"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The shift has been a gradual one, each new step into trust a surprise. And sudden. It seems like we went from a way of being that I had begun to believe was permanent to this new freedom in the space of days.

Toby is almost three. He and I walk together almost every day, and our routine includes time off the leash where I know he'll be okay even if he opts for deafness and adventure over obedience and safety. He's such a headstrong dog, and I've assumed his primary motivation is scent and movement, which meant his connection to me would always be secondary. 

The result has been that I was very careful about letting him loose anywhere there was risk of him being hurt if he wouldn't listen.

During our walks this summer, I noticed he would come back along the trail looking for me if it took me too long to catch up with him. Then I would find him stopped at the gates where I always leashed him up  - stopped without being told. And finally one day he met me as I approached one of the gates and walked beside me until we reached it, all without my saying a word.

We've become a team, Toby and I. Not because I made him mind, or even because I trained him well - because in the last three years I let go of any expectation beyond keeping him safe and appropriately social. And I just loved him the way he was. I trusted him as far as he'd let me, but didn't demand more than I got.

He seems to be returning the affection and the trust. 

Earlier this month, for the first time, I let him in the front yard to help me bring groceries in from the car. Because he chases anything that moves - squirrels, cars, shadows - he's only had limited access to this unfenced part of our place. He was so excited, he bounced like his favorite rubber ball, and never got more than five feet away from me. We've repeated this new routine several times now, and he's been the same every time, not once even considering the possibility of chasing. 

I haven't taken him to the park since last winter because he was so hard to manage on the leash for that long distance. He pulled like a sled dog, with no concern at all for whether he could breathe or not. The condition of my shoulder wasn't even a concept for him. 

But Sunday I knew there would be campers in our regular place, and it was a perfect day, so I decided to give the park another shot. And it worked. He was eager, but responsive to my voice and the tugs on the leash. When I let him off leash to swim in the river, he didn't try to run up the bank and into the park to make new friends. And he didn't seem to mind making do with the limits of leash and my pace as we finished the park loop. 

Even with all of that, what happened yesterday took me by surprise. We were walking with our friend Mary and her Bernese Mountain Dog, Pearl. Toby and Pearl had not met before, and while not hostile with each other, both were more interested in their own sniffing agendas. At one point Mary let Pearl off leash, a regular part of their routine. So I let Toby off, too.

It was like we'd been doing this thing forever. He never got too far ahead. Came to me when I called. For a while walked along side me for reassurance after a romp and frolic with Pearl. At one point he veered up a trail toward the street, and my heart stopped because my warning didn't slow him down. But seconds later, he crashed his way back to the big trail and ran to me, then sat at my feet looking up as if to say, "That was so much fun. What's next?"

From the day we carried him into the house, Toby has been a reminder that control is an illusion. He's made it clear that life with him would not be business as usual. At some point I surrendered to that, to the unknown of our relationship, never expecting that I'd get this amazing lesson in trust. 

And if I can trust that love and acceptance and surrender work with a dog, perhaps it's time to believe, to really embrace, that it works everywhere.

Photo by Walt


Katie Gates said...

You've done it again! My eyes have teared-up and I just got chills! Isn't it wonderful that our pets can teach us such lessons?
"Control is an illusion..." Boy, that says it all right there!

Carrie Link said...

Yes, Katie is right, you've done it again! i have learned a lot from walking Flicka, too, that sometimes her tugging takes me places I hadn't planned to go, but needed to.

Been drawing angel cards each day, and 2 out of the last 3 have been the same: love. Say it with me... Anyway, talks about the Ascension Attitudes being love, gratitude and surrender.

Surrendering is hard.

Elenka said...

I was afraid to go from one paragraph to another in your post fearing that something happened to the dog.
Suspenseful !!!!!!!
Glad it all ended up ok.

Anonymous said...

mmm... here's what I needed to hear:

"... I let go of any expectation beyond keeping him safe and appropriately social. And I just loved him the way he was. I trusted him as far as he'd let me, but didn't demand more than I got."


"At some point I surrendered to that, to the unknown of our relationship, never expecting that I'd get this amazing lesson in trust. "

Thank you. Again.

Anonymous said...

"Control is an illusion," I know that sentiment so well. As I yell, "here" and "wait" at the top of my lungs I am quite aware that my six month old golden retriever is only racing towards me because she can see I am waving a bag of treats in the air or has stopped simply because it suited her to do so.
Still, I fill up with pride when she ignores the pull of the other dogs on the common and sits, staring up at me through her golden lashes, patiently waiting for the treat I have in my hand.
I hope I have created an illusion of control for the benefit of anyone watching!

kario said...

I struggle with this "control" issue with CB, too, but I'm inspired to let him go a little from time to time to see if I can experience some of the same...

I could use some reminders to trust ;-)

Wanda..... said...

I loved your post, Deb. Trusting does alleviate a lot of stress in ones life.

Tabitha Bird said...

I love your dog! He is so beautiful! And I think you are right about the trust and let go thing. I am working my way to that point too. :)

Laura said...

Beautiful reflection here Deb. Your story about your relationship with Toby is much like mine with my dog Ellie and in some ways like my relationships with my daughters too! It is about trust. Letting go. Love. and trust again.

M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M said...

"And if I can trust that love and acceptance and surrender work with a dog, perhaps it's time to believe, to really embrace, that it works everywhere." I loved that line...because it is so true. You found the key in the first few words..."love". It's amazing the relationship those two words have together. I'm glad that you are finding both.

Love you

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Lovely piece. It also reminded me of how much easier dogs get by the time they're three. Our time spent with them, training and loving, surviving the first two years, pays off. Toby sounds like a perfect companion.

Gail said...

A beautiful story about a wonderful dog and the person who loves him.

Barb said...

To live by trust is a lesson in letting go and not expecting to control. Perhaps Toby can sense your ties to him and his to you that go beyond control. Enjoy each other.

Amber said...

Man, I bet you were an awesome teacher when you were at the school. What a beauiful post.

This sounds like something we should learn about our kids, too.


Wanda said...

It's all about the relationship, isn't it?

Terri Tiffany said...

You say so much with this post--especially your ending. I love that you learn from everything around you.

Gammary said...

I walked the park today again...one last time before I left. Melissa with me, pushing her double stroller filled with her happy cozy babes up the trails. I let Pearl off leash. She stayed with us on the trail and then before the final downhill, she disappeared. Knees being such a problem these days, I asked Melissa to stay where she was in case Pearl went up into the woods and I hobbled down to the parking lot...no Pearl. Panic beginning to spill out of my brain and fill my ears, she came running from far across the parking lot and road. She'd ran down and into the water! So many images flashed in my mind...but she came smiling and happy and wet. That we create these stories about what can happen in our minds and use that story and build fear based on that whole made up story! The fear may be real, but the story that creates it is, well, fiction.
So that was my park lesson today.

So many stories we create about our lives, experiences, and expectations and so much fear is generated in our own heads based on those stories. Wears me out.


Gammary said...
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Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I've never had a dog, but I love this post because I got a great sense of how your relationship has grown, and how Toby has matured. And of course, being a grandma above all else, I am thinking about how love and trust applies to kids. They are like puppies in their quest to test the limits, but also in their need for love and trust. I can't just let them run around with no pants on, as they'd prefer, but I can accept that they love the freedom and find a way to work with that. (Just one example, and yes it's an issue we're currently dealing with.) Thanks for the great post.


I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You ~Ron

She Writes said...

I've long had a personal belief that relationships take 3 years to develop and prove true. Now I will add dogs to that list :).

Kathryn Grace said...

Oh my gosh, I've just been in conversation thirty minutes ago with another person about this very issue. How if we hold a space of love and trust for a person, (why not for an animal companion as well) not only for them, but expecting the same from them, whatever they may be presenting to us, they will embrace the love and meet our expectation.

I have to wonder, just a little, who is training who? (Or is that whom?) ; )

This is another beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

EcoGrrl said...

beautiful to run into your blog, and i know how the arrival of my dog into my life couldn't have come at a better time, and her presence has taught me so much. even, yes even, as she farts on the sofa in her sleep.

Jerri said...

This could be the central task of human life--to learn that control is an illusion; to learn that love and acceptance and surrender work.

Maybe that's why these lessons are so necessary for writers. How else would be show them in our work than to learn them first?