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A Walk With My 8-Year-Old Niece

In my mental fog last week, I forgot to mention that Lilly went for a loose leash walk with my niece. We only went a few blocks from her home to her school and back, but it was very funny, and Lilly did a great job.

Backstory
First, I should explain that my niece (my sister’s only child) is dying for a dog. She adopted 2 kitties from a local rescue when she was like 3 years old. They typically do NOT adopt out to families with such young kids, but my niece answered all their cat care questions and explained how she understood the responsibilities, etc, and they OK’d the adoption. Mellow (the boy kitty) and Miss Kitty (the girl kitty) are excellent cats.

BUT, my niece still wants a dog. We cannot tell if she really needs one the way I do, or if she just wants what her friends have now that several of them got new puppies over the summer.

While driving I was her home from dance class (a few weeks before my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer), my niece decided to draft a contract, where she would promise to take extra special care of her cats for 4 months as proof she was responsible enough for a dog. She even built in consequences for non-compliance, including being docked 2 weeks worth of allowance and having the 4 months begin again, if she ever forgot to do something. She also offered to pay 40% of the dog adoption fee. Her initial thought was to pay 40% of all dog expenses, but then I showed her this online article on the true cost of dog ownership, and she went a different route. :o)

Bless her heart, we typed up her contract, and she presented it to my sister. It never got signed because her parents nixed the idea of a dog outright. I suspected this would be the case, but since my niece clearly sees me as an ally in the dog thing, I didn’t want to squash her hopes. Considering the challenges the family now faces, it’s probably a good thing they did not get a puppy.

BUT still, she cried and cried.

To both ease her heartbreak and to give her a more realistic picture of what living with a dog means, I’ve offered to bring Lilly over for visits and walks and such. If she wants to spend the night here, I’ll probably even have her scoop a little poop, help with feeding, etc.

The Walk
So, the Saturday before my sister’s surgery, the three of us went for a walk. I let my niece hold the leash, except once when we passed another dog. They walked on the sidewalk, and I walked in the gutter next to them. I had treats and praised Lilly, while my niece worked the leash. It was very sweet. Lilly did not pull or act wild or scared. She just walked nicely on a loose leash. For good measure, Lilly wore her Gentle Leader.

Lilly even did well when dogs behind wood privacy fences barked at her. I guess it’s easier when she cannot see them.

At each corner I asked Lilly to WAIT, then SIT. Once I’d looked both ways, I released her to move on (OK and LET’S GO).

Well, you guys know as well as I do that Lilly mirrors my body and sight line, but my niece honestly thought that when I looked both ways and Lilly moved her head back and forth too that Lilly was looking for cars before crossing. So, I had to explain that while Lilly is indeed very smart, she probably isn’t capable right now of knowing if it’s safe to cross or not.

The Car
The only time Lilly seemed scared of my niece was when I left her in the car in her crate while I ran inside the house with my sis for a second. I guess my niece went to talk to Lilly through the open hatchback, and Lilly growled at her.

It’s understandable really since Lilly is NOT used to that scenario. Strange place. Kid. Etc.

So, next time we go over, I’ll have to have counter-condition that setup so that my niece can approach the car, climb in, talk to Lilly, etc, without it freaking her out.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.