Today I took Bramble out for the first time since we got back from France: I was keen to see if he had remembered anything from before we went away. I decided to take him to Segsbury Fort on the Ridgeway above Letcombe Regis, as it is has a chalky soil and the ground stays reasonable after rain. Parking near the road, I walked along the Ridgeway to the fort with Bramble off the lead, keeping an eye out as to which fields had sheep in so I could avoid them. I did a couple of recalls along the track and Bramble responded willingly: although not as quickly as I would have liked, at least he was coming back to me.
We turned right onto the track that runs down the middle of the fort, and the over the style onto the eastern half. I didn’t want Bramble to race into the fort incase there were sheep in the dip that I hadn’t seen, so I used the stop whistle as he reached the style, not hoping for much, but he stopped! Lots of treats and praise.
I went onto the top of the fort and walked around the ridge. Bramble decided the ‘moat’ – really a ditch – was a much more interesting place to be, with all the smells of badgers, so he went down there. He was racing around like a lunatic chasing smells and a couple of times got a bit too far away for my liking, so I used the recall whistle to call him back. And he totally ignored it. Used it again, same response. Abandoning the whistle I called his name, growled at him, shouted, and he totally ignored me. Oh good.
The problem here is that normally, if he didn’t come back to me I’d chase after him and give him a good telling off, but the steep incline between him and me meant that wasn’t possible. So he got away with it. Again and again. After going around the whole fort I headed back along the track to the car. I thought that as I’d had such a good response to the stop whistle I’d try it again. Bramble was on the verge when I blew the whistle and he turned around and took a step towards me. ‘SIT’ He sat. Wow. Not at all what I was expecting. A few hundred yards later I tried again, this time he was a bit further away. He turned around and stayed exactly where he was, and then sat. I was so pleased with this I thought I’d end on a good note and leave it at that, as we were close to the car.
But sometimes it isn’t possible to end on a good note, however hard you try.
Bramble was rummaging in the hedge as I got near the car and after the responses I’d had to the recall I didn’t call him back, as using the whistle and him not responding to it would be detrimental to him training. I was about to open the car to change my boots when I saw him out of the corner of my eye, belting along the track away from me, chasing a rabbit. Straight towards the road.
I dropped my coat, with my car keys, camera and phone in it an raced after him, shouting my head off at him. I caught up with him 2 metres away from the road. The rabbit had disappeared by this point and Bramble was in a patch of nettles. When I got near him he stopped and stayed still, then crept out looking guilty. Taking no chances, I put him on the lead and marched back to the car.
Getting back home I started to open the boot of the car and Bramble tried to dash out. ‘Stay’ I told him, and normally he does. Not today. I opened the boot all the way and he raced across the close into the bushes on the other side. The stupid tree cutting man laughed and said ‘they never listen to you’. Stupid man.
These events really brought home to me the importance of having a good recall – if Bramble had come back to me when I’d first called him he never would have seen the rabbit. So next time I take him out, I’m going to be on top of him the whole time: he’s going to stay close to me and come back when I ask. I’m also going to go somewhere safe and where I can run after him if he doesn’t come back, because if I catch him I can tell him off.