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Monday, July 6, 2015

Positive Training - The Recall

Today is the Positive Training Blog Hop! I haven't talked much about training here recently primarily because Shyla's socialization has come so far that we haven't had many big changes recently. Today, instead of socialization, I'll talk out our recall training.

Just today, I had reason to be very thankful that I practice recalls with Shyla daily.
I have no doubt that Shyla knows what I mean when I call "Shyla, Come!". I don't keep count - but my guess is that we do at least 10 recalls every morning.
For almost every recall, she instantly propels herself toward me with incredible enthusiasm.
And, when she arrives next to me, we have a treat party!
Since she's become so good at recalls, I've raised my standard. She needs to run to me FAST to be rewarded by a treat party.

Today, it was pouring rain, and my enthusiasm was lagging. That might have been part of why her first couple of recalls were lackluster. When I see her trotting slowly rather than galloping fast for a recall, I say "try again". Somehow, she's learned exactly what "try again" means (I didn't purposely teach her it). Shyla then goes back to where ever she was when I called her and awaits another recall. I remind her to "stay", and then I tease her by excitedly talking to her and doing a countdown: "three, two, one, SHYLA COME!".

That almost always works - producing a very fast recall.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had special reason to be thankful for our work on recalls today. As it poured rain, we came out of the forest into a clearing and a mother deer with her fawn were standing just in front of us. Last year, we had a bad incident in almost exactly the same situation where Shyla chased and deeply scared the fawn. I was horrified, and I wrote about how frustrated I was with my "teenaged dog".

Today, Shyla took about 3 steps towards the mom and fawn before I said "Shyla Come!". And, she turned on a dime to return to my side. We had the biggest treat party of our lives!!!! Seriously, Shyla seemed in disbelief at how many tiny treats I gave her, one by one, while I told her what an amazingly good dog she is!!!

I  believe that recalls are the most important part of training because a good recall can keep a dog (and the wildlife) safe. Consequently, we are participating in Susan Garrett's Brilliant Recalls program.

As I read through the program's materials, I realized that I've totally neglected training recalls around the distractions that can happen indoors - like food dropped on the ground, guests at the door, or wild animals walking by outside the windows. It will be lots of fun to try using Susan Garrett's techniques to train a good indoor recall.

But, it'll never be quite as much fun as recalls in meadows full of flowers.
I am still marveling at how well Shyla did today with the deer and fawn. Back when I first learned about "positive training", I didn't honestly believe that a dog would learn to leave something so exciting simply by using positive reinforcement. Now, almost a decade later, I believe it.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Silhouette Sunday

This silhouette tells the story of our summer. The "monsoon" arrived in May, and it has stayed. Almost every afternoon (and sometimes in the morning), the thunderclouds form out over the mountains.
By evening, they often have migrated to the eastern horizon, like in this photo. They glow orange or pink as the sun sets to the west.
Two evenings ago, I saw sky scene like this emerging to the east. Shyla and I hurried toward a good vantage point, with Shyla on leash. Thank goodness she was on leash because we almost walked straight into the local mother moose who has a new calf.

The mama moose was immediately very stressed out by our presence. I stopped in my tracks, backing away, and then turned around to go home. No silhouette photos that evening. A protective mother moose is not to be taken lightly!

But, I had a few silhouette photos that I hadn't shared yet from more than a week ago. Those slightly older photos make up this post.
Happy Silhouette Sunday!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day

Happy 4th from us to you!
Stay safe from the loud booms.
And enjoy the beauty of summer!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sharing our World

I am astounded that it is already 4th of July weekend.
While I sometimes complain about the rain, it is keeping the wildflowers blooming - and that's a wonderful thing!
It's getting to the time of year when bear food, like berries, should start flourishing. However, the usual foods are not appearing yet. For example, every year about now, buffalo berries usually turn deep red and weigh down the branches of their bushes. However, this year, I don't even see green berries yet.
I am hearing rumors of bears trying to find food near houses, and people calling for the trapping and "euthanizing" (i.e., shooting) of bears. It makes me sad and angry. Should a bear be killed because it followed its nose to the food that you left outside? I think not.

I wish that people who choose to live in the mountains would take responsibility for the wildlife with whom they share the habitat. For the sake of bears, that means locking down all food sources, and taking responsibility if you make a mistake that lures a bear close to your house.

To be honest, I fear for our biggest bear, Tiny. He's such a huge bear that he scares people far more than other bears. And the descriptions I've read of sightings make me fear that he's continuing to go near houses. My heart sinks when I imagine a world without Tiny marking trees and fathering cubs in our neck of the woods.
I am hoping that the voices of reason - the voices that say that we need to learn to live with magnificent animals like Tiny - eventually sway public thought. I am hoping that the obvious brute strength of Tiny doesn't mean that he is killed by humans.

I, for one, want to share my world with the wildlife, even the ones who have the physical capabilities to kill me if they so choose. In fact, today, I almost crossed paths with a mountain lion. I found her photo at a trail camera, and it showed that she'd been there just minutes before me.
I never saw her today, although she was probably nearby. For me, it's wonderful knowing that these large predators can share the world with us, being invisible ghosts of the forest when they want to be.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rainy and Sunny Thursday

Today has been a very odd summer day for our neck of the woods. The sun will shine and then the world turns dark. In the next instant, a steady rain falls, drenching mountain bikers, dogs, and flowers.
Just as fast, the rain will stop, and the sun will shine, quickly drying a mountain biker's clothes, making the rain a distant memory. We rode through the storms and played in the flowers when the sun shined.
After one shower, I noticed the beauty of the a drenched Columbine.
After the next shower, I noticed the wild roses with raindrops on them.
Then, a steady rain ambushed me. Between that rain and some fatigue, it seemed to be time to call it a day. Time to rest.

And now it looks nice enough to sit on the deck. A strange but beautiful day...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bathing Bears

It is summertime. We and our pups play in the fields, enjoying nature's beauty.

Even the Columbines next our house (planted by me, the one with black thumb) are blooming!
Summer is in full swing.

Consequently, the bears are going about their lives in the forests near us. It's been warm lately so the few pools of water have become more popular. A young female bear took a bath in a pool with breaks to mark a nearby bear tree. She has a "mohawk" fur pattern so I thought that I'd call her "Mohawk" for now.

Sadly, I am starting to believe that there is open territory for a young sow or even two - which may be why an almost-adult sow is moving into the area. Two years ago, we delighted in watching the antics of Cinnamom with her two cubs and Mabel with her single cub. So far, I have not seen either of those sows this year. Healthy sows have cubs every 2 years so this year should be a cub year for both of them. I'm holding out hope that they may still appear but I'm also realistic. It's not easy for a bear to live a long life in such close proximity to their worst enemies - humans.

Here is a video of Mohawk taking baths and marking the tree. Notice that she carefully uses her paw to rub her face while bathing. She also rubbed her face on a pine cone. I think she had an itchy face!

I will be sharing more footage from a different pool in the near future. Not only did Tiny the Bear soak in it but a hawk, owl, and a mountain lion visited it! These pools are fountains of life for the wildlife in the summer.

Happy Summer!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer's Bounty

The yellow flowers, a meadow species of Arnica, continue to astound me. I've never seen so many bloom for so long. A few are starting to wilt so I know that this phase of summer paradise will pass before too long. For now, I'll keep soaking it up!
Shyla adores running in this meadow.
And it's an amazing sight to see as she rhythmically pops up out of the flowers before disappearing down into them for an instant.
As we meandered toward home, I spotted a patch of Columbines. One had just opened and looked brilliant.
Also, on our way home, we stopped to check a wildlife camera. A pair of bachelor elk had been there with their fuzzy velvet antlers. Some male elk stay down at our elevation for the summer, and they are often called the "bachelor herd". The first bull elk didn't yet have a massive rack.
But the second one's antlers looked very promising!
Last, but certainly not least, a bobcat had looked straight at the camera as he passed it early this morning.
We have so many bobcats here that they fill my wildlife cameras' memory cards with photos. What I loved about this photo was the sensation of his forward motion combined with his obvious eye contact with the "hidden" camera.

Here's to the summer wildflowers, elk, and bobcats!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunset Sunday

The days of afternoon thunderstorms sometimes bring gorgeous sunsets. That's happened a few times recently.

Last night's sunset featured unique cloud formations on the western horizon.

When the setting sun paints the eastern sky in brilliant colors, it's a chance to capture a canine silhouette... The rock that Shyla stood on for this photo is the same one where I've seen coyotes standing to survey the meadows below. Perhaps we should name it "Coyote Rock".
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Black Dog

Our black dog, R, is having a great summer. He and the Runner have run lots of mountain trails. And R has had the chance to swim a lot!

In fact, he's been so busy with running that I rarely get to take his photo. But, here it is, our black dog in the yellow flowers!
We are thrilled that we decided to wait until later for his elbow surgery. The tentative plan is to have his elbow surgery this fall. However, he's been doing so well with daily anti-inflammatories that we occasionally allow ourselves the luxury of thinking that he might be able to wait even longer.

Part of our reason for waiting was that mountain summers are so special. They are short due to our elevation. So, we seize the days to have as much fun as we can. We didn't want R to miss a summer while he recovered from major elbow surgery.

I get to take photos of Shyla's fun more often than R's. It is so hard for me to believe that this meadow had deep snow on it so recently. That's probably why the flowers have gone wild this year!
It's not just the meadow's yellow flowers but all the flowers are going wild.
Happy Saturday to you! I hope that you can enjoy the beauty of the world around you!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Of Moose, Lions, and Flowers

Today dawned stormy, right from the start. The mountains disappeared behind the clouds.
Shyla and I took an easy mountain bike ride. I badly tweaked my neck/shoulder recently, and I've been trying to let it heal. I think it's improving... but sometimes the side-effects of my spinal problems feel endless.

During our ride, on a trail that I have no qualms about taking Shyla on, I found some interesting photos on one of my trail cameras. Our young male moose, who grew up with his mom in our neck of the woods, has returned. I know from my cameras that he'd walked about 5 miles away from here but I guess he didn't like what he found.

He and his mom spent a lot of time near this trail camera last winter. More recently, I also know that his mom and her new calf have foraged near here. I'm not sure what would transpire if he met his mom again in the forest. I suspect that she'd tell him to go away. It's time for him to find his own territory.
The next photo gives you perspective on how tall this relatively "small" moose is, especially compared to the next animal who passed this camera.
The next animal was a mountain lion. She was not huge, as lions go, but she looked positively tiny compared to the moose. She stood stock still in that spot for a long time, perhaps picking up the scent of the moose?
Then she walked onward. I have wondered recently if a mountain lion could take down a yearling moose. I now think it's unlikely, after seeing the size comparison at this camera.
 I will never get over how much fun it is to peek into the wild animals' lives with my trail cameras.

Happy Friday to all of you! We will keep enjoying our yellow flowers for as long as they keep blooming so we'll try to visit them again this weekend.
In the mountains, life seems to zip by faster because the spring and summer are so short. That truly teaches me to immerse myself in whatever is most beautiful at the moment. Right now, it's yellow flowers and Columbines!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer of Shyla

I haven't talked much about Shyla's training and socialization lately. The main reason is that she's doing pretty well.
We scale back our in-town training in the summer because it's just so hot down there. Our only in-town excursions are when she goes with me to Physical Therapy and occasionally we make a stop at a dog-friendly hardware store.

When people ask to meet her, I reply that "she's sometimes fearful so I always let Shyla decide whether she feels like meeting someone that day". In the past couple of months, I can think of only one person who Shyla chose not to meet (by hanging back away from him). He was very respectful that shy dogs need to have their space, and he didn't try to force things. I think that part of our recent success is that I've learned how to smoothly handle people who want to meet Shyla - and they follow my instructions.
Aside from that one individual, Shyla has done incredibly well with new people recently. When we meet individual people on the trails, Shyla initiates interaction, usually ending up giving them kisses! I tend to stand back and watch with incredible happiness about how well-adjusted Shyla has become. I think this sweet outgoing dog was hiding inside Shyla all along but she was too scared to act upon her innate people-loving instincts.
Larger groups still scare her. But she musters her courage to pass by them. One weekend, we came upon about a dozen(!) male mountain bikers (the largest group I've ever seen in our area), all standing along both the sides of the trail with their bikes next to them. The trail itself was clear and there was no way to go around them.

Shyla made herself look smaller than usual and walked very slowly through the tunnel created by the group, as if she could be invisible if she was low enough to the ground and going slowly enough. I was a little mad that the bikers laughed at her odd behavior but that didn't really matter. I was mainly proud of Shyla for finding that courage. Last year, she would have never walked through the tunnel.

This is becoming the Summer of Shyla for me. I feel like she's blossoming into the dog she was always meant to be. She'll never be as outgoing as some Labs but I love her just the way she is.
Thank you, sweet Shyla.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - A typical early summer day