The smartest dog in the world…

… or the dumbest.

The jury is still out.

IMG_0002Never let it be said that having a dog is easy. Last week I slept on the couch all night because of a needy dog. I go outside with Tilly on rainy days because if I do not she will do her business in the house. I walk Heston every day if I can and usually for four or five kilometres. I train him constantly and try and make sure he is kept occupied. Really he needs to be herding stuff or catching stuff with a very experienced dog handler. He was made to work.

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As it is, I have an eighteen month old dog who has real problems with too much energy. He’s not destructive and I’m glad of that. He just gets fidgety and a bit itchy and a bit agitated. But I wouldn’t have taken him if I didn’t take exactly what he is (although I was kind of hoping for a bit of a slower dog… but you get what you get!) We do at least 30 minutes of varied clicker training every day. He can sit on mats, knows left and right, can high five and give me a paw and show me his undercarriage. He can relax and play dead. He knows stay and move. He knows stop and he knows go. When we get to a cross roads, he stops dead and waits for me to direct him. He knows where we are going in the car and he wags his tail when he knows we are going to stop.

That is one smart dog.

But he is a very nervy dog and he is also a very highly strung, energetic dog. It’s not easy to keep him calm at the beginning of a walk and it has been hard work training him around other animals. We worked all summer on not chasing crows. And on not barking at cows that look at him funny. He still barks at wild boar. That’s how I know he has found one. He yips like he did when he was a puppy. He does figures of eight around swallows. He still leaps in puddles. He did a full-on skid through one yesterday and it cost me €6 because I’d just given him a tick treatment and when we got home I had to give him another. But who doesn’t like to see dogs leaping in puddles?

I try and vary my routes so he doesn’t get bored (and so I don’t either) and living where I do it’s not hard to do a different walk for weeks and weeks. Today we went up to the White Woods about five kilometres from my house. It’s where they found the casque d’Agris, an ornate Bronze Age helmet, in a cave. It’s a mammoth cave system up there. I thought about going to the forest, but there was a hunt on today and we got a piddling little walk in yesterday so he needed to stretch his legs.

I’d gone up past the cave entrance for the Grotte de Perrault and then we’d got up to a massive crossroads right in the centre of the woods. I mean slap bang in the centre. Heston barked in the distance and then seemed to circle round to my right, yipping. I thought it was boar but saw him shoot off after a huge stag that must have been taller than me. Then it disappeared behind me and Heston was gone too.

I stayed where I was for about 30 minutes, calling him. When he goes, I just stay still now and after five minutes at the most, he comes back. He’s gone twice for longer periods of time, but that’s not a bad record for a dog who manages to walk through game-ridden woodlands for 20km a week – over 1000km a year. Well, double if you count how far he runs compared to me!

So I stopped there and shouted and whistled. Then it got too long and I knew he was out of earshot, so I started circling wider and wider circles. After about an hour and a half, I went back to get the car from the lane where I’d parked it at the lane, and decided to drive around the outskirts looking for him. There is one fast road across one side and then a couple of slower roads with lots of bends that run parallel to each other and intersect with the fast road.

Still no sign.

So I got out again. The heavens had truly opened by this point. Tilly and I were both sodden. I climbed back up to where he first disappeared and called for a half hour or so, then went back to the car. I’d decided it was time to take Tilly back, call my afternoon clients and then cancel appointments so I could keep looking for him.

I drove home in tears. Leaving the woods was like giving up on him. I thought we were too far from any familiar routes, that we were too far from home, that he was probably in the cave system or had stepped in a trap or had even had some kind of dog heart attack. He had never been so long and it had been four hours since he disappeared. My legs were shaking and I was dripping.

I had a last hope that he might have made it back to the house. I’d shut the gate and locked it so I hoped he might be sitting outside waiting for me. It was my last hope. Other than that it would be photocopies of details round to all the vets and mairies and local houses. I would have stayed in the woods all night long calling if I needed to.

I pulled up outside the house and there was no Heston at the gate. Just as I parked up outside, a big black beast leapt up at the gate from the inside. It was Heston, of course.

How he had got back and got in, I do not know. I can kind of imagine if he picked up the trail of one of our other paths he could have realised where he was and carried on home, but it was still a five km trek and I thought the chance of him getting home that way were slim. Plus, he’d have had to have gone through one of two villages to get home – and since they all have outside dogs that Heston likes to bark at, I have no idea how he got past them all. I wondered if some kind neighbour had found him and realised who he was and where he lived. I wondered if he’d been picked up, taken to the vet and scanned and then dropped off at my house. But there was no message on my answer machine and surely they would have called first. And getting Heston to approach strangers is impossible. He barks like mental. I can hear a dog back two kilometres away here and I’d have heard him.

No, there is little else for it other than he made his own way back. Three kilometres to a familiar path and then two kilometres home. And then he got into a garden that is Heston-proof and César-proof.

I wish he could talk and then he could tell me the mystery of how he came home and how he looked still so dry and energetic. Normally he pants like mad for twenty minutes following a chase. He wasn’t even slightly tired.

I called one of my neighbours here who lives in the village just up the road slightly. I thought she might know something as she is often out foraging for mushrooms in that part of the woods. She said the dog obviously thought it was April Fools’ Day and had hidden on purpose or that maybe I was losing my marbles and hadn’t taken him with me.

I realise that people without dogs will be wondering why I was so agitated. But Heston is part of my family. He’s as annoying as most of my family. He probably picked that up from me. Anyway, he is back and I cried for about half an hour.

Like I said, either really smart, or really dumb.

I think my next pet will be a goldfish.

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10 thoughts on “The smartest dog in the world…

  1. It’s such an awful feeling, seeing your dog tearing off like a mad thing, and then waiting… and waiting … I know it well. So glad Heston went back home! I once lost a springer spaniel in the fog and spent hours trudging around looking for him. As I made my way home, in tears like you, I could hear a distant barking which became louder as I got near the house. The dog was sitting on the front door step, barking his head off. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or furious!

  2. What a great post. I can relate to it completely. I had to smile at the thought of you distraught and dripping wet and the dog relaxed and happy. I bet he had that “where have you been” look on his face!
    Only people who love their dogs will know the mounting sense of panic as each five minutes goes by, then the mixture of relief, joy and a little bit of anger when you find them on the doorstep.
    It doesn’t happen to us very often, but there’s always that possibility.

  3. It’s what dogs do well. Over the years of having dogs this has happened time and time again. I think it is like homing pigeons something built in. I have to admit though it is very worrying when it happens… C

  4. Oh the relief ! the stomach churning, the feeling of total guilt,terror, and love that overwhelms in these situations. Just the same when a teenager says they will be in at 10 p.m and are half an hour late !!

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