I tell you what....TWO really is the magic number when it comes to dogs.
My walks with Tess just get better and better and better.
Today we walked around campus, sticking mostly to the undeveloped areas that are full of brush and rabbits and birds.
I'm sure I'll come back in 10 years and these empty lots will have buildings on them, but for now, they are Tess's playground.
I try to do our walks in silence, letting her have the responsibility to keep an eye on me and notice when I've strayed from our normal route. I practice a recall ("check!")when I think she's getting focused on something that is headed towards the road, or sometimes I recall her just because so it isn't always associated with leaving something fun.
Most of the time she's sent right back out to play ("break!") after she does a nose touch in my hand, but sometimes I have her heel a couple of yards.
Her heels this early in the walk are always a bit strained. She isn't really sure that she's going to be sent back out to have what she really covets - freedom. Which is why it's so important that I do a couple recalls and heels early in our walk - to continue to reassure her that these commands that she is choosing to follow WILL be rewarded in a way that she values.
For those of you familiar with the concept, I'm "premacking" my heel and recall commands on these walks :).
Later in the walk, we move into more developed areas.
We play hide and go seek (and get laughed at by passing professors.....I don't mind because Tess is getting noticed for exhibiting GOOD behavior instead of naughty behavior, even if I look silly in the process), pose for pictures and review our toxic plants.
Nowadays when I duck behind a tree, Tess notices quickly that I'm not behind her and pauses, looking around. When she doesn't see me, she retraces her steps at top speed, knowing from experience I have to be somewhere back along the route.
When she was a puppy I had treats for her when she found me, but now at 2 years old and being able to reward her with freedom instead of food, I rarely carry treats on me. Instead when she finds me (she's very proud) I clap my hands and exclaim in a loud voice how good she is and then we play a bit and then off we go.
They say that riding 100 miles on a horse forges a relationship between you and your mount that is hard to duplicate any other way. I think backpacking with Tess has forged a similar bond. It seems to me that the act of moving along the trail, whether on or off leash, all day and then sharing a tent at night for several days in a row makes the dog look at its human differently.
My walks with Tess nowadays are (finally!) less about training and obedience, and more about maintaining relationship and trust. We loiter in areas with good scents, play games when the time is right, and give each other our space for those few precious minutes that make up my lunch time and I can be out in the sunshine.
Two years old really is the magic number.