Every day that goes by, the little black dog makes her presence more and more obvious. No longer confined to the house on wet days or longer walks, she accompanies me across the hills as a matter of routine – and what a difference it is to walk with her. At four months of age, she is still almost totally useless, but there is the occassional spark of evidence to suggest that there the potential for some intelligence in that skull. So far, she has accidentally flushed her first woodcock, snipe and black grouse, but has no idea. All birds beat a hasty retreat as she blundered through the undergrowth, and while she followed their scent, she’s not yet wise enough to know what the smells mean. When they got up, she was either distracted by something else or viewed the event as being totally unrelated to her presence.
Hares are weighing quite heavily on her mind at the moment, and since they don’t fly, they are more interesting altogether than those weird feathery things which seem so tempting but then vanish into thin air. She hunts for them on the hill behind the house, and when she finds them, she sits down and barks. They bound away with hardly a backward glance, and she follows at a distance, tracing their scent through the rushes, before being distracted by some fresh piece of sheep shit. Her concentration span is still basically non-existent, but there are new signs of progress every day.
Her first lesson has been to come back to me, not only when I call but also when I blow the whistle in two short peeps. She is getting the hang of this, but I need to be firm with her. Distractions are not hard to come by on the hill, and what looks to me like a simple pile of sheep shit is, in her eyes, a smorgisbord of gastronomic delight. No wonder she sometimes hesitates to return when the grass is littered with malteser-like treats, but I hope that I’m convincing her that I am always more interesting – it just feels like rather a shame that I need to.
A great bonus of keeping a dog is that I am now forced to walk extended distances every day. It’s not always easy to get up to the Chayne to walk her, so I take her up behind my new house, into the heather and willow scrub. From the top of the hill behind the house, you can see straight down onto the Chayne just two miles away, and the terrain and undergrowth are fairly uniform throughout. As I range further and further on my dog walks, it’s a matter of time before I come across black grouse. There is some very promising country just a mile or so away from the back door which I will have to explore come April when the leks build up a head of steam. It’s important for me to find out where the leks are in the area, and with the fortunate combination of a new house and a new dog to help me explore the hills around the Chayne, I’m looking forward to the spring.
For an animal that has not helped me with anything over the past four months, I’m surprised just how devoted to her I am. Just imagine how much I’ll like her when she’s actually pulling her weight – working the heather and retrieving shot birds.