As most of you know, my labby Siddhartha could never be considered outdoorsy. In fact, I discovered soon after I got him that he was terrified by water and preferred pavement under his paws to dirt, mud, and open trails. After five years, I’ve grown a bit restless and I think he has too.

Over the past year, we’ve been working towards total off-leash capabilities. When I first got him five years ago, he took off on me twice and both times I was terrified he would not come back. The training this past year was a bit hard on me—I guess it was I who needed some of the training—to learn to let go, quit being such a nervous nelly and let him BE.

It started with off-leash play time at the dog park. Then, night play sessions at the park. A few weeks ago, I took him to Tilden (a park in the east bay) and we hiked nearly approximately 5 miles around the park. We went to lake Anza (seen in pictures below) and while he waded a bit, he didn’t really seem all that enthused. However, the first Tilden trip marked a milestone— not only the farthest he’d ever walked off-pavement and also the longest time ever off leash.

Friday, I took him back to Tilden and as soon as I made the turn into the windy road leading to Inspiration Point, he whimpered. I wasn’t sure if it was a good whimper or one of apprehension. I drove on. We got out and he immediately perked up. Down the trail, I kept walking when he’d stop and sniff at everything. A few times, he was greater than 100 feet away. I’d whistle for him and smile when I heard his tags jingling as he ran to catch up.

The most amazing part to our Tilden trip on Friday— he RAN for the WATER. He went in to snag a drink, then, waded in a bit more. Then, inexplicably, he ran out of the water and zoomed up and down the trail. At first I was worried, I called his name—he came back immediately, then took off running again. Back and forth, he zoomed along a narrow rock ledge. Then, without warning, he lept off the ledge and into the water. He splashed about and climbed up the bank.

Drinking water at 1/2 way point of our hike. Lake Anza. Tilden Regional Park.

Wading in, going for a stick

Wow. What’s happening to my dog? At six years old, has he decided to become an outdoorsy water dog? Let’s hope so.  Last night, I took Siddhartha for a night hike in the Berkeley hills with a friend and his two dogs. I was nervous and did my best to hide this from my friend. I couldn’t see very well (pretty bad night blindness) and I simply had to give myself over to the situation—that my friend wouldn’t let me walk off a cliff and that my little black beast would  come back. A few times, I was nervous—he didn’t come immediately. But he did come and he didn’t run off.

What, Mama? This is my favorite picture— totally wet dog taking a breather.

More importantly, by the end of the night, I was so relaxed and enjoying the cool night air, the conversation, the silences, the stars, I began to forget about Siddhartha being off leash. I didn’t know how to express this to my friend, so I said nothing. He doesn’t know Siddhartha and I that well. He had no idea the significance of last night’s hike. But I do and I am still smiling about it.  

In so many ways last night, I felt as though I was back in college— spending time with a friend, walking, talking, our dogs coming and going around our legs. The stress of adult life was not present, the worry about relationships and what everything means, that too disappeared. And I was happy.

More importantly, Siddhartha is happy. He seems to enjoy this new love of the outdoors and so far, there have been no signs that he’s at all physically bothered by our long hikes. Well, for the most part. On friday, I chose to attempt to run up Tilden’s Curran trail which is pretty steep uphill. I made it about 1/3 to 1/2 way before collapsing on a bench, sweating, panting. It felt good to have all my muscles screaming at me—lungs included. And then I waited a full two or three minutes for Siddhartha to appear. I was about to head back down the path to find him when he appeared—tongue hanging out of his mouth, panting, and clearly NOT amused with my uphill jaunt.

We’re going to continue our every other Friday long hike (and more on the weekends!!) and I’m building a list of places to go explore with Siddhartha. It’s been great bonding time for us.


View from Inspiration Point towards San Pablo Reservoir.