Albie got out yesterday. He actually got out twice. The first time, a visiting friend let him out the front door by accident by holding it open for too long. The second, he ran out the back door while it was open so that a chair could be brought inside. The doors aren’t really important. The reasons don’t really matter. Albie is always trying to get out. And we are always so scared that he will.
We got him back both times. I should add that. The first time, he never even left the front gate. After a few failed attempts (using a sweet, playful voice; using a stern voice; telling him to sit; telling him to lay) he laid down and let me grab his collar. Let’s be real: these were his terms. My friend said, “he’s the alpha”. I said, “what can I tell you?” What would Caesar Milan say? Am I am bad dog owner? Is he a bad dog? Maybe a bit of both, but we sure do love each other. The second time, he got out the back door, which is way more open terrain. My husband managed to lure him through the side gate into the front by throwing his favorite toy. Then we both rushed to shut the side gate door and Albie was back to the front gated area until he straight up jumped it. Albie can leap a 3.5 foot picket fence in a single bound. Superdog. He ran through the street and eventually, as usually happens, stopped to poo, allowing my husband to grab his collar, and then acquiesced to coming back in with the promise of a treat. Whose fault is this? Is it his? Is it ours?
We don’t let him out without the tie-out because he CAN jump the fence. We are scared to run him across the park, which is literally across the street, because he doesn’t come when called consistently, nor does he sit. We have trained him 3 times, at 3 different places. He is not an obedience school graduate. I certainly am not trying to compare my dog to children, or children to my dog, but as a teacher I am well aware that some things are genuinely harder for some kids. Hell, as a parent I know that there are some things my son cannot master that his friends can. At his age, I would walk a mile home to let myself in after school. I would heat up some food and watch General Hospital and do my homework. He can’t walk anywhere alone. Not only because I would be scared of what would happen, but because he can barely get from the bedroom to the basement without direction. He doesn’t remember to do things until told 5 times. He is flighty, unfocused in ways that I wasn’t. He is an immature 11, and he turns 12 on Sunday. But still we always blame the owner, like the parent. When does the nature kick in over nurture? At what point do I end and the creatures I care for begin?
My dog is bad. There: I’ve said it. I said it before. It was in fact the subject of my first blog here. My kid is good. I’ll tell you that right now too. He is bright, articulate, creative, and polite. People often comment on his manners. They say, how nice that he asks for things with a please! He always says thank you. Other teachers in the district (I work in the high school, he attends middle school) have mentioned that even though he clearly doesn’t know them, when they say hello he always greets them in return. He’s a nice kid. He is a smart, un-athletic kid. I mention that only because he and I joke about his “brudda”. If Al were a boy, we say, he’d totally be a dumb-jock stereotype. We laugh about how Al would love to talk about sports and he would be so popular. Al is the dogification of Joey Russo from Blossom (Whoa!). My boys are nothing alike, but again, they sure do love each other. Al likes to go on hikes with me. The kid likes to craft and hit the library. I like doing all of those things, so I’m pretty lucky to have them both. And I raised them both. So are the flaws in them my fault? I can be too overprotective with both, but they belong to me. I am protective. I am supposed to protect them. That’s my job.
But how do I let either of them mature when it’s so hard to trust that they will make the right choices? Albie can’t be trusted outside, but he knows that I think that, so what reason does he have for being trustworthy? Maybe you think that’s too complex thinking for a dog, but I think there is some truth there. I think that he won’t come back if off-leash and he proves me right time and again. However, each time he gets out off-leash feels like such a treat to him. He has freedom he can’t imagine. If I never let my son do things, like walk to a friend’s house alone, or stay by himself, or walk around the mall and meet me at the front, he will never get more independent. They will never learn responsibility if I never let them have any. But how can I let them fail if I’m scared that they will get hurt? What if Albie runs into the street and gets hit by a car? What if he never comes back? What if a predator talks to my child? What if I give him his money to hold onto and he loses it? Where is the line between good care and too much care? How do I learn to trust my boys when they don’t always act in trustworthy ways? How do I learn to trust myself and the choices I made up to this point so that I can believe that they are going to be fine? I don’t really have a profound way to end this because I don’t really have the answer. Does anyone? Do you?
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