To the left, to the left: I channel Beyonce when training my dog to walk on a leash

My dog, Katniss, seems to enjoy going on long walks more than fish enjoy water. The only thing Katniss likes more than her walks is, well, water. The water in her drinking bowls lasts about as long as a free case of Milwaukee’s Best Light, aka “Beast,” at a frat party, even though Beast basically is water. See how that all ties together?

(Photo courtesy of wife)

Speaking of beasts, Katniss is a curious one, so when we take her on walks she wants to stop every 10 feet to sniff something, cross in front of me to examine another dog’s poop or lag behind me as she slows her pace to eye a fellow dog walking on the other side of the street. Katniss may enjoy walking, but she can make it hard for my wife or me to enjoy walking with her. Katniss’ stubbornness got me thinking about another German shepherd mix I used to know, which in turn inspired a solution to Katniss’ on-leash behavior.

When I was 12 or 13, my parents took me to pick out a puppy several months after our previous family dog had died. We arrived at a a transmission shop in Xenia, Ohio, that was advertising puppies for sale in the classified section of the Dayton Daily News*. I chose a female German shepherd/husky mix that I named Honey because she was honey-colored. Honey’s mom was in a fenced-off area that we passed when we entered the shop, and it must have broken her mom’s heart to see one of her babies being taken. I’ll never forget that twinge of guilt as we walked away with our new pup.

Honey’s biological mom would be happy to know that we took excellent care of Honey, and she lived a long life. She and I became inseparable. One of the things my parents insisted we do with Honey was to take her to obedience school while she was still young.

The obedience classes took place in a large room with many other dogs, one of whom was a dalmatian that to this day is the most unruly damn dog I have ever encountered; I think he was on a PCP-only diet.

Anyway, part of the class was working with your dog while he or she was on a leash. We would all walk with our dogs in a big circle around the room, and the dogs were always to our left side. When we stopped walking, the dog was supposed to stop—and sit, too. If the dog ever deviated from being on our left side, we needed to correct him or her. After some practice, Honey became a decent on-leash walker, though we never walked her much; she burned most of her energy off racing around our back yard. She used to patrol the perimeter of our property so much that she actually wore away all the grass along the fence line. My dad said that was a shepherd trait. I bet if I went back to my childhood home today—15 years after we moved out—I bet there would still be a dirt track visible. Man, I miss Honey.

So graduation day came, and each dog who passed the obedience class got a certificate. I’m almost certain that dalmatian didn’t even finish the course, but Honey did. As I was walking Katniss recently, I realized my beloved Honey was talking (whining? barking?) to me from dog heaven—all I needed to do with Katniss was walk her on my left side, be firm with her and Katniss could turn into a very disciplined walker, likely even more so than her late predecessor.

After a few outings with Katniss and my new training mindset, she is doing a surprisingly good job of staying on my left and keeping up with me. She still needs some more work, but I am somewhat shocked by Katniss’ fast progress.

Whenever we’re walking these days and Katniss is on my left, or especially when I have to correct her, I always think of a popular Beyonce song, “Irreplaceable,” in which she sings, “To the left, to the left” in the chorus/hook. If you’re having trouble getting your pet to behave on walks, I highly recommend the “to the left, to the left” method. I suppose you could also try “to the right, to the right,” but that sounds more boring than the blog you just finished reading.


*For you younger readers, if young people even read this blog, the classified section of the newspaper was how people sold stuff before Craigslist was invented.

(Top photo courtesy Columbia)

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