Mr Tilly’s biggest obsession is, without a doubt, chasing butterflies and chasing the shadows of butterflies. If the suns out, so are the butterflies, and so is Tills. Only it’s more than just a simple obsession, more like an obsessive, compulsive disorder, but perhaps all dogs are a little bit OCD.
He’s over three now. We’d hoped he would grow out of chasing butterflies and shadows, but I don’t think that’s about to happen any time soon. He’s funny and cute to watch him on his sentry duty when at home, but a real worry if we take him to the beach during the day. The butterflies hang out in the low dunes, so that’s where he heads to. He knows just where they’ll be, and he darts around trying to make them take flight. He has no interest in catching them I’m sure, it’s just the thrill of the chase he loves. I doubt if he’d take any notice of the snakes that also inhabit the low sand dunes, but I suspect they wouldn’t take kindly to him trampling on their terrain at a million miles an hour when in hot pursuit.
We’ve tried all of the training tricks to keep him down by the water with us, or to get him to come back to us if he sees a butterfly. Early in the morning, (which is the time he mainly gets his beach walks) there is no problem. The butterflies are still sleeping I guess, but in the heat of the day, they’re happily flitting from plant to plant, and he knows it. No reward is greater than the reward of chasing butterflies, so we can’t offer him anything that will tempt him away. As soon as he sees one he goes totally deaf to anything and everyone. With absolute tunnel vision, he zeros in on his target. First the butterfly, which quickly flits out of reach, then it’s shadow which dances here, there and everywhere.
We tried to stop him chasing them at home, figuring it was best to make the game completely taboo for him. We tried all last summer, and again at the beginning of this summer season. We had thought that a winter without butterflies and that magic third birthday in July, was going to see him turn into a dog ‘far to mature’ for such puppyish pursuits. No such luck!
I was considering calling in Dr Harry or a local equivalent, but then I really watched him in the back garden. His back straight, as he sits up on high alert, going from one shady place to another, his head quickly turning from side to side. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen, maybe more, like a disciplined soldier on watch, he remains hypo alert and vigalent. He sees them as soon as they dare to pop over the fence, then he gets up, ready to give chase. He lets them get down near the plants then off he springs, darting in and out around the roses and plants with the agility of a panther, They quickly fly up out of his reach leaving just their shadow dancing before him on the ground. He switches from chasing them to chasing their dancing shadows until they disappear again over the fence again, taking their shadows with them. Then back under the clothes line he goes to await the next brave intruder.
It might be half an hour between butterflies, but he never gives up. His favourite place to watch from is in the shade of washing hanging on the clothes line. He’ll sit there for about ten minutes before changing his vantage point. He’ll try under the baskets of strawberries, then the lawn. That gets to hot, so he’ll move between the garden plants, then back to the clothes line again.
I guess he’s trained me. It makes more sense to let him happily chase butterflies all day long at home, and keep him on a lead if the butterflies are flying about at the beach. Most days Paul walks him at the beach in the early morning anyway, long before the butterflies have woken up. The few odd times when we do take him there when the sun is shining brightly and the butterflies flitting from flower to flower, well, he just has to suffer being kept on his lead for those few walks. And as I’m typing this the sun is shining brightly on our back garden, so no prizes for guessing where Tills is!