He rushes me out the door, like a boy dragging his mother from one attraction to another at the county fair. Hurry! Hurry! There is so much to see.
Easy Bruce. Don’t pull me. We’ll get there. I promise we’ll see it all.
This is how our walks begin. Every walk. Bruce shoots outside in an ecstatic charge to get into the world. I don’t blame him. Though he receives good care, has a healthy diet, and has a good number of people who truly love him, Bruce wants out. He needs to get out.
Bruce, an impressive dog we believe to be part pit bull and part American bull dog, was found stray, wandering the parking lot in front of the dog care business I co-own with a friend. It was around 5:00 in the afternoon, during the time of day when owners are rushing in and out of our doors picking up their dogs from daycare. The last thing we need is a large stray pit bull mix greeting them in the parking lot.
Our manager went out, put a slip lead on the dog, and brought him into our kennel area. His condition and appearance spoke to his former life, perhaps the life he had finally escaped. He was a bit on the thin side, though not terribly. The tops of his folded ears were raw with fly bites. He wore a wide, sturdy buckle collar with a large metal clasp hanging from it like an ominous pendant alluding to a life lived on a chain. He had a wide, well-muscled jaw that stayed tight with stress and uncertainty.
He was tired, he was wary. He was thirsty. He was hungry. He didn’t feel very well. We cared for him. Over the course of his first days with us, those tight jaw muscles relaxed into the wide, silly grin that makes a bully breed’s face so very appealing.
Soon, Bruce started to flourish. Old wounds healed. A collar used for restraint was replaced with a colorful collar that complemented his handsome coat. Soft beds and blankets provided comfort in his kennel run. Toys and chew bones were provided regularly. Many hands provided pats and scratches in just the right places. Breakfast was served every morning, dinner every night—on schedule. Regular trips to the fenced yard were provided throughout the day and evening.
But still…it was clear that Bruce wanted more. Bruce needed more.
Finally, we put a special harness on Bruce—one designed to reduce his ability to pull too hard. I took hold of the leash, still wondering if I would be able to hang on to the 80 pounds of muscle I was about to take for a walk. Bracing myself we stepped out of the door, back into the very parking lot where Bruce was first found.
I am a dog trainer. I work with people all the time who want their dog to learn to walk on leash, without pulling. Most owners have a vision of the dog walking compliantly at the human’s side, following along whichever path the human decides to take, at the pace the human chooses to walk. It is the human’s walk, right? The dog is a lucky participant.
Bruce had other ideas. Bruce had something to teach me.
When Bruce realizes he is heading out the door to go on a walk, his face takes on a giddy, bright-eyed-as-an-eight-week-old-puppy expression. He can’t get out that door fast enough. The world is waiting! He struggles to stay still while I fasten his harness.
We head outside and Bruce just takes it all in—sight, sound, and smells. Oh the smells! We spend the first 10 minutes of each walk hurrying as fast as we can to smell, mark, poop, scruff the earth, smell some more, and mark some more. Ok, that “we” part. Don’t take that too literally. I’m just along for the ride.
Once we get past that first 10 minutes of pure canine tell-the-world-you’ve-been-here joy, the walk takes on another dimension. Because it is Bruce’s walk, I let him choose the route. After all, I’m not the one currently living in temporary housing for the homeless (aka: a pretty nice kennel run, but still…).
Our pace slows down. The frantic need to get into the world shifts into absolute bliss to be experiencing it.
And this is where my lesson begins.
While my walks with Bruce are for exercise for both of us, Bruce has shown me that our time together is not a mission from point A to point B. Each walk is an adventure—a sensory experience. To just force Bruce to walk the direction I choose, at the pace I choose, would be such an injustice to us both. You see, Bruce takes the stop-to-smell-the-roses concept several steps further.
Stop to smell this tree. Stop to feel this shrub rub deliciously along the top of your back. Stop to sniff this spot in the grass. THIS spot. Scratch the earth there vigorously with your feet to stretch while also letting others know you’ve passed this way.
Put your nose to the wind and drink in the smells. Learn everything you need to know about which direction to take through detailed olfactory stories. Don’t be afraid to change direction. Follow your nose, follow your instinct, find joy in each and every step.
Watch a little girl running and laughing with her mother. See the tiny sparrows hopping in the bushes. Track a flock of squawking geese as they fall into a perfect V formation. Smile your wide, lolling-tongued smile at passersby.
Splash through a puddle instead of going around it. Roll in the grass. Race across a field snorting as the human works to keep pace. Jump on top of a rock to survey your world.
Bruce has taught me that each and every walk is not merely a walk. It’s an adventure. The leash is not there to bind Bruce to me. The leash is there to ensure that I see, feel, and experience the world from Bruce’s point of view. It’s really his tool to use as he guides me along his chosen path.
Bruce and I will continue having our little outings together—enriching his temporary life as a foster dog, certainly enriching my life. We’ll keep going until the time comes for him to leave. With gratitude, I’ll carry Bruce’s lessons forward on every walk, with every dog.
Someone out there needs Bruce. Someone is meant to be Bruce’s special human, and he their very special dog and mentor. Bruce has so much to share. You just have to be willing to grab onto the leash and learn.
Bruce is available for adoption to a qualified home in the area of Northeastern Oklahoma. Please comment if you are interested in being Bruce’s person.