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Loosen the Leash

BTMDogIsMyCopilot (http://beyondthemargins NULL.com/btm/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BTMDogIsMyCopilot1 NULL.jpg)By Nichole Bernier (http://beyondthemargins NULL.com/author/nicholebernier/)

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, we have a young Bernese Mountain Dog. We got her last summer at 8 weeks old and named her Cricket because she was the least graceful thing ever to hop through grass.

She eats. She eats socks. She eats toys. She eats my husband. She eats the house.

Protectively, defensively, we’ve kept her restricted to the main kitchen/family room area of the house. She and the cats eye one another distrustfully through the gates, and when Cricket gets through, it’s off to the races.

When time came for our annual vacation on Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks ago, the owner of the house we rent gave us permission to bring the dog. My husband thought this was great news.

My heart sank. This meant schlepping the gates, the crate. It meant a week with a clenched stomach, wondering what she’d destroy. And yet there was an opportunity to experiment: we’d be in a house without the cats, and were curious to see what would happen if we let her roam free. By which I mean, my husband was curious to see what would happen. I just wanted to be on vacation and maybe sleep in a little and not have to safeguard food on the countertops.

Well lo and behold, she galloped through the place in an introductory way, and then was pretty much done with the crimes and misdemeanors. That week she was like a new dog. She didn’t destroy anything except one straw beach mat, and he was asking for it. No aggression, very little jumping for food. She didn’t even bite my husband. She pretty much just enjoyed following us from room to room. Who took our dog, we asked, and what have you done with her?

When we came home we decided to give peace a chance. And aside from a first day bonanza of chasing the cats and kids, nails raking the hardwoods as she turned the corners, she’s been mostly the same here.

What to make of the change? Using all my advanced animal and child psychology (aka none), I can only conclude that all this time we had an evil feedback system going. She was naughty, so we didn’t trust her. Her freedom was restricted because of that naughtiness, but boredom/frustration was making her worse.

Maybe all she wanted was a little head space, a little more free rein, a little chance to rise to the challenge. Which echoes the messages about teens I’m hearing from fellow parents, now that I’m entering that chute. Too tight a leash and

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