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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Duo Plays

The Duo have been playing together, with K remaining lying down and R dancing around her. They usually don't frolic indoors very much so it's wonderful to see.
After playing, they snuggled together. Throughout each day, R regularly checks on K, sniffing her head and then her bad leg. Purple Octopus always oversees their play and naps.
Meanwhile, I've spent time with each of the Duo separately. K and I take short walks. Now, as we go to the door, she lifts her paw and waits for me to put on her cast protector. The vet will change her cast tomorrow so it looks a little frayed now.
I love my morning strolls with K the most. The forest is peaceful and dappled in sunshine.
 The sun lays so low in the sky that K's head makes a shadow on her own body if she turns it just right.
When she hears an alien sound in the forest, her tail goes straight up and she assumes her stiff, "I'm the boss", posture. It's a posture that always seems out of place for gentle K. We've noticed that this posture is one of her main tools around the house in getting R or other dogs to do as she wishes. When her tail goes straight up, they follow her orders.
I have continued my intensive training with R, both for the sake of the better behavior that comes out of it, and because his obsessive-compulsive tendencies diminished almost immediately after I started the program. His water drinking has decreased dramatically, a huge relief for us. One of the games that we're playing is that we hide a toy at sometime in the day when he's not looking. Then, when he starts a water-drinking binge, we ask him to find the toy. With a little prodding, he'll stop drinking and start searching. The hope is that, after many repetitions, he'll respond to the urge to binge drink by finding a toy instead. For now, we have to prompt that behavior.

As part of his training, I'm giving him more mental challenges such as learning some agility. I started with the teeter-totter propped on wood blocks so that it was almost level. Now, I've decreased the blocks to about 9" thickness, and he's still very comfortable with teetering! Here, he started across our home-made teeter-totter.
And, after successfully crossing it, he decided to sit for the photo! That's fine with me for now. I'm having a blast teaching such an eager pupil!
We've also been practicing recalls and other basic training in all sorts of settings but the forest is my favorite training ground.
My mountain bike rides have mostly been solitary and contemplative affairs. I've been seeking the deep forest, where I mingle with the animals but don't see other people. I'm suffering from withdrawal - I truly miss my mountain biking with K. During my solitary rides, my mind wrestles with worries about whether she'll ever be able to return to it. Hopefully, I'll eventually reach peace with the notion of no more mountain biking with K - and be pleasantly surprised if she can run with me.

This is the kind of trail that I've been frequenting. Many more bobcats, lions, and bears travel this trail than people.
Despite my tinge of melancholy on my bike rides, I still get shocked into a happier frame of mind when I emerge from the forest depths to the fleeting brilliance of autumn.
Life is such a mix of happiness and sadness simultaneously. With age, I'm learning that's the way life is, and I can't change it. My dogs remind me to enjoy the good in each moment. Indeed, in that first photo of K, she's playing like a puppy despite her bad paw. Carpe Diem!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Autumn colors and elk mating season

K and I started our day with a short walk in our dazzling forest. Despite her cast, she's still feisty. She stood tall and growled to protect us both from something that I couldn't perceive. Even with a cast on her leg, she's ready to take on the world!
She has a new collar, a gift from me, to lift both of our spirits, but mostly mine since K can't see her own collar! We've also started working on a new trick where she holds up her cast for me when I need to put her hiking cover on it. She's learning this new trick super fast!

After her alarm passed, K looked back toward me with a querulous look on her face. "Do you really mean that we're only walking a few hundred yards?", she seemed to ask. She seems to be in much less pain, and has even tried to gallop and jump while on leash. This may be a very long 8 weeks.
We gazed together at the moon, still shining in the azure sky, among the yellow aspen. Can you wish upon a moon? I hope so, because I wished fervently for K's paw to be healing well under her cast.
A little later, I snagged a brief time with R for a very short bike ride. His primary calling is that he runs with the Runner. So, it's a special treat when he can lead me up to Hug Hill.
When we arrived on the peak, he reveled in the sunshine, solitude and scents.
On our way home, we practiced recalls. Would you trust this 60 lb freight train to stop before bowling you over?
He did, barely!
I took R home, after our short sojourn in the woods and continued pedaling on my own through a golden world with the moon still peeking at me.
Although the golden beauty surrounded me everywhere, I missed my K the most on this trail. We've enjoyed this trail together in every season - I wished that she were with me today.
Yesterday afternoon, we made our annual pilgrimage to Rocky Mountain National Park to watch the amazing display of the elk rut. It was ironic that yesterday morning, one of my wildlife cameras captured footage of an elk bull within a half mile of our house. For some reason, he wasn't in the high mountain meadows vying for a harem of cow elk. His antlers suggest that he'd be competitive in the mating competition, especially in a hunted population like ours, where bulls with big antlers rarely live long. I wonder why he's still down here, far away from those sexy cow elk?

At Rocky Mountain National Park, a bull elk had lost the battle for his own harem and meandered by himself. He grazed near a stream, waiting for darkness before he tried to enter the main arena of the nearby meadow where the dominance battles were underway among the gargantuan bulls. Sorry for the blurriness - I'm really starting to wish for a digital SLR camera with a telephoto lens!
For the majority of the evening, the dominant bulls fought for supremacy too far away for me to photograph them. We sat in a secluded site next to a vast meadow and watched the action through a spotting scope. The most macho of the bull elk in the meadow had corralled about 30 cows and calves. He homed in on any mature bulls who dared approach his ladies, chasing them away with his chin tipped toward the sky and his massive rack of antlers laid back along his neck. He had 6 points on each antler - that's a big rack! You can see his harem, tiny dots in the grass, spread out in the meadow below the sunlit rocky peaks.
Nearby, an older bull, perhaps a year or two past his prime, sneaked around the periphery of the macho dude's harem, carefully checking the hindquarters of each cow to see if they were ready for breeding. The dominant bull burned many calories warding off this crafty elder bull elk. The official biological name for a crafty bull elk cruising the periphery of a harem for breeding opportunities is "sneaky fucker". I'm not kidding.

Throughout this drama, the mature males bugled endlessly, emitting amazing high pitched scream-like calls. Here is someone else's Youtube of a bugling elk. The short video is worth watching if you've never heard an elk bugle.

We stayed after darkness fell, listening to the bugles emanating from all corners of the meadow, an ethereal experience.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A dog's love

I miss having K with me in the forest for our bike rides and hikes. My heart literally aches at times.

I've been thinking about games and training that I can do with her that are almost completely sedentary. I love the ideas you've given me so far - object discrimination, scent discrimination, and shaping some fun movements like batting her eyelashes. For the moment, I'm keeping it simple since she's still on lots of pain meds but we did start playing a simple object discrimination game, and, more than anything, she enthusiastically relished the attention.

Then, last evening, I lay down next to her. She burrowed toward me, snuggling her head onto my shoulder. In a moment, she was sound asleep, breathing deeply and contentedly.

Then, I realized, all that either of us really wants is to be together. Just "being" is enough in those moments. The love of a dog is miraculous.
One good outcome of the whirlwind of changes might be that R and I will become closer. Yesterday, the imp and I spent some time in the forest together, both playing and training. He did a frolicking recall through a tunnel of gold.
We were surprised twice by hikers at odd times and in unexpected places. As we practiced a recall, people appeared over a hill. R diverted his attention to them, paused, but remembered his purpose and came to me at the end. Here's the instant when he spotted the interlopers.
Later, he did a "stand-stay" atop a boulder near sunset.
A person approached from behind him but he stayed. I was so pleased with him. People are the greatest temptation for him, aside from rabbits and squirrels.
Spending time with my dogs makes me smile.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

R trains and K rests

R and I continued our training program, designed to curb his obsessive behaviors, yesterday. One part is that I am teaching him some agility. Prior to now, K has been the only agility dog in the family because we worried that agility would be too tough on R's surgically repaired elbow. However, the vet suggested which parts of agility would be gentle enough for R's elbow and that learning agility might be a mentally stimulating activity for him that would help him to be less obsessive about other things, like water drinking.

We started with the teeter-totter last evening, using the method that I read about in Susan Garrett's book and which worked beautifully for K after traditional methods failed miserably with her. I propped both ends of the teeter totter so that it was almost level and tipped by only about 6" when R crossed the fulcrum. He looked cautious as he started.
But he stayed on the teeter-totter even when it tipped, waiting for treats at the end.
In the background of R's teeter-totter photo, you can see the weave poles, left akimbo after K's last run through them. She's an artful weaver, and I tried to video her on a recent run. Alas, the video was terrible so I can't show you how graceful she'd become. I hope that K is capable of weaving in the spring. Believe it or not, my agility course completely disappears under the snow in the wintertime!

I'm now using the weave poles to teach R to weave but I'll never let him run full tilt through the weaves. I think it would be too stressful for his elbow. However, the process of teaching R how to weave will be fun for him and me.

It's interesting teaching R the same skills as I've worked on for years with K. R's learning style suits my personality perfectly. He's almost never worried, nervous, or scared so it's OK to ask him to do scary things. He remains enthusiastic even if he fails repeatedly (although I try not to let that happen). He feels bomb-proof compared to K.

By comparison, K emotionally quits on me if she "fails" or is scared more than once in a training session. She taught me not to push her too hard in any kind of training. Each dog is a unique soul, and it's best to recognize their special traits.

Yesterday evening, R and I walked up to our sunset lookout point after training. For most of the walk, I played a game where I gave him a treat every time he initiated eye contact with me while we walked. The boy is a fast learner! His eyes were almost glued to mine by the end of the walk!

We paused briefly with the mountain horizon in the background.
Of course, all of this attention for R is NOT easy for K to handle. It's terrible timing that I need to start this new program with R just when K is recovering from surgery. Her activity will be limited to "business only" walks for 6-8 weeks. I'm working hard on thinking of training games that I can play with K that don't involve any standing or walking. Does anyone have ideas for me? I'd be very grateful for ideas.

This morning, K and I took one of our "business" walks, and lingered in the sunshine. She looked at me imploringly as if to say "Can't we explore, just a tiny bit?".
Look, she said, I stepped off the trail, and I'm fine. Let's go explore in this aspen grove.
I resisted K's imploring gazes even though I felt terribly mean. Despite that, K still posed nicely for me in the aspens.
My beautiful girl... it's so hard not being able to explain to you why I'm keeping you so quiet, especially since you're used to a life of adventure.
This morning, R took only a very short run with the Runner so he joined me for a brief jaunt on the bike. I think that he was ready for a nap rather than a bike ride. When we arrived at Hug Hill, he rested his muzzle on my back tire and seemed to fall asleep while standing in the sun.
He didn't stir even as I angled for a better photo.
He perked up briefly for a few photos. He achieved his first full pose atop the stump on Hug Hill. He's jealously watched K do this trick for a year and today he suddenly had the impetus to hop on the stump.
He sampled the breeze for animal scents, seemed briefly excited, but then settled down again.
Once again, he seemed to fall asleep in the sun. This boy needed some snooze time! We went straight home so he could catch up on his "handsome sleep".
After I dropped off R at home and continued my ride, I ran into some neighbors whose two dogs have been missing for more than 24 hours so I spent the rest of my ride watching for signs of them. It's especially concerning because I know from my trail camera that a mountain lion was recently in the area. I fervently hope that the roaming dogs didn't find a carcass that the lion was protecting...

Aside from the distressing absence of signs of the lost dogs, I enjoyed the unseasonably warm, sunny, and gorgeous autumn day. Riding through some aspen groves was like entering a kaleidoscope of green and yellow speckles. I kept wishing that K could gallop along by my side. She would have loved it and I would have reveled in being with her.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Duo's Saturday

K is doing her best to settle into her new sedentary role. She can take only very short walks so she's been upset when I leave her behind to exercise or train R. Yesterday afternoon, I took her for a short walkabout on our property before doing some training with R. Unfortunately, she was noisily unhappy with being in the house while R was out with me. She cried piteously, so loudly that I could hear her through our closed windows. I felt horrendous for her, wanting to bury my head in a pillow and cry.
For those of you who are interested, K tore a branch of her deep digital flexor tendon that pulls one of her middle toes downward. That's why it was jutting up at an odd angle prior to surgery. The surgeon reconstructed it using some remaining tendon plus some other connective tissue in the area. The particular type of rupture and location was unique so the surgeon had to improvise. That's why we cannot be certain of long-term outcome.

While she was indoors, R and I did our very first agility training together. This is part of his obsessive-compulsive disorder behavioral training. I've been told that he needs more "hobbies", things for him to obsess about that aren't related to water-drinking. R suggested that he'd like trombone lessons :) 

I decided that more basic obedience training, agility training, plus a series of games that he can play in the house (instead of drinking water) would be more appropriate. I'll be writing more about this program but the bottom line is that an obsessive-compulsive dog cannot be cured of his obsessions but can diversify his obsessions so that he doesn't drink water so much that he gets sick. That's why R and I were doing teeter-totter and weave pole training yesterday afternoon. I'm pleased to report that he didn't drink maniacally yesterday evening - so Day 2 of his training was a success. However, K was extremely displeased with the attention that he was getting and let me know all about it.

This morning, I took the Duo for a very short jaunt in warm sunshine and golden leaves.
They both seemed to think that a fascinating animal had come close to our house last night but my cameras near the house only photographed a rabbit.
After the Duo's short jaunt, we arrived at the moment of truth. I had to take R for some serious exercise so that he could burn off some of his usual supersonic energy. The timing was terrible from the point of view of K's psyche - it was exactly the point in the day when I would usually take K for a mountain bike ride. Fortunately, she accepted our departure with much more serenity than last night, perhaps because I timed her pain medication so that she'd be very sleepy just as R and I departed.

I used my ride with R to work on some of the same basic obedience that I've been focusing on in our official training sessions. Here, he was running ahead of me, and I asked him to "wait". He did!
I'll forever love his lithe body shape, a classic field Lab's conformation. However, it's his champion field Lab brain that has led to his obsessive-compulsive behaviors. He needs a job, or better yet, lots of jobs to keep him happy.
We climbed up high, and I took off R's muzzle for some photos. Yes, the mushrooms are still here - now they're dried out but R still loves them too much to run around off-leash without a muzzle. Fortunately, we saw no one on our ride - R with a muzzle seems to make some people become emotionally unhinged.
He stood atop K's little arch in the bright sunshine. This took tremendous self-control because chipmunks mocked him loudly from down below. Our ground squirrels have entered their tunnels for hibernation but the chipmunks are still gorging themselves.
We visited the vast aspen grove near us to inhale the scent of dry leaves in autumn and revel in the yellow glory.
Then, we headed for home. We traveled on one of my favorite trails on Earth. It's so narrow and ledgy, and I almost never see another soul on it, except bears and deer. We also saw petite and agile red fox today, bounding through the brush with his luxuriously long white-tipped tail prominently bouncing up and down. What a gorgeous creature!
K met us at the door but didn't seem as piteously sad as yesterday. She spent the day at my feet, out on our deck. Her best human friend outside our family came to visit her. K snuggled with her friend and let out a contented sigh as she was showered with pats and belly rubs. K's friend stayed for almost an hour, an eternity of bliss in K's world. K knows when it's time to lie back and enjoy the moment.