I’ve had many trail companions over the years, but hands down, my pup is the best.
That’s not to say that my human counterparts were terrible. Some of the most special moments in my life have taken place in the woods with friends and family. It’s just different when you hit the trail with a canine companion.
Hiking can be a unfocused activity, like relaxing in an inner tube on a lazy river—some force moves you along while you watch the scenery slowly pass by.
It’s easy to miss the details.
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Take a puppy into the woods, and you’ll be surprised at how your focus changes. I was recently introduced to this unique experience after my girlfriend and I adopted a Lab/Shepherd mix named Biscuit.
Neither of us had ever had sole responsibility for a dog, though I’ve spent time around them through roommates and other family members. However much I’ve played at being a dog dad, it didn’t come close to the real deal.
Right away, ownership fosters a deeper bond than just watching over someone else’s dog for a weekend. Biscuit instantly attached herself to our hearts and brought out the anxious excitement of being the best dog parents we could be. Fears and uncertainty coincided with our barely contained happiness.
While our thoughts were bogged down with the usual questions new puppy owners have, one particular question was at the forefront of my mind: When can we hit the trail? Possibilities filled my head ... the three of us around a fire, resting from a long day on the mountain, or afternoons spent hunting for deer sheds. But I knew these would have to wait until she was old enough.
The world is a new place for her. Its shine entrances her at every turn. I can walk around our home with my eyes closed. Figuring out how to get down the stairs requires her complete focus. I don’t want to rush her, so I’m forced to slow my pace and start looking at the world through her eyes.
Those first few weeks were an amalgamation of micro-adventures around the house and her sense of the world was strengthened with every bit of new information. If our home is impressive to her, I remember thinking, the sights and sounds of nature would be mind-blowing. I couldn’t wait to get her outside and into the woods.
And mind-blowing it was, but more so for me.
Once her puppy shots were in order, we took her for a short hike at a local spot we know well. It’s an easy hike, but we chose it because it would give her a well-rounded experience. There are pockets of wooded forest and open fields of tall grasses to get lost in, and a creek runs through the middle.
Right away, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be like getting into a lazy river, where the ride is continuous. It would be more like learning to drive a car with a manual transmission: lots of revving, lots of stalling out.
Every tree held wonder, every stick had to be chewed, every smell had to be investigated. The part of me that just wanted to keep moving was initially annoyed; there was ground to be covered! But then I began to feel her excitement at every new sight, smell and taste.
Once-familiar ground revealed a previously unknown layer to explore. Every time she stopped to smell something new, I wondered how she identified it. The rush of the creek and its refracted colors held her gaze as she tried to solve the mystery of moving water. As she stared into it, I found myself equally entranced.
I’ve spent a lifetime in water, wetting a line in a river, sweltering summer days in the neighborhood pool and (of course) daily showers at home. Yet there I was, standing at the edge of the creek, staring at it as though I were seeing it for the first time.
And it was all because of her.
Her curiosity was contagious, and her instincts led her all over the place. At one point, I had to pry her away from the bones of some animal she’d found. I’d never have seen those bones without her. She is an extension of my senses, allowing me to discover and take more information from our environment.
The hike that day was a short one for us, but for her, it must have felt like miles. She eventually lay down on the trail and closed her eyes for a nap. It was as though her head was overloaded with data and her brain needed time to analyze it before we made our way back home; when she awoke, we would tackle this new world once more and see what else we could learn. I know there are many miles ahead for all of us.
It’s easy for me to wax poetic when it comes to Biscuit. Even in the short time we’ve had her, the bond has grown deep, and I feel her becoming part of the foundation of our family. It can tug at your heartstrings in unexpected ways.
If you don’t believe me, I dare you to find a Biscuit of your own and see for yourself.