Did you have loads of snow? We did! We had more snow than I can remember in a very long time. The bad weather started just before Christmas when it was so cold that our patio area turned into an ice rink. It was so bad that I was unable to let the dogs out into the garden to have a wee unattended. We have a raised lawn area that the dogs use and, often, instead of using the steps, they jump off the two foot wall down to the patio. The Golden Wonder takes great joy in leaping off this wall up into the air to make the landing much more exciting. This particular habit worries me at the best of times as I fear he could injure himself. When the patio froze over the dogs could not even walk on it without slipping, so with their propensity to run everywhere, not to mention freestyle wall jumping, garden trips were executed on a ‘one dog at a time’ basis, escorted by me to prevent any running or jumping. Of course I have nothing better to do with my time, but this seemed the preferred option to an expensive trip to the vet with the possibility of ending up with a dog with a permanent injury.

As the weather got warmer the snow came and brought with it a whole new set of problems. We were snowed in for ages. Well it seemed ages to us – I expect some of you northerners laugh at our inability to cope with cold weather here in the south. I could now write a guide ‘How to pick up dog poo in cold climates.’ It would cover the transition from collecting the easy frozen packages off the lawn in the morning after a heavy frost, how to use a super duper pooper scooper to scrape snow from one side of a deposit in deep snow to knock it over into the pan without collecting too much snow with it and not forgetting, of course, the ultimate hand warmers, picking up using a bag whilst out on walks. I am sure it would prove to be a popular publication. Do you think I got bored being snowed in – surely not? I have never been so pleased to see rain!

I am however very fortunate to have land around me to train on, so not working had its advantages.  I had just decided to start some serious jump training with my Golden Wonder when the very cold weather struck. The ground became frozen and very hard and I thought landing on the hard surface, or slipping at take off could cause damage to his joints. I had to change my plan and do something else with him. Although as we know his tracking is not his forte I could not resist the opportunity to track him in the snow and see what he made of it.

The snow transformed me into an expert track layer. I could lay multi legged tracks and know exactly where I had been even without a compass or any counting! Of course multi legged tracks were not on the agenda for the Golden Wonder, but I also tracked Gwyllum (my black and white collie) in the snow. I took advantage of the conditions to lay tracks with very acute cut backs, close legs and even cross tracks. It was revealing to watch the dogs work in the snow. It seemed to make no difference their ability to follow the track. At first they did not appear to notice the very visible footprints, but used their nose in the normal way. Gwyllum found it much more difficult to locate articles in the snow and would go straight over articles placed on the ground beneath the snow. The Golden Wonder doesn’t do articles of course, and as I want to do everything I can to reward him for tracking I always trod down the snow before placing his food pot in the footprint.

He followed snaking tracks with enthusiasm (all things being relative). As he used his nose to track I noted the little lift in his attitude as he sunk his nose into each footstep. As most of his training has been straight lines he had to keep working to get the next step as the track always curved away one side or the other. He was duly rewarded with his pot of turkey scraps (I had lots of those). After a few days he learnt to use his eyes first and pull towards the steps he could see and check with his nose as an after thought.

I tried a little experiment - I walked a loop which crossed itself.

The Golden Wonder set off and went straight over the cross without faltering, as he continued round the second crossing was of course more difficult as it had already been retraced by him and me and was now more visible than the continuing track. He did not hesitate. Wow, I thought he was brilliant. I was so impressed I repeated this exercise a couple of times over the week. My elation was short lived and it seems that the initial response was beginner’s luck. As he began to use his eyes more he noticed the cross track on the second crossing and pulled to take it. Even as I held him back and he got his nose into it he wanted to take a wrong turning and take the more visible route. Oh well it was perhaps a tough task to set but it was an interesting exercise.

Gwyllum had also learnt to use his eyes and this provided me the opportunity to set tracks which crossed, joined and left the previous day’s track at various places and watch him work out which visible track held the correct amount of scent. We learnt a lot from this experience as I could see exactly where I had been on the previous days and overlay a challenging combination of cross tracks. This is of course what happens when competing at a trial and I know that feeling of being blown off and told I have transferred onto the previous day’s track. The snow did have it uses.

The Golden Wonder brought my attention to another effect of the snow. It causes echoes. In the middle of a field with woods on two sides I asked the Golden Wonder to speak. He started with his usual enthusiasm for this exercise and stopped abruptly to looks at the wood behind him. He obviously thought the unusual echo was another dog in the woods (he often speaks in this area without the echo effect). He barked again and so did the ‘echo dog’. He barked, it barked. Each time it happened he looked towards the woods and back to me as if asking could I hear it. We continued in this way for about half a dozen single barks at which time he must have realised there was no consequence to this ‘echo dog’ and the Golden Wonder did what he enjoys most - he barked his head off!

Post Script: When the snow finally disappeared and I saw the state of the lawn I realised the publication mentioned above would not be a great seller as the methods employed were clearly not as effective as they first seemed!

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