Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hunt the Man Down

I don't often get to see the intensity of the hunting instinct in the Ridgebacks. I am largely amused by the headlong dashes into the woods, the earnest crashing about in the bushes, and the self-satisfied strut after they've put those squirrels in their place.

But today I caught a glimpse of the real working dog buried in Leeloo and Raimi's psyche. There is a squirrel of particular note who lives in a copse of trees that runs parallel to the path and it tends to scold us as we walk. The dogs will never be accused of taking squirrel taunts lying down and both dogs have often beelined toward the noise to have a snort in the undergrowth. They are terminally convinced that one day the squirrel is going to surrender to their wily ways.

Today some noise or other set them off and although I missed the catalyst the result was interesting. Both Leeloo and Raimi shot into the brush, crashed around for a moment or two and then concentrated all their efforts on one tree in particular. I have never seen such intensity in either of them and although I couldn't see the squirrel, and wasn't convinced it was anywhere near the tree, they were absolutely certain.

The tree has two live trunks and one dead trunk sprouting from the centre. Leeloo was concentrating all her efforts on that trunk and I could hear that it was hollow as she dug at it.  She ripped and tore at the bark with nails and teeth and then spent a moment jamming her nose against a crack, sniffing deeply and snorting into the wood. Then she continued scratching, digging and biting at the wood, sometimes jumping up the tree in frustration, and then back to worrying the crack.

Raimi was on the other side of the tree leaping up to the entrance of the hollow, scrambling with his front feet and trying to get close enough to stick his nose in. Never mind that it was abut 4 feet above his head, he was going to try. Then he'd move around to where Leeloo was working the trunk and I realized how serious this 'game' was when he got in her way and she flashed teeth and snarled at him to back off so she could concentrate. She did this a couple times and Raimi, knowing it's best not to mess with bitches, returned to  his side of the tree.

Esme and I stood and watched, me totally unconvinced a squirrel would be hiding in that hollow trunk, Esme baffled at their activity. Imagine my surprise when there was a flash of fur and the squirrel, who had been inside the trunk the whole time, shot out of the hole Raimi was guarding, streaked past his nose, up over the branches of the tree and disappeared. Both dogs saw it go and were off like a shot to retrieve it. They spent several more minutes gazing up into the canopy and it took me some time to call them off so we could continue our walk(plus my feet were getting cold).

The intensity of their hunt, as pitiful a hunt as as it may seem to true hunters, was deadly serious business to them. Had that squirrel been accessible Leeloo would have certainly dispatched it. She comes by her hunting instinct honestly, let's not forget the rabbit her dam Taylor caught on New Year's Day and her half sister Kylie, who lives with Taylor, has been taught to catch and kill gophers. Raimi is useful for tracking down the culprit because he loves to track but once found Leeloo steps in to take care of business.

I'm fortunate to have caught a glimpse of their deepest instinct; it was not play, it was not done in fun, the intent was to catch and kill and although I am thankful I didn't have to rescue a squirrel from Leeloo's jaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The squirrel might disagree with my sentiment ...

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