Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chasing Liberty

I'd say at least half the dog poop in the backyard is now cleaned up - fortunately I started it this morning before the sideways rain began at about 10:30am and continued unabated for at least 2 hours. Now that the yard is a swamp mixture of dog poop, mud and grass I think I'll be taking the dogs in and out of the house through the front door for a few days.

The rain delay moved our walk to about 1:30pm and had to tell Leeloo to hold her horses in between grumbling whines and demands to go out NOW. That is, until I opened the door and showed her the downpour we'd be walking in if I complied with her requests. 

As often happens here the sun came out, the wind dropped, and the day was now inviting a nice walk in the woods - wet and muddy were certainies but in most respects it promised to be a welcome adventure. Adventure is right ... welcome ... not so much.

The walk started out just fine, we were enjoying being able to squelch along on the ground instead of snow. We kept to the fields and meandered along the exposed grass and occasionally waded through ankle deep run off as we did a large loop. I had just decided that we'd head back to the regular path to the truck when Leeloo, who was about 50 feet to my left caught the scent of something.

From her body language I could tell it was an Important Something but figured it was a squirrel in one of the trees to the south of us. Raimi was ahead of me to my right and he hadn't picked up on Leeloo's alert. He did a large circle and then spotted Leeloo intent on her hunt. Being a follower he beelined toward her and then also caught the same scent. Leeloo stopped for a moment or two and contemplated the winds. This is what I like to refer to the Golden Moment - that moment in which disaster hasn't struck and your life hasn't suddenly been thrust into the vise of uncertainty.

Suddenly both dogs were off, headed south toward the town. I yelled for them to come back but knew, as soon as I saw what they were after, it was a lost cause. Through the bushes and trees flashes of white and brown bodies were moving very rapidly to the east. An entire herd of white tailed deer - at least 9 or 10 of them - were streaking away with the dogs no more than 30 feet behind. Since we were downwind the dogs were practically on top of the deer before they bolted thus giving the dogs ample time to not only scent them but to actually see them and give chase.

I yelled one more time and then decided to save my breath for slogging through slush and snow. I knew from past experience that chances were good the deer would lose the dogs in the heavy brush at the bottom of the hill, territory the dogs are unfamiliar with because we never go down there. Esme bounced along at my side, not knowing where her Ridgebacks were and sticking to me like glue - this was obviously good but I was determined I wouldn't be going home with only 33% of the dogs I left home with!

Esme and I reached to top of the hill the deer had gone down and I stumbled along one of the paths. I listened for a moment and to my surprise I could hear the bear bells on both collars jingling in the woods. If I can hear them they can hear me so I yelled "RAIMI! LEELOO! COME!" and come they did. Not from the direction I expected but they came nonetheless.

They raced up the hill toward me and - if I can anthropomorphise for a moment - they were extremely proud, happy, expecting praise and very self-satisfied. "Did you see that Mommy? Did you see what we did? We chased those deer and they ran. Did you see how fast we ran Mommy? Did you see how I smelled them waaaaaaay before they knew we were coming? Oh yes Mommy, we had a lovely time!" They then turned their attention to the area where the deer had initially been disturbed and insisted on taking a few moments to make sure there were no stragglers.

Not taking any chances I put their leads on and we headed for home. I told them I was very proud of them (for coming back) and very impressed with their hunting ability. I do have to thank the inventor of the bear bell because I believe it gave the deer sufficient warning since without the noise, given the strength of the wind blowing, the dogs could have been almost on top of the deer before they could bolt. This gave them enough of a head start to lose the dogs and ensure they gave up before getting truly lost in the woods.

And so, another important lesson in watching your dog's body language. Leeloo was on those deer at least a 1/4 mile from their actual location. Maybe I could have called her off them, maybe not, but knowing what to watch for is critically important to ensuring you come home with 100% of your dogs. The bells help but they don't stop the chase. Training a fantastic recall for when the excitement is over - also very handy. But the more important lesson: this is a hunting breed that follows its nose and eyes ... if you are not prepared to deal with that trait this is not the dog for you. You can't train it out of them and you can't will them to not do what is in their DNA. Your have alternatives in shock collars (but I'm not really loving that idea) and GPS but the bottom line is ... this is what they do, deal with it or get a different breed.

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