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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dawn patrol, lion tracks, and dog communication

I was up and out the door for 'dawn patrol' as my mountain biking friend called it when he saw me pedaling home. The sun had begun its inexorable rise toward the horizon but hadn't yet topped the eastern hills as I started.
When I looked over my shoulder to the west, the waning moon shined over the alpenglow of the snowy mountains. Whenever I see such a peaceful and beautiful sight, I remember my departed dogs. I wear a locket in their memory, and I touch it as I gaze at nature's beauty.
The mountains themselves looked alien with the rose-colored tint washing over them.
As I rode down the first gulch of my route, I spotted the elk herd, grazing in the shadow of precipitous hills. In fact, darkness hung so heavily over the tan and towering ungulates that I couldn't capture a photo. The herd lingered safely ensconced in expansive meadows within private property. If they lazily hang out there all day, they'll be safe from humans with guns.
However, the elk may not be safe from non-human predators. Less than a mile away, I found a hulking paw print, almost undoubtedly from a lion. The distinctive traits were that it showed no claw marks, it was wide as it was long, and it was huge (my chemical handwarmer is for scale, and is 3.5" long). Because the tracks were preserved in mud, I couldn't see some of the finer characteristics that would eradicate any doubt whatsoever, such as the three lobed large paw pad that lion's have.The location of this track fit with the pattern that I observed last winter. When the elk were in this particular gulch, I found mountain lion (cougar) tracks on a certain path almost every time. I've come to believe that our lions follow the elk herd during the winter. So, when I see elk, I should watch for lion sign.

An interesting study came out this year whose conclusion was that, if you meet a mountain lion, your odds of escaping without a severe injury are best if you flee. I honestly cannot imagine myself having the guts to turn my back and run away when faced with a lion. Lions can sprint so much faster than humans that it feels intuitively like it would be a fatal choice.

For me, the best news from the study was that being on a bike or a horse reduced the odds of a severe or fatal attack substantially compared to walking or crouching. Moreover, yelling or any form of noise-making is a good thing. My natural reaction is to yell belligerently at wildlife who act even slightly aggressive so I suppose that's a good thing!

This information may be relevant to more people in the U.S., as cougars have been sighted and authenticated as far east as Pennsylvania in recent years.

By the time I reached another viewpoint after traveling the depths of the gulch with the elk and the lion, the mountains looked normal again, with white rather than rosy snow. But, that amazing moon still watched over them.
After my ride, K and I went to dog training class for the first time since her pancreatitis and kidney infection. She seemed to feel wonderful and behaved confidently most of the time. She's an old hand at the training exercises so I focus on her social interactions during these classes.

Here, a loose dog who was not part of the class decided to meet K. Initially, they both look deferential to each other although K seemed to lean on the human standing nearby for support.
A few seconds later, the Golden became more assertive, with her tail high and her face oriented directly at K. However, in contrast to the rest of her body language, the Golden lifted a paw and leaned backward, as if to say, "Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you.". Despite these gestures, K looked away even more profoundly and her tail still swung low. K still stood in front of the human, although it's hard to tell with the backlighting.
K decided that she'd had enough of this interaction and trotted away. The Golden followed, with a deferential low head but a high tail compared to K's tail.
Before K finally shook off this dog, the Golden made a big effort to make friends. She lowered her tail and head, and she prepared to lick K's chin.
After the Golden finally became obsequiously deferential, licking K's chin in a pushy way, K returned to me to get rid of the Golden. The Golden wandered off, looking a little disappointed.
I wonder if the Golden is an adolescent, and felt unsure about how to interact with K. Or, alternatively, I wonder if K gave some confusing signals.

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others. Canine communication fascinates me.


  1. Thanks for more great pictures!

    As for the khanine interakhtion, I'm up fur all pups all the time so I'm not much help!


  2. You ride where there might be cougars???? You are one very brave person.

    Beautiful photos. The communication b/w pups really IS very interesting.

    Woos, the OP Pack

  3. My vote goes to adolescent, bouncy, and expecting every other dog to love her! I find that with dogs who are super happy and dog-social (and not necessarily polite), their first instinct is to run up and be right in the other dog's space. I could be wrong, but that's the experience I've had. Then, when she realized she was bothering K, she calmed down.

  4. Excellent lion track. The Park Service has always denied the existence of Mountain Lions in our area, but that have started acknowledging the possibility in environmental studies the last few years. But they have certainly proven their resilience and this used to be a great area for them 200 years ago.

  5. beautiful pictures and great shot of the paw print!
    i think the golden was young, too in your face for K's liking....she seemed shy and slightly annoyed with the if saying i'm here to train, not socialize...besides, i have my own pack!

  6. Hopefully all my Golden Retriever friends will forgive me for generalizing, but it has been my experience that, as a breed, Goldens have a tendency to be a little overly friendly and pushy for the liking of many other breeds. I'm always a little surprised at how well B does with Goldens, given that they are generally so assertively friendly, but she has about 10 different Golden Retriever friends that she will play with, and she is usually very happy to see Goldens that she doesn't know.

    And with the face licking - that was actually a point of discussion at the seminar I was at last week - that many people interpret it to be a submissive gesture, when many times it is not anything of the sort. Usually the licking dog is very successful, without resorting to aggression, at controlling the movements of the lickee, forcing them to give up space - as happened here with K.

  7. Hi KB
    Despite me owning two goldens, I am certainly not in a position to comment about the interaction of the one and K in the post. Whilst I understand the body language of my own two intricately, I am not an expert on general animal behaviour...sorry can't help.
    Your post is beautiful again. Thank you!
    Max's mom in SA

  8. You seem to "read" canine body language so well, KB. It was interesting to follow the photos. ZOWEEE! That surely was a lion paw print! I would definitely make noise and act assertive with a lion. I have encountered bears at very close range and have stood still, not looking them in the eyes - that has worked (so far!).

  9. Dog Geek's input from the recent seminar is interesting. I'm pretty sure when Lilly resorts to licking Ginko like that it truly is a submissive thing, but I can see how with other dogs it might not be.


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