Smitty is a two year old Shih-Tzu whom I rescued back in July. I happily put him in my car where he proceeded to try and jump out the window. He refused to acknowledge my existence or my treats. My intuition told me that he would be a flight risk. I thought that I was getting a sweet little guy like my Glitch, whom I rescued and has never required a leash.
Never assume. Smitty was not happy about being in a new home. I may have been projecting some human emotion onto him, but he sat by my front door day after and I felt he just wanted to go home. He had lived with an elderly human who was hospitalized and the family brought him to a shelter.
Day one: Smitty backs out of his collar and dashes off into the woods behind my house. I took off with the speed of a twenty year old, crashing through the trees into my neighbors’ yard like a neighborhood creeper. Fortunately Smitty stopped to enjoy a bite of deer poop and I was able to tackle him which did nothing to help endear him to me.
He did not trust me. It was in his eyes. He owed my nothing and I knew that I had my work cut out for me. He additionally had a very nasty resource guarding issue and he loved to chew boots and bras to the point of complete destruction.
My main concern was losing him. Out came the long line and a nice shiny lime green body harness. I have hiked with every one of my dogs off leash in the woods for the last 15 years. Clearly this would not be the case with Smitty. Long lines are a pain in the butt! They tangle, get caught on everything and as I am clumsy they tend to trip me up. This was not convenient nor much fun; but whoever said training dogs was easy? It takes time, patience, consistency and often times doing things the hard way. I mean hard for the humans. I would never dream of making it hard on the dog. They are doing the best they can to try and make it in our human world. Given that Smitty had little use for me, to start our relationship off without kindness and compassion would have ensured I would be undermining the long term relationship I sought for my dog.
And so for six months Smitty walked the line. We had success, and failure. We would start over. He was a determined little cuss and one time he saw a deer and tried to chew through his line. We started over. I dropped the line one day to test him and off he went. Again I took off with the sprint of a 20 year old and was able to grab the line. We started over. We saw success, we failed, over and over. I did begin to notice that Smitty would wiggle when I came home, he started following me into the bathroom (a sure fire sign of love). He would trade my bra for a treat. He would hang out with us to watch tv as opposed to hiding in his bed. And slowly but surely he started to respond to come when called on his long line.
Today with a pocket full of prosciutto and a prayer, I let Smitty off leash. We went out to the woods behind my house (I figured if he did take off he might find his way home). He raced up and down the hills with Glitch and Poke. And he came to me every time for a treat and huge dose of Jolly Dog Talk. And this is why I choose time, love and training over convenient.