As soon as we got past the gate, I started getting him used to the idea of listening to me. I ask him to stop, he usually does because we've worked on this before and he's a smart dog. Sometimes he doesn't though because he's only seven months old and still a puppy -- despite how big he looks.
I get him to stop and stay stopped long enough that he no longer shows interest in going anywhere. Then, I make him wait for me to catch up to him before we both proceed forward. It usually only takes a few repetitions and we're in a good place.
After two or three of these, as I catch up to him I undo his leash and we're having walkies.
For the first mile or so, Buster runs along the dusty, gravel road and disappears into the scrub layer or the forest only to emerge a short distance later with a look on his face that says "Can you believe that?" only to run forward a little bit a repeat the process. Then we come to the first major road junction.
I didn't teach him explicitly, but he waits at each trail junction until I catch up. Only when I make a turn down one of the forks, does he leap forward and zoomie past me. The big one is the turn that takes us down, through ATV trails, to the river.
We drop down into the valley and get off the dusty gravel road. The ATV trails are shady tracks well, worn into the pine needle-covered earth. As we walked along, I reached down and picked up a smooth stick around a foot long and loudly decreed to Buster that this was the stick of destiny.
We sometimes play a simple fetch with whatever stick of destiny is at hand, but I was trying something new today. Instead of fetching me back just any old dry stick, I was going to try to teach Buster to get me the Stick of Destiny.
Down by the river, Buster sticks closer. I think it's because the ATV trails have so many intersections, he stays close so he doesn't get lost. If he does though, trails don't mean much. He gallumphs through the ferns in a straight line from wherever he is to where ever I am anyway.
Since he was closer, I decided this was the time.
I held up the Stick of Destiny and called his name. Buster turned and looked back at me. I lifted the stick to my face and loudly snuffled at it. There could be no mistaking. I was smelling it.
Buster looked at me like I'd gone crazy. But, interested, he came back to check out that stick. I let him smell it too, but when he opened his mouth to take it, I pulled back. Attentive now, he watched as I threw the stick down the trail.
Familiar with the game, Buster tore off after and promptly picked up the nearest stick and raced back. Rather than stand their and wait for his return, as soon as I threw the stick, I ran after. When he turned around only to see me race past, he hesitated only a second before turning around and following. As soon as I got to the stick, I started celebrating and then I let him sniff the stick. When he tried to take the stick away, I repeated the game.
It only lasted a few rounds before he lost interest, especially when we got close to the river. Every thought of a game swept right out of his head as he tore off at top speed to splash into the river. He romped and played for a minute and then we were off again. There were several places where a big, strong dog could get into and out of the river and he wanted to splash in to each of them. Along the way he tried to steal the Stick of Destiny out of my hand which prompted another round of search. This time, though, he picked out the Stick of Destiny from a bunch of other sticks! I rewarded him with all the praise and enthusiasm I had. Great dog! A couple more successful searches and we were close to the next river entrance. He started off again at full speed, but this time he had the Stick of Destiny in his mouth.
Buster isn't real good at drop it yet. He understands, I think, but just doesn't really want to drop it.
He stopped when I told him to, about three feet from the river. He turned and looked at me with the stick hanging out of his mouth. It took several repetitions, but he dropped the stick and plunged in to the river.
What a good dog. We spent an extra minute or two as a reward and then started home. The final third of the loop is mostly uphill and back on the dusty gravel. The day was hot and I was sweating through my shirt. Buster obviously liked the river better. He stayed close all the way up. As we hit a slight down hill section, Buster trotted out further ahead. I heard the sound of a dirt bike in the distance. They fly down the logging roads fast and a loose dog is dangerous to everybody. I called for Buster to stop.
He turned and looked. Then he kept on trotting ahead.
I kept calling. Each time, he turned and looked, smiled, and dept right on trotting away.
I tried cajoling voice, commanding voice, demanding voice, all to no avail.
Frustrated, I threw the Stick of Destiny at him hoping he would start to play the game. But he ignored as it landed off the side of the road in the brush. The motorcycle sound had faded, but he had to get leashed up again anyway. We were nearing the end of the hike and we couldn't have another Wetlands Incident. Besides, he had to learn. I warned him and yelled a few more times. He continued to trot farther and farther down the road.
I was angry. So I turned and started back the way we came. I fully intended to reverse the last four miles instead of finish the last mile of the loop. This trick had worked once before. I hated to used it again. Too many times and he would be on to it.
I made it about three-hundred yards down the road before I heard the tinkle of Buster's name tag come up behind me. Instead of running past me, allowing me to grab his collar like last time, he set up a few feet behind and fell in. I stopped but didn't turn around because I was angry and didn't want to scare him away.
As soon as I stopped, I heard something fall. I turned around to see him standing two feet behind me with the Stick of Destiny on the ground in front of him.
I swear he smiled.
He had to go back on the leash, of course. There was no way I could be mad at him though. I told him "Let's go home." He trotted forward and we finished our walk.