Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra ‘news flashes’!
Sunday December 18th 2016
Isis is off lead in Kings Heath Park, in one of her favourite running spots. Below us, just over the hedge, Nancy and Rufus play with friends on the old bowling green. Isis has played here off lead several times before. She has never attempted to leave the area.
But today she does. She moves off to the left.
T., who is walking little dachshund Rocky on the path just above us, spots Isis and prepares to close in. We watch her closely. She moves over to the fence of the old T.V. Gardens, and begins to walk away at a brisk pace.
I think that she will follow the fence and then stop for a twirl near the first path into Poo Forest. (So named not because it is an unpleasant spot but because Keiko generally refuses to perform anywhere else.)
T. strides over the field to position himself between Isis and a possible route to the road, just in case. I follow Isis. As I expect, after her twirl she follows the path into Poo Forest as we usually do, and stops close to where it turns the corner. Again following her usual procedure, she stops, then turns round and considers her options. Should she retrace her footsteps or continue along the path?
I pop her back on her lead just as T. and Rocky round the opposite corner, ready to head her off if necessary. Nice one, T.
Hairy One and I continue our experiments, this time in Highbury Park. Here, too, she tends to stay within the small area where I release her, only venturing a little way along adjoining paths.
One day this week I release her just before we arrive at the ‘free play’ area with which she is most familiar.
“Will she continue into the area?”
She doesn’t. She finds her way to the hedge beside which we have just walked. Trotting now, she reaches the corner and turns right. I monitor her through the hedge; being white, she shows up very well. I watch her as she leaves the hedge and branches out into the adjacent field area. She is out in the open now, about fifty yards (fifteen metres) ahead of me. I stop and observe. She stops, stands still for a few seconds, then comes to find me.
The following day the same thing happens in another familiar place. She plays here for a while, surrounded on three sides by tall rose bay willow herb plants. After a while, she breaks cover and trots into the open. Again, she stops, waits and returns to me.
This is very interesting. It seems as if she is less sure of herself in open spaces. Polymath suggests this may because there are no sniffable landmarks, no defined paths to follow. Sounds reasonable.
Next day and the day after, I release her at different points along the opened up woodland paths, well away from the road. On the first day I let her walk across the wooden bridge on her own. I am not far in front of her, but not close enough for her to touch me. I watch her, fascinated, as she ventures, very tentatively onto the bridge. When on her lead, she walks confidently beside me. But not now. She doesn’t proceed in a straight line, but crosses from side to side, checking out the railings as she goes.
Hmmmm. But how does she know that she needs to be careful? Can she sense that she could fall off the bridge through the railings?
(Before you decide I’m an unfit dog guardian, please note the worst outcome is a short drop into a shallow, stinky bog pool.)
When she has crossed the bridge, I leave her off the lead and watch to see what she will do. She trots up a narrow, sloping path and tries to turn left. But a little holly bush blocks her way. She stands absolutely still and waits until I reach her. When I place my hand on her back she wags her tail. I do the light tap-tap under her the chin which signals ‘follow me’. She walks on again. Then she clambours up a steeper stretch, and scrabbles her way under a dense little shrub. Now she is completely enclosed by thick undergrowth, bushes and saplings. When she realises she is surrounded, she sits down abruptly. I wait a few minutes but she doesn’t move. Again I go to fetch her and her tail wags vigorously when she feels my hand on her back. This time, I have to part holly branches to make a space through which she can escape.
The following day is Saturday. It’s quite warm with a low mist, damp and claggy under foot and the air is full of tantalising smells.
I set her free on the woodland path again. She loves climbing, and scrambles nimbly over boulders and up a steep incline. I follow, but with much less agility. She keeps me on my toes as she zig-zags down the other side of the mound towards the stinky bog pool. I shoot after her and point her in a more salubrious direction. I realise that nowadays she is far more likely than she used to be to accept my interventions. She doesn’t seem to assume automatically that I’m attacking her canine rights. And she doesn’t automatically respond with a growl.
On the way back, she selects the woodland paths again, and after we have passed the boggy parts, I release her. She trots back up onto the mound. But when she reaches the incline up which she scrambled so confidently earlier, she stops at the edge and waits for me to lead her down.
Then we walk back to the Community Orchard, Isis walking off lead beside me. I’m delighted, of course.
I am very, very proud of her.
Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk