Walking Nova the golden retriever is either a wild goose chase or a drag

Every walk with Nova is a new adventure and provides me with not only cardio exercise, but also training in patience and sometimes, resistance work.

A golden retriever stands on a gravel road.
Nova, Ann Bailey's golden retriever, is on the look out for birds, squirrels and any other critter in the air or on land, when she goes for walks.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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Walking the dog is a simple undertaking when the former is Ellen’s quiet, sweet golden retriever or her obedient well-trained Rosebud.

Ellen grabs the leash, snaps it to Casey’s or Rosebud’s collar and the two of them walk down the gravel road, bonding while enjoying the outdoors, each deep in their own thoughts.

Then there’s my dog Nova, who shattered my illusions of Casey and Nova representing all golden retrievers. Nova is neither quiet or obedient.

I would argue that she is sweet, but the rest of my family members would dispute that and claim that I only have that perception about Nova because I am her owner.

What they would not argue with is that every walk with Nova is a new adventure and provides me with not only cardio exercise but also training in patience and sometimes, resistance work.


My preference is to let Nova off of the leash so she can run and burn off energy, so when the roads and fields beside them are dry, I show her the treats I am putting in my pocket and head outside, carrying the leash in my hand. For the first 100 yards or so, Nova runs in and out of the tree grove that lines the road, chasing squirrels and rabbits and chewing on fallen trees.

Once we get out of the grove, I walk on the road shoulder, and Nova runs back and forth from one side to the other chasing birds. She was particularly delighted the other day when two geese flew low and circled around her, then led her on a chase through the field.

I watched the three of them, confident that if I yelled “treat” to Nova that she would come back if she started straying too far. However, when I turned my back on her for a nanosecond to head back to the farm, Nova was nowhere in sight and didn’t heed my calls to her.

I kept walking toward home, thinking that she was probably in the ditch in a dip about a quarter mile ahead where I couldn’t see her. However, when I got to that spot, she wasn’t there, so I continued calling her and kept walking toward home, planning to get the car and look for her.

A golden retriever looks out a window.
Even when in the house, Nova watches for birds, using the family room sofa as her lookout point into the backyard where there is a birdfeeder.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

When I reached the tree grove, I called her again, hoping that she might have found a squirrel to chase and was preoccupied. Then I spotted her, in a space between the trees, running full speed toward me from the house steps, where she had been waiting for me.

She bounded up to me, tongue hanging out and overjoyed to see me. Though I had been frustrated with her for chasing the goose and ignoring my commands, I couldn’t be angry because I was as relieved to see her as she was, me.

While that time letting Nova run off of the leash was difficult on my nerves, keeping her on the leash is, without exception, hard on my arms. She only weighs 55 pounds, but is strong, and when she spots a bird and takes off after it, I skid down the gravel road behind her, hanging on with all my might.

Sometimes, when Nova is particularly, shall I say, energetic, I have to hold her leash with two hands, the loop in my right, and my left on the middle of the leash for backup. And, yes, I have tried various training methods to teach her to heel.


Before I had Nova I would have said the problem is her owner, who doesn’t know how to handle dogs and shouldn’t let her get away with her behavior — and they could be right, because I don’t claim to be a professional.

However, I have had pets: horses, dogs and cats, and I worked with cattle throughout my life. From that, I have observed that all of them have unique personalities and that sometimes they are just the way they are, and that’s not because of lack of training.

For the time being, I’ll work with what I’ve got, being firm with Nova and encouraging her to behave on and off the leash. I no longer have illusions about what I thought she would be and the reality of who she is — and I love her anyway.

And I still think that she’s sweet no matter what my family says.

Ann Bailey lives on a farmstead near Larimore, N.D., that has been in her family since 1911. You can reach her at 218-779-8093 or

Related Topics: RURAL LIFEPETS
Opinion by Ann Bailey
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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