nose to the ground, and I just let him. He got totally comfortable with the surroundings, before hitting the sack in his special towel & blanket nest that I made for him in the pickup truckbed.
He got to sleep in the same space with me, and I pet him reassuringly through the night.
Luckily, the retreat center had a lovely open space area near the campground with a trail running through a wide prairie. The grasses were just green sprigs poking through the web of brown from last year’s plants. Tiny purple flowers shyly spun their blossoms skyward. A majestic maple stood alone & unafraid in the center of the field.
Marty just ran and ran and ran…
Later I took a chance with another campground dog, and asked the owner of that amazing golden retriever if I could try Marty off-leash with him to adjust him. He agreed, and after 10 minutes, the 2 dogs were best friends.
Another huge leap for Marty.
As I was getting my spiritual life fed & fortified, Marty too, was growing & stretching towards a better doggie Higher Self. He made me so proud that weekend, so proud.
Marty doesn’t respond to gruff voices or yelling. Only when I call him in a nice, loving, & sweet way at the trail park does he listen. Even then he often doesn’t come back.
Fortunately, we’ve built up enough trust now that he no longer jumps on people or other dogs.
Marty really responds to positive reinforcement. When he sits or stays on command I reply, “Good sit! Good dog!”. This is really working! He now knows our routine with going in and out of doors (sitting on either side of threshold & not pulling on the leash), going in & out of the pickup, and crossing streets. It’s pretty rare for me to scold him now…
Gee – how many places can you apply “positive reinforcement” and “loving speech” to your life? I can think of tons…
Down & Dirty
The best part about running Marty on the trails around Chicago Southland is I now have an excuse to be dirty, and to have small white hairs all over my clothes & pickup.
For a Neat-nik like me, it’s very liberating to roll in the dirt. My clothes are pretty professional at my job, so unleashing the dirtbag within feels great. Bring it, Marty!
Everywhere I take Marty, people comment on how cute & happy he is. What a compliment to us both! Plus, he’s so friendly it turns his cuteness into charm.
If I was a dude, I’d be raking in the digits!
Alas, in the glorious suburbs, it’s mostly soccer moms & kids that scratch behind Marty’s ears. Even so he’s a great conversation starter.
One great thing Marty does is keep me in-the-moment. The fact that he jumps for joy every time he sees me with the leash really makes me chuckle at his pure, undulating joy.
When we go for walks or runs, I have something else to focus on besides the machinations in my head. He gives me a reason to pay attention to the bright green leaves on the trees, shimmering after the feathery tickle of the wind. He gives me a reason to pay attention to who else is coming down the trail opposite to me, so I can nab him before mayhem ensues. And, he gives me a reason to play.
Marty & I play a game I call “chicken”. It’s not the same as the usual game you think of. If I’m running, he will chase after me & pass me with his lightening fast furry paws. He glances over his stocky labrador shoulder egging me on to chase him, and chase I do. But, I always lose…
Inevitably, he’ll get distracted by a smell or grass or whatever doggie fascination occurs along the trail, and I’ll pass him. Then I run really fast until he chases me & catches up once more.
It’s a freedom & a silliness & a game we invented together, that nobody else knows, that’s unique to our friendship, our love.
Maybe I should call the game “chase”.