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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dogs in the forest

"A tired dog is a good dog" is a motto that we've espoused for the 20 years that we've lived with canines. R went running this morning in the forest, ate his breakfast, and then snoozed - the epitome of a happy and mellow dog. When R doesn't get to burn off his brimming exuberance, he becomes, shall we say, mischievous. Last October, R had serious surgery to fix elbow dysplasia. During his recovery, he could do nothing except 'potty' walks for a month and then longer walks *on leash* for two months.

That entire recovery time was difficult, for him and for us. To give him 'work' to do, we gave him all his meals from frozen stuffed kongs. We bought cases of chewing objects. We played sedentary training games with him. Despite our best efforts, he created all sorts of hobbies to amuse himself. We have a pile of extra 'dog beds' that are essentially plush carpet pieces, and R would systematically drag them, one-by-one, from their storage place to the other end of the house. Once he'd gathered them all at the other end of the house, he'd move them again, one-by-one, to someplace else in the house. If he could reach the laundry basket when it was full of clean laundry, he'd remove the clothing, piece-by-piece and carefully horde it on his bed. None of this activity looked like it was good for his elbow.

R discovered some less benign hobbies during that time that often resulted in shredded objects or important documents. In desperation, we put him on doggie downers based on our vet's suggestion. They helped him to lie still and rest his elbow. And, they helped us not to go completely nuts constantly supervising R.

When R could finally run off-leash after his long recovery, he changed, almost instantly. He could burn through his high voltage energy and be a mellow dog around the house. Some dogs, like R, truly *need* to have lots of supervised off-leash exercise.

I also realize that having dogs running off-leash on the trails impacts wildlife and other people. We try, very very hard, to train our dogs to be good citizens. We start working on recalls within days of their arrival as 8 week old puppies, and we diligently keep working on those skills, in real-life situations, for the rest of their lives. Last night, their body language suggested that invisible wildlife lurked in the forest so we practiced recalls, with wild R leading the way.
However, despite not chasing wildlife and reliably coming when called, I have no doubt that K and R stress wildlife - flushing grouse, scaring up deer and elk, and sniffing out bears. K even treed a lion once - but, in that case, I was happy with her action because he was too close to us for comfort. But, we try to mitigate the dogs' stress-inducing effects by keeping them under control.

It's a tough balancing act - trying to protect our wildlife, enjoy the forest ourselves, and give our dogs the exercise and stimulation that they need.

Now that R has no limitations on his running, he 'needs' two bouts of trail exercise a day: a morning run and an evening hike. If I'm late in starting the evening hike, R starts moving those dog beds to the far end of the house, one-by-one, just like he did when he was recuperating from elbow surgery. On our evening hike, assuming no obvious wildlife is nearby, the dogs run off-leash with me supervising them.

Yesterday evening, we hiked up to a spot that I'm starting to think of as S's lookout point, and the sun, hanging just below the mountains, still illuminated the clouds hanging over the Divide.
Over my shoulder, the almost full moon glowed in the darkening pink and blue sky.
This morning, while R ran with my husband, K and I had a joyous ride through the quiet forest. K's energy and enthusiasm seem wonderful after only a week on her new thyroid medicine. The problem is that, based on my past experience, she shouldn't be feeling *this* good after just a week. We're probably going to overshoot with medicine dosage and then be forced to readjust. Such is life with a medically complicated dog like K.

We rode through a shady green sea of aspens with splashes of yellow imperceptibly growing larger each day. I stopped in my tracks to appreciate the vibrating life in the grove. I could hear the buzzing and clicking of insects, the rustling of birds flitting in and out of the undergrowth, and the quaking of the aspen leaves.I know that this grove will look and sound as barren as it did in May within a short time.
After I dropped off K, I followed an 'old faithful' route that I love. A few flowers still bloomed but the berries dominated now. Red currants (Ribes cereum) glowed red on bushes whose leaves are fading from green to yellow. I featured these bushes back when they bloomed with tiny pink flowers frequented by hummingbirds. I'm told that these berries aren't sweet but that the bears eat them to help build an autumn layer of fat.
Behind the currants, storms brewed around a faraway towering peak. The clouds made a dramatic backdrop.I rolled along my favorite ridge, doing my usual scanning to figure out what animals had traveled this way recently. In the middle of the trail, I saw fresh bobcat scat in a depression scratched out by the wild feline. I spotted fairly recent coyote scat. And, I noted a huge hole at the base of a stump, originally dug by a bear, that someone had recently expanded. Finally, a bear cub left behind a berry seed laden scat. Wow, that's lots of activity!

And, I enjoyed watching the horizon and our beautiful mountains. I love when the sun and clouds create a patchwork of bright and dark on the rocky peaks.
I remembered to be grateful that I'm capable of pedaling through this glory. I am indeed lucky.


  1. I guess I'm lucky that Lilly is a relatively low-energy border collie because I can get away with a one-hour hike on leash and some 5-minute bouts of fetch up and down a hill (clever!) so that she tires faster or a little agility on our home course.

    She has frustration behaviors too, but they are not nearly as entertaining as R's.

    I'm so glad his elbow is healed up. Poor fella!

    You'll have to give us a time log at some point just how many hours a day you spend either biking or hiking. I'm guessing it's an impressive total.

  2. Roxanne: The reason why I exercise so much with my dogs is that my back hurts when I stay still! Prior to my back problems becoming so severe, my husband would do one dog outing per day and I'd do the other. Now, my back can't tolerate that - I need to move at least twice a day! But, although I ride a lot in the mornings, the afternoon hike is only about 30 minutes, includes stops for dog training, and moves very slowly.

  3. Yes, KB, we're both very lucky! I see your skies are clearing. Ours have also been scoured somewhat by the wind. I love the picture of K in the aspen grove. I see a lot of currents on my hikes now - along the bike path in 10 Mile Canyon there are many - I always expect to see a bear there, but usually I go when there are others biking or running.

  4. It is a fundamental challenge - trying to balance our love for nature with the inevitable fact that our being "out there" has an impact. Our Sibes don't run off-leash (more because of the nature of the breed), but their scent and presence still changes nature. We try to be as respectful as possible, but still enjoy our time in the wild.

  5. Kia ora KB,
    That shot of the full moon really grabbed me. Beautiful, and to know I am on the other side of the world on a clear night looking at the same moon right now is pretty cool. Kia kaha.

  6. funny story how R moves the beds around...
    the pictures are stunning, i love the contrast from early spring to now nearly fall...beautiful!
    i was listening to NPR today, Patricia McConnell was on.....she has a blog. i added it to my sidebar, but haven't had time to actually read it...
    thought of you!
    have a great wknd!

  7. I definitely love the high octane dogs the best, but it can be trying if they don't get enough exercise! There have certainly been times when I have been tempted to tape all of L's legs together, and last month when B dinged her leg and had to be "rested" for a few days, I almost cried. I feel very lucky that, like you, I live someplace where the dogs can just RUN (and run and run) - I don't think I could ever do them justice if they had to be attached to me by a leash the whole time!

  8. Beautiful pictures...and love the description of R's organizing skills ;)

    I, too, can't imagine my Gups ever getting their yahoos out just being leashed. But, knowing how much impact loose dogs have in the woods we chose a different route...our monsters get their play time in our fenced yard and they have a blast. It's much less stressful for us humans, too, since we know they can't suddenly run off after an unexpected coyote or deer or other temptingly yummy creature ;) when The Gups were younger they would play, chase, and run at full speeds for 4 or more hours/day in addition to their long leashed hikes. Now, at 6, they are content with 20-30 minutes of chasing and romping in our smaller yard and 1 or 2 nice long leashed hikes in our woods. After the field research I've done as an ecologist, focusing on recreation effects that people, and their dogs, have on wildlife I'm pretty certain I'll never have my dogs off leash again unless they just heel at my side. I think far too many people primarily consider the woods a playground for their dogs without realizing that the woods are actually home to so many critters. When doing my field work I used to see people with a Chuck It throwing tennis balls deep into the woods for their dogs to retrieve...never ceased to surprise me. Always a good topic to discuss: how to balance our recreational desires with our love and respect for wildlife.

  9. Thanks to all for comments.

    A couple of you mentioned using fetching as a way to burn off energy. Sadly, it's not an option for us. R is not allowed to play fetch because the sudden stops and changes in direction would likely damage his elbow. That's been a tough one to get used to - with our previous dogs, we used a wild game of fetch as a quick energy burner!

  10. Dear Kb

    I love to read your posts, not because I am a mountain climber nor a dog lover the way you are, but because of your sheer enthusiasm, untrammeled passions and obvious love for your surroundings and pets - for your life...

    and of course as I have told you - you write so well it captivates me...

    Thank you

    Happy days

  11. You are so right a tired dog is a good, contented and happy companion. In this continuing Italian heat lloking at your daily photos is just so refershing!


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