Let the title be your warning! This post is about…scat.
Wild scat. Left by wild animals in the wild, in the forest my dogs and I spend much of our time traversing.
I first heard the term “scatological material” when a college professor, teaching English history, used it. I’ve searched for ways to use it in conversation ever since.
But I digress. Back to actual scatological material. (See how I just used that in a sentence?) I’m fascinated by the natural world around me, plants, animals, earth and sky. Scat is part of that world. It’s…everywhere.
As I run or walk through the forest with my dogs, my eyes are constantly moving, first along the ground in front of me, planning every foot placement to prevent tripping, then on the dogs, the near landscape around us, and sometimes on the far vistas. As I scan what’s around me, I also listen, and smell. But all of my senses pale in comparison to those of my dogs, so I keep close attention to what they’re seeing, smelling, and hearing. They’re my alert system, my first warning that something usual is about.
Often, their forward progress through the forest comes to a sudden halt when they see or smell a pile of wildlife scat on or near our path. They investigate, sometimes quickly, other times with more interest. I used to wonder why, with their keen sense of smell, they virtually plant their nostrils onto something as disgusting (to me) as poop as they sniff. But they’re inhaling chemical compounds far beyond what we humans can detect. A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 more acute than ours. Chemical compounds emanating from some material – scat, food, a person, another dog – are dispersed into the air, which is why you often see a dog, nose uplifted, sniffing what’s wafting on and diluted by the breeze. Getting up close and personal with the object of their interest for a close sniff allows them to inhale and collect those compounds, providing them all of the information offered by those chemical traces.
Sometimes, though, Conall eats the scat.
Gross, right? It’s mostly Conall who does this, and mostly happened when he was a puppy learning about his world, but still occasionally – like this morning – he finds scat he wants to eat.
I have my own theories on why this is, why a dog like Conall eats wild scat, based on years of observations of my dogs, young and old. This afternoon I put over a thousand words on the page about this topic for the book I’m writing. Why even include the topic? Whether we want to admit it or not, we humans have been obsessed with poo since the dawn of time. And for good reason: it speaks volumes not just about our own health, but about the location and health of animals nearby, animals that provide food or that might harm us. Important stuff. Our dogs know that scat offers key information, and paying attention to what dogs pay attention to can divulge useful information to us humans about the activity of local wildlife.
One aspect of finding wild scat that amuses me is the way certain canids – mostly coyote and fox – display their scat for all to see. It’s part of their territory marking, but honestly, in some cases it clearly takes some serious skill to plant that pile where they want it!
Some examples I’ve been recording this summer:
At least the scat piles are obvious enough that even I, a mere human, can avoid stepping in them.
Since I don’t want to leave you with those scatological imagines crowding your mind, here’s something more pleasant to end with, a vista from this morning’s foray in the forest…
Feature image: my boys ushering me toward a vista during this morning’s walk.