Lizzie has been with me now 3 weeks today.  I have spent all of our time together training her.  Even our play time has been in training mode.  When she first arrived, I was her meal ticket, her warm bed and her security.  She was my new responsibility, my new pet.  Although we were strangers getting to know each other, it wasn’t long before we really connected.  It’s official… we’re together.

This was a pivotal weekend.  Lizzie has been showing signs that she’s ready to be off the leash, but I wasn’t quite ready to put her to the test until this weekend.  I knew she was ready, but it was my own hesitation that kept me from releasing her.  After all, what if she bolted and didn’t come back?  At some point, you just have to have faith and do it.

It was a gorgeous Saturday morning. Lizzie and I were up at our usual 5:00am.  I took Lizzie out to go potty after her warm breakfast.  She seemed eager to start the day and somehow knew I wouldn’t be leaving for work.  She was playful, inquisitive and obedient.  I took a deep breath and decided today was the day.  I didn’t want to let her loose in the neighborhood but decided to take her to a nearby park with lots of trails and a small lake.  It was the place I’d always taken by beloved black lab Sadie to play and swim.  In fact, I haven’t been back since I’d taken Sadie.  Lots of warm memories and good Karma.  Lizzie eagerly jumped in the truck and was ready for whatever adventure we were about to embark on.  I planned it early enough in the day so there were no cars or people at the park.  Better to test Phase One with  minimal distractions.

I put the leash on her to get out of the truck.  As we neared the entrance of the trail, I said a silent prayer to all the animal Gods, and my dad.  Please let this go well.  She was all about the trail and while she was busy sniffing every scent she could find, I seized the moment and nonchalantly undid the leash from her collar.  She didn’t notice at first until I began walking in front of her.  I turned back to look at her and simply said “Lizzie come”.  She came right to me, stopped for a second, figured it out and off she went.  I knew she’d follow the trail because it was loaded with dog scents.  I let her go, watching intently.  I didn’t say a word and noticed she kept stopping to look back at me.  She was figuring it out, and when she saw me continuing to walk toward her telling her she was a good girl, she would advance a few more feet before looking back again.  Each time she would go further and further with more confidence that I was coming along too.   We stayed on the trail quite a while before I heard a dog bark in the distance and knew this would be a test.  Although there were no cars or trucks in the parking lot, that certainly didn’t mean there wasn’t a dog in the distance that could meander onto the trails.  I called her, just once, and waited.  I could have cried with delight when I saw her come back.  Wow, she’s doing great!  I turned around on the trail and called to her to come with me.  She followed me.  Back at the parking lot she dashed past the truck.  I took this to mean  “Hey, I’m not quite done running around here, can we stay?”  Hell yeah we can!  I started walking over to the rolling greens and tennis courts, with a tennis ball.  She loves to play ball at home so I thought I’d bring one along for insurance.  I threw the ball and she went dashing after it like a bullet.  I was thinking we’d have a little game of fetch, but Lizzie had a different idea.  She had no interest in the ball and kept going, and going, and going.  Crap!  Things were going so well.  Keep calm, this is new to her…  I kept walking and calling her for a few minutes.  In the distance I saw this spec of white coming closer and closer and closer.  She came back!  Now she wanted to play ball!  Play ball we did, until she was so tired she just stood there panting with a big ole grin on her face.  Good girl Lizzie.  You passed with flying colors. I felt victorious.

Lizzie napped for the rest of the morning.  She was ready to do it again in the afternoon, but I knew the park would be full of people, dogs and distractions.  We took our normal walk in the neighborhood, after lunch, on the lease.  Maybe we’ll try it again tomorrow.

Phase One – Complete!