So when I downloaded Silvia Trkman’s ‘Ready, set, go’ DVD, I was a little sceptical about her idea of ‘free running’. That is, in Slovenia, you can just wander through the forest wherever you please and the dogs can run rampant and navigate their way over tree roots and branches. Fine, I thought, except when your forest is a dense and impenitrable jungle of undergrowth, prickly bushes and poisonous spiders.
But I decided, once I’d found a place or two, that I’d give it a try. Why not? Worst that could happen would be Lumen running off after a kangaroo. (So, a leech on the eyeball has happened, and they’ve laid fox poison where we used to go, so that’s out… no roos so far though!)
Well, I’m hooked, and so are the dogs. We begin by jumping off-trail in some open forest- dense undergrowth is out, it’s too hard on me and on them, so we need somewhere with trees but grassy undergrowth. “Trails are boring!” I say, and we move off parallel, usually, to them.
And Lumen is off. She just runs. She finds a smell and she follows it, she leaps onto and off tree-trunks that have fallen over (see this week’s photo of the week). She runs and runs, and checks in, and runs off. Even Mal, who is never far from me, disappears into the bush with her and isn’t seen for long enough for me to worry about him! A dog who is constantly, neurotically, making sure I haven’t secretly abandoned him, is going off with his friend on an adventure!
I watch them pick their way over branches and rocks, pouncing in and out of long grass, ducking under logs and scrambling, balancing, and sliding over slippery trunks. I’ve seen Lumen’s confidence at being on things grow 1000% since we started this. I see them gleefully doing ‘dog stuff’ in a way that they don’t when they’re on a trail. They finish up after a half hour or an hour with tongues lolling out, puffing and tired but bright and alert. They’ve run up and down hills, jumped, crawled, pounced and investigated. This is an all-over dog workout! People often say how goo trail-running is for humans, for their legs, core, cardio… this is the same for dogs. I am a complete convert to ST’s notion of ‘free running’ now, after thinking my dogs wouldn’t just go and run (they do) and that walking on a trail would have the same benefits (it doesn’t). If you want super-fit, nimble, agile dogs who are body-aware, who are coordinated, balanced and strong, I think you can’t look past free-running, off trail, in the forest.
(Edit to add: We went off trail this evening after a day of heavy rain. I found 3 leeches on my leg which I removed with salt before getting in the car, so that was fine… I got home and noticed, on Mal’s lower eyelid, a big fat leech which was sucking away. EWW. Out comes the salt water, poor fellow. It drops off, gets squashed and put in the bin (leeches don’t eye even if you squash them in a tissue. Serious.)… then I look… and see another one in his OTHER eye… cue more salt water. Squash. Bin. I breathe a sigh of relief, and pull back the first eyelid to check to make sure it’s not bleeding two bad… and spot three more leeches under his upper eyelid. Oh. my. god. Poor, poor Mal. Imagine someone continually squirting sea-water into your eyeball for 15 minutes straight. Oh, it was stinging, that’s for sure. Eventually they all came out, got squashed and got put in the bin, but honestly dude, four leeches in one eye???? That’s TALENTED. Even Lu had one in her eye by the looks but it fell out before I saw it. How horrific. One blog for bushwalkers said he just leaves them there to fall out, so maybe that’s ok, but even still, YUCK.)