Today, we rolled onto the firmly packed trails early, just as first sun rays filtered over the eastern horizon. The sunrise embued the snowy mountains with an otherworldly aura.
The melted and then refrozen snow formed intricate sculptures around tall golden grass, flattened juniper shrubs, and pine saplings. The long shadows embellished the alien moonscape and allowed me to take a photo of me and K without using my camera's timer.
K's fur glowed in the sunrise, looking like rich milk chocolate.
By the end of our ride, the sun glowed high above the hills to our east, and another bluebird day had emerged.
After our ride, K and I went to drop-in dog training class, held at a dog park about 3000' below my home. The transformation in the world as I dropped in altitude on our wall-like road astonished me. It's commonly said that for every 1000' loss in elevation, autumn-winter is 10 days behind. By that logic, the season today at the mile-high elevation of dog training class was the same as a month ago at my home. Moreover, under normal climactic conditions, the temperature rises by 5.8°F for every 1000 ft of elevation lost. And, as that rule predicts, it was 15-20 degrees warmer down at dog training class than at home.
As you can see in the photo below, brown grass, rather than snow, predominated in the foothills behind our dog class site.
K behaved confidently for most of class, after she quashed her pre-class hyperactivity. During the opening play session, she rarely hovered next to me. Clinging to me is her modus operendi when she's nervous. We knew only a couple of dogs in class today but, in the photo below, she took the initiative to meet some of the rowdy puppies.
Looking at the photo above, K's usual demeanor with other dogs is obvious. Her body, head, and tail are lowered. She wags her tail widely back and forth, just a bit below horizontal. She never approaches another dog's head straight on, but comes in from the side or back. Her body language constantly broadcasts that she's not a threat and is willing to appease the new dogs if needed.
Interestingly, when K and R recently met our local dog pack of seven running with their human, the 'enforcer' of the pack, a German Shepherd, approached R as if she meant to establish who was boss. Despite K's long-lasting fears of the enforcer, she body-blocked for R, stepping between him and the GSD. That diffused the situation, and R has been much less fearful around the pack than he used to be. The surprising aspect of the story was K's courage relative to how skittish she tends to be around assertive dogs. Although she didn't take an aggressive stance, she moved into a position to block for her brother.
We ended class working on down-stays. At first, I kept K on the outside of the group, where she could monitor everyone's activity. When she's in her 'nervous' mode, she breaks out of down-stays if she can't see all the other dogs. However, today, she calmly acted like the dozen dogs and their humans didn't faze her. So, I tried moving her to the middle of the pavilion and then gradually worked myself away from her. Each time she let me step a little further away, I returned and rewarded her. By the end, I could chat with another handler at a distance while K lay by herself. Although K's eyes stayed glued on me, she stuck like velcro to the ground and showed no distress. Way to go, Girl!
After reading about the trials and tribulations of other dogs with fear issues, I feel lucky, in an odd way, that her sporadic fear problems are medically based. When her thyroid levels dip too low, it causes her to be fearful and unpredictable. And, over the summer, her smoldering chronic pancreatitis probably contributed to the crazy swings in her behavior. By controlling both of those medical problems, we seem to have reached calm seas for the moment. Let's stay there!
I have a new challenge ahead of me. I want to start taking R to training class on alternate weeks. However, I feel like I'll break K's heart. She loves going (when she's feeling well), and she's my special girl. But, I'd like to learn to work as a tighter team with R, for those days when he joins us on our morning mountain bike ride. Today was going to be R's first day... but I chickened out when I looked at K's face. Has anyone else faced this dilemma? Any advice?
Although I enjoy dog training class every time (it's the fastest-passing hour of the week because I become so focused on working with K), I'm always glad to flee the bustle of the city and glide down our driveway into the peaceful forest. Even though it's a chilly winter day up here and a warm autumn day down there, I'm happiest up here in the thin air where I can gaze at the alpenglow over the mountains every morning if I want to.