No, this isn’t a commentary on the University of Georgia’s offensive strategy for the upcoming football season. It’s about the four-footed kind, those rambunctious critters that inhabit so many of our houses and some of our hearts.

With the pleasant early morning hours and few school days, I’ve spent more time walking the dog than usual lately, and I can’t help but notice the varying philosophies of other dog-walkers we meet. One neighbor, for example, has a huge black lab who’s less than a year old but must weigh 60 pounds. His owner spends hours each day training the dog, reading books about dog training, and watching DVD episodes of Cesar Millan’s “The Dog Whisperer.”  He keeps the dog on a very short leash, and walks slowly. When he sees Banjo and me coming, he makes the dog sit and wait until we pass, lest the pooch get excited. The dog doesn’t get to run except for short lopes when his owner runs with him, and he never gets to follow his nose, which seems a crime against nature.

I’m sure he’s going about it more correctly than I am, at least from a dog trainer’s point of view. I’ve heard the mantra that “a well-trained dog is a happy dog.” Maybe it’s because I’m a reluctant dog owner to begin with, or that there’s a limited amount of time I’m willing to devote to a mutt, but I worry that some folks want to train all the dog out of their canine companions.

For good or ill, I let Banjo run as much as our long retractable leash will reach. He sprints left and right, he lags behind and then bursts ahead, he tears out after rabbits and squirrels. His 26 pounds are barely an eighth of my 192, but they’re pure muscle, and sometimes it’s all I can do to hold him back when a dry leaf blows by.

Dogs, at least when they’re young, want to run. They want to explore. They want to check out the other dogs’ scent-laced calling cards and leave their own. I don’t have the heart to take that away from our dog. If we lived somewhere other than a subdivision that has strict rules about keeping dogs on a leash or inside a fence, I’d let him run free, confident that he’d tire himself out and then come back home.

Dogs want to be what they were made to be, what it is in their nature to be.

People do, too.

Sometimes we get the idea that God wants to keep us on a short leash of legalism, but the biblical story shows that God doesn’t want to use a leash at all. God grants us all the freedom we could ask for, hoping we will live out that freedom in responsible, caring, and joyful ways, always mindful of where our spiritual home is to be found.

So let us run.

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