Several years ago I became interested in a breed of dog known as Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. They are bred for pulling, carting and plowing, and I knew that a little extra effort would be needed to train loose leash walking. From the very first day I had them I worked on that slack leash, spending countless hours standing still, backing up, talking about whatever came to mind as I kept their attention despite the sideways looks of my neighbors and passing cats, dogs, skateboarders, trucks, overhead passenger jets and other city marvels. I took them to classes, got private training for us, practiced with friends’ dogs and took them everywhere I could to reinforce all that good loose leash action I was seeing.
Now, admittedly I had one small issue with the fact that my live-in, a very nice but relaxed man named Andy, really didn’t want “the girls,” Betty and Addie, to be stressed in any way, for instance by asking them not to pull. Or to go home when walking. Or even to walk in a certain direction. (In later years, I would discover how lucky I was to have chosen Swissies rather than, say, German Shepherds, as had I chosen the latter Andy would have gone out for his first walk and never come home.) At one point it became Andy’s job to walk the dogs each morning as I was overwhelmed by parenting duties (my sole domain in our household) and he was willing.
Over time, Andy came to really treasure his walks with the girls, spending long, wandering hours out, frequently sitting under a tree until Betty had decided it was appropriate to move on. It worked out pretty well for all of them as Andy would get his time with his beloved girls, Betty could wander where she would, and Addie got to practice her snarking-jumping-barking-at-other-dogs behavior uninterrupted by a pesky mom.
Anyway, I know I’ve wandered off topic a bit, but here’s the story. Family politics being what they are, I knew that I had to pick battles carefully and frequently in order to mitigate and support those things needing attention. Poor behavior notwithstanding, the one thing I couldn’t tolerate was both dogs pulling at once, as I knew that someday somebody was going to be pulled into an icy winter street and get clocked. So I begged and pleaded and cajoled and talked and threatened, and over time Andy came to understand the importance of not pulling, and agreed to carry treats, use a no-pull harness and avoid other dogs when possible, sometimes even by changing directions without Betty’s approval!
The one big hurdle to my loose leash walking dream was the crossing guard. While there are other routes off my street, the early morning traffic of trucks, school buses and cars is so unpleasant that the only real options are out and to the right, taking us directly to the busiest street, or to the left, past the crossing guard. Over the years, he and Andy have trained an admirable pull as the crossing guard waves his dog biscuits at the girls, wandering across the street (screeching brakes not finding his aging ears) as Andy does his best to hang on and prevent the girls from meeting the guy half way into the road. Once united, the dogs jump up and down as the crossing guard waves his cookies around in the air, giving dog training advice on how to get them to stop jumping, and how to get them to follow us when he leaves (“Here. Take another cookie or they’ll come with me instead of you.”)
Now, I’m a reasonable woman. I’ve gone and talked to the crossing guard, telling him how I’m trying to get my dogs not to pull and asking if he’d mind skipping the cookies. I’ve suggested to Andy that he perhaps go the other way regardless of the unpleasant traffic, but that’s not always advice that’s followed. Which makes the crossing guard an intermittently reinforced enjoyment, kinda like hitting 3 cherries at a Vegas slot machine after 400 tries. I’ve asked that the girls be required to sit before receiving the cookies, but apparently “sit” is a relative term, something of which I was previously unaware. I’ve even taken each dog individually to the crossing guard in hopes of training better behavior, but the man is just not willing to cooperate and simply gave the one dog more cookies without allowing calm behavior, or even me getting closer than 50 or 60 feet before waving those cookies in the air, across the road.
So I started planning his doom. I looked for easy openings. Maybe purple fingers or a florid, capillary-streaked nose that might indicate congestive heart failure, or at least angina. Could I be convicted for shouting “BOO” suddenly out of nowhere? Though I heard no obvious wheezing, I hired delivery trucks to sit and and idle by his post, anticipating that the exhaust fumes would do the job for me. I offered him candy, thinking that any man with these impulse control issues would surely accept, regardless of blood sugar levels. When he took the sweets I saw no telltale pinpricks in his fingertips. I bought him a pack of cigarettes, but he doesn’t smoke. I suggested it would be calming given the stress of his job, but left head hanging and pack in hand. I thought about throwing a bucket of cold water on him some frigid, February morning, but realized that it might look suspicious if I ran away carrying an empty bucket, and that someone might dry him off rather than letting him freeze, stuck to the stop sign as I’d designed.
Today I got a really good chance as, while I was walking Betty, cheese to her nose and cursing the man’s unwillingness to leave his post even 45 minutes after school was in session, I shouted “STOP” and he did, right in the middle of the street. The SUV driver was apparently involved in a very important phone call, and it was some wretched instinct in me that then shouted “Move!”, prompting the crossing guard to lurch toward me, cookies waving, vacating the very spot where two tons of American pride came barreling by a split second later. I grabbed Betty’s collar, told her to sit, at which point the guy came up, waved his cookie over her unseated head, and said “Oh, she knows me, I’ve been giving her cookies for years. Here, take another one or she won’t go with you ’cause she’ll want to stay with me. She sure likes to pull!”
So you see, Your Honor, that I felt I had no other choice. I am on my way to the store to buy a crossing guard outfit for my friends and relatives to wear. I believe I will be able to practice crossing guard greetings during my work release off-hours, and once I am on parole. I hope Your Honor will grant me some leniency as I did, after all, save the man today rather than watching the dream I’d so hoped for come to fruition in front of my very eyes.