I hope you all enjoyed the last retelling of a trail from my boys 'perspective.' It is of course, assumed, but it was a lot of fun to write. Both my dogs have very distinct and different personalities. They complement each other in play and in work. While my boy can be quite the free spirit and goof ball, he also has a very serious side and is loyal to the core. My girl of course, being a German Shepherd, has decorum and professionalism bleached into her guard hairs. But she too, can have moments of complete abandon and you can see the fun loving side of her tumble out. She is also loyal to the bone and takes her work very very seriously. So, the tone of this trail, told by my girl (via my interpretation of what she might say), will be much more serious - perhaps with some dry humor sprinkled in for flavor. And now, my girl:
I can feel the morning approach even before the first rays sprinkle into the room. My mistress is still breathing deeply, my arm draped over her side has several advantages, although my mistress thinks it is just out of love and protection. Reality is, I can feel her intentions even before she acts on them; should she try to slip out of bed and sneak away, I will know. It also allows me to feel her breathing changes, and while redundant, for I can hear her just as well, it lends some security in knowing her breathing is steady and rhythmic. I pop an eye open and see my brother is still contentendly laying against her legs effectively causing her to curl into a fetal position or which there is no escape. His method is just as proven as mine, for he will feel her movements just as effectively - but I have the advantage of not getting kicked when she insists on turning over ;0) There is one disadvantage of laying in this position, well besides my leg falling asleep on me at times, and that is during the summer, it gets hot! Even with the fans blowing I can feel my body temperature rise and the desire to pant to cool off begins to dominate my thoughts. Panting in my mistress's ear is not a good idea, it just rains displeasure all over your fur, and while I wear a crusty coat of cool intellect and decorum, I really have a soft melty heart that can be easily wounded. I will jump off the bed and resume my vigil on the cool ground.
Time seems to creep by, and occassionally, excitement pulses through my body tingling my paws. After what seems like an eternity, I hear my mistress breathing change. My brother has been using his 'laser eye' treatment to try and resurrect her, and I will let him take the heat, it is a partnership to get her out of bed; he has the bedside duty and I the ground, guarding the door. When finally she arises, I almost bark in joy, a potentially humiliating action for barking is only for urgent matters, but my joy is almost bursting through my heart...today is a TRAILING DAY!!! These days are always the most difficult to wait for and keep my controlled persona, for everything in me is quivering with excitement and joy; trailing is what I live for, well, that and my mistress. The seemingly endless morning chores drag on and I feign interest -truly an academy award winning act! I am pretty sure my mistress knows it is an act, for on random sips of coffee (eww) she winks at me, a sly smile that warms my heart. I thump my tail in response and when the love flowing through me has no further pocket to fill, I get up and accept the rubs and pats offered.
I agree with my brother...the morning seems to take FOREVER, and it is all I can do to not leap and bounce around like my brother, but I have an image to maintain, but sneak little bursts of energy in when no one is looking. One of my ways of releasing the electrical currents of joy coursing through me is my favorite game: Cover Monster! I know it irks my mistress a bit, but she laughs as much as it bothers her, so it is a guilty pleasure. I tunnel my way under the comforter and, like a land shark (a nickname us German Shepherds come by honestly in our puppihood) I snap at my brothers paws and stomach causing him to leap around like a frog....good times! Once my mistress has her boots on and grabs he backpack, we know it is time to get serious. Once loaded in the car I can feel myself quiver with intensity - it is exacerbated by my brothers low whining and cooing. He can make the most interesting noises. When the windows come down, I pop my head out and let the coolness of the wind soothe my frayed nerves. I always get nervous before I trail, I'm not really sure why, perhaps it is because I try so hard and don't want to ever embarass myself or disappoint my mistress. Trailing is hard and serious work! You can't take odor for granted because it is very mysterious in its ways, although I must admit, it rarely wins - even though it can be confusing at times.
Once my subjectg is dropped off with my brother for 'protection,' I feel the tunnel vision of focus close in; all my thoughts and energies are channeled into my nose and the odors that will collide with it. I hear my mistress open the car door and I let a low pitch whine escape, kind of like a tea pot letting out some steam - I think I would burst if I didn't. When she opens my side of the door, the blast of odor from the outside world is almost overwhelming. You see, we aren't greeted with just one odor like you might think, we are thoroughly saturated with EVERY odor you can imagine, simultaneously. Trees, grass, dirt, bugs, animals, people, cars, plants, smoke, even the wind carries different odors, but I am focused and intent on zeroing in just one odor: my subjects. This is a familiar odor, and in a way, it stands out amongst the rest, for it is an 'aged' odor, almost like light shading of color in the midst of brilliant colors, different but subtle.
I move closer to the edge of the car seat so my mistress can put the harness on; a necessary tool for us trailing dogs. It gives us power and authority to conquer the odor trail we will be set on, and it keeps our mistress close to us (even if we have to drag her sometimes) and within sight. My nose twitches over her shoulder as she clasps the belly strap closed; I've found the direction of travel (DOT) before my paws have hit the dirt, a challenge I present myself with for each trail. I jump out of the car and do a quick circuit of the area, just to be sure I haven't missed anything and thus choose the wrong direction - a frightening thought! When it is time for the clipping of the line to my back, I stand quietly, obedient to the 'rules' of the game...but once clipped, WATCH OUT! I like speed. The game is to find the lost person as quickly as is possible, which isn't as fast as I would like because I usually have to drag my draft horse mistress around (don't tell her I called her that, although she might like the horse reference). Man humans are slow and clumsy! Especially when the odor goes uphill over obstacles, or through trees (I don't know why she doesn't just duck under them like I do...).
The odor hits my nose and I quickly deduce it is about 25hrs old. There are layers of odor from other people walking the trails that are littered throughout the area, but my nose has been trained to zero in like a laser the one odor I am to follow, and it stands out to me like a beacon. A steep hillside is where the scent beckons me to climb, and I do - up and up and then onto a little deer path. The shade helps keep the odor 'alive' and it caresses my nostrils with each breath I take. On occassion I smell the odor over the edge of the hillside and I am tempted to follow, but I have long ago learned that lesson - odor is sneaky and crafty. It tries to make a dog chase it up and down hills, into dead ends and sometimes beyond a turn. I've learned to keep odor inbetween both nostrils, and not just one. It is a difficult task, but us German Shepherds are up for any problem. I jog along the path for a ways and notice that the odor splits; it goes to my right and yet, continues forward. This could be what my mistress calls a 'backtrack,' and they can be difficult to sort out as they age. I follow it forward a few more feet and realize I probably missed a turn, I double back and head downhill where the odor is much deeper and obviously the trail. When it cuts off across a road I almost lose it. Cars can be such a nusance to odor. But, my trusty nose finds where the trail continues and over another hillside we go.
Did I say odor is sneaky? It is! Just when you are positive it goes one way it disappears and moves to another direction. When I pull my mistress down the hillside we run into a trail and the river. Odor seems to split into both directions, but the pull of the water seems to create what humans call a 'scent pool.' These pools of scent are odor heaven; heavily saturated and really enticing to linger in, sometimes it is really difficult to find an exit. This time, my mistress applied pressure to the line, I feel it and know she was asking me a question, "Are you sure the odor goes this way?" This is my time to recheck the information the odor is offering me and see if I am deciphering it correctly. Since the odor seemed to be fading the further I headed downstream, I knew I better double back and into the stronger and truer odor trail.
Heading back I smell the odor change, it gets richer, stronger, I am not really sure how to explain how us dogs know when we are on the right track and getting closer to our prey, but when we do, it is obvious. I jog up the trail a bit but find myself looking over my shoulder to the right, across the river...odor is over there. I decide I better do my due diligence and investigate why the odor is on the other side of the river; besides, the water is cool to my paws and a few licks of water never hurt a dog. I hear my mistress groan at the choice of my crossing. You see, humans have an aversion to getting their feet wet and seem to always look for logs to cross the water on. I find it very odd, for they also complain about being hot, but a quick splash through some water is a sure fire way to cool off. Humans puzzle me, but I love my mistress dearly, and so put up with her oddities.
Since there were no logs for her to use to scamper over the river, she albatrossed her way across getting much wetter than I think she planned. I on the other paw, already had odor and was working the scattered scent trying to find the exit to this puzzle. Odor seemed to be everywhere and swirling around my delicately trained nose in a whirlwind of scent. A gentle breeze created a stronger odor pattern back on the opposite side of the river and I found myself following it back across. I heard the mumbling from my mistress who was non to pleased to have to traipse across the river a second time back to our original side, but I know my job well: follow the odor. Unfortunately, the moment my paws hit dry land, the powerful pocket of odor diminished and I realized I had to return to the other side of the river. I braced myself for the exhasperated comments my mistress would make. I don't think she realizes how hard us dogs are working trying to figure an invisible odor trail out. It isn't like the odor we are following is the only scent out here. But as I hear her splash across for the third time, I do feel a bit guilty.
Once across again, I feel a little panicked; there seems to be no area where direction of travel (DOT) is obvious. I can feel my mistresses eyes on me, waiting for my lead. My heart beats a bit faster and I search the ground for clues furiously. Suddenly, my right nostril detects a stronger pocket of odor under a tree. I duck under the low limbs and feel waves of relief for this pocket of odor has an exit, my confidence is restored and I turn on the speed to show my mistress she can trust my nose. I feel the jerk on my harness several times a muffled "Good girl, sorry," as my mistress navigates rather clumisly I might add, the low branches I ducked under (I do wonder why she doesn't just duck like I do?). The odor trail I am following leads me up a hill and over an obstacle course of fallen logs. My vision narrows and my focus becomes acute; I am zeroed in on my targets tracks and all obstacles are navigated with the athleticism that comes from being a German Shepherd... Only the furitive echoes of "WAIT!!" reach my ears and pierce my drive and focus; my mistress is being bounced around behind me like a beach ball on stormy seas. I can feel the heavy pulls on my harness and have to really focus and tune my timing of jumping logs and ducking under limbs accordingly. Slowly I realize that I'm not being the best partner for my mistress. We have had discussions about these things while I had my paws massaged.
"Sweetheart, I love your dedication to odor and you are a great trailer. However, you need to slow down and not keep pulling when I am under a tree or getting my face scratched off by limbs. When I say "WAIT" I mean "WAIT!!!!!" Understand?" I blinked at her and kissed her hand with gentle licks. I did understand and promised then that I would help salvage her bruised body from any further beatings, but once odor tickles my nose, I want to prove to her that we can find the lost person FAST. Time is life, and for someone lost, that is everything...Right? But as I hear my mistress yelp from impact and feel the reverberation of it down the line to my tack, I realize I need her to be with me; we are a team. I heed her cries and slow my pace, even stopping for a moment and glancing back to be sure she is still alive and not hemorrhaging from any vital body parts. "Good girl, okay," is my cue to resume my course, but I alter it a bit and slow down a little.
The odor is rich and full in the shade of the trees. The river gives life to the aged scent I chase, and I feel a shiver of excitement run down my spine. I LOVE trailing! I run up a narrow trail with glances down below; I smell the odor that has rolled down the hillside, and I feel a bit torn between chasing it and maintaining the path I am on. I know from experience that if I follow it down the hill, I will have to come back up from the scent pool to the path I am on - and my mistress will be banged up further. I dismiss the thought and continue forward, this time, I smell odor to my left, up a hillside, but odor remains in front of me as well. Some 'people' call this 'fringing' because I don't follow the actual track but stay in odor on the easier path. I call it 'SMART.' I am trying to find someone and potentially save their life - they need me to get there as fast as possible, not by following their every step. Dogs know odor and how to achieve the end goal better than any human...just saying.
As the trail before us disappears and becomes overgrown by river brush, I find the odor trail a bit more difficult. It seems to have pools of odor in different areas, some tucked under spikey plants (my mistress hates those) and others in grass towering well above my head. Experience tells me what to do, and I focus even harder on the thin line of odor that continues to move forward and not bottle up, although sometimes, I find myself suckered into thinking my subject is close by, the smell is so strong. As I work through the grass, it tickles my nose and blinds me, but God made my paws to be sensitive to my noses leading and they seem to navigate the roots and shrubs with little trouble. Not sure why God didn't do the same thing for humans. My mistress is not very coordinated I guess, but she does have hands that give great paw massages, so I guess there had to be a sacrifice and surefootedness was it. I've learned not to take the hard jerks on the line or the colorful language that sometimes erupts from her lips, personally. I know she loves me and is doing the best she can with what she has.
Soon the odor leads me to the place my subject crossed the river. Like a wild wolf I leap across andland on the sandy bank; I am getting close to my prey and I can feel my heart pound faster in anticipation. I hear a loud splash behind me and guess my mistress figured it was bath time, but so much for my plans of stealthily sneaking up to my prey and surprising them. I shrug off my disappointment and scamper up the bank to the tall grass of a pasture. The grass is so tall I have to leap like a rabbit just to get through it. The odor is getting so strong I am almost overwhelmed and the excitement and closure of stalking my prey is just around the corner. I hear the praises from my subject as I reach her and sit, proud and purposeful (my mistress taught me to sit to confirm I found the right person) and lavish in the praises from my mistress and my found subject. Dried chicken bits melt in my mouth and the rubs on my ears and back are ecstasy. My mistress is huffing and puffing and asking questions about the trail, a bit insulting if you ask me, as I just ran the trail so what is there to ask? But I know humans are mysterious and every question she asks makes a better trail layer for the next time. From what I could understand, I mostly ran the trail 'true to track' and it was about a mile long. I know I will get good paw massages tonight and I bounce and play tag with my brother on the way back to the car. Trailing is so amazing. I am blessed to have a mistress who loves me so much, and a job that is so wonderful to do. God is good.