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Sunday, January 3, 2010

A peaceful veneer

After yesterday's dramatic adventure, the calm and apparent blissful peace of the forest enveloped me today. However, after finding a lion kill yesterday, I couldn't forget that only the veneer is peaceful. In fact, a web of predator-prey interactions constantly buzzes behind the scenes. A bobcat stalks a rabbit, a coyote stalks a squirrel, and a lion stalks a deer. In fact, I saw this web in action again today but the scenario wasn't threatening to me or my dogs, in stark contrast to yesterday's misadventure.

Part of the aftermath of our adventure was that I excoriated myself for not immediately noticing that K wasn't next to me, thereby giving her time to find the recently killed deer. So, to reassure myself that I wasn't navigating the trails with an out-of-control dog, we did some extra training today. One staple of my off-leash training is a distant 'sit'. Here, K was ahead of me by about 20 yards and I asked her to sit. She did it beautifully. The video doesn't show it but she then must hold the sit until I ride up to her, give her a treat, and release her.

Next, we did a long distance recall. I put K into a 'sit-stay'.
And, after riding about 100 yards away, I called her. Again, she performed flawlessly, despite a maze of deer tracks crossing the trail in her path.

We practice these behaviors daily, and she has never behaved as badly as she did yesterday. I reminded myself of a couple of laws of dog behavior as I mulled over our misadventure. First, dogs aren't good at generalizing rules. K has practiced being called off of live deer on many occasions. But, we've never ever had a freshly killed deer carcass as our 'distraction' for a recall. And, I bet that we never will. I sure as heck am NOT going to do our training next to the deer carcass currently lying in the woods given the lion danger. My research shows that lions usually stay near a large animal kill for 2-5 days, and sometimes longer, bedding down during the day within 400 yards of the carcass. We're staying away from that carcass for a while.

The second law that I remembered is that dogs are living sentient beings. As such, they will never be 100% reliable. They have their own ideas, and even a well-trained dog will sometimes follow her own hankerings rather than obey her human.

Based on these thoughts, the best 'solution' that I could distill was that I need to be even more alert to any wandering by my dogs. They both wear bells, which usually alert me to their whereabouts, even when I'm focused on staying upright on my snow bike. I need to focus on the distinctive sound of each dog's bell.

After reassuring myself that I actually had a well-trained dog on my hands, albeit one with a serious affection for raw venison, we rolled out to our favorite winter viewpoint. Views like this one lull me into forgetting that I found lion tracks on this viewpoint last winter.
Then, K posed for me, in a shaft of sunlight, with the mountains behind her.
Her energy lagged today on our ride, an extraordinarily rare event. So, after one more photo, I took her home. After forcing her to relinquish her feast yesterday by inducing vomiting, she became dehydrated. I solved that by feeding her many small bland meals with large amounts of water poured over them. She seemed great before our ride... but not quite herself during the ride. Pancreatitis is the killer disease that K is prone to, especially after a 'dietary indiscretion' like gorging on raw deer meat, so I'm watching her carefully.
After I dropped K off at home, I did a couple of short loops, repeatedly stopping back at the house to check on her. She seemed feisty and hungry each time I visited so my confidence in her health grew.

On one of my short loops, I rode down a gulch. The skies loomed, threatening a storm.
A little further down the gulch, I noticed a fraction of our 120-strong elk herd grazing in a meadow. The elk are the dots in the lower right corner of the photo.
I rode a little closer and stood still to observe them. The herd seemed twitchy. A yearling galloped wildly to shake a magpie off his back but the elk-riding bird wasn't the main problem. Then, movement across the snow caught my eye. In the photo below, a coyote stood behind the fence, almost hidden by a fencepost, in the middle of the photo.
Next, a mature cow elk near the back of the group (far right in photo above) separated herself from the group and trotted purposefully toward some brush. In the photo below, notice another coyote at the extreme left.
The cow chased the coyote, who bolted over toward the rest of the group. Then, I shot some video, because the coyote-elk interactions looked fascinating. I'm sorry about the jiggle in the video - I had the camera on extreme zoom. Moreover, I was having trouble picking out the coyote from the golden grass so he is sometimes out of the picture to the far left for the first 45 seconds of the video.

In the video, watch for: (1) a few elk moving fast from right to left at around 15 seconds as they chase the coyote, (2) the coyote, barely visible, ducks under the fence, to the left of the elk, at about 20 seconds, and the elk stop at the fence, (3) the coyote visible at the extreme left of the frame at about 30 seconds, (4) the coyote moving purposefully from left to right in the snow at about 45 seconds.

I've never seen elk pay any attention to coyotes in the past. Usually, the coyotes can mingle among the herd without the elk turning their heads. I wonder if the herd is protecting a sick or injured member. Or, perhaps the presence of at least 3 coyotes encircling the herd was a threat worth a response.

Once the herd had calmed down and the coyotes had vanished, I rode back up the gulch. A snow squall hit, creating a white-out. What a contrast from the start of the ride!________________________________________________________________
On a completely different note, I was honored to have two different scribblers (Stella's World and MargeBlog) give me an award. I'm honored because I work hard on the writing aspect of my blogs and that fits the spirit of the award.
I'm now supposed to pass it along to five other blogs. I tried to choose blogs that some of my readers might not be aware of. These blogs all inspire me with their beautiful writing and photographs.

Dream Valley Ranch: A woman writes about her love for her pack of rescue dogs and herd of rescue horses. Her absolute love of animals shines through!

Up in Alaska: A woman writes melodically about her adventures biking and hiking through the Alaskan landscape.

Champion of My Heart: A woman writes about her journey with her beautiful Border Collie, working to overcome canine fears and live happily.

Live and Learn: A woman embraces life and nature in Colorado.

The Dog Geek: A woman writes about her dogs, agility training, and life in general. I've learned a tremendous amount about dog behavior and training from her blog.


  1. Once again, a post to go WOW at for so many reasons!

    Thanks for sharing!

    KHONGRATS (as we say) on the award!

    It is quite deserved on many levels!

    I'll add those you suggested to my list of sites to peruse sometime!

  2. I'll look forward to checking out some of those blogs. I'm already an avid reader of Roxanne's blog and Dog Geek's blog, but I haven't heard of the other three.

    I didn't get a chance to comment, but your adventure yesterday was really scary! My heart pounded the whole time I read it. I'm glad that K proved to you today that you can, indeed, trust her. Like you said, no one, human or canine, is perfect.

  3. Wow!

    First, I'd have been way too excited to not have the camera jiggle if I was watching the elk chase that coyote! Pretty cool stuff!

    Second, I hope K is feeling more like herself in the next day or two!

    Third, your writing is certainly worthy of awards! You have the perfect combination of beautiful photos and words to keep it interesting!

  4. Interesting video of the elk and coyotes. The disappearing dog and reliability of following commands is something that often worries me. I was putting buckets back in stalls after emptying them when I heard Java growling and the barn door was sticking and I was having trouble getting the door opened. I was in a panic. When I got outside and called she came right away but her long fur was sticking straight up, which is a site on a dog with fur like hers. I don't know what she encountered but I'm glad she came right away.

  5. Once again I get to enjoy my morning cup of tea with an exciting journey in to nature. Thank you for sharing.
    Congratulations on the awards. They are definitely well deserved.

  6. Just catching up on my blogs, so I got to read your last couple back to back. What a scary few moments and so glad it all turned out well. Hoping you get some great pictures from your camera.

    P.S. - I am just jealous that you can rely on yours usually. Not a Sibe trait.

  7. Hi KB, So glad you had a peaceful ride yesterday and no more encounters with carcasses. I thought of you last week because my dear little dog Sadie got deathly ill and it ended up Pancreatic Cancer so we had to put her to sleep. It broke my heart but I thought of your sweet K and her troubles. Losing a beloved dog is so hard-so I'm thankful that you didn't have trouble with the mountain lion.
    Stay warm and careful.

  8. Argh - I just lost my (long) comment! Want you to know I'm thinking of you daily - loved the videos. K is such a good girl - all of us need a chance to be "bad" once in awhile (just not near a mountain lion!) I have made a policy not to accept awards but am so pleased that you would choose me - thank you so much for your kind thoughts. (You certainly are a Superior Scribbler!)


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