Leash-Waltzing

By Peter Lok, January 2022
dog stories - leash walking

Leash-Waltzing is not a sport for the infirm or slow-witted. Walking a dog on a leash is, at its best, an art. At its worst, it is bad slapstick. If the dog is a large one, it can require strength. A seventy-pound pup who really wants to go somewhere cannot always be persuaded not to, regardless of how well trained or how much he wants to please you. It requires agility to keep the animal moving in the general direction you’d like him to go and to stay out of his way so he can. You must anticipate his movements, accommodating him when his will and yours are in concert, correcting him when they are not. It is an endless exercise in tuning, tweaking and twiddling.

The basic physics of this activity can seem mind-boggling. Newtown’s first law says that “A body continues in its state of rest, or in uniform motion in a straight line, unless acted upon by a force.”  That’s fine. When my dogs are sleeping, snoring above the television volume, they’re not likely to move. They may sometimes whine softly and pantomime a running motion in their dreams, but their center of gravity remains anchored. However, when my dogs are moving, a straight line is rarely achieved unless the destination is the dinner bowl.

When a dog in motion meets an immovable object, he has choices. He can go left or right. He can stop. He can back up. He can jump ahead of you, he can slip behind you. Simply walking around your neighborhood presents encounters with any number of such objects. There are mailboxes and telephone poles, streetlights and street signs. There may be parked cars. On special days there may be trash cans. The pooch may want to sniff his way completely around an obstacle in order to ascertain who has been there before him. He may even want to circle it a few times to find the ideal equilibrium from which to water it for the benefit of future four-pawed travelers.

If you are walking on woodland trails or in fields, there may be fence posts, trees, stone walls or fallen logs. These impediments have undoubtedly captured the attention of other dogs before yours, and they will have marked them. That cannot be ignored by any dog. It would be impolite. The things that fascinate your puppy may very well be invisible to you. He may be fixated on the scrawniest of the ten thousand scrub pines you’ve passed in the last hour. It is useful to remember that for dogs, the dubious merits of the object itself are unimportant. What is critical is who peed on it last. Modern political theory seems to be crafted on this principle.

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Newton’s second law says that “A body acted upon by a force moves in such a manner that the time rate of change of momentum equals the force.”  When my oldest dog, Andy, wants to check out that scrawny pine bush, he’s going to do it, no matter how much force I apply to prevent him. The time rate of change is how long my rotator cuff will continue to function until I require surgery. Andy calls this move the ”Lightning Bolt.” When two of my dogs find themselves on leashes connected to my fingers, they will quickly switch places, crossing the leases. They will then immediately switch again, crossing the leashes a second time. They call this the “Zig and Zag.” If I have all three on lead, this move becomes the “Maypole.” When they really want to ridicule the vanity of my efforts, one will stop and slide behind me to the other side, forcing me to rapidly wrestle both hands behind my back so I can switch the errant lead into my other hand. This is the “Step Back” and “Wrap Around.” All of these moves begin with an obliging and orderly advance in a straight line, but this is only to lull me into a false sense of security.

Newton’s third law is the important one. “If two bodies exert forces on each other, these forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.” It exquisitely fails to describe the chaos that occurs when you meet other leashed dogs on a walk. Whether these pooches are lifelong chums or new acquaintances, the result is the same. All those leashed to one party will simultaneously seek to examine the odors emanating from the rear ends of the other. I can only believe this is an effort to ascertain which human sets the better dinner bowl. What ensues are moves like the “Over and Under,” the “Snapspin,” and the “Clockwise” and “Counter-clockwise” circles. The net result is an exhausting test of the humans’ abilities to keep the leashes untangled and to avoid wrapping them around all of the legs involved.   

I guess Newton’s dog, Diamond, had the right idea. The physicist was at work in his study one day when he was called to the door to greet a visitor. Diamond was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing this old friend and proceeded to zoom around the room in enthusiastic circles. Diamond upset a candle on the table which held the nearly finished manuscript. The candle consumed the paper completely, curiously, without causing any other damage in the room. It took a year for Sir Isaac to reconstruct his theory. Diamond, of course, was a Pomeranian. Andy has always considered them frivolous. Still, you should not blame any canine for expressing his opinion.

As I said, we have three dogs. They spend very little time on leash.

Peter Lok is retired and devotes much of his time and affection to his Golden Retrievers. He and his wife live in Connecticut with their three current Goldens, Andy, Grant and Tori.