White-tailed deer are a regular feature in my world.
Living very close to a national forest boundary, they often cross my lot in small groups as they move from one section of forest to another. Spring and autumn are their busy times, but they’re around all summer. If my dogs notice them, they’ll woof at the deer from within my fenced yard, the deer stopping to assess the (nonexistent) danger before moving along at a faster clip. I get to see young and old, often leaping with tails flashing. It’s wonderful.
We also often see deer when we’re running or walking in the forest. In those instances, I rely on Conall to alert me to their presence because he won’t chase them, where Finn would love to. With Conall’s warnings I’m almost always able to prevent Finn from herding deer.
So it was fortunate that on a recent trail run, only Conall was with me. Our route was longer than Finn – he’s 12.5 years old now – can handle without risking injury.
As Conall and I were nearing the finish of that run, he stopped to look off trail, down slope into the trees, his tail dropping which is a signal to me that he’s detected something large. Maybe he heard movement, maybe he smelled a fresh scent. I never know, but I pay close attention to him and his body language.
Neither of us saw anything, though, so we continued our run, Conall’s tail returning to its usual position high over his back.
A minute later, rounding a bend in the trail, Conall stopped again, tail dropping, staring into the trees and foliage in the same general area he’d been scanning before.
This time we both saw something: the brown rump of a white-tailed deer, busy munching plants on the ground. She didn’t seem to be aware of our presence.
A couple seconds later I saw the white dots against the light brown of a fawn’s rump, standing beside its mother. It could see its hind legs, but not its head.
I pulled my phone from my pack and took a photo, then set it to video, knowing that I could trust Conall to stay and not chase the deer. (If Finn had been with us, I would have been too busy putting a leash on him to be able to take any video.)
I was delighted to see that this doe had twins!
These are the moments that remind me why I love Malamutes so much. They are my eyes, ears and nose in the forest. They’re attuned and aware, and by learning their body language, I benefit from their connection to nature, witnessing so much that I would otherwise never observe.
The next day both dogs and I returned to this same area for a shorter run. Knowing the doe and her twin fawns were likely still in this area, I was very cautious with Finn, relying on Conall to alert me to their presence. We didn’t see them as we headed up the mountain, or on our return. But close to the end of our run Conall again alerted to something off in the trees when we stopped at a stream crossing where the boys always take a drink. Peering through the thick trees and undergrowth, I saw a deer that neither of the boys actually saw.
The feature image is a closeup of the same deer. Without Conall’s subtle body-language alert I wouldn’t have ever spotted the deer. I was glad that Finn, short as he is, couldn’t see her at all. It helped that she didn’t startle or move; with Finn, if it isn’t moving, he doesn’t see it.