Puppy Command of the Month: Let's Go

Freddy is supposed to know 13 commands by the time he's 6 months old. He knew them all before he reached 4 months in addition to 6 of the 12 commands to be learned from 6 to 10 months. Maybe I'm biased. No, I am biased. But he is one smart little dog with a gentle and loving personality. He's quite remarkable.

"Let's Go" commands him to walk right by my side on a loose leash. He shouldn't be pulling ahead, lagging behind, or sniffing the ground. He should match my speed and direction with his ear even with my leg. He can walk on either side, remaining on whatever side he starts. When proficient, he should do this anywhere despite any distraction or change in speed or direction.

So far, this was the most difficult command for Freddy. He refused to walk with me anywhere, keeping his nose to the ground, eating acorns, trash, dirt or sticks. If I tried to bend down and give him a treat, he would gobble it up then stop dead in his tracks. When we worked on the command, I would have to walk while bent at the waist, holding a treat just out of reach from his nose to lure him along. We'd go about 10 feet and he'd lose interest, which fortunately gave me the chance to straighten up. I don't recommend walking this way to anyone with a spine, which includes most humans. This painfully slow process went on for 2 weeks. Refusing to drag him along, I often just picked him up, carrying him to our destination. At 9-13 pounds, that was not a problem, but certainly not a long term solution.

This all changed when I introduced Freddy to the Gentle Leader. It's a halter type collar that loops around his nose, with a second strap fastening behind his ears. Instead of pulling against me with the strongest part of his body, his neck, now he had to use his nose, the weakest. He still struggled with the command, as he wanted to go his own way, nose to the ground, scoping out rubbish. But now I had a tool to help him learn to walk like a real service dog with a purpose (other than eating dirt).

Once he got the hang of the command, trusting where I was leading, a new world was opened up for him, as we walked all over the campus. We could now visit friends in the garage, the welding and maintenance shop, the receiving dock and warehouse, the commissary, and the facility where trucks and SUV's are retrofitted for the Border Patrol by a prison industries company called Unicor. Freddy's universe has exponentially expanded. From my standpoint, when I tell him "Let's Go," there also needs to be a purpose. I need to have a destination in mind when I give the command.

Freddy's experience reminds me of the comforting words of the prophet Isaiah to the people of Judah 2800 years ago when, describing God, he wrote this: "He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young" (Isaiah 40:11). When we pay attention and allow God to gently lead us, we have a much greater chance of getting our noses off the ground. Because of the purpose God has for us, we have the opportunity to explore the world from a different perspective. Events and people aren't the same. It's a learning process requiring practice but leading toward a more hopeful destination. Along the way, we have the example of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our path.