With his puppy inoculations now complete it was time to let Dave loose on the great outdoors; wow what amazing adventures awaited. I was very fortunate to live in a village at the foot of the majestic South Downs in West Sussex.
In most directions open fields could be found with footpaths leading to wooded dells and tranquil streams. My favourite local spot was Parham Airfield, a vast flat field used during the day by a popular gliding club. This was to become our daily walk.
With his tiny first collar fastened gently around his neck, complete with puppy ID tag Dave had all the cute charm appeal of a child dressed for their first day at school. I was very much a proud “parent” that day.
I opened the front door and we as a family set off for his first outdoor walk. Who could have known at that time what the future held in store. With big wide eyes and his pink nose twitching, Dave surveyed the landscape with great joy and enthusiasm. Every bush, shrub, lamppost and tree was something to be explored.
With inquisitive learning, Dave would approach all new obstacles with a slight hesitation, then look to his pack for guidance. This often meant lots of encouragement but Dave was soon learning how to climb steps and traverse bridges without getting his feet wet!
After a few days Dave learned that getting his feet wet was great fun; the local stream had been discovered. Let the mud and fun commence!
The nearside of Parham Airfield was enclosed by woods with a boardwalk and trickling stream meandering through dappled shade of the summer sun. The far side of the airfield saw farmland and towering stems of corn, that waved in unison as the gentle midday breeze barely blew.
Dave and I would lazily play fetch and keep to the shady paths as much as possible. The summer of 2015 saw temperatures in the South East reach a sweltering 32C; a little too hot for us. Only mad “little” dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
I would walk along the wooden boardwalk, built to keep hikers and walkers off the muddy banks of the stream. Dave would bound across the mud, tussling with sticks and without fail end up standing in the shallow stream cooling off his paws. “Drink your water,” was the phrase I taught him at this young age; meaning exactly that. Have a drink from the clean spring water.
Dave soon mastered the art of discovering flowing streams and clean water whenever we were out walking on a hot day. His keen sense of smell and hearing has discovered streams I never knew existed! Wet dog smell anyone.
As this was a busy airfield we would often be walking right under an elegant glider as it swooshed almost silently overhead, skimming the leaf laden tree tops. The pilot of the towing aircraft would give us a friendly wave as he taxied across the grass landing strip. Dave simply watched as these giant “birds” flew overhead. Not in the least bit afraid.
The open fields provided an excellent training area for ‘dog whistle’ recall. Border collies are incredibly intelligent and love to learn but before I taught Dave any “fancy” tricks I wanted to make sure he would always return back to me when I called.
So for hours we would play “sit and stay” over the fields, a quick pip-pip of the dog whistle would see Dave galloping through the uncut wild grass, tongue and tail wagging in opposite directions. It truly was a wonderful location to teach puppy the basic rules. When you make training fun and do it in a location as stunning as rural Sussex; it seems so easy.
As Dave grew older, each day he seemed to get bigger, we would stay out later into early evening and quite often after sunset. The tranquil woods that previously had offered us welcome shade and sparkling spring water now took on a more sinister shape and feel.
As the sun set over the west, towards Pulborough the trees in the darker east seemed to close in on us. Crows and rooks would caw-caw as the light faded. Shapes became distorted and your mind played tricks on you. Dave would come close, making a deliberate detour away from the tree line. He saw the shapes and heard the noises too.
One section of our route home involved crossing the boardwalk once more and walking for perhaps 2 or 3 minutes in the gloomy woods. Dave would keep me very much in sight. The noise of a twig snapping beneath my boots would send him into a quick scamper.
Little Dave wasn’t ready just yet to venture far from my side; at least not when the creatures of the night had come out to play.
Another towering monster that Dave faced up to was the airfield windsock. It hadn’t occurred to me that Dave would be anxious about this large orange sock, gently flapping in the cool evening breeze. As we walked along the edge of the corn field, the distant pylon that supported the windsock grew ever slowly larger. A low growl emitted from puppy and he very defiantly applied his “brakes.”
Up ahead the thin metal pole, perhaps some 12 feet tall stood in our way. I unclipped his lead from his collar and walked on ahead. Gently calling Dave’s name. I stood directly under the inflated orange tube to demonstrate that there was nothing to fear.
Knowing my luck at that very moment the windsock would have ripped from its attachments and fallen over my head and Dave would have been confronted by a giant human carrot! Thankfully the breeze was gentle and puppy decided that even though he didn’t like the giant orange fluttering bird-sock, it wasn’t appearing to do me any harm, so he let off his paw-brakes and trotted on towards me.
In those early weeks of joyous self discovery there are also moments of fear and terror. Where I walked with a smile on my face, glancing to the beautiful South Downs, Dave walked with a certain apprehension of what was around the next tree.
Would it be a fearful dog towering over him or a cat with its razor sharp claws drawn for battle; perhaps a bird of prey soaring overhead making shadows dart towards puppy on the ground.
The summer was dry and the paths around the ploughed fields were dry and dusty. Puppy would trot along beside me, investigating the butterflies and bees that filled the nettle lined hedgerows. Suddenly his body language would change from carefree bee spotter to hyper-alert wolf; as he sensed a moving shape, sniffed a distant “foreign” scent.
As the terrifying shapes approached, Dave would lie flat on the ground making himself as little as a little puppy can get. As the seconds ticked by he would wait perfectly still; a game of canine statues, not moving an inch. Flat to the ground beside my boot.
Of course the approaching Goliath & Co would invariably be an over friendly dog and an equally jovial human owner. The fields we walked were popular with working dogs as well as domesticated pets. Dave at this tender age decided that the paths were strewn with bloodthirsty satanic hounds, too much Sherlock Holmes!
Without fail Dave would roll onto his back, little legs / big paws up in the air and signal to the approaching murderous duo that death was acceptable and please make it swift. He would often wee himself too. So I now was the owner of a wet dog, that smelt of wee and was absolutely covered in dust and floral debris.
As the macabre crowd looked down upon prone puppy, Dave was naturally delighted that the hound had decided to spare his life and his tranquil countryside walk could continue once more unhindered by a murder scene! He was oblivious to the fact I was now walking a clod of Sussex soil on a lead. Oh the shame of it all.
Dave was learning at a rapid rate; as indeed so was I. Every day we met new people and faced new fun adventures. Every day we threw sticks….every single day we grew stronger as a partnership.
As the opening chapters of this book revealed it was about to become a whole lot busier in our lives; with a move from Sussex to Devon and wild moors to explore – oh and puppy swimming lessons!
For the next few months it was:
“You and me Dave, just you and me.”