I stepped out into the sunshine, placed my steaming mug of tea and my book on the deck table, then let the dogs out to play. I turned to sit and watch the dogs do their wild morning running... but there was no running. All three dogs were engrossed in sniffing around a Jolly Ball in the yard right in front of the deck.
Clearly someone, most likely a wild canine someone based on the level of interest, had been visiting during the night. The thorough sniffing continued for several minutes, then Milo began to slowly and purposefully move up the yard, obviously following a track footstep by footstep. He paused every yard or so, casting back and forth a few inches until he found what he was looking for, sniffed to verify that this was what he thought it was, then moved on. His tail wagged cheerfully while he moved, slowed when he paused to check his work, then signaled his satisfaction when he started up again.
When Milo reached the crest of the hill, about 60 feet from me, he stopped, one paw raised, tail up and wagging, and stared at me. I smiled at him. He still stood and stared, tail wagging a bit faster. His request was clear-- "Follow me, Mom." As soon as I took a few steps in his direction, Milo turned, put his nose to the ground, and started again to slowly sniff his way along an unseen track, every now and then looking back to be sure I was following.
I love the dance of communication between my dog and me that tracking facilitates. In today's tracking fun, there was no formal tracking; no harness, no flag, no tracking line, and I neither set up nor initiated the situation. Nature laid a track, and Milo initiated our session together. Even though it was in no way formal tracking practice, I learned to read my dog a little better and we both felt the joy of being in sync on a track. I know that will benefit our "real" tracking practice when the snow has melted and we can get out again with harness and line.
I am an observer by nature, but I know I miss much that my dogs try to tell me. Tracking together provides yet another channel of communication, a channel that goes both ways, so that I better learn the language my dogs speak, they gain confidence in their ability to successfully communicate with me and in my responsiveness, and together our connection grows.