There’s a sleek, young-looking black squirrel at the top end of the grove who has begun waiting for me every morning. Or more properly, waiting for my peanuts. I leave two in his territory, one on each of two adjoining cedars. At first I’d rarely see him, but on the return portion of our walk some 20 minutes later, the two peanuts were nearly always gone.
Sometimes I’d spot him on our way back, usually higher up in one of the cedars. But recently, on a couple of occasions, he appeared to shadow me as I walked through the grove, hopping from tree to tree alongside me, some 10-15 feet away. It dawned on me that the little beggar recognized me now and, having stashed or eaten the first two peanuts, was hoping for another for the road.
I’ve always believed diligence should be rewarded. I told him so and left one.
So for about the last week, as Ben and I were on the home leg of our morning walk, there he’d be - all but checking his watch and tapping his foot - awaiting his third peanut.
Unfortunately, a couple of days ago, Ben cottoned on to this. Usually, he’s 30-50 feet ahead of me and intent upon his nose’s business. But on this day, he happened to turn and saw the little guy scurry down the tree trunk to get his bonus treat. So, both yesterday and today, Ben has dashed ahead to those trees, looking for the squirrel who is looking for me. (Okay, my peanut.) As the squirrel clambers down a tree at my approach, Ben tries to clamber up it to meet him. The squirrel is not at all fond of this game and retreats a foot or two.
Ben, of course, interprets this as him winning! So, he redoubles his tree-climbing efforts.
Party pooper that I am, I call a halt to the proceedings by leaving a peanut and calling Ben away.
Many of the folks I meet on our walks, especially those who profess familiarity with terriers in general and JRTs in particular, comment on how well Ben listens when off the leash. I adopt an appropriately modest expression and mutter something about it taking a lot of work. And that’s no lie. But I think one practice in particular has helped.
Ben eats two smallish meals a day, morning and evening, and I always walk him before he’s eaten. I theorized that a hungry dog is more apt to want to stay in touch with his meal ticket.
I mean, if a full-bellied, content dog happens upon a really interesting scent that went WAY over thataway, why should he heed that vaguely familiar voice receding in the distance? What the heck does he need you for now?! We’re talking a really interesting scent, possibly a skunk!
So, there’s one of the secrets to becoming a Jack Russell whisperer and I suspect it’s applicable to every breed: Walk a hungry dog.
Sure, he’s going to swallow every rotten salmon egg he comes across but the occasional bit of barfing is better than chasing him all over heck’s half-acre.