The Leash


Taking Luna for a walk is always- how shall we say this?– an interesting experience. She is still very much a puppy, and thus still very much interested in sniffing everything and chasing after every single leaf that blows near her. If she sees a bird or a bunny she is very much interested in chasing it. If we come across other humans (especially kids), she is very much interested in saying hello and becoming best friends. And if she sees another dog… well, it’s dragging-the-puppy-down-the-sidewalk time.

When Luna was only about two months old I took her for her first walk. Well, perhaps I should say “tried to take her for her first walk.” She was a very nervous puppy and didn’t know what we were doing. She had this strange harness on, was outside somewhere other than our backyard, and found herself constrained in her movements by this (admittedly very cute) leash. She didn’t know quite what to make of it.

I wish I could say it was successful, but we didn’t even make it a block. In fact, we barely made it out of the driveway. I was having to drag her almost every step of the way.

Now she is much more acclimated to walks and loves them, although I still find myself at times having to drag her, either because she is being stubborn and wants to do something else, or because I am trying to avoid her and another dog greeting each other as only dogs know how.

Every time I take her for a walk I am struck by how important the leash is. At first I thought about it only in relation to myself, since it’s a (not always successful) way of controlling her. But the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that the leash is really more about her and her good; without it, bad things would happen.

Luna obviously has no rationality as a dog, and thus is driven entirely by her appetites. Good training (which the jury is still out on, mea culpa) can help to subsume those appetites to something else, but left to her own appetites Luna would be inclined to do lots of things she shouldn’t.

As an animal lacking rationality and under my care, she relies on me to determine her good and provide for it. For her the good is mostly governed by her appetites; she sees me eating a piece of cheese and also wants cheese because she likes cheese. Sometimes she will let those appetites overwhelm her and start whining or even getting up in my face if I’m not disciplined enough to discipline her. And to be sure, she’s not completely to blame; she doesn’t have the rational capacity to understand the good or subsume her desires to something else. Enough training can reinforce certain behaviors, but she doesn’t “understand” the good in this case; rather, she needs me to define that good for her, even if she doesn’t always like it.

In our relationship Luna’s good is determined by my will and intelligence. Granted, there are goods that pertain to her nature and its capacity for flourishing that I should provide for in order to further her good, but ultimately her good is found in obeying my will.

On the walks her appetites tend to overwhelm her more than in the house, simply because of the more unfamiliar surroundings and the greater variety and frequency of stimuli. She is constantly wanting to dart after one thing or another, and it can be a challenge to keep her face forward and actually walking.

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I am constantly reminded by her that many times she perceives the leash as something that is holding her back. On the one had she “knows” that when I get out the harness and leash and say “Do you wanna go for a walk” that she is about to do something she likes to do. But on the other hand the leash keeps her from exploring and chasing after things as she would like.

Sometimes she tries to get away from the leash, only to find that it stops her dead in her tracks. Other times she will grab it with her mouth and try to control the leash or even chew through it, because she recognizes that I am controlling her through it, and she doesn’t always like it.

However, what Luna can never actually know is that the leash is not there to hold her back or to ruin her fun or to keep her from doing the things she wants. Rather, the leash protects her from dangers she doesn’t know exist. And while she doesn’t always like to be led by it on walks, without the leash she wouldn’t even be able to go on walks. She would forever be confined to house or the backyard.

There are so many times she wants to chase after squirrels or bunnies or birds, which perhaps would be a harmless diversion. But she also has a strong desire to chase bicyclists and motorcyclists. Sometimes she even wants to go after cars (but usually not trucks, since they tend to be louder).

But she can never understand that the things that she finds so appealing are things that would very possibly cause her harm. And even if she wasn’t harmed, she might run off and never find her way back, especially if we are walking in an unfamiliar area.

Her appetites long for what she see as the good, but then she finds this leash holding her back. That leash is an extension of my will and my desire for her good, but sometimes she wants nothing more than to chew through it and do her own thing. But if she did manage to get away from the leash, she might very well be killed or at least would not be able to go on walks again until she started submitting to the leash.

The things that her appetites desire are actually goods of their own; dogs in their nature chase squirrels, run after bunnies and protect their territory even from cars and trucks. Boston Terriers love all people, and thus for them it is a good to say hi to every single person and make a new best friend with every single person they meet. They also are very social and love to play with (and generally bother) other dogs.

But all these goods only pertain to Luna’s appetites. Her ultimate good is found in obeying my will, and thus for her to reach the full potential of a walk she has to be submissive to my will, to subsume her desires to that will or at least not struggle so much against the leash.

At St. Paul’s conversion, Jesus tells him that “it is hard to kick against the goads.” For Luna it is the same: under her front paws she has less hair because of where the harness tends to rub against her fur when she struggles against the leash. It is uncomfortable for her, sometimes gets itchy and sensitive, etc.

But what is fascinating is how I end up having to use the leash with her. The more she struggles against it, the more slack I have to pull in and the less freedom she has. If she is being especially obstinate I sometimes have to basically have the leash constantly taut, almost to the point of lifting her off the ground.

But the more she choose to follow my lead and submit to my will, the more slack in the leash I can give her. There are moments (still very few!) where she is walking beside me and the leash is completely slack, trailing behind her. In those moments she is able to walk in perfect freedom, and it’s as if the leash doesn’t exist.

If I was ever able to train her well enough, there might come a point where she would walk beside me without the need for the leash. But that could only happen the more her “will” becomes attuned to my own, until she constantly and immediately follows where I lead and obeys my commands. In that moment she would truly be free to enjoy her walk without the pain of the leash pulling her back or the danger of what could befall her. It is a supreme irony (although also a profound truth) that the more she submits to the leash, the more free she truly becomes. But the more she struggles against it, the tauter and more painful it has to be for her own good.

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I have begun to see my relationship with God in a similar manner. Luna is not a rational being and relies on me for the definition of the good, but the profound truth is that the distance in being between Luna and me is infinitely smaller than the distance between God and me. Yet so many times I find myself struggling against the leash, wanting to do things my own way, chasing after my own squirrels or bunnies or cars, all the “goods” that I find so desirable in my appetite.

The deep truth is just as Luna’s good is primarily in obeying my will, so my good comes from obeying God’s will. All the squirrel and bunny things that I want so badly may be goods, but they can only be so insofar as they are subject to my obedience to God, to my submission to the leash. There are so many things that I crave that are not good for me, but when the leash tightens and I can’t have what I want, sometimes I want to struggle and even chew through it so I can chase down that bicyclist. But just as Luna does not know the good in and of herself, so I cannot either. We both must trust our masters, and ultimately that trust is borne out in obedience.

The beauty of the walk (for both of us) is that the leash is what makes it possible at all, and the more we submit our wills to our masters, the more freedom we find. If my will was always in step with God’s, I would have the greatest good possible- in fact, the Good itself. The more my will becomes my master’s will the more slack I get in the leash, not because I am disobedient and doing my own thing but precisely because of the opposite.

Like obstinate puppies we don’t like the pull of the leash, but it is ultimately there for our own good, and in fact is meant to lead us into our full potential. A dog is not fulfilling its nature if it’s caged up inside all day, but the only way it can taste the freedom of the walk is to be on the leash and eventually finds its freedom by its master’s side.

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By deviantmonk

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