Walking with a pack of dogs can be a path to self-discovery. I don’t think I am overwhelmed when I speculate that if we move safely and gracefully together on an ancient path in the deep forests, something primitive will set in for both me and my dogs. The feeling is overwhelming and difficult to describe, and may not be accurate, but has something to do with movement and position relative to one another. A sense of wellbeing overcomes me and my little legion, the kind of satisfaction that comes with being in one place and time without the desire to be in another because everything is as it should be. After many such trips, I firmly believe that prehistoric hominids first made friends with wolves, not near villages where some say they were attracted by heaps of rubbish, but on the great hunting roads where we learned from each other – we have more of them I guess – long before humans became sedentary and wolves became dogs.
Free running is of course not just fun and games. The wilderness is not an amusement park. I’ve never lost a dog in the city or in the country, but some of my clients have had loved ones jump for a rabbit or deer never to be seen again. These poor creatures likely starved or froze. Others may have met predators, maybe some old relatives.
I think my spoiled big city canines gained as much self-awareness along the way as I did. Most of the time, they just know what to do in order to run as a pack since they have never been tutored or tutored. Fortunately, from their urban “heel” positions, they naturally fall into a line along a path. Some may never have been to a city park, let alone the open country, and yet they tend to understand that this is not free since they are on a leash in the wild.
Certain dogs, like my own cute Samantha, immediately take the scout position a few feet from the rest of us, while others flank us on either side, off the trail and in the undergrowth. Some follow in the rear not far behind. Fraidy-cat people, scared of their own shadows and better off around town, always whine about the free-roaming canines they encounter on their birding expeditions. They complain to park rangers that we are threatening “the environment”, and to them. If they stopped whining like that for a minute and looked closely, they’d see how tidy my canine community is. For the most part, aside from a tempting smell, my dogs stay straight and narrow and in their positions and they would not harm a fly or a butterfly collector. No commands are required as I suspect my ancestors did not need a spoken language to work with wolves, a trait that was again so overrated when my opposite thumbs were holding a walking stick I picked up along the way.
Sounds like a stretch? Something taught my dogs to take their positions and I assure you it wasn’t me. I admit, it’s possible that walking as a team on city sidewalks helped prepare them for off-leash trips – and it can’t hurt to keep liver treats in my pockets along the way, just in case – but it doesn’t. t explain everything. I’ve hiked every shape, size, color, and combination of greyhound, shepherd, beagle, and mutt to take a position, and if a retriever isn’t irretrievably bred and doesn’t go too fast either in the city or the country, it becomes trusted and free roaming fall exactly in line. Just about any dog can do it.
One of the most rewarding sights in all of my years taking customers’ dogs hiking has been that of a tiny lap dog of the white and fluffy genus, a type you would never expect in a wooded area and who glow on its way to the Self-discovery. The little Shih Tzu named Ryan, styled with a puppy that was trimmed to ward off ridges and keep ticks from hitching a ride, stood up like a soldier for miles, jumping over fallen trees, diving in streams, grabbing steep cliffs and was overjoyed to finally learn what it’s like to be a dog.
Excerpt from Gone Walkabout: Confessions of a New York Dog Walker, © 2019 Michael Brandow; used with permission.