Photos and text copyright Romping and Rolling in the Rockies 2009-2014.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joy to the World

Some of you jokingly said yesterday, "Maybe this will be your last snow". I chuckled. The next storm is forecasted for late Wednesday and then there's yet another storm in the long term forecast. Thank goodness that Spring snow is alright with us!
Like most spring snows, it melted down by about half yesterday even though the temperature barely broke freezing. There's no more lightweight powder for Shyla to frolic in this morning but I still have wonderful memories of yesterday.
The snow was bottomless in some places yesterday, leaving Shyla floundering.
Unfortunately for R, he cannot play or run in deep snow yet due to his elbow surgery. The orthopedists say that deep snow is one of the toughest challenges for a dog with a bad joint. So, he ran on plowed surfaces with the Runner in the morning.

During our hike yesterday morning, it was 20°F with fresh snow but birds still sat atop the pine trees and sang their Springtime songs.
Bird songs followed us everywhere as we wandered the snowy but sunny hills, making me smile.
By evening, the snow had melted enough that R could hike on the trails. He threw back his head and sang with joy!
As the Duo and I finished our evening hike, we saw the full moon rise, a glorious sight, especially knowing the Eclipse was coming later that night.
The world is unbelievably beautiful.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Snow-laden Bluebird Day!

Although yesterday's snowstrom made Shyla giddy with happiness while it was happening, the day after the storm is always my favorite.
The world is utterly transformed after a big snowfall. The most mundane details are beautiful.
Shyla was ecstatic with the light powder that fell overnight. She dove in first thing this morning, coming up for air every now and then.
The pine trees held pillows of snow on their boughs with blue sky behind them. Glorious!
Shyla and I had a enchanting hike. She frolicked in the snow and I soaked up the beauty with awe.
It was a Rocky Mountain spring day that made me smile from ear to ear!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Madness - A Snowy Day

April is bipolar in the mountains. From warm Spring days like this one...
 ... to snowy days like today.
As an aside, the boot was for a photographic challenge that I participate in on Flickr. I enjoy photo challenges that require me to make the best of whatever light and conditions the world throws at me. I do one challenge called the "Daily Dog Challenge", and I am also doing a 365 day challenge for 2014.

Despite a wet and cold snow, Shyla and I had an enjoyable hike this morning. Like all our dogs before her, Shyla adores the snow. It makes her zoom.
It was a typically wet spring snow, and it selectively melted and then stuck to Shyla's ears and whiskers, giving her a distinctive look. It gave me a hint about what a Chocolate Lab with white ears might look like.
We had some quiet moments interspersed with zooming. The forest was silent, with white flakes falling all around us. Except for the birds who were mobbing our feeders in droves, the wildlife seemed to be denned up, waiting out the storm. I even led us into "bear territory" hoping that maybe the recent warm weather had lured some of my favorite wildlife out of their dens onto the hillsides. Alas, there were no tracks. I'll keep watching and hoping!
This crazy world is my home, and it's the only place in our world that has ever truly felt like home. I love the peace, the solitude, the mountains, the pine forest, and the reality of mountain winters that hang on into May. Thank goodness Shyla loves it too!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Labraduo that makes me smile

It's a gray day here, as a snow storm is creeping toward us. In addition, I have a migraine, leaving me feeling a bit blue (my meds let me be functional for brief periods). Prior to this one, I thought that I'd made big strides toward better health. I now have a whole routine of supplements, a TENS headband, and mindfulness meditation that feels as if it helps keep migraines away. I guess my routine is not foolproof.

I have had time on the trails with the Duo over the past 24 hours, and it's made me smile. R has been able to do more hiking and playing, which makes everyone happier.
His little sister looks up to him, both literally and figuratively, and she loves having him with us for our evening hikes again.
Shyla tends to seek the higher perch when the Duo is together, which puts her on level with R.
While I was feeling decent earlier this week, I restarted training with R - something that's been on my "to-do list" since my shoulder surgery. This trick, "take a bow", is one that he knew from the past but we hadn't practiced in a year or more. He was thrilled when I took out the clicker and we practiced. In fact, he was so over-the-moon happy that it made me feel guilty for not doing it sooner!
You can also see R's ribs in the photo. After his January elbow dysplasia surgery, the vets asked us to keep him extremely thin to help slow the degeneration of his elbow. I commented to the specialist and our regular vet that I thought that he was too thin, and they disagreed. Apparently, with a joint as bad as his elbow, it's okay to be able to see almost all of his ribs if it reduces the impact on his elbow when he walks and runs.

I hope that all our efforts to help his elbow work. For now, it seems as if his January "clean out" surgery was a success. If another surgery is needed in the future, it would be a truly major reconstruction. We hope to avoid that.
And, now, we and the wildlife await the snowstorm that is creeping up on us.
Spring snow helps the insects that Mr. Mountain Bluebird needs in order to raise his young. Happy Mountain Spring!

Friday, April 11, 2014

See Beautiful: Fleeting Spring

It's springtime for now. Let your ears go wild and enjoy it!
Kick up your heels and have some fun in the warm sun!
Turn your face toward the sun, close your eyes in ecstasy, and absorb its warm rays.
Lie on the ground and admire every detail of the delicate flowers that have dared to blossom already.
Even gaze at the tiny Spring Beauties that are barely visible in the meadows. They are miniature gems.
I truly mean to do this today because, on Sunday, it will be snowing again. Such is springtime in the mountains. I love it all, springtime and snow.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Springtime and Shyla's Diet

I know it's springtime when I see these rascals almost daily.
They like to block roads at this time of year. It's the most enjoyable traffic jam I can imagine.
"Nope, we're not moving", they said to me! In these situations, I can see a herd rule in action that I've read about in wildlife books. Apparently, an older cow elk is the herd leader. In my experience, it is always a cow elk who eventually leads the herd off the road.
With the first true sense of springtime, I've gradually been reintroducing trail riding to my mountain biking (I was mainly riding on dirt roads for quite a while). I am thrilled. With a very slow increase in trail riding, my surgery-addled shoulder is getting stronger rather than more sore.

Shyla is happy about that because she joins me for part of it.  She's saying "I refuse to look at that camera because I want to RUN" in this photo.
I made many mistakes after my shoulder surgery - and one was that I failed to reduce Shyla's food rations to match her reduced exercise. I remembered to limit my own calories but not hers. So, she's on a small diet right now. Here's what she has to say about it!
Shyla gained only a few pounds but that's a fair bit on her frame. She needs to lose one more pound, according to my vet. My vet likes to be able to see the last two ribs in a dog as active as Shyla. Every step Shyla takes when she runs involves more impact if she's a tiny bit too heavy. Over a lifetime of running, that takes a toll on her joints - so I follow my vet's rule.

Shyla says she's going to head for the hills if this diet continues!
Don't worry girl - the diet will be over soon. You're looking good!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Moose on the Loose

My dogs and I spend time every day out on the trails. I've talked about all the training we do to prepare them to be good citizens around wildlife. We are usually out around sunrise and sunset, times of ample wildlife activity.

Shyla is usually my sole sunrise companion. I'm so glad that she is willing to focus on me when there are so many animals roaming our forest.
Our evening walks usually include both dogs together. Unfortunately, I've missed many evening walks lately due to my "cluster migraines", and so I've had little opportunity to be on the trails with R. Yesterday evening, I was able to hike with him and Shyla! R is an intense dog, as you can see in his face in this photo. I am always on my toes when he is off-leash to make sure that some of his focus is on me.
Shyla behaves differently around him. She's more willing to be wild when she has R by her side. So, when both leashes are off, I'm really on my toes!
We have a relatively new wildlife species in our forest that the dogs could potentially see - moose! A few breeding pairs were introduced on the other side of the Continental Divide 35 years ago - and it took a long time for them to become inhabitants of our side of the Divide. When I say "introduced", I mean that they were never an established species in this area before wildlife officials released some in the mountains. It surprises me that they "introduced" a non-native species because we've learned so much about how the proliferation of a new species can change an entire ecosystem. Apparently, the primary reason for it was to promote tourism because people like seeing moose.

I am one of those people who loves moose. The other day, a mother and her calf visited our neck of the woods, lying in willow thickets. Here was mom. She seemed completely unconcerned with me. The dogs were not with me (Mother Moose might have been concerned if they were).
Here was Junior. He stayed further away and more hidden in the willows than his mother.
I didn't have a good line of sight to see either of their faces. I had to stand patiently and wait for them to glance my way before clicking the shutter. Mom sneaked a peek first.
She mostly seemed to "listen" for me, with at least one ear rotated my way the whole time.
When Junior finally turned his head, I found out that he was a male. You can see the bud of an antler just above his eye.
I know that moose can be dangerous so I kept my distance. These photos were all taken with a long lens. When I departed, both moose were still bedded down in the snow, perfectly content to relax on the freezing surface and ignore me. This was my last view of Junior.
I hope to see them again but I must admit some trepidation about my dogs encountering a moose during a hike in the forest. I understand that moose can kill dogs, and it does happen in Alaska when sled dog teams are whooshing fast through the forest. From my trail cameras, I know that moose are rare in the vicinity of our house but they do occasionally trek nearby on their way to better habitat.

In any case, I was thrilled to see the moose the other day. What a treat!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Power of Positive Training

I'm what some people call a "cross-over trainer". I trained my first dogs using traditional dominance and "correction" techniques. For example, years ago, I trained my first dog to immediately come when called by "popping" her prong collar with a leash just after I said "come". This taught her to leap toward me as soon as I said "come" to avoid the correction. She was a well-trained dog but she was always looking for ways to "beat the system". For example, if I called her from a long distance, she'd realize that I couldn't get to her fast enough to correct her if she ignored my recall.

When K came into my life, I searched for a good local dog trainer, and I met an amazing trainer who focused on "positive training". That meant that she rewarded good behavior and she ignored (but didn't actively punish) bad behavior. I was skeptical that positive training would work, to put it mildly, but I thought it was worth giving it a try. I think that I drove that trainer nuts with all my questions about why a dog would obey if there was no punishment involved.

I quickly saw how rapidly K learned things, without any punishment in her training. She could "sit", "come", "down", and "stay" by the time she was 10 weeks old - and she'd learned it all by reward-based training.

After K died, I met Shyla - by far the most sensitive and sometimes-fearful dog who I've ever had in my life. Punishment-based training would have hurt Shyla terribly. She needed to learn to trust humans - and having her own human physically correct her would have been disasterous to the trust-building process.
Despite Shyla's extreme fear of me and almost everything else when she arrived in our home, I immediately started playing training games with her. I could do that because my "training games" involved only rewards and fun. They built a bond between us and amplified Shyla's nascent trust.

Recalls were one of the first things Shyla learned. To this day (1.5 years later), she adores playing recall training games. This photo is from this morning. You can tell that she is running to me at top speed, using the power of every muscle fiber in her body. We have a "treat party" when she gets to me after a recall.
Part of positive training is figuring out what your dog loves to do and incorporating it. Shyla loves to leap. So, we often play recall games where she leaps small obstacles to get to me (she could go around them but she never chooses to).
For fun, I've taught Shyla some "tricks", like "rest your chin on the ground". I taught this by having her lie down with a clean yogurt lid taped to the ground in front of her. When she put her head down to touch the lid (I'd previously trained her to view a yogurt lid as a target to touch with her nose) - I clicked. We did that about 10 times before I removed the lid. Because Shyla is experienced at clicker training, she mimicked the same movement without the lid present, touching the ground in front of her with her chin to earn clicks/treats. Then, I gradually required her to rest her chin on the ground for longer and longer to earn her click/treat. She knew the trick well within a week.

Now, it's one of her favorite tricks!
She "offers" this trick (without my request) all the time!
It's a nice trick for photography because her head stays still, making it easier to compose a photo.
I've also trained her to "take a bow", which I did not intend to include resting her chin on the ground. However, Shyla has embellished "taking a bow" by adding a "chin rest" to it!
I think that the most fun and exciting part of positive training is that it becomes a collaboration between the dog and the trainer. I watch for Shyla's embellishments on our favorite tricks, and then I teach her to do them on cue. It lets her, the dog, play a role in shaping what we do together. This aspect has built Shyla's confidence and exuberance to an incredible extent.

I believe that positive training was the only way to train a dog like Shyla, and I thank my lucky stars that I met my amazing trainer before I'd even met Shyla!