Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Watcher in the Woods

After New York I was exhausted and then, as often happens with travel, I came down sick with something caught from a foreign land. It remained in my throat for several days and I was patiently waiting for it to resolve into a cold. After a few days I got to thinking that perhaps this was not a cold, the sides of my neck were stiff and sore and this persistent throat ache felt more like an infection than the common cold. As it happens I was battling strep throat without realizing it. Since I'm stubborn and obviously not dying, able to function and love to complain, I have been kicking this infection using the old school method. This is against the advice of two nurse friends who are probably exasperated with me to no end.  What it also means, obviously, is that I have not been much inclined to type out the daily dose of Ridgeback Heaven.

Today though I felt I owed it to the dogs to describe their impressive tracking and air scenting skills. The snow is ass deep in a lot of places which means that where we walk, if the snowmobilers haven't been through, is a bit of a slog. Fortunately yesterday some kindly 'biler's roared around our usual walking paths and mashed down the snow so it was easy to walk on.

The sun was finally out after days of seclusion, there was no wind and it was not, for once, actively snowing. We meandered along until we came to a large curve which took the path out of sight. Raimi was about 20 feet ahead of me and Leeloo was off with Esme snuffling in the snow, digging holes and generally having a grand time. Raimi caught my eye when his head perked up, the wrinkle cloud gathered and he started that low, unsure of what he was seeing/smelling wag. He was walking slowly forward and when I spoke to him he glanced back quickly but then carried on gazing into the distance trying to see around the bend. I looked up but couldn't see anything - no movement, no sound other than the jingle of Leeloo's bell.

The wind was drifting gently toward us from that direction so I know he smelled something close enough to send its scent to his hound dog nose. Leeloo was oblivious as was Esme, they were too busy in their own little world. He seemed concerned that I be close to him so he circled back to me as we rounded the bend but there was nothing to see to cause concern.

Further along the path I saw tracks in the snow which crossed the path we were on, some of the tracks had blood sprinkled around them although I don't think the blood was from the animal that made the track, I think it was probably from something the animal was carrying. At this point Leeloo finally realized there were tracks that smelled incredibly interesting. She followed one set for about 20 feet and then lost interest when they got into deeper snow. Esme was hot on her heels, jamming her face into each track to get a good sniff.

Raimi still stuck quite close to me and made sure I was never more than about 10 feet away. What was interesting is that there were a set of tracks that emerged from the woods and set out straight across an open field but after about 30 feet they circled back. Where they circled back is exactly where Raimi would have been able to catch the scent from around the corner. Whatever it was must have heard us coming and changed its mind about being exposed on the field in case we saw it - I am extremely grateful for this sound logic on the part of the animal.

All the tracks were very fresh and the most interesting thing about them was how tidy they were. When the dogs move through the snow they smash and mash it down, kick it up and stomp all about. These tracks were clean, clear and only broke the surface of the snow, no dragging through to leave any more scent than necessary. Also, there were only two footfalls made meaning that the hind foot always cleanly fell into the track of the front foot.

Leeloo, once discovering these tracks, spent the bulk of the time sticking her face into every hole, then moving to the next one thereby following the trail. After a while the dogs just started criss crossing the field looking for more tracks. Raimi discovered a trail that went straight down a snowmobile path(so we are not the only ones taking advantage of them) and he raced down that path until the trail made a 90 degree turn and he hit the brakes and followed those tracks toward another path we use quite regularly.

I decided to just go with the flow and while everyone was happily sharpening their nose-following skills, I was wading through knee deep snow to get to the packed down path. Whatever it was that they dogs were following was now long gone (and probably enjoying a lovely pheasant or rabbit breakfast) but they had a marvelous time and I quite enjoyed watching them eagerly move from track to track and using the doG given skills they were born with.

As ever the danger in walking the dogs in a relative wilderness is that we are not the only ones there. Leeloo's bell is a good warning to anything within hearing distance that we are coming, but it is no guarantee that whatever is out there is going to move out of our way. Constant vigilance on my part is the primary reason we are rarely caught off guard - and I don't mean watching the woods, I mean watching the dogs. The first sign you will ever likely have that there is 'something in the woods' is watching your dog's body language. Knowing how to read your dog is the first, and usually last, line of defence against having them disappear after a deer, coyote, rabbit or squirrel. They are experts at catching scents, following trails and seeing movement within the woods - you need to become an expert on knowing when they have spotted something worth a chase.

1 comment:

Zola the Rhodesian Ridgeback Girl said...

I agree - humans need to watch us. They just don't get it! My human knows something is going to happen if I stand still (bolt upright) head in the air waving my nose around quickly..with that look!! Ready for action...! Thank you for your post
RR Zola