Paws for Thought - is walking with a dog for you?
The story of 4 very different dogs
Bess was made for herding
First there was Bess our Border Collie - we got her as a pup when our kids were young and one of them persuaded us to get one. She was from a farm in Lancashire and that’s where she belonged; there was no way that Bess would become happy in an urban environment, despite our best efforts. We took her to several puppy classes, and one-to-one training, all with different approaches, but none of them worked. Consequently, as well as raising five kids, we effectively had a sixth one – a rogue Border Collie who would test us to the limits. Every time she saw a car, she would spin round nervously, she chased most things that moved, and this included joggers and cyclists. I lost count of the number of times that I had to apologise to joggers, some of whom were quite verbally aggressive! And having experienced it myself, I can totally understand how they felt. Back in 1986, I was walking the Offas Dyke Path with my walking partner, Ian, and we climbed a stile into a field full of sheep which were being controlled by two working Border Collies. And as we stood to watch and admire their skills, one of them spotted us and headed over at great speed. It must have thought “I’ve missed a couple” because we found ourselves being nipped on the heels until the farmer whistled and the dog returned to its duties at breakneck speed. Anyway, back to Bess – what a liability she was. On one occasion, we went on holiday to stay in a cottage in Yorkshire and one day we took her out for a walk in the local countryside. Suddenly, without any warning, she leapt onto an enormous stone wall and somehow managed to clamber over and into the field. I clambered up after her and, peering over the top of the wall, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She was chasing a field full of sheep towards the end of the field. To this day, I don’t know why she obeyed my recall but something made her come back to me. I was so relieved. So, it came to the point where we really couldn’t cope with her and, even though we loved her dearly, we decided that we would have to find a more suitable home for her. We were so lucky – Mandy who was a work colleague, agreed to take her on. She already had dogs and horses and she kindly agreed to give Bess a more suitable environment in which she would thrive.
Rocky the wonder dog
So, one of my sons and his then girlfriend, had bought a Staffie pup which they named Rocky. A short while later they split up and my son returned home to live, and brought Rocky with him. He put a lot of effort into training him and this was invaluable in Rocky maturing into an obedient and lovable dog who was a pleasure to be with for the rest of his life. Eventually my son moved on, and we agreed to keep Rocky. It was a great decision. He became a wonderful family dog who was great with kids, and a wonderful walking companion. Over the following years he did hundreds of walks locally and in the Peak District and he would walk more than 15 miles with ease. He absolutely loved these walks. When my daughter, Gail, and I prepared for a long Peak District hike, she would make Rocky four rounds of cheese sandwiches. We often called at pubs for lunch or at the end of the walk for a pint or two of local ale, and other customers were always amused when Gail brought out the cheese sandwiches for Rocky. Then eventually, in 2019, he passed away aged 14 years. We were heartbroken. He was such a wonderful dog with a superb temperament and zest for life. We took his ashes and scattered them at a place where he used to walk – a place with a view of the hills of course.
Marshall the explorer
So, by now, my son who had trained Rocky so well, had a family of his own and they decided to get a Beagle pup. He was an adorable little fella called Marshall. Fast forward to the day when he took him up Kinder Scout. I’ll never forget that day. Late afternoon he called in and said “dad I’ve lost Marshall up Kinder”. At first, I didn’t believe him but I soon realised how upset he was. So, we phoned his younger brother and the three of us hiked as fast as we could up William Clough and across to Sandy Heys, where Marshall had run away on his own adventure. We looked everywhere in that location and kept calling his name, but there was no sign of him. After a short while we had to abandon the search because darkness was setting in, so we returned by torchlight via William Clough. Later that evening, my son returned to Hayfield and left Marshall’s crate with some food in just in case he found his way down off Kinder. The following morning, the three of us, and his partner returned to Kinder to try and locate Marshall. As my youngest son and I started off up William Clough we met a hiker who said he had seen Marshall heading towards the shooting hut. So off we went in that direction and to our surprise, we spotted him and actually got within a short distance of him. But when we called his name, he just ran off. Throughout the day, we continued the search and various sightings were reported by hikers. We drafted some posters and put them on lampposts, in cafes, pubs and anywhere that we thought would be useful. High Peak Radio did some public announcements for us and of course it was all over social media. Meanwhile back home, my wife, Marilyn, acted as a communications co-ordinator by taking calls from people who had seen Marshall and reporting the time and locations of these sightings to us. The second day ended without success and we slept well after walking for many miles across Kinder. On Day three we were becoming increasingly concerned about Marshall’s welfare. Some members of the public had heard about the missing pup and had kindly volunteered to join the search. And it was one of these volunteers who had local knowledge of the area, who finally helped to secure his return. Late in the afternoon, I was with my son’s partner and her, when she spotted Marshall on high ground. Her advice was for her to head over in that direction and call him whilst we waited to see what happened. And this worked; slowly but surely, he walked down from the high ground towards her until finally he was within touching distance. She held out her hand and he seemed more than pleased to see her, as she grabbed hold of his collar. Finally, near the end of day three, the scrawny looking Beagle pup was back in safe hands. We’ll never know what he did or where he went in those three days but he had clearly lost weight and was obviously frightened. A few days later though, and after a full check over by the vet, he was back to normal, much to the relief of the family.
Ki our future hiking buddy
We had all missed Rocky so much and Marilyn and I had discussed several times whether or not to get another dog. We knew that we couldn’t replace Rocky and expect to get another dog as perfect as him, but we missed having a dog in our lives. We mulled over it for a couple of years and then one day Marilyn said “I think we should get a dog”. I didn’t need much persuading. So, after some research, we decided on a Labrador and we looked forward to the day when we picked up our 9-week-old fox-red working Labrador pup, Ki. And what followed can only be described as extremely challenging for the next 8 months or so and there were many times when we wondered whether we’d made the right decision. He’s still an adolescent and sometimes no different than rebellious teenagers are. But he’s got so many good attributes that, with more training, he’s going to be a wonderful dog when he reaches maturity. At the moment his walks are limited because we have to wait until he is fully grown until he can do longer walks. But we walk him twice a day, every day, and that’s got to be good for us as well as him. Today, as I write this blog, we watched him have his first real swim in Lake Coniston. It was pure enjoyment for him as he swam and splashed about, and then came back to us before leaping over tree roots to do it all over again. And it was pure enjoyment for us to watch him.
So, what have I learned from all this observation of some very different dogs? Well first of all, getting a dog is a major commitment and a huge responsibility. It’s also very costly. And as I’ve demonstrated in these stories, getting the right type of dog is key, otherwise it won’t work. It’s necessary to put in the time needed for adequate training so that you have control when you need it, and it’s essential that you keep them on a lead whenever you need to, and especially when near livestock on your walks.
They can give you so much pleasure but also a lot of heartache. They’re not for everyone of course, but I think they can be so beneficial to us humans, and can bring us enormous pleasure. Even with Ki’s current limitations on distance, I’ve walked over 500 miles with him already this year – that’s miles that I probably wouldn’t have walked if I hadn’t had him. So, the physical benefits are obvious. But what about our mental wellbeing? Well, they’re great companions and it’s no coincidence that they’ve been labelled ‘man’s best friend’. If you’ve read the book ‘Max the Miracle Dog’ you’ll know what an enormous impact a dog can have on mental health and, in Max’s case how far reaching these benefits were for so many people.
Walking the Peak Way
When I created the ‘Peak Way’ Walk, I did it alone and it was just as well that I did because I had to concentrate on navigation, writing notes and taking photographs. The distraction of having a dog by my side simply wouldn’t have worked. But next time I walk it, I’m really looking forward to having Ki alongside. And it’s a great long-distance walk to do with a dog. The route through the Dark Peak section has very few stiles to negotiate and hardly any cattle (except for the Highland cows which you might see on Baslow Edge), whilst the route through the White Peak also has few stiles and there are generally no cattle in the Dales, but a few in some of the fields.
Dogs are permitted on the Peak Way, so long as they do not disturb livestock and wildlife or cause a nuisance to other walkers. Please keep your dog on a short lead around sheep, cows and horses. (Unclip the lead if you feel threatened by cattle, so that you can get away safely). Don’t let your dog run up to other people uninvited. Make sure that your dog has a name tag with your contact details, so that you can be easily reunited if your dog gets lost. You will need to ensure that your accommodation provider will allow your dog to stay because many do not.
If you’re planning to walk the Peak Way with your dog, I’d love to hear from you.