uttleysnaturephotos.com, Wildlife Stories
Joe The Dog Story
Joe The Dog lived out his adventures in Alberta and British Columbia's Rocky Mountains. He was a majestic and intelligent Golden Labrador Retriever about seven months old when I met him at his Dad’s dairy farm in the spring of 1978. The farm was some eighty miles north of Edmonton, with Holstein cows, a small flock of sheep, couple of riding horses, chickens and geese, barn cats and the family dog, all living in this pleasant place together. These were nice people without pretense. If the Dalai Lama himself needed a weekend off, this was the place to go.
So there Joe The Dog was born, so there Joe The Dog’s personality was formed.
I was interested in Joe because he had some attributes that were very rare in a dog. First, he looked right into your eyes, trying to read your body language or other communication method. He grew up within a community of many species, and each species had its own language. Joe could read them all. Except for the humans and his Mom, he was smarter than everyone in the community, so he grew up confident, proud and smart, but he didn’t showboat or display arrogance. Inside, he was just comfortable with his world.
Second, he had no idea why a dog would chase after, or bark at another animal. Third, he did not bark. Fourth, he was young, but there wasn’t one silly corpuscle in him. The breed was right, the brain was right, and this dog’s value was limited only by his trainer’s ability.
I’d say we liked each other from the start, so I stopped at the farm to visit Joe four or five times over the next two weeks, and each time took him for a couple of hours of wildflower hunting. He liked these trips and learned hand signals easily. At first he was a bit of a nuisance when I got down on the ground with the camera to photograph flowers, because he thought I wanted to play. All dogs around the world, oddly or not, speak the same language, known as “Dog”. In “Dog”, putting your forearms and elbows on the ground means “Let’s play”. So he would put his elbows and forearms on the ground, meaning “OK”, and climb in my face. That was all the excuse needed to have a little fun tussle. He soon learned to leave me alone whenever I got down on the ground with a camera, and he would investigate other things until I finished and moved on.
One day I said “Joe, I’m going to British Columbia until the snow falls. Going to do a little placer mining and photograph wildflowers and whatever else looks good. How be you come along as my Security Chief? Your duties would include keeping watch for cats, bears, or anybody that may think a brown eyed boy would make a tasty lunch. Your pay would include going out almost every night for a spruce grouse supper, a Vanilla ice cream cone whenever we’re in a town on a hot day, and real canned gravy on your kibbles on all birthdays and holiday weekends.”
It really was not fair to bribe Joe The Dog with regular feeds of spruce grouse because Retrievers and German Shepherds just can't refuse that kind of food. Your dog may be your best friend, but a dog is a dog so remember not to watch him eat things like spruce grouse or rabbit.
Joe The Dog was offered the Security Chief job and I’m not sure he really understood the offer, so I opened the truck door, he jumped in, and we were on our way to British Columbia. Kibbles and gravy were already in the truck just in case we failed to find a spruce grouse tonight. I had this warped thought that if we shot two spruce grouse, Joe and I could each leave a pair of grouse feet on the floor tonight. I got a mind picture of the scene and put a mind repair patch over it pretty quickly.
When travelling between places, we would camp out anywhere. One of the rules in my life is to avoid sleeping with dogs, so Joe had this little mat that was placed under the truck to sleep on. The day we left for B.C. I considered how this new experience might go for Joe. The sound of night birds and other night sounds are often very different than the night sounds you are accustomed to hearing at home. As an example, the sound of the wind blowing through the aspens on the prairie is very different than the sound of the wind blowing through a pine forest in the mountains. In the higher altitude the air has a different feel. Joe would learn that tonight camping near Hinton Alberta. He was accustomed to the sound of coyotes calling through the night at the farm, but in nights to come he would learn the serenade of the wolf pack spread wide. For me that serenade was right up there with the great Austrian Classics, and Chopin, and Joe The Dog was going to get all this in the nights to come, compliments of Mama Nature and the truck cassette player.
Tonight he would have his first spruce grouse supper, so I shot the grouse and left him with it. He proved to be a natural grouse connoisseur, and I got a chuckle out of that, but I wasn’t going to stay and watch him eat it. When he finished supper it was the same old dog type dinner story, two spindly feet left.
Labradors have excellent hearing, so to preserve his hearing, Joe was trained to go rearwards of the gun muzzle before the grouse could be shot. When the grouse fell, Joe would bring the grouse to me, I would give him a “Good Boy”, then walk away, leaving him to it. To Joe, that old shotgun was a visual picture of a dinner bell.
And something there brought a memory of Jim Harrington.
Years before I met Joe The Dog, eight of us went on a two week canoe trip through Algonquin Park in northern Ontario. We would do a number of portages, some short and some a few miles long, so our gear was as light as possible. One morning I awoke to the sound and feel of a bump and a what. There was Jim Harrington (not Jim the Placer miner) on his hands and knees, looking kind of goofy holding up the tent roof. So I asked him how he came to this?
The tent door flaps were opened through the night, with the mosquito netting closed. Jim was sleeping with his face against the netting. He could feel the cool morning fog and the sun, so Jim opened his eyes and identified a large eye surrounded by fur, two inches from his face, and those excellent reflexes transported him into the future, were he found himself still and quiet, looking kind of goofy holding up the tent roof.
It was one of the local rabbits that dropped by for a peek at whatever we were and was sitting with one eye two inches from Jim’s face when Jim opened his eyes. The crew got quite a kick out of it. There were a couple wisecracks, like “This is one spooky forest”, “Have an eye for hiding places”, “Ah, ha ha ha”. Not often anyone poked at Harrington, and I think he enjoyed it.
So back to Joe The Dog spending the first night of his new life on his new mat under the truck in the Great Northern Boreal Forest. And I wondered if he might be tired tomorrow, but, he did sign on as Security Chief, right?
Day one was over with night one starting, and through the night he could be heard changing positions to listen to a night bird he never heard before, and to a sound sequence of a new animal walking. In the morning we knew Joe was born for it, he loved it. There would not be any stealthy cats or bears undetected around my campsite or work area, not from this day forth.
When you camp out in the uninhabited bush like this, it isn’t uninhabited. Your vehicle may be parked over a ground squirrel’s doorway, and a hawk or heron may be sleeping in the tree above. Through the night, nocturnal birds such as nighthawks, night herons and owls, may be in the trees above or flying around or past your campsite. Most Night working animals, deer, badger, skunk, fox, weasels, squirrels, cats and such, may discover your campsite and inspect you from a cautious distance, then leave to resume their night’s work. Or they may detect interesting smells or be curious and venture in. “Hi there, meet Joe The Dog.”
The next morning we explored the area’s little animals and got Joe accustomed to scents on the game trails. He knew the deer and moose scents, but elk scents were new, as was much of the vegetation. The altitude was higher than he was accustomed to, and the thin cool air enhanced the pleasure of exploring for him. He ran here and there, trying to get all these new and wonderful smells into that big nose, and he wanted them right now. So, I decided to give Joe the Dog an “Olfactory Blast”. Since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed doing this to my dogs. Here’s how it works, sort of.
Let’s say you leave the house and hide behind the barn. Then Mom let’s your dog out of the house. A tiny breeze carries your scent everywhere, and the dog’s nose follows your scent to you, much like your ears follow a sound to its source. Dogs don't have names for people, animals, things or places because thier brains are wired different than yours. They identify everyone and everything by scent and also sight to some degree. Using scent alone dogs and other animals get the equivalent of "Nose Pictures".
How important is scenting ability to a dog? Hold something up for him to see. Yup, he can see it OK, but his nose starts working on it right away because it's the nose that really identifies things. For a dog, an Olfactory Blast is a thousand Nose Pictures per minute, and there's only one way for him to get it;
Joe and I got into the vehicle and drove down a bush trail at ten or twenty miles per hour. With his face stretched out the window, big gold fur tail hammering on the truck seat, and golden ears flapping in the wind, the Nose Pictures blew into his head at a thousand per minute. What excitement dogs get doing this! He will have feet running in his dreams tonight!
While people's noses are just about useless, most hunters are aware of how sensitive the noses of dogs, deer, moose, etc., can be. Yet most people would be very surprised by the scenting and tracking abilities of some other breeds of animals. If you walk to a herd of cattle, they will try to catch your scent to identify you as someone who belongs here, or know you to be a stranger.
Years ago I bought an Arabian horse that could ground track animals or detect them unseen on the other side of a hill or behind a woodlot. When tracking he would casualy walk along with his nose two or three inches off the ground. He located an elusive chicken stealing weasel, tracked it 150 yards and pointed it to me in the upper branches of a tree. A million years ago and today, most animals survived using scent to detect predators in time to flee. They all get Nose Pictures that allow them to identify different species and individuals within the different species. There are exceptions, at least one species of vulture cannot smell.
Years before the machines and back to man's use of the horse, horsemen relied on the horse's nose, ears and eyes to detect danger. In this way travellers sometimes recieved early warning alerts that often enough made it possible to avoid ambush by robbers, lions or enemy warriors. At night while the traveller slept under the stars, the horse, much like the dog, snoozes or sleeps with nose and ears searching for danger, and will warn the horseman of it's approach. Some animals sleep with thier eyes open and seeing movement awakens them.
Just like extreme noise can damage a human or animal ear, scented car air fresheners, perfumes and household or other chemical fumes can reduce the dog's scenting ability. Police Dogs and Search and Rescue Dogs undergo extensive "Scent Recognition" training before they can be used on the job.
Classes began for Joe The Dog. He learned how to walk, stop and go, on a leash held in my left hand. He learned new words. He did not need to be taught to look at me every few seconds, he did that naturally. Joe learned more hand signals and body language so we could communicate silently from great distances. He learned to identify new species by scent, and which were dangerous and which were not.
In short time Joe proved to be an excellent mountain dog. His eyes, nose and ears were always scanning. He had very big feet, more than ample strength, and he loved rock climbing and exploring. Sometimes on a hot day we would come across a pocket of snow laying in a depression on the mountain slope. He went nuts in these snow pockets, pushing his face into the snow, dragging and rubbing his belly in it to feel the invigorating cold. He just turned into a puppy, jumping and running top speed all over it.
A week later we drove through Jasper National Park and into British Columbia. We crossed over the Great Divide, that’s the high spot where all rivers west of the Rocky Mountain’s “Great Divide” flow into the Pacific Ocean, and all rivers east of the Great Divide flow into the Arctic Ocean. We could have stopped in Jasper town site for lunch, but there was something special further on for Joe The Dog. Because of stops to peek and sniff at this, and to sniff and photograph that, it was early afternoon before we arrived at that little tourist area at the base of Mount Robson, and I wonder if you can guess why it was important to stop here?
Well, Mount Robson is billed as the most prominent mountain in North America, and the highest point in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet. Nope! Dogs are not interested in labels or statistics.
OK, there’s an absolutely huge glacier on the mountain… that’s not a dog thing.
OK, the top of Mount Robson is usually shrouded in cloud, meaning most people never see all of Mount Robson, but today there is no cloud cover over the mountain, so you can see the whole mountain.
That’s a tourist treat, not a dog treat. So here it is. In the parking lot below the mountain is a tourist information booth and a little place that has sold hundreds of thousands of its world famous Ice cream cones, in dozens of flavors, to travel fatigued children and adults from every country in the world. So today, Joe The Dog not only gets his very first ice cream cone, he gets a world famous one, in a world famous place. How cool is that?
We parked the truck and walked right over to the window and ordered two vanilla ice cream cones, one scoop each. I put Joe’s cone on a nice grassy spot and let him at it.
Whoa, whoa, Hey ! There you were in a world famous place with world famous ice cream and you bought him one scoop?
Yes, I don’t give my friends ice cream headaches. Joe did get his second world famous ice cream cone about a half hour later, and then we were on the road again. I did watch him eat those two ice cream cones, and oh, talk about a wagging tail! Joe never had an ice cream headache in his life, but he saw a tourist’s dog that had one. I'm sure he didn't understand why the tourist dog was rubbing his head on the grrrrround.
Today, 2016, that Ice Cream Place is gone! A fancier restaurant sits there now. Big Deal, the Ice Cream Place is gone!
We could have explored the Mount Robson area trails, but there were other mountains without tourists or Park rules. Joe and I were going to work mountains elsewhere without the insult of a leash.
Joe The Dog would always allow harmless species to come within forty feet of our campsites, before warning them with a low, subdued woof. Usually he woofed from the comfort of his bed under the truck. It was merely an announcement of our presence and occupied territory. Sometimes after that announcement you would hear nothing, other times you would hear departure sounds, like hoof beats or small or medium animal movement through the tall wet grass. If a higher level threat (in his mind) came along, that announcement woof occurred mixed with the sound of him dashing toward the threat, which might be a coyote, raccoon, weasel, fox or badger. Most of the time his announcement woof was a surprise to such low level threat critters approaching the camp, and they usually did an auto-reflex disappearance. If they didn’t leave he wouldn’t attack them, he would simply harass them with lunges and growls until they did leave.
If there were a number of coyotes or wolves showing signs of coming in close, Joe would spend the rest of the night in the truck. Nobody’s going to eat my dog, and there just isn’t any point in losing sleep over bush canines sniffing around. If anybody is still hanging around in the morning, they will melt away when Joe and I start moving.
For most people’s dogs, the greatest threat might be the porcupine or the beaver. Many dog breeds see the porcupine as a threat the first time they meet. The dog is curious and sniffs too close causing the porcupine to swing its tail. Sooner or later the dog get’s stabbed with one or more quills, and the war is on. Joe was not into chasing porcupines, but, like a lot of other dogs, my German Shepherd from another time was, and you couldn’t break her of it, and you couldn’t stop her when the game was on. So there you are, off to the vet to have 137 quills removed, next time 211, next time 167, and so on and so on, and soon you might have to lock her up because her body can’t survive any more injections of something-cillin.
Most dogs give up the battle after receiving two or even twenty quill penetrations, but German Shepherds are mostly high attitude rock stars, meaning she’s going to die if she doesn’t get to a vet soon. The dog will choke to death as the quills in the throat cause non-stop uncontrollable muscle spasms over twenty minutes or an hour. Quills are filled with air and have barbs on the ends. To remove one you must first cut the quill with a wire cutter to deflate it, then use pliers to pull the quill out of the dog. The dog can’t stand the pain on having more than one quill pulled out, if that much is possible. If the dog is very badly quilled in the throat or other dangerous places, you have three options. You can spare him from the suffering and shoot him on the spot, or you can you can drive him to the vet understanding that he may painfully choke to death on the way. More sensibly, you may whip out your Med Kit and use a hypodermic needle to squirt a sedative into the dog, then deliver him to the Vet in a survivable condition.
Well I just can’t help telling this little story. Some years back the Med Kit needed freshening up, so I stopped at our little Peavy Mart. The store clerk was one of those pleasant and well mannered farm boys that you liked instantly. He could have been twenty-one, red hair, freckles, the kind of white skin that red heads have and blue eyes. Yup, a natural born Saskatchewan Stubble Jumper from not far off the highway. You could tell right off he was a stockman, so I asked him for a bottle of sedative, two syringes, and two of the smallest needles in stock. He asked what the application was and feeling playful, I said the horse got into the barbed wire and I have to get some penicillin into his male parts. Bad joke, in an instant, his mind made up a whole video of condition and procedure. The kid turned super white and became faint. I talked him into other places, he recovered, and I vowed not to joke like that. But, being good is sometimes so hard.
You’ve met the guy or gal that walks along normally until… no, we must say gal here, because guys have no fear. OK, you’ve met the gal that walks along normally until she sees a spider in a tree. At that moment she screams as her reflexes propel her twenty feet backwards, and he, I mean she, will not re-enter the spider area until the A-6 squadron completes sterilization of the full four square miles.
And that’s how it is with certain breeds of dogs. They have an insanity thing about porcupines.
So back to Joe The Dog and, oh yes, the beaver threat!
Oh! Oh! Another phobia memory, in the “Before Cell Phones” years. 35 mm wildflower photographer buddy James had never been to the mountains, and he wanted to go to the National Parks Mountains to photograph landscapes and wildflowers. We were to meet in the Shuswap Lake area near Salmon Arm, British Columbia. James was “No-Show”. I caught him on the phone about three weeks later, wondering why the No Show. He apologized and explained.
James rented a car in Calgary Alberta, planning to drive through Banff National Park to meet in the Shuswap. As he approached and drove through the first big hill before the mountains, he began to feel fear and anxiety, increasing to a degree of illness. He managed to get into Banff town site that night, find his room and sleep it off. In the morning he stepped into the parking lot, looked around and he was again struck by dizziness, fear and anxiety. James crawled back into his room and figured it out. He was born a Flatlander. His DNA had no Highlander experience. James had “Giant Mountain Crushing Down on James Phobia”. I never heard of that one before. Under the darkness of the very late night when James could not see the mountains overhead, he was able to drive to Calgary, still nervous, because he knew the mountains were still up there.
Now back to Phobia Free Joe The Dog and the beaver thing;
On a hot day in the bush almost all dogs enjoy a swim in the cool waters of a river or pond. Now, if it’s a beaver pond, that pond would not be there if the beaver didn’t build the dam to create the pond, so, without doubt, the beaver considers the pond to be his, and has no intention of sharing it with predator enemies such as coyotes, wolves, or your dog. Beaver of course have big teeth designed to chew down fully grown mature trees, and very strong and able paws and claws to build beaver dams from poplar trees and mud. On land the beaver body is of awkward design, rendering him an easy lunch for a coyote or wolf, but in the water, the beaver is fast, agile and strong, on the surface and under water. He can remain under water ten to fifteen minutes before coming up for air.
In the water, the coyote, wolf, or your six pound dog or even one hundred pound dog is slow, awkward, weak, and swims only on the surface. So, here in the beaver pond, an angry twenty or thirty pound beaver is easily able defeat the intruder.
If you are lucky enough to have a fairly deep swimming pool you can simulate such an aquatic battle. Step one, throw the family dog into the center of the pool’s deep end. Step two, dive to the bottom of the pool and then rise up under your swimming dog, noting that at no time is the dog able see you. As you rise up, touch the dog’s underbelly with your hand, simulating the beaver’s bite. One simple touch of the beaver’s teeth and the dog’s belly is cut and ripped open. That’s the standing operating procedure for beaver battle against canines in his pond.
Duck and geese hunters seldom lose their retrievers to beaver because it’s a different set of conditions.
You don’t want your dog in a beaver pond anyway. The home of the beaver is also the home of the microscopic bug that can kill you with Beaver Fever, plus any number of pathogens that won’t die in boiling water, plus any number of viruses, bacteria, and other microscopic bugs that could cause your ankles and armpits to fall off. I could write an article about drinking cold, fresh mountain stream water as it babbles down from the mountain top, and why you shouldn’t do that.
In little time, Joe The Dog became accustomed to his new life, and me, and like all people, Joe The Dog’s personality shortcomings and defects began to show through here and there, now and again. As an example, we need to share the truck’s front bench type seat. When we get back to the truck after a trip of photographing things, Joe might be tired and want to sleep with his head under the window and tail toward me. There’s room enough for both of us but sometimes he wants it all. At those times when I’m trying to drive, he will streeeetch out and push and kick me with his back feet until I stop the truck and get out. If I don’t get out, he will raise his head and look at me, then growl and push and kick until I do get out. I’ve reminded him several times that I’m the employer and he’s the employee, and it’s my truck. He didn’t care about titles or pink slips, so, here and there, now and again, I take half hour walks by myself.
It was laundry and shower time, so we got a room in McBride. There was no laundromat so I had my shower, put on my cleanest dirty clothes and washed another set of clothes in the bathtub. I went to a restaurant and ordered a hamburger steak with well-done French fries. After it all arrived, the waitress walked past me with a lemon pie, the kind that gives you nose pictures, so I ordered one of those. It was supper as suppers should be. Joe had his kibbles before I went to the restaurant. When I got back to the truck Joe got nose pictures of my supper and of what was in my hand, a hamburger paddy that was cool enough to eat.
That evening I watched a movie while Joe ran through his dreams asleep on the floor. It included a ( cough drop ) commercial wherein this fellow dressed up in centuries old Swiss Alps clothing is standing on a mountain top. He cups his hands over his mouth and in long slow motion he hollers what sounds like “Reeeee Cooooolaaaa”. That commercial showed three or four times. I got a kick out of it, so I fantasized changes in the commercial to better please me; Goes like this;
There’s the film people on the mountain top setting up the camera and sound equipment in just the right spot, and then the actor gets in just the right spot, cups his hands in front of his face, and does the “Reeeee Cooooolaaaa” thing. But he’s an actor, not a singer, and although he looks good in the little leather Swiss pants and hat, he can’t yodel or do mountain calls worth a darn. They complete the film shoot anyway, then pack the equipment down the gondola lift to the town below and discuss the vocal problem over a cup of coffee in a quaint little Swiss Mountain type restaurant. It had little red and white checkered window curtains. There they decided the only solution is to pack the sound people off to Italy, record Luciano Pavarotti doing the “Reeeee Cooooolaaaa” thing, and dub that audio track into the commercial film clip. Problem solved, the commercial is remarkably improved. In my next such project, I hope to teach TV Cowboys how to shoot pistols and rifles with their eyes open.
In the morning I put on that clean set of clothes that was not yet dry, but that didn’t matter as Joe and I were accustomed to being rained on. When Joe is wet, he has that wet dog smell. When I’m wet, I wonder if I smell like wet people to him. If so, am I more tolerable to his nose?
Well, wouldn’t you know it! Some days later, Joe and I are near Likely on top of this big old round mountain that the locals, and the Government Maps, call Old Brown Top. Like I said, it was just Joe and Me so nobody else was going to see this. I cupped my hands over my mouth, and doing my best Luciano Pavarotti imitation, I hollered “Reeeee Cooooolaaaa”. It echoed everywhere. I swear Joe’s mouth dropped open and he just stood there staring at me with that look of disbelief.
Dogs aren’t real people, so sometimes you just ignore them.
Here and there and now and again, a problem of greater concern is my Security Chief, Joe The Dog himself. When I’m photographing wild flowers Joe is supposed to be on the alert watching for danger. Remember?
Quote“. How be you come along as my Security Chief? Your duties would include keeping watch for cats, bears, or anybody that may think a brown eyed boy would make a tasty lunch.
Note the next picture below showing Joe The Dog snoozing on duty while my attention is on the photography, and that raises an important question. Is it safe for me to be taking pictures while he sluffs off?
So I holler “Hey Joe, “Who’s on the wall while you snooze”? He raises that big gold head, his eyes open a little, and,,, close again.
Oh! Look there by his chest! He's sleeping on a patch of Calypso Orchids!
Oh my goodness! Look how big his feet are!
In all fairness, dogs were not built to operate on people schedules and should sleep several times per day and several times per night, just like most other animals. And just like most other animals, your snoozing dog is most likely to detect you from a great distance if you try to sneak up on him. Just like you and I, he has the five well known senses, touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing.
Some breeds of dogs are often referred to as Sight Dogs because they have much better eyesight than other dog breeds. Like white tailed deer and many other animals, they can visually detect the smallest animal movement at great distances. Sight dogs can identify a variety of animal species by shape alone or by partial shape. To conceal themselves from animal sight, hunters often wear camouflage clothing having colors to help them blend into the terrain, but there are few animals in the world that can’t identify the silhouette of a man, or the partial silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders. Many Animal brains are wired with very accurate sight pictures to identify predator and prey by shape and by partial shape. Animals don’t need the Peterson Field guides to look up silhouettes. Their eyes might not detect you if you stand stone still, but wiggle a finger at five hundred yards and they will.
I’m certainly not an expert on this, but deer have excellent eyesight in daytime, even if they can't see all the colors, as said, they will see anything that moves at normal human or other animal speed. I assume so many deer get hit by cars because they may see the car with one eye only, giving them insufficient depth perception to estimate car speed, and they think they can cross the road before the car gets to their location. I believe they can estimate the distance to another deer or wolf by saying a deer one hundred yards away appears this big, and at two hundred yards he appears half that big. This would be similar to estimating range to a target of known size using a duplex or mil-dot reticle. Car sizes and silhouettes aren’t wired into the deer’s brain so cars and trucks are unknown unknowns, or incomprehensible. Car headlights at night = UFO. In daylight, Car on road at 30 MPH = UFO.
Joe the Dog won’t be detecting anybody by sight when he’s snoozing, but favorable or variable wisps of wind carrying a detectable scent from a creature of even minor concern will stuff a nose picture and or ear picture into Joe’s head that will put the whole animal on full alert.
I have a “Silent Whistle” , Or “Dog Whistle” used to signal Joe at great distances, although we are rarely if ever that far apart. It’s often called a “Silent Whistle” because it’s sound is above the range of human hearing.
At home you may have a driveway alarm to signal the arrival of a visitor before he even gets close to the doorbell. On windless days and using ears only, moose and deer have detected me walking quietly through dry grass at four hundred yards. My ears can’t pick up that sound beyond sixty yards. The really great thing about super hearing is how the animals use it.
Imagine you’re a deer a hundred yards into the center of a small woodlot. Because of the trees you can’t see an approaching creature and the wind is not carrying it’s sent to you. Your ears are always working so you detect the sound of the approaching creature. As a person you can identify your Mom’s footsteps from your Dad’s footsteps, and the different activities in the house. As a deer you can identify the footfall patterns of different four footed species such as horses, moose, bear, wolf, cats etc. The sound of a vegetation feeder grazing or browsing is unlike the sound of a meat hunter creeping toward prey. By means of sound the deer can distinguish non-dangerous animals from the dangerous. The sound of a bear walking or digging ground tubers or ground dwellers is distinct, so it's a bear. The deer uses "Ear Pictures" to identify another creature and the activity it is engaged in.
Look at those oversized sound scoops on a deer. Without moving it's head or body, the deer can rotate the ears like a pair of radar dishes, pinpointing the exact location of a tiny sound. The sound pattern of a two footed walking man is a very strange foot pattern to animals, especially with the sound of man’s clothes rubbing against themselves.
Most animals can detect very small ground waves or tremors through their feet or while lying down. If you were a miner waiting and watching a mile away for an explosion, at the moment of ignition you would first see the dust, less than a second later you would feel the ground tremor, and 4.8 seconds after the moment of ignition you would hear the explosion. Ground waves or tremors travel faster than sound through air. Sound travels 10 times faster through water than sound through air.
Cougar, lynx and bears are designed to walk and hunt without causing ground vibrations that warn their prey, as are the canine predators to a lesser extent.
So, with animals using ground vibration seismology sensors, sight, sound, and sense of smell, how’s a guy supposed to sneak up on them? Well, it just gets worse. There’s still tattle tail creatures and the sixth sense.
Tattle tail creatures can make you nuts. They tell all the other animals where you are. Let' say you are in this little bush and you want to go past that pond to that other little bush to watch the deer through your binoculars. You tip toe toward that other little bush and when you get near the pond, every frog in it suddenly stops croaking, causing all creatures in the area to stop, look, and listen for danger, quietly.
If this was a cowboy movie, this is when Matt Damon looks at Mark Walberg from behind a big rock they found in Utah and says "I don't like it Mark, too quiet".
Yup, the frogs tattled your location to everyone. Now the whole world knows where you are and that you are up to no good, so all the deer, moose, bunnies and coyotes go to Los Vegas for the weekend. So there you stand alone, and from here you are nothing more than Type “O” blood for the mosquitoes to enjoy.
That was a tough break so let’s just try it again. OK, You are in this little bush and you want to go past that pond to that other little bush to watch the deer through your binoculars. You begin to tip toe and a crow lands in the branches above and starts to “caw caw caw caw”. He pulls his megaphone out andhis call can be hear for 1.5 kilometers (1.5 miles).
“Whoa Whoa, going too far with this Uttley”!
OK, one more time! You are in this little bush and you want to go past that pond to that other little bush to watch the deer through your binoculars. You begin to tip toe and your footsteps flush a covey of quail....It's the way of the woods.
I consider the sixth sense to be one of those unexplainable things because I can’t explain it. Never met anyone who could. It’s just something you feel now and again, like a little alarm bell that causes you to look around, or it comes in as a little whisper that you can’t quite hear. Sometimes it sends a tiny fuzzy lightning bolt through you that makes your hair stand up.
You’ve been in a crowd somewhere when for some reason you look around and find someone looking at you. Well that probably is not it. You just looked around the room and found someone looking at you, maybe because they noticed your head move. By reflex, eyes gravitate very quickly toward movement, so getting caught like that is a pretty common thing.
Let’s try again. You are somewhere doing something or nothing. Suddenly your head moves quickly and your eyes instantly lock right into some other eyes looking at you when you thought you were alone. This time we might have that sixth sense connection, maybe. Could be you heard him first, then looked.
Now and then Joe figured it was my turn to stand on the wall, usually in the evening before I sleep. We had a little fire going and he was in a deep sleep on the ground and I was sitting in a chair thinking about tomorrow. I looked at him and I thought “tomorrow we see the Athabasca Falls Joe”. Instantly his head came up and his eyes were in mine, surprised. That surprised me, and I said “Did you hear that?” He came over to me , like dogs do at odd moments, so I gave him a play push. Perhaps we should count our days in the bush and after so many, perhaps we should go to town for an appropriate number of preventative therapy days.
I believe the sixth sense, by that or any other name, is real, as I’ve had too many alarms go off to discount it. It does not include telepathy or looking into the future. It is the primitive prehistoric ability of a particular man or beast (you) to detect another man or beast having his attention tuned to you, which provides you with an early warning danger signal. All animals have this sixth sense, including Man, who in modern day usually forgets or doesn't know he has this gift. You loose what you don't practice.
Joe doesn’t need ESP or telepathic powers. He has the sixth sense and he’s smart enough to carry out his job well and be a good companion. I’m happy with that. I will probably be even happier because he’s learning more every day and becoming mentally sharper. And that can only go so far. I'd hate to have folks sitting in the Likely Hotel's Coffee Shop speculating as to which of us is the smarter. Besides, he’s an animal and thinks different than people. Note the picture below and it becomes obvious that Joe The Dog's brain processes and solves problems different than the human brain does.
A stimulating life for boys and their dogs requires an interesting mix of flowers and tea cups, bullwhip’s and boots. Joe The Dog was getting his share. As I photographed different things day after day, Joe never failed to give me that little “Ruff” or “Woof” to say that somebody was near or coming. Now he “woof”ed. Somebody was near or coming from behind a little bit of a hill fifty yards off. Soon I would find out if it was a deer, moose, bear, injured duck, or what. As we waited concealed, I took the extension tube off the RB 6x7 and put a 2 X tele-converter behind the 127 lens.
Joe whispered “It’s a People, a heavy one”. I whispered back “Be pretty odd to have a People out here, and if it is, you can’t tell it’s a heavy until you see it”. Joe’s face took on a stern look, he locked his eyes into mine and he whispered “You do photographs and I do nose and ear pictures”. His face moved straight towards me with his eyes still locked into mine, suggesting I not respond. I was glad non of the Likely Hotel crowd were listening in.
I looked through the viewfinder and soon saw the creature rise from behind the hill. It was a people, a heavy one, dressed in a B.C. Wildlife Officer’s uniform. Joe whispered “Why would a people be out here”? The Wildlife Officer hollered “what are you doing out here”? I looked at Joe, and I looked at the Officer and thought “Oh for Pete’s sake!”. I hollered back to the Officer, “What say you two work it out”?
For some reason I always get the feeling that all B.C. Wildlife Officers between McBride and Merritt are old World Wrestling Federation members on sabbatical, and this Officer looked like that. We were four or five miles from the nearest road and I couldn’t figure why he was out here. He apparently figured Joe and I were nuts and would die without hurting anyone, so he left.
Springtime, 1979, Joe and I were in the lower elevations south of Swan Hills Alberta, closer to Fort Assiniboine really. The surface was mostly sandy hills sparsely covered by scrubby birch trees and the usual grasses, small bushes and flowers you would expect to find in such and area. Visibility in any direction through the brush was a good seventy-five yards. I got out of the truck in search of wildflowers, bugs, or other things. Joe The Dog caught the check perimeter signal and took up the task. Not finding concerns, he would return in one or three minutes at the very most.
So there I was, scanning the ground for stuff to photograph, when the hair on my arms and scalp stood up. I was listening to her making that air-through-the-throat threat noise. I pivoted my feet around in slow motion and she was an unusually big Mama Coyote, nearly white colored. She was obviously nursing pups, and in full threat posture, fifteen or twenty feet away. I must have been standing right on top of her den, because coyotes don’t come up on you like this.
There is nothing more disgusting than a coyote in threat posture (except a feeding turkey vulture). The tail is tucked up between the legs and under the belly, the back and belly are arched high, and the neck and head are pointed down and almost touching the ground, and their yellow eyes don’t leave yours, and they make an awful sound in their throat. The whole thing gives the impression that they’re going to vomit on your boots. I’m not saying this to ruin your moment, their threat posture really does look like the dirty boot thing coming, with sound effects. Have to admit, I do like the looks of a healthy coyote from November through January, when those magnificent fur coats are good for -40 and without rub marks. But right now in the molt and under present circumstances, she was an unpleasant sight.
She had no intention of ruining my boots, she’ll be going for my throat. She had already advanced two bold steps forward, so there was no getting out of this. Anyone stupid enough to attack a coyote should be hospitalized before he's permitted leave the house, let alone enter the bush. In this case I had no choice and was forced to follow the “Code Of The West, Section 9, 14-G” which states; “If you can’t avoid it, get it done”, so I took a bracing step forward and she came in like a rocket, 40 degree up angle, paws forward, and Joe the Dog’s face passed level within an inch of my jaw bone at no less than thirty miles per hour. A tenth of a second later and he would have had a Buck knife in his neck. He came at her at about a twenty-five degree angle, using his right shoulder to hit her left shoulder, deflecting her well away from me.
Joe did a nice four point touch, turn and stop-to-watch-her at my eight o’clock, and after her neat flying demonstration, Mama Coyote did a not bad four point touch and gone at nine O’clock. Joe stood and watched her disappear, then he looked at me, wagged his tail and said “She’s got pups here, we should go”. So we did. She wasn’t a bad coyote, she was just a good Mom. From the instant I first saw her to the instant she left, the time span may have been six seconds at the very most. Often these encounters begin and end much faster, but she was slow at the start, not really wanting this. It’s a matter of risk verses success because Injured Mama Coyotes can't hunt to feed their puppies. It's the way of the woods. Thinking about her action now makes me a little angry. Normally coyotes show me more respect.
You might think Joe would look a little more pleased with himself after the way he handled these deals, but it was done, "What's next?". Perhaps he would dream about such things later, and he did dream. One evening about sundown he was sleeping on a flat sun-warmed chunk of shale when a dream started. His feet were running and stopping, he was snapping and snarling, then he bounced and hollered and fell off the rock. He woke on impact with the ground and found me with a big old grin and chuckle. His head went down and looked sideways. He was embarrassed. I grabbed his fur and shook him around, pretty soon he was laughing too.
A lot of folks don't believe a dog or other animal of high order can feel insult, embarassment or distain. The canine, feline, deer, gophers, bears and others, all live within the rules of their evolved social orders. Any member not conforming within the rules, or having undesirable genetics, may be ostracized or booted out by means of physycal force or social rejection by all members of the colony, herd or pack. Once a member is ostracized and leaves the group, it does not survive long. It's what's best for the herd or colony, and that's why the way of the woods works.
In a territorial, surprise or other confrontation between two animals, say two bears, neither wants to fight because if injured, he may die unable to feed himself. But how does a proud and dominant animal such as a bear disengage from a fight without losing face? They usually manage to do so without too much damage, but not always.... Pride, Degrees of Pride, and possession. So every now and again one of them dies. Sometimes they kill each other. For example, every now and again two competing deer stags get their antlers tangled together and can't disengage. And so they die together from starvation, exhaustion, or that mischievous Mother Nature presents them as twin-pack box of Kibbles to the Wolf or Bear.
“Meet a man’s dog and he will tell you things about his owner or other people”.
The best, smoothest, low-key dog/animal insult I ever saw is credited to Robert’s dog, who’s name is “Dog”, and he lives near Elk Point Alberta. Robert had a Shetland pony and a donkey in a field beside the house, so Robert, Dog and I walked over to visit them. The Shetland of course was as rude and pushy as Shetlands are expected to be, and the donkey just had a really nice personality. I would feed each a handful of grass now and again, while Robert and I talked about “stuff”. I made sure the donkey got his proper share despite the Shetland’s bad attitude.
Dog was sitting with his back six or eight inches from the stock fence, and the Shetland stuck his face between the wires in a relaxed attempt to nip at Dog. Dog sensed the Shetland’s action plan and in slow motion he rose up, avoiding the nip, walked around in a two foot circle back to the Shetland, and still in slow motion, he raised his leg, squirted the Shetland on the nose, then sat six or eight inches out of reach with his back to the Shetland. Dog just sat there and let his eyes gaze mindlessly into space, as he enjoyed a period of inner peace and accomplishment.
Robert and I looked at each other and chuckled. A lot of farm dogs are just oh so cool.
One day Robert was cutting poplar trees down and Dog got under one as it fell. That part of Dog’s skull that covers the front sinus cavity was crushed and pushed down into the sinus cavity. The Vet said “let’s do nothing. It will all heal on it’s own, just in the wrong place”.
And so it did. The next time I saw Dog, there he was with this one inch by one inch hole in his head, and I thought “Holy Smokes, we could start a business creating Accident Animals for use in Life Insurance Company commercials”. I got laughed at and had my arm punched a few times for that thought, but just for a moment, go figure; How different is that from putting little Swiss pants on an actor, perching him on a mountain top and making him scream foolishness in front of a movie camera?
One of the curious things about Joe The Dog was that gold fur coat that he wore in summer, winter, spring and fall. It was almost magical. If he rolled in a patch of blue burrs, they would all fall out of his fur to the ground within a few minutes. Even the washing machine won’t remove blue burrs from people clothes. When he got rained on, it seemed like he had a kind of under-fur hot air drying system that would turn the water in his fur to steam. I often watched him sitting there on a cool evening, with the steam billowing out of his fur and into the air. It was amazing to see, and I wish I had taken pictures of that.
Now and again we would get into the truck before he was completely dry and you could detect a touch of “Wet Dog” in the air, although it wasn’t that bad, and it was gone the next minute with the windows rolled down.
For some reason Joe was not bothered by bugs. Mosquitoes and the like wanted no part of him. It could have been due to blood type or other genetic property. People with type “O” blood, that’s me, attract heavy concentrations of mosquitoes, while people with other blood types attract a much reduced number of mosquitoes. But things that looked like common house flys could really irritate Joe The Dog, now and again.
Often Joe would just take some time to lay down and rest or watch the world. Now and again, one, not two, one fly would decide to join him, and it would park on that big gold and black schnozz. Joe would shake his head but the fly would stay. Joe would try to get the fly with his paw, and the fly would jump up in front of Joe’s eyes, fly a figure eight above Joe’s nose with lot's of irritating buzzing sounds, then jump on his nose again. Well, twenty seconds of this and Joe’s got four feet in the air with growls and snarls and snapping teeth in every direction and the bunnies are off to William’s Lake. And Joe’s still snapping.
“Sorry Buddy, can’t help you with this one”.
The truly amazing thing about that golden fur was that it never got dirty. Throughout any rain and mud day or any spaghetti breakfast morning, he and his golden fur never got dirty. If I had a movie camera, Joe and I could have made TV commercials for 3M’S SCOTCHGARD FABRIC PROTECTOR. In a moment of intense thought while Joe and I sat on the tail-gate watching the sun set, I fantasized two TV commercials;
THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE; In the first commercial at start of the game, at the edge of the Black Bog, Joe The Dog is lightly sprayed with SCOTCHGARD FABRIC PROTECTOR, then he walks into the Black Bog, and the scene fades out. In a moment, the next scene begins as Joe The Dog walks out of the Black Bog and onto dry land. As he labors his way out of the bog, he is difficult to see because he is entirely coated in thick, gooey, black bog mud. So he steps out of the bog and takes five steps toward the camera. During those five steps all the mud drips out of his fur and he approaches the camera with tail wagging slowly. He raises his big head and smiles. He turns sideways to the camera so the bright sun can fully illuminate and show Joe The Dog’s beautiful, clean, golden SCOTCHGARD PROTECTED coat to the TV viewers. Here the scene fades out, the whistle blows, and THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL game resumes.
The second commercial is presented near the end of the game. It’s an old style field with real grass and real mud. The game is on and the players are mud drenched and slipping and sliding everywhere. The whistle blows, all the players stop in their tracks. The Viking Horn blows long and loud, and Joe The Dog trots out to center field. The crowd goes nuts, rising to their feet cheering. Joe The Dog stands silently at center field a moment, looks up into the sky, woofs, and a giant can of SCOTCHGARD appears high in the air above the stadium. Joe The Dog woofs again, and a big finger gives a little push on the SCOTCHGARD button. A gentle little spray of SCOTCHGARD FABRIC PROTECTOR falls down over the stadium and immediately the fans and the field brighten, and all the mud falls off the player’s uniforms. Joe The Dog wags his tail, looks up at the SCOTCHGARD can, gives a little woof, and the SCOTCHGARD can disappears. Still slowly wagging his tail with head held high, Joe The Dog trots off the field in his light reflecting SCOTCHGARD PROTECTED golden coat, receiving another standing ovation from the fans. The whistle blows and the game resumes, and the Viking horn blows long and loud.
I told Joe The Dog about the TV commercials. He gave the idea some thought but did not say anything because he was watching the sunset. It really was quite colorful, so together we just watched the sun set, sitting there on the tailgate.