Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chasing Tails

Ajax’s very first woods walk was today, and he took to it like a spirit coming home. Watching Ajax chase Comet down the trail, either in pursuit of Comet’s stick or just for the plain fun of it, I was reminded of the way Comet chased Gus. I felt as strongly as ever the sense of an unbroken circle of joy and adventure, passed from dog to dog in the chasing of the tail ahead.

We also noticed how much the arrival of Ajax has affected Comet. He has loved tearing through the woods these last few months, but having a friend to share it with again has put just a little more lift into his steps, a little more roll in his gait, and just a little more speed into his sprints. Funny though, he never goes quite fast enough to totally lose Ajax. Where would the fun be in that?

The woods walk is one of the secrets to our dogs’ 100% reliability in coming back to us. Learned from Jill, my friend and mentor, this technique involves capturing the retriever’s natural willingness to come back and play and then rewarding him with a delicious treat and lots of praise.

Pretty soon he starts to figure out that “come” is a really fun game with a party at the end. Fun enough to get all four feet in the air at the same time.

Of course, the woods aren’t all about the room to run and chase. As devotees (let me flatter myself for a second) of Puppy Tao will recognize, smelling every possible bit of the woods is a crucial part of enjoying your time away from home.

A fragment of a pine branch must tell a whole story to a dog’s nose. Their sense of smell isn’t just more sensitive than ours; it can precisely distinguish individual smells from a complex mix. Ajax must be reading about the travels of deer and porcupines, millipedes and hikers, about growth, decay, and everything in between.

Ajax did a great job learning to come back to us, even as he was practically overwhelmed with the surfeit of rich experience surrounding him. Even though we got him when he was a bit older than when we got Comet or Gus, I think we’ll still be able to get to that truly reliable level of focus and cooperation that allows us to take dogs so many places without fear that they’ll run off or become otherwise unmanageable.

Let the capturing of fun puppy expressions begin. This one is particularly nice because you can see that his grown up fur is coming in on his face, but the top of his head is still fluffy puppy fur.

At the end of a hike, even a short, puppy-friendly one, it’s a nice time for some water and some very nice sharing by the boys.

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