Paperwork: There’s a reason dogs – and humans – tug at their leash

Lonny Cain

Tucker knows the rules.

I pat him on the head and say, “Good boy. You’re a smart dog. You’re the best.”

There is that moment each day when I’m amazed at his obedience. He has given me the signal and we meet at the back door where he goes outside.

I open the door and bend to get the ever present leash – a long line that allows him to roam the yard. Tucker stands and waits for the click of the leash connection. He then saunters into his little kingdom to make his rounds, sniff the air, lay and roll in the grass, and eventually do what needs to be done.

Wherever I am at in the house or whatever I am doing, I stop when I hear his one little “woof” announcing he is ready to come back in the house.

Yes, I see the irony. I jump at his little commands to go outside and get back in. Or when he is ready to eat or needs more water. Or nudges in for a head scratch.

But in the end, I control the leash. Which takes me back to that moment we both stand at that door and he patiently waits to be tethered. He doesn’t seem to hate the leash. But I think I do.

Sometimes I find myself mumbling, “sorry” as I connect him to the line. As I fence in his freedom. It would be easy to think he doesn’t care, but I know better. He knows what a leash is.

I know this because I’ve seen him taste the sort of freedom offered at dog parks. They are fenced in but there are no leashes. In the parking area near a dog park his tale starts pumping and he is up and ready to jump out. He knows. (Perhaps that’s why he tugs at his leash when we walk.)

At the gate he knows. The leash comes off, the gate opens and he runs. And runs. When it’s time to go, he waits for the leash to leave the park. He knows.

The leash is part of his life. And ours. And frankly, there are times it’s irritating. Apparently more irritating to me than him. Tucker’s backyard world includes our patio with scattered furniture and along the side are potted plants. Sometimes that little “woof” I hear is Tucker telling me he is stuck, wrapped around something.

I think it was on one of those ventures to get him untangled that I started thinking about the leash and how it’s part of our lives. He was on the other side of the patio, wrapped around a little fire pit. I could unhook him there and he would bound back to the door to get inside. Yeah, he was free but Tucker knows the rules. But it felt a little sad.

Sometimes the leash is a tangled mess for both of us. I thought about how we are all on leashes of some kind or another. Many of them are designed to keep us out of harm’s way. But how many hold us back from chasing dreams … or squirrels and rabbits in the yard? Dogs. Humans. Whatever. We learn the rules. And follow them most of the time. Actually, every rule is a leash.

But, hey, sometimes the leash should come off and you need to run. Tucker knows that. And it’s something I need to remember, too.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His PaperWork email is Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

Have a Question about this article?