Growing up we never used leashes. In retrospect, this was probably irresponsible in some settings, but even though our dogs were not highly trained they recognized us as leaders and didn’t need to be physically tethered to us to remain under control. To me, this was important; it was the stark contrast between having a pet that could be managed verses a full-fledged member of our family that could be trusted.
Dogs are clever creatures. I’ve often found myself going to teach Millie something “new” only to find out that she already knows it. To me it only made sense that if my dog is intelligent, it would be unfair not to allow her the opportunity to use that intelligence to build a relationship of trust and respect with her family. In my mind, the leash (or lack thereof) became a symbol of that trust, and my goal was simple — to remove the leash and trust her to walk closely to my left leg. She in turn, would trust me to give her safe guidance and protect her from harm.
Millie was picked up as a stray in Salinas. She came to me by way of the Santa Cruz SPCA, and it was of no particular surprise that she would take any and all opportunities to wander off, completely ignoring my calls for her to return. More than once, I had to struggle to get her back inside after she managed to sneak out of the house. This was unacceptable! It was a big problem that needed addressing post haste. It became was my main reason for enrolling in the ten-week off-leash training program.
I read somewhere that a California-based trainer proofs his obedience dogs by taking them off-leash through Chinatown in San Francisco. This was unimaginable to me at the time. No dog I had ever known could be reasonably expected to pass this test, but I found myself thinking back to it from time to time. Almost without realizing it, an off-leash walk in Chinatown became my most tangible training goal for Millie. On a trip to the city in on Easter day 2014, I finally felt confident enough in my training to unclip the leash and give it a try. As intended, the more the distractions increased, the more she focused on me. She trusted me to keep her safe and I trusted her to heel attentively. We had passed the test, and here is the video to prove it.