Dave has a very strong sense of leadership and duty, very much in evidence when we are out walking the miles of paths and trails we explore. His natural herding instinct means that walking behind the pack (even if that is just me) is something he’s not happy about.
Dave in his mind needs to lead and sometimes during his early months that got him into trouble. Like the time we were hiking a new trail on Dartmoor and we became separated for about half an hour. Very worry at the time!
The most important trick I had taught Dave early on was total recall, he would come running back at the sound of the dog whistle, come what may.
It was a windy day, clear skies and early spring on Dartmoor. I had decided to explore a new area with a stone circle I wanted to see. So naturally neither myself or Dave had walked these paths before. I was armed with a map and compass and as I found out, Dave had a failsafe backup plan of his own.
I parked the car and smiled as I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a very excited (large) puppy. The smell of wild open countryside must be so stimulating for a dog; all the scents from animals and flora. Paths and trails that lead off to hidden streams and windswept vistas.
As we walked from the car park I glanced at my map and picked the correct path to follow, Dave as per usual was already walking ahead of me, glancing over his right shoulder every minute or so, to check we were both heading the same direction!
From our very early days of puppy training I would duck behind a tree if Dave had walked too far ahead out of sight. Within seconds he would realise he could no longer see me and retrace his paw prints back to where he would find me slightly hidden. This is a great way to encourage pack mentality at an early age – never lose sight of each other.
Dave and I had walked uphill for about 20 minutes when I decided I needed to answer the call of nature. I quickly stood behind a modest bush and did what I needed to do. Unfortunately Dave hadn’t stopped walking and the location I had chosen for a brief wee stop was at a junction of paths. Dave took one path out of sight of me and I took the other; So began the problem!
The landscape was quite overgrown with high gorse bushes and large granite boulders, meaning visibility along the paths stretched no more than that of the next twist and turn. I was confident that just around the next corner I would find Dave waiting impatiently for me. I didn’t; nor the next or the next or the next.
I had lost Dave and equally worrying was that Dave had lost me. In a location neither of us had walked before. Thankfully the weather was favourable and daylight was on our side. I retraced my steps to the junction and took the other path, again hoping that Dave was just around the corner wagging his tail. No sign of puppy, nothing but barren tors and rough gorse. My heart sank at that point.
I scanned the horizon over and over again, nothing but open moorland. What was once a beautiful landscape in my mind had suddenly become a dangerous and scary place for puppy. I reached for my dog whistle, on the lanyard around my neck and blew a long shrill tone until I was breathless.
Nothing, no sound returned but the howl of the wind as it winged its way around the weathered crevices of the majestic but unforgiving granite. After a few minutes alone, very alone I heard voices from behind, a couple out hiking stopped to ask if I was OK.
I explained I had lost my dog and at that moment I realised the severity of it. My wonderful beautiful dog was gone. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.
Now a group of three, we scoured the tiny trails that criss-crossed the immense wilderness. Nothing moved but the wind-whipped gorse. I had half expected vultures to be circling overhead at that point. Would Dave has the sense to stick to a path, would he eventually turn back and retrace our scent to the car park?
Half an hour had passed and I was in two-minds as whether to continue further into the moor along the path I hoped he had taken or to return to the car park and wait. I wasn’t happy with the thought of just sitting by the car, so I decided to walk towards higher open ground that offered good visibility over the surrounding tundra.
It was at that very moment that one of the hikers who had stopped to help called out “There, I can see him up there!” I looked in the direction of his pointed finger and saw two flashes of colour walking a path up high on the tor. Just in front of the brightly reflecting hiking jackets was a dog. A black and white border collie called Dave!
All three of us waved our arms up high at the two distant hikers, after a few seconds of this it became apparent that they were in fact returning back to lower ground in our direction. Leading their miniature figures back off of the tor was a tiny almost toy like dog, so far away was he.
Suddenly the distant Dave stopped and looked towards us, I blew and blew my dog whistle, trying in vain to make myself heard above the relentless wind. Arms waving overheard and shouting out his name. He finally spotted me, instantly he burst into a sprint, like a greyhound released from the trap after the lure.
Bounding across the rocks and paths, leaping boggy ground and skirting between gorse bushes. I continue to blow the whistle, “Come on Dave, come on,” I called as he became larger in my view. Finally after what seemed hours but was perhaps only 45 minutes Dave and I were reunited.
His tail wagged enthusiastically as both myself and the helpful hikers made a huge fuss of him. He pushed firmly up against my leg as is to say “I’m never leaving your side again Dad.” Eventually the hikers who had been high up on the trail had joined us too.
It seemed that Dave had thought I was up ahead (after my wee stop) and hadn’t realised I was in fact a long long way behind him, due to me taking the wrong path at first and losing time.
He had sensibly followed the path he was on hoping to find me waiting somewhere, which had lead him after a long climb to the hikers up on high. They had realised he was obviously lost and lead him back down the trail he had just walked.
It was at this point as he had just started to walk back that he spotted me waving and calling from afar and so we were reunited after a very worrying time for all.
The moral of this adventure is that I now make sure Dave can see exactly where I am if I need to stop for any reason whatsoever.
What was a 1 minute call of nature became a 45 minute call into nature.