Zola walks on leash!

!!!!BREAKING NEWS!!!! Zola walked on a leash!

I’m sure most of you are picturing us strolling the neighborhood. It wasn’t quite like that. In fact, it wasn’t anything like that. But here’s the details.

You all know that Zola was found (had to be trapped), in the freezing temps (maybe close to freezing, but for a short-haired dog, it was mighty cold). Spent a night at the shelter, then came to me in a crate.

I opened the crate door and she didn’t come out. I tried to coax her with delicious, fresh cooked, roast chicken (the same that unsuspecting family members eat, when they forget that we have a new dog in the house). I let her chill, ignored her, knew that she ventured out of the crate to potty and eat. But not in my presence.

2 days later, in my early morning, pre-coffee haze, I checked the crate – it was empty…HUH???? Zola was staring at me from the comforter filled dog bed across the room. I thought, ‘ok, now we have something.’

The scientist rule-follower in me engaged in all the right self-talk ‘on her own terms’, ‘let her set the pace’, ‘there’s no hurry’. But the other part of me wanted to get to the good stuff – leash walks in the neighborhood, play dates with other dogs, romping at the beach. Patience? Who’s got that kind of time?

The progress has been just that – progress. There have been little and big milestones. When she nudged my hand for a pet, when she first played with a toy, when I saw her spring into the air with joy, when she glued herself to my side, and then when she unglued herself and ran ahead of me out to the backyard. All of these are progress from that frightened girl, plastered to the back of the crate.

And now we come to the leash walk. I know that if she’ll just go out of the yard, up and down the sidewalk, her world will open wide. She’ll be one step closer to being a real dog.

So, now I have to check myself. She IS a real dog, now. She’s a dog that takes time to warm up, needs some commitment from the human before she’s gonna trust, has NO agenda (compared to my milestones-on-the-path-to-what??). Why am I forcing my ideas of what a dog needs on her? She is clearly communicating to me what SHE needs right now and we’re doing it.

And yet. I want to take her for a walk. I want to show her off to the world, I want I want I want.

The first fearful dog I earned the trust of taught me that this process is as much about me as it is about the dog. (Cue dollar bills flying from my fingers into the therapist’s…) So, what am I working out through this experience with her?

I’ve tried all kinds of leashes, harnesses and collars. Zola just freezes and then starts to shake. I’ve used treats around the confining contraption, trying to get her to tolerate it. Tonight, I put her food bowl down, with a slip lead between her and food. I swear she said, ‘hey nice lady, I’ll just wait here until you remove that leash’. I removed it. She approached the food. I slipped it over her head, she froze.

So I moved the little bench (one of my sons made it in grade school; it’s worn and full of scars left by lots of puppy teeth) and sat down. I said out loud, ‘hey nice Lady Zola, it’s been a really long day and I’m tired. I’ll just sit here until you move one inch with that leash around your neck.’ And she walked 3 steps to nudge my hand for a pet. I scooted my body around on the bench and she followed my outstretched hand to get another pet. I scooted, she moved, I petted, she moved, I scooted. With splinters in my butt, I laughed and said, ‘Lady Zola, you just don’t like a person looming over you with a leash. We can work with that.’ I popped the leash off, she shook her body and ate her dinner.

Never give up. Go at your own pace. Remember to bring the dog along with you.

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