Dusty Dogs

Today's lesson: When the trail is dusty, don't be last in line.

These less-than-flattering photos of the girls napping after a summer outing show how dirty they get running on dry and dusty trails. Dust stains the white fur of their legs, bellies and muzzles, especially after cooling down in streams.

Over time I have noticed this behavior: if the single track trail is dusty, Meadow purposefully moves from her usual last position to first. She may not always hold that position - if her nose distracts her, or if we're still heading in the uphill or out direction - but certainly on the way down and back to the car when our speed and dust clouds increase, she'll be in front most of the time. She knows: the one is last position breaths the most dust. Lately, that's me. It's comical to watch them both try to stay ahead of me during these summer runs. In winter, they don't make the same effort to stay in the lead.

Maia by nature and temperament is a true lead dog. She remembers routes, and when in unfamiliar territory, waits for my cue at intersections. She's careful and cautious, and alerts me to anything or anyone up ahead. Meadow normally prefers the sweep position. She knows Maia and I are likely to flush out a forest creature that she can then attempt to chase. She can also more easily stop to sniff, then dash full speed to catch up. Maia prefers a steady pace.

Yet on dusty trails, an interesting dynamic emerges. Maia reluctantly lets Meadow assume the lead position. Since puppyhood Meadow has teased Maia by streaking past her on a downhill stretch, or a dip in the trail (what I've come to call roller coasters), then slowing her pace just enough to block Maia from passing and regaining the lead position. I tell Meadow she's a brat when I see this happen. After a brief time as lead dog, Meadow either stops to smell something, or simply lets Maia pass without challenge, point made and game over. I find it entertaining to watch.

It's not a game, though, when the trail is dusty. It becomes a tactic for maximizing Meadow's own comfort. Both dogs will do their utmost to stay ahead of me, and Meadow, especially, does her level best to maintain the lead position - passing and blocking Maia, cutting switchbacks, whatever it takes, except for overt dominance. Meadow is never truly dominant with Maia. Just bratty.

It has been dry here. There's lots of dust. As the morning sun peeks over the mountains and filters through the trees of the forest, I get to see just how much of this trail dust I'm eating. It's not pleasant. I enjoy running in the shady sections: I'm still eating just as much dust, but I can't see it and so can more easily ignore it.

Some might say I'm too nice, letting the dogs lead me down the trail, stirring up all that dust, knowing exactly what's going on yet allowing it. Pack dominance issues, right? Who's the boss, here? But I figure their eyes and noses are closer to the ground and more negatively impacted by the dust than mine. And they know I'm allowing it; when I ask them to "move over" to let me by, they do, no arguments. Before my lasik eye surgery in 2000, when I still wore contact lenses, dust was a real problem for me. No longer. Seeing Maia's eyes, in particular, weepy with dust and pollen after many of these runs, I don't mind eating their dust.