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Barkley Is Running Free... Sort of

by on June 25, 2019 4:45 AM


No, not the football Barkley, but Barkley the dog. For those of you familiar with my column, you know that I periodically give an update about our family dog, the other Barkley. With the dog days of summer just around the corner I felt an update was in order, especially given my last column that described our new stage of life as “almost empty nesters.”

Barkley was introduced in a column in the fall of 2017 when we adopted him from Centre County PAWS. Named for the former Nittany Lion running back and current New York Giants star Saquon Barkley, our young pup managed to run loose like his namesake twice in the first month that we became owners.

I am sure our friends at PAWS were getting a little nervous, particularly after the second episode of Barkley’s vanishing act.

So, we bought him a GPS device for his collar,  sent him off to the Digman Canine Academy and voilà — Barkley’s running away days seemed to be behind him. After he turned 1, we sent him back to the “Dog Whisperer,” owner Claire Digman, for additional training, including having Barkley “off-leash.” The early tests were encouraging as we would leave a 30-foot orange leash on our boy wonder, call to him, “here” and he obediently, if less than enthusiastically, would scoot over to us and sit down as directed. Wow, had we made progress with our former flight risk!

Well we finally reached a point where we decided it was time to give him the litmus test and let him completely off the leash in our backyard. This was a bit of a risk as Barkley is now almost 80 pounds of solid muscle and is still very shy around people. While his bark is definitely bigger than his bite, he remains especially skittish and unpredictable when he sees other dogs and his curiosity sometimes gets the best of him. 

The big moment to let him off the leash was now upon us. It felt like an old Apollo rocket moon launch where we waited for the “go” or “no-go” signal. My daughter, Brianna, positioned herself in one part of our yard 30 feet from where Barkley would emerge, and I moved about 30 feet away from her. My wife, Heidi, was in charge of “releasing the hound” and ready to help corral him if the experiment went sideways. Everyone was ready for anything when we gave the command to let Barkley out of our back patio doors.

So, when the big moment came what did Barkley do? He came out onto the first step and…he just sat there. That’s right, he just sat there staring at us. He didn’t move off the top step and looked frozen in time. Despite numerous commands of “here,” Barkley just sat there and did his best impression of a statue.

Remember, this was the same young puppy who in the fall of 2017, bolted like the wind out of that very same patio door and was lost for 36 hours. The same dog who a few weeks later, when he had the chance, broke free from our son Jon (who is almost 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds of muscle) and was lost in the Musser Gap hiking trails for 6 hours.

We were stunned that he wouldn’t move. We tossed his tennis ball back and forth while calling his name and the “here” command over and over. Nada. Nothing. In fact, he turned his body as though he wanted to go back inside the house. “Where did we go wrong?” we wondered. 

Barkley, unbound. Photo by Joe Battista.

We were disappointed but not defeated. We took him out front and released him from his leash in our driveway and what did he do? He turned around, went back into the garage and stood in front of the doorway into the house. Strike two!

Later in the week I was away at a speaking obligation and upon my return home Brianna came up with a great idea. She brought him out front and as I pulled up to the house, she let him off his leash. Lo and behold, absence made the heart grow fonder, and this time when Barkley spotted me, he bounded over to me with his tail wagging and in a playful mood. No leash. No running away. He walked right beside me and followed me out to the back yard. He was doing just fine until he spotted a neighbor doing yard work and then he immediately went to the patio door to go back inside the house. Oh well, at least progress had been made.

A few days went by and again I was out of town speaking and when I came home this time Brianna had me meet her in the backyard where Barkley was standing at attention on the patio steps. This time he spotted me and immediately sprinted to me and then went tearing around the backyard like the Tasmanian Devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoons. He was overly playful, actually crashing into me several times. The good news was he stayed in our yard and never attempted to run away. Our off-leash training is still an ongoing process, but we are very encouraged with the results.

Another sign that Barkley is slowly overcoming his social anxiety disorder occurred when we hosted our small group Bible Study last week. Normally when a crowd shows up at the house Barkley ends up in his “safe zone” under my desk in my office. But not this time, for some reason. He came right into the middle of the group and even let others pet him without showing much fear.  He laid down right in the middle of the group like he was listening to the discussion.

Barkley turns two years old on Wednesday and we are delighted at the joy he has brought us since we adopted him in the fall of 2017.  He has become a welcome member of the family and a source of affection, comfort, and joy.

With our youngest son, Ryan, off to Penn State for the summer session, Jonathon safely back in Silicon Valley, and Brianna back on the road for work, Barkley is getting a lot of individual attention these days.

He still sits underneath my desk every day and makes sure he is laying up against me. It must give him a sense of security. I should have made him co-author on my book since he was with me most of the time that I was busy writing. He has been a true, loyal friend who hangs with me closely. Now that we have faith that he won’t just dart away from us, an Invisible Fence could be in our future. 

We hope to let him loose off-leash more often. He has definitely earned it!

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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