If I were to be judged on my skill, as a dog handler, based on my own dogs I would have failed. My boys are wonderfully gregarious, sweet natured and can mingle happily in most situations and environments. They are good with livestock, excellent with other dogs and past the over exuberant greeting are lovely with children and people.
They sit, down, wait and many other useful tricks along with some completely random fun tricks. However they have no reliable recall. Flute can’t be trusted in the outside world without constant supervision and usually a line to which I am attached at all times. This is even before we see any prey. Tips isn’t quite as bad however I have no illusions, his recall is a feeble, unreliable affair.
What this has taught me is ongoing. Not only my weaknesses as a trainer and owner but also what I have to do with energetic hounds who can’t be let off at will. The fact they are a challenging breed is only a part of it and not the whole.
I have learnt more with these two wonderfully, funny challenging dogs than most of my dog walking clients dogs put together. They teach me humility, how to manage a dog’s needs whilst being tied ( literally) to a restriction in freedom and a closeness. This closeness has made me think more laterally and required me to satisfy a dog wants and needs.
So whilst running and playing with dogs satisfies many dogs, I take my boys out to rough areas to hunt rodents in long reedy grass. Where dogs may run through woodlands, I head out and find new places with new smells and hide or throw roast venison or beef for them to find. We head out on the bike, letting them match my speed fast then slow using their energy up and tiring them out mentally matching me on the bike. We go out with the horses, both a little scary and exciting to be able to move at a more natural faster pace than I can do on my own two feet.
Not for me are walks around the park. I have to think of new ways to fulfil their needs and wants whilst not decimating the local wildlife. This ends up invigorating me as much as my boys. Seeing the world afresh, spotting the prey whilst out before they do then sharing it with them if only visually and via scentavision. I now look closely to the changes in their behaviour and try to spot what they ‘see’ when they are using those phenomenal noses or ears. They now look to me as much to spot things that excite and frustrate them ( in equal measure)before moving off to the next and the next. No mobile phone texts or conversations for me whilst out walking.
So whilst I work on our reliable recall ( and always have), though I have failed one of the fundamental needs in our modern dog ownership, I will revel in the world I have been forced into. The exciting, infuriating world of smells, sights and sounds. Following hounds rather than walking the dogs.