Observing my dog and her insatiable urge to chase has revealed she doesn’t actually want to catch anything. When the chase is over, it stops being fun. All she wants to do is run and bark and run and bark. When out walking together, she will suddenly scent a fresh smell and take off in hot pursuit, yelping as she runs. She is unaware that her noise is helping the intended quarry know exactly where she is and thereby managing to increase the distance between.
She is a scent hound and her barking also helps me follow her up and down the mountain slopes, and currently the leafless winter trees enable me to watch her progress. It pleases me to see the young dog’s energy spent doing something she thoroughly enjoys. She would be faster if she didn’t waste so much energy barking but catching is not part of the thrill, and it alleviates my conscious worry about the victim. Bred specifically to flush out wild animals to aid hunters, the space between dog and target is a beneficial aspect.
The chase is dictated by the target and if the animal deviates or circles around, searching for the best way through the dense forest, the dog follows the exact same route. It’s comical to watch. When I hear her barking on one side of a mountain crest, announcing the direction, I take a quick shortcut to the other side.
There I spy the animal racing through the trees and bushes, followed shortly, by an excited dog, tongue hanging out between barks, thoroughly enjoying the chase. The long run usually comes to an end when the quest effortlessly transverses a steep rocky face, so sheer that the dog cannot follow and so wide she cannot find a way around either.
One sunny day I was taking a break, sitting on a fallen log and basking in the strong winter sun. I could hear Lapi’s chasing bark, some way off in the distance, when suddenly a majestic stag bounded gracefully from out of the treeline into full view, only about 10 meters away. Running straight towards me, the beautiful animal clocked me immediately and without hesitating, carried on its fast pace and then deviated back into sheltered safety.
About 20 seconds later, Lapi followed in exactly the same path, appearing out into the open, heading up towards me and then back into the trees in the exact same path. She was surprised to see me but didn’t break stride in her gleeful quest, continuously barking her enjoyment.
We all know dogs have a heightened sense of smell compared to humans, but it still amazes me the way they can use this long distance, a dogs own version of GPS. When she takes off after the fresh scent of deer, she covers a lot of ground and I hear her barks getting further and further away before eventually stopping because the sport has taken her out of earshot. And even though I have moved onwards, the last visuals being over 3 km ago, she will suddenly turn up, running from behind to overtake and search out new quarries. Even when I take a new unknown route, she always finds me, with her tongue hanging out but seemingly unable to stop running.
I feel sorry for the wild animals she chases. They fear for their lives. The wild animal kingdom is a cruel world and there are menacing predators in the forests. Wolves prefer the easier pickings of domestic sheep but their natural prey is small hoofed animals like deer. Knowing as I do that my dog will never catch them, I resign my anxiety with the thought she is giving the animals needed practice.
The desire to chase is incredibly strong and needs fulfilling. When the weather is too bad for long walks, such as deep snow or heavy rain, we play fetch in the garden but it doesn’t give her the full exercise she needs. Chasing village cats also doesn’t go on for very long as they climb trees to escape, though in some ways it gives my cat a taste of her own medicine, for all the mice and sparrows she torments.
The inbuilt desire to chase is so strong that Inside my house, her face shows she is torn between the urge to lurch at my cat and the punishment she will get for doing so. She knows she’s not allowed and while the cat stays still, curled up by the fire, she can resist, forget and sleep deeply. Until a movement from the cat, stretching out in the warm glow, pricks up her head and her gaze is fixed, ready to jump into action if the opportunity arises. A whine escapes her lips and she glances sideways up at me, raising her eyebrows, as if to ask “Can I?”. But she knows, one move and she’s out in the cold.
At only 18 months, Lapi is super fit. She weighs half of my weight but its 25kg of pure muscle, and the daily energy burn off means she sleeps well. Watching her dreaming movements and hearing the noises she makes, I’m sure she is also chasing in her slumber. Though I think she has cat tendencies as she chooses a box to curl up in that is far too small.