Tuesday, November 15, 2011


With the most recent litter of puppies quickly approaching the 24 week mark it's probably a prudent time to remind everyone that Ridgebacks are an independent hunting breed. Although as puppies they might be a little insecure and stick close to you on walks, when they are mature and capable of making bad decisions (such as chasing whatever crosses their path) they will ignore you for the thrill of the hunt. This might take them into the woods and they might get lost for about 10 minutes or so which is enough time for you to imagine about 100 scenarios which result in the worst outcome.

So last Thursday Raimi lost his tags for the third time since we moved here. I'm not sure how or why he does this, chances are it's not deliberate, but the result is the same. He has no identification and worse, he is silent on the move. He had a bear bell, which he also lost but that was some time ago. Leeloo has a bear bell because she is more apt to belt into the woods after some unseen prey and Raimi is more likely to chase her. Since they stay close together chances are where one is, the other is not far away. Esme doesn't need a bell because she always stays very close and Cora is still insecure enough to not venture far. That will change but until then I'll enjoy the illusion that she 'needs' me.

Enter Monday morning. Leeloo was all totted up with tags and bear bell, Raimi was a ninja. We were on the last 5 minutes of the walk which takes us down a path bordered on both sides by large bushes and trees so you can't always see straight down the path. I was just thinking, or rather, talking out loud to myself, about where I was going to get Raimi's 4th replacement name tag and what the town office was going to think of me as I asked for yet another town tag.

Leeloo was about 30 feet ahead of me since she knew we were on the road to the truck when she spotted something cross the path in front of us. I didn't see it because it was beyond a bend in the path but she only moves like that when it's a legitimate animal and not a figment of her imagination. Raimi, who was just in front of me, saw her go, shot up the path and dodged into the bush at an angle to cut off whatever it was Leeloo was chasing. Cora and Esme bounced around in the first twenty feet of bush trying to see where Leeloo and Raimi went but without success.

I started calling Leeloo right away, thinking she would have lost the trail and Raimi would be with her. I could hear her bell jingling so I knew she was still in the immediate vicinity. I put Cora and Esme on lead and kept calling Leeloo who circled a bit but eventually popped out of the bushes and she was then also put on lead. No Raimi.

I called him but there was just silence. Obviously, since he had nothing on his collar. I walked into the bushes a little bit because they cleared just beyond the path and I could see a little further into the area the dogs had run since I was on a bit of a rise. Brown dog in a sea of brown grass, bushes and trees. Marvelous. Cora, Esme and Leeloo bounced around me but didn't make any indication that Raimi was on his way or could be heard approaching. I considered taking them to the truck and coming back to find him but decided to give it some more time before I left him alone in the woods.

The whole time I was calling, "BOY! COME! BOY HERE! RAIMI HERE! RAIMI! COME!" and getting more and more concerned. I mean, how far could he have gotten? In 10 minutes a dog can easily travel several miles and he was out in bush, fields and woods chasing what was probably a deer given how long he'd been gone and how fast he'd have to be travelling.

After a few more minutes I was making up my mind to take the other dogs to the truck when Raimi staggers out of the bushes about 20 feet to my right. I didn't see or hear him prior to that which means he can move very quietly and blends very well indeed.  He was exhausted, panting heavily, and his whole underside was soaked with muddy water. I'll never know how far he travelled but for a dog as fit as he is he'd had to have to run full out for a long time to get into that state of exhaustion in just under 10 minutes. The only thing that can run like that is a deer.  

Fortunately I still have 4 dogs but it easily could have ended another way. Today I bought not one but two bear bells for both Raimi and Cora. Raimi's new name tag is in the mail and I'll be heading to the town office, yet again, to replace his tags. Not walking them off lead isn't really an option because I don't believe a dog like a Ridgeback gets the mental and physical stimulation needed for a healthy, stable temperament without being allowed to run and explore. Jogging on a road or biking is not the same thing and to me, doesn't offer the same kind of experience. Besides, I don't think there is anything much more satisfying  to me than watching my dogs gallop across a field with total abandon ... as long as they come back!

Teach a good recall - and by that I don't mean just to come when called, but also to find you. Raimi and Leeloo look for me with their noses, not their eyes, and if they know to scent me and to trust their noses then they are a long way toward finding me before they even know they're lost. Plus, staying in one spot while calling helps them to zero in on your location, especially if you are in a wooded area since sound can bounce around quite a bit.  It's tempting to go looking for them but they will almost always return to where they last saw you because they often follow their own scent back - I have absolutely seen them do this. A dog's sense of direction outstrips a human's by a very large margin, while we are busy walking in circles looking for them, they are waiting at the truck. Also, super glue your dog's tags to its collar and for doG's sake ... buy a bear bell and tape that velcro! And therein endeth the lesson.

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