I vividly remember the episode of Lassie where Ma got herself caught in a leg hold trap far from home. To make matters worse, there was a cougar in the tree right above her. No worries though. Lassie was there to save the day! Ma told Lassie to run home and get the C clamp sitting on the kitchen counter. I guess there were no tools in the pickup truck Ma and Lassie were driving in, but I digress…
Lassie, being a ‘typical’ dog, on Ma’s command, ran over hill and dale, following the magnet in her nose to get home, and using her superior canine intelligence, grabbed the required C clamp then returned to Ma, running over the previously traversed hill and dale.
After Lassie gently handed her the C clamp, Ma freed herself from the trap. She (Ma that is) then proceeded to grab the shotgun out of the truck and shoot the cougar, the same cougar who made no move to attack the entire time Ma was helplessly caught in the trap. For the record, that scene has haunted me since I was a little girl. Again I digress…
While I think we can all agree Lassie understanding what a C clamp is is a stretch, her ability to get from Point A to Point B and back again, well, all dogs can do that, right? Or so the myth goes…
I can not tell you how many times I and the group have traveled, for example, a north/south trail and turned west, only to notice Willy was not with us. We would be no more than 10 feet from the actual intersection, though I will grant you, often there are trees bordering the trails. Here’s how it usually plays out:
I call Willy. Within seconds, he will blast by, traveling perpendicular to us on the trail we just left. So I call again, only to have Willy rush back through the intersection, continuing on in the direction he just came from. By this time, I and the other kids will have taken a seat as I call yet a 3rd time. With blinding speed, Willy will retrace his steps back to the intersection, only to then take the turn on the trail OPPOSITE the one we are all, by then some laying down, on. No worries, there is only one more possible direction Willy can take, and that final direction is where I and the group, some napping by this point, are waiting when he finds us.
I know what you’re thinking: “Crazy Lady, why don’t you just stand in the middle of the trail and flag Willy down when he blasts through?” To that my response is, “Let me have my fun!” It’s been more than a year after all and Willy STILL can’t figure it out. Trust me when I tell you, Willy gets his revenge on me many times over.
On cooler days, I let the whole process play out. On warmer days, or days when the ladies are tired, I do actually stand in the middle of the trail to avoid the whole ordeal.
For those who are thinking Willy might have hearing problems, that notion went the wayside a while back. But we do have an issue of sorts despite the vet’s claim Willy’s hearing is fine. If I am standing behind Willy and clap my hands, he looks for the source of the noise in front of him. If I am off to the side and make a noise, he looks behind him. Willy hears, he just can’t seem to get to the source sometimes. I’m not sure how to explain how the words “Go outside” on a very hot day has become Willy’s cue to quickly jump up on the people bed and pretend he’s asleep. That’s another story altogether.
I have tried to play the “find me” game with Willy, believing he will be the same as other dogs and simply scent track me. Nope. It never occurs to him to even put his nose to the ground. I have discussed the possibility that Willy’s sniffer is out of whack with my vet. Because Willy will roll on smelly things, and he does refuse some food items, the vet says his olfactory system is fine. Apparently Willy just hasn’t developed the ability to follow a scent trail like the rest of his people.
If you put any barrier: A shrub, a tree, a wall or any other object that is higher than eye level, between Willy and the group on the desert, Willy gets lost. He absolutely, positively can not track by scent, and we’ve established he can’t track by sound either. Given he prefers to blast through trail intersections rather than stop and consider which trail we might have taken, I think we can also pretty much assume he can’t track by intelligent deduction.
What Willy can do, and ‘can’ may be stretching it, is track by sight. Problem is, in order for that to work, he has to stop and look rather than run in the direction he thinks my voice might be coming from, which may or may not be in the same direction he believes we traveled in.
There have been many occasions where Willy chases a rabbit or something into a wash – washes on the desert have the highest vegetation. I’m not worried that Willy will ‘run a way’. Quite the opposite. When he can’t see us, he immediately starts to look for us. Willy’s tracking methods are the rub. Despite only being yards away from a group usually of no less than 4 other siblings, Willy can neither track the sound nor the scent of the pack, and lest we forget, simply re-tracing his steps never occurs to him.
Our options at that point are
1. Try to find Willy, tracking him ourselves; or
2. Move to the highest point in the area, yell for Willy at the top of our lungs, and gyrate excessively to give him a visual to hone in on.
#1, it takes too long. We already know Willy’s tracking methods have no rhyme nor reason, and we’re just too darned old to run after shaking bushes in the distance. Yes, we have reunited Willy with the pack using this method in the past, but it’s just too much work.
Which leaves us with #2 which has issues of it’s own:
a) Go to a mountain top and start yelling a name, while gyrating excessively and time just how long it takes for local law enforcement to show up, followed by the paramedics with the Happy Wagon. See what I mean?
b) You have to keep in mind that once Willy sights us, and comes running, there may or may not be another tall item of desert that gets in the way. A ‘straight line” to Willy is whatever direction he is traveling in, and if he has to change his trajectory by a few degrees to avoid an obstacle, well, it isn’t that he got lost again, it’s that we moved. Because of this, once Willy makes his visual, and we see what direction he’s coming from, we have to sprint towards him, locating another high point on which to begin the shouting and gyrating again.
On a good day, there are only 2 sessions of this Devil Worship-like behavior on our parts. On a bad day, it can take several. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed or proud to say that I have actually come up with a Willy Come Back Dance reserved for just such situations. It was a lot easier back when I had an I-pod. Not so much when I don’t have music to do the dance to. Now it’s just weird.
I try to keep Sweet William’s walks to open areas with far sight distances, but he gets so bored. To give Willy his adventures, I have to take him to places I know will require me to break into the Willy Come Back Dance. For this reason, where any of the other kids, even the untouchable Marcy are candidates for camping trips, more importantly, the weekend away Crabby and I are planning for the end of this month, Willy is not even a consideration. Aside from the well-known areas, relatively close to home, we can’t take Willy anywhere off leash. I know our neck of the desert, and Willy is pretty schooled on being ‘lost’ there. To take a chance on losing him on unfamiliar territory, not an option.
We, and by ‘we’ I mean I, used to think Willy was a relatively intelligent kid. We, and by ‘we’ I mean we, now understand that is not the case. We probably have the only dog in the world that couldn’t find his way from the front yard to the back if there were hedges in the way.
So when people try to tell you that all dogs have certain innate tracking abilities – we’ve got your myth buster right here at Run A Muck Ranch. That being said, like Lassie, I know Willy wouldn’t hesitate to rescue me if I fell down a well, if he could figure out where I was that is.