By Michelle Underwood
*This post is a selected entry from the Pet Professional Guild Writers’ Competition for Geek Week 2020*
Observing dogs, particularly my own, is one of my favorite pastimes. I love how we can try and understand their world, but we sometimes have no idea what they are really experiencing.
Dogs have such individual personalities and sometimes I don’t get hung upon the what and the why too much, I just enjoy their characters’ and the things they do for who they are.
To me, being in the forest with the dogs off leash is as free as we all can be in that moment. We get lost in nature, the smells, sounds, sights, we enjoy the earth for what it is and how it is. We live for that moment.
Being at one with your dog and nature is something no amount of studying can teach you. Every single person has their own unique meaningful experience which is why it is so special. There is no manual on how to enjoy nature and each dog and person will enjoy the parts of it that they want.
My dogs teach me every day to just be, get lost in time, in that moment. Sometimes there is no need to dissect each movement and action. Sometimes I don’t think too much about the intricacies, I save that for another time.
When we are together and enjoying one another’s company, we are free. It is a time to be who you are, to be at peace with yourself and your surroundings to enjoy every moment. Time is precious, we all know this, so losing yourself in the moment with your dogs for however long you have is wonderful, connective and magical. It is something I never take for granted and try and hold on to every piece of every memory.
Being at one with your dog in nature is something you have to feel, it cannot be taught as it is about getting lost in time, connecting and just being. The reason it cannot be taught is because it is unique to you and your dog, but that is what makes it all the more special.
Lost in Nature
Today my walk with the dogs was to wonder around the forest and get lost in nature. We had no planned route, we just walked and hoped we would do a sort of loop on ourselves.
I love watching the dogs in nature, they drift from smell to smell. Some smells get more attention than others, some get more intense sniffing, some even a pee on them. I would love to know why!
I know dogs can filter familiar smells, so which ones catch their sense and why? At the moment, we are in a mountainous region in Poland, so do they know we are in Poland? Does it smell different to the UK? Can they sense different animals, bears, wolves, lynx, foxes?
I ponder as I watch them. I love to watch that they watch each other too, for if one has a super interesting smell and is giving it special attention than the normal required appropriate amount – this is determined between themselves I assume – then they all rush in to find out what the other one is smelling. If they can’t quite get a proper smell, they nudge each other’s nose out of the way, and snuffle their nose right in.
Letting the Dogs Choose
I start on a sort of pathway that has been man made into the forest, but I soon become lost in a crisscross of paths, some animal tracks, some human trodden paths. All the dogs stop at the crossroads of paths and look back, which one will I walk on, I let them choose. Normally, they take the most trodden path.
We walk deeper into the forest and the greenery becomes more intense. As we delve deeper into the forest and further away from civilization, the atmosphere also becomes more intense through the silence. It accentuates any small movement or noise. The pace of the dogs slows and ground to a stop. They each raise a paw.
My immediate thought is what? What is it? They freeze and no-one moves. I stop. I try and scan and search the area before them and as quick as I can in case it is a deer, a squirrel or something. I am not sure why we do this as their senses are so much more acute than ours but we think we have some sort of superpower and more eagle eyes than them and we will see it first, whatever it is.
Even though I know they are more in tune, still I look, then all our heads snap back as we hear the leaves rustle. “Oh, Sorry guys, only me”(said in your best surfer dude dog voice, we all do voices for our dogs!).
Buddy, my poodle cross, has accidentally rustled the leaves as he lost interest in the stalk. We turn back and wait for a moment longer, but whatever it was now doesn’t peak the dog’s interest and we walk on.
Buddy tries to diffuse the situation of the ‘rustle’, as I can see the other dogs are not impressed by his interruption, so like the younger brother does in a time of need, he tries a bit of woodland parkour, as you do, and attempts a run up the bank. Oh no, too steep, erm…. he tries to style it out and runs back down. The others look at him as if he is a forest novice.
I pause as I think I notice something, we all then pause and the dogs gravitate themselves towards me and gather in to see where I am looking, and what have I noticed. My movement onwards signals to the dogs there is nothing to see here and the journey continues.
Throughout our adventure walk I love to observe my three dogs. They are all so different and enjoy different things. Buddy loves to find dead small animals and roll in them. He doesn’t roll in fox poop, but dead animals? He loves them! He scamps about being the loveable boy that he is, sometimes running up to you and as he reaches you, he jumps through the air, like he is jumping through a hoop and does an imaginary air grab. What is that all about?!
Lucy likes to roll on things, a stone, a stick or anything will do. She believes once doing this ritual, the object now belongs to her. Well, this is my guess in any case! She will eat soil in the forest too when she needs to. She digs to find better soil if necessary. She is in tune with the outdoors and can source out water from anywhere.
She plods nowadays and doesn’t exert herself as much as she did in her youth as she is 10 years old now. She will, at times, have a mad five minutes, but only if she finds an animal trail worth investing in. She gets her helicopter tail on and she is off, but even then, nowadays she leaves it to the youngest, Oppo.
Oppo is the ultimate stalker; he stays focused on the task if there is one. If not, he struts, stopping to sniff the air every now and again, just in case there is a task, and if there is, he is your man! He is the zoomer. He will sprint in and out of the trees at a supersonic speed, but his accuracy of every paw placement is on point and it is amazing how acute they are when running with so many obstacles. I fall over on a flat pavement!
As we walk, the dogs take it in turns to who takes the point and leads us along the track. Buddy has taken lead at this point in our walk, he stops dead.
Everyone looks in to take note.
He does these false alerts a lot!
The other two determine to him if it is significant by either stopping too or just carrying on past him to show him to continue. We wander and ponder through the forest, the trees sway in the breeze and cover us with their big leaves providing a light relief from the sun. A ray of sunshine makes it through and hits one of the leaves, lighting it up so it is greener than the rest of its surrounding leaves.
Where are we going? We don’t know, the dogs don’t care. It’s mad how each day we walk, they never know where we are going but they love and live for the next adventure together.
About the Author
Michelle Underwood has been a dog trainer for about seven years now. She started out as a puppy school tutor under the direction of internationally renowned dog trainer and behaviorist, Gwen Bailey. She is also a qualified and certified instructor for dog yoga and trick training under Jo-Rosie Haffenden. In 2018, she was appointed the head coach for The Dogs Trust Dog School in Devon, England. She left this position in February 2020 to take a career break and follow a lifelong dream, to go travelling around Europe with her three dogs, which is where she currently is. She wanted to spend more time with her dogs, especially as her eldest is getting on. She is using the time to study further and endeavors to return to working with dogs in the future.